With the legacy of Detroit techno guiding their curating, Paxahau have never been pressured to follow musical trends during their 10 years of producing Movement Electronic Music Festival within the Motor City’s intimate Hart Plaza. The sound’s originators, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Carl Craig, continue to be staples across the festival’s six stages; however, Movement is as much about predicting the next wave of underground club music as it is honoring these homegrown legends. Whether this be through regularly booking the globe’s best selectors (e.g. Loco Dice, Seth Troxler, Claude VonStroke, Magda, Matthew Dear) or by hosting eclectic showcases, Movement consistently manages to get a jump on both the electronic flavors of Ibiza and the State’s growing dance music festival circuit.
As densely packed as the lineup and dance floors might be, Hart Plaza is only the launching grounds for the broader Movement weekend — lovingly dubbed as “Techno Christmas” by the droves of aficionados that have been spending their Memorial Day weekend in the park for over a decade. When the last official festival set ends at Midnight, Detroit comes to life with after-parties, after-after-parties, and even sunrise sets and industry brunches for those with some extra fuel remaining in the tank. Each year, a new club lures revelers into previously uncharted neighborhoods of this expansive, post-industrial mecca — Marble Bar momentarily holding the title of best new local club to attend.
Drawing in young adults from across the Midwest, Movement and Paxahau continue to amplify Detroit’s ongoing commercial renaissance. While the growth has been slow, the downtown area, Corktown, Midtown, and New North are just a few neighborhoods that are far more inviting than they were even three years ago. With the sun now glistening off the new windows of the formerly abandoned Michigan Central Station and the QLINE (formerly M-1 Rail) proposed to be opened next year, the city’s positive growth is unavoidable to miss.
As the city expands, so too has the programming of Movement. Side-stepping some questionable artist selections from previous years (namely Snoop Dogg), Paxahau continues to tastefully infuse the festival’s techno/house roots with hip-hop (RZA) and indie-leaning electronica (Caribou) headliners. Narrowing down a field of sets that ranged from DJ Pierre’s cathartic acid house and Big Freedia’s New Orleans’s Bounce to Borderland’s minimal techno and Kraftwerk’s seminal tones was no easy feat, but we did our best to spotlight this Memorial Day bash’s 10 best.
10. DJ GODFATHER
For anyone now dabbling in club-ready g-house, twerk, or east coast club music, a lesson in DJ Godfather is mandatory. A founding father of Ghetto Tech, DJ Godfather has long championed the inclusion of hip-hop energy in techno and house. A holdover from the turntable era, Godfather’s set was a lecture in battle-DJ mechanics. Spinning the region’s signature electro-bounce stylings, with the assistance of a background emcee, DJ Godfather’s appearance was a key transition to Big Freedia’s infectious New Orleans Bounce.
09. BLACK MADONNA
Smart Bar’s current talent buyer, Marea Stamper (aka Black Madonna) is tasked with listening to countless mixes when finding the key artists for the well-respected Chicago club. A connoisseur of disco, house, and hi-NGR, it isn’t the freshest selections that capture Stamper’s attentions, but the ability to craft a story from behind the decks. And that is just what the Black Madonna does every time she approaches a crowd. “I have a better Journey for you,” Stamper promised as she switched decks during technical issues early into her set. The cheers of support put a grin on Stamper’s face, but the professional was rather unfazed by the slowdown. Her edit of “You’ve Got To Have Freedom” (Uptown Funk Empire) eased the rest of the crowd into an equally carefree spirit.
08. RZA FEAT. STONE MECCA
Live instrumentation, in its various forms, is a growing facet of Movement. Headlining the Red Bull Music Academy stage one day after Caribou delivered with a full band, RZA arrived (champaign bottle in hand) with Stone Mecca to offer a similar perspective on hip-hop. For the crew Sunday night, the emphasis was on celebrating the influences (soul, funk, rock and roll, electro) while offering a fresh take on Wu-Tang favorites, including “C.R.E.A.M.” and RZA originals like “Fast Cars”. After years of rappers stumbling over touring or house DJs, these live ensembles are giving the narratives of RZA, and younger contemporaries, the depth their tales deserve.
