Kenny Hanlon gets his freak on - for the most part anyway - at Movement in Detroit.
I can't say I'd ever heard of Memorial Day Weekend until around 10 years ago when the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival took place on a late weekend in May. But since then â€“ for a certain breed of electronic music fans â€“ one has become synonymous with the other. We touched on some of the changes at the event in the last decade [already](http://bodytonicmusic.com/words/2009/may/23/traxx-files-4-detroit-special/) â€“ so how does it look in 2009?
The first thing that hit me as I walked into the downtown site was the production values. The main stage was situated in a striking outdoor auditorium which contained the sound really well. Around were two more stages: the Red Bull Stage with neighbouring Windsor, Ontario as a back drop and the Beatport Stage on the other side of the site. My main port of call was the fourth stage, the (quite literally) underground Made In Detroit Stage, found underneath the main area in what looks like a disused storage space/car park.
First on the must-see list was The Beatdown Crew - Norm Talley, Delano Smith and Mike Clark. As I walked down the ramps all that could be heard was thunderous, deafening bass and the glimmer of the lighting rig shadowing the walls en route. Sadly, once I made it onto the floor, thatâ€™s pretty much all I could hear: bass. I can honestly say I've never witnessed sound as poor at any sort of festival, tiny indie or large, heavily funded. The acoustics were beyond abysmal, with the booming bass just bouncing off itself on the concrete walls, making the music indecipherable. The stage was impressively constructed on top of the rig, leaving me with the feeling that it was designed with little thought past the fact it looked cool.
Mike Clark was playing. A female vocalist joined him on stage to sing overâ€¦ well I've no idea what she was singing over. I manoeuvred around the unsurprisingly not very packed floor to see if there was anywhere the sound was even slightly less atrocious. There wasnâ€™t. The whole experience was unbearable. Worst of all, this was the site where many of the Detroit artists would be playing. It smacked of disrespect for the people the festival was originally built around and it also meant that the following sets by Wade and Huckaby would also be a waste of time.
Disappointed that my planned seven hours of music on Saturday was effectively down the swanney, I went off to have a look at what else was happening. I was struck by the number of the notorious â€˜kandi kidsâ€™ that were out in full force â€“ it felt being transported to an American version of Gatecrasher at times.
As the evening hit Ryan Elliot and the legendary Francois Kervorkian could be found at the Red Bull and Main stage, respectively. Elliot, in a hilarious semi see-through black top (I wonder if it's one of Richie's new line!) was plodding along with fairly forgettable tech house, momentarily raising excitement levels by dropping â€˜Forceâ€™ by Technasia and â€˜I Can't Kick Feeling...â€™ by Moodymann, only to surround them with less interesting fodder. Meanwhile, Kervorkian was doing his best to dispel the notion that he is indeed legendary by churning out a horrible set of turgid stadium techno, oddly punctuating it with a brilliant new Kelli Hand electro cut before returning to veering-on-the-electro house and crummy cover versions of â€˜Strings of Lifeâ€™ and â€˜Man With The Red Faceâ€™. I went off to see if the sound had improved for Rick Wade in the Detroit stage to discover that a ugly hiss had been added to the already torturous sound. All that was left to save the day from being a wash out was...Carl Cox.
It's not every day that you see a crowd of thousands going wild to the classic â€˜Flashâ€™ by Fix/Orlando Voorn, but this was the opening calling card of Cox's set. He quickly followed suit with another techno banger and it seemed like the most unlikely source would be the one to finish the day as the highlight. Sadly, it didn't last, and he quickly descended into dealing out tired, bland tribal techno. He also thought it necessary to tell us on the mic who he was. Like the big massive screens with your name and face weren't a dead giveaway, Carl. A poor, poor first day.
Day two, and thankfully more to see outside of the Detroit stage â€“ although it was still annoying to have to wipe Jay Denham, Octave One and Scotty D from the to-see list, but down by the riverside Dj Godfather was taking control of the Red Bull stage with a gang of