Hailing from Germany, and the Desolat label, tINI’s house and techno is always of the deep and funky variety. Staring almost directly into the Memorial Day sunshine, tINI modeled her Movement 2016 set to reflect these bright surroundings. Punctuating the rolling low-end showed an appreciation for progressive rock melodies. In the midday sunshine, it was easy to daydream about tINI (a drummer in her adolescence) somehow working a progressive desert techno mix in before the long-awaited Genesis reunion tour. tINI wouldn’t only make it work; she’d have Phil Collins asking to go back-to-back.
Ask any of the first- and second-generation Detroit techno producers, and you’ll quickly discover how impactful Germany’s Kraftwerk was on the foundation of that Midwest creation. So, it was as if the techno gods smiled down on Movement this Saturday when proposed rain showers held off for the entirety of the day and the collective’s long-awaited 3-D performance. While the set has been altered very little since its introduction five years ago, its impact (especially in a place like Detroit) hasn’t been diminished. Despite changing consumer tastes, political shifts, and general old age, Kraftwerk continue to inspire; Detroit’s push to stay relevant in a post-industrial rust belt follows similar cues. There are few more fitting places to experience “Trans Europa Express” and “Autobahn” live than near the shadows of General Motors’ shimmery downtown Detroit headquarters.
05. FOUR TET
“I didn’t pay to hear this,” I overheard while approaching the latter portion of Four Tet’s Saturday night performance. Sandwiched between Brooklyn’s house maestro Kenny Dope and Dan Snaith’s live Caribou ensemble, Four Tet was tasked to create the bridge between these two worlds. (Granted, Four Tet recently played a gig leading into Snaith’s Daphni project). Never aligning too much with one particular school of production, Four Tet had little stress constructing a journey from bass-line house to minimal IDM. Not shy to dabble in electronic weirdness, Four Tet brought about the aforementioned comment by dissecting a track down to its basic, rudimentary rhythm before systemically giving that thought a true dance floor life-force. A nod to more popular tunes, Four Tet allowed the crowd to cool off with his rework of Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better”.
04. NIC FANCIULLI
In September of 2013, deadmau5 actually had something great to say about another DJ, and the recipient was Britain’s Nic Fanciulli: “I still think Nic Fanciulli was the last DJ to make it as a DJ. Now it’s just a buncha producers like me who pretend to be DJs.” In a physical format, a Fanciulli set would be the equivalent of Sofia Vergera or Ryan Gosling – no matter the subject matter, there is just something about these stars that emanates sex appeal. The later the set goes, the deeper the encounter grows. By the end of the night, what started as a bottle of wine and some light petting escalates into leather whips and chains. Just be safe during your next Fanciulli encounter.
03. BOYS NOIZE
During Movement 2015, Boys Noize was welcomed to the Main Stage as part of Dog Blood (also featuring EDM titan Skrillex). Twelve months later, Boys Noize was bringing his solo rave techno to the sultry Underground Stage as part of the day’s Acid Showcase. In preparation for the weekend’s Underground showcases (which also featured OWSLA on Sunday), Paxahau made a wise production decision to shift the stage and allow better sight lines from the lifted cement surroundings. Still a sweaty mess, the move at least allowed for better clearance when traversing between stages or attempting to find a spot in front of the commercial-size fans to the left of the setup.
Although Boys Noize had just released a full-length album, Mayday, little emphasis was placed on playing these tracks for the audience. It wasn’t until about a quarter into the set that “Would You Listen” would make an appearance; Boys Noize then shifted the set in a funkier direction. And since no EDM event would be complete without a Prodigy remix, Boys Noize got the crowd jumping with his edit of “Smack My Bitch Up”.
All of the acid over Memorial Day weekend couldn’t be contained by this stage alone. Kenny Dope was heavy into acid before making an about-face into the Latin-dance realms, and J.Phlip and Get Real both cut their booty-base vibes with electro and acid influences. Acid house is making a big comeback, and Boys Noize is certainly in the position to motivate new converts!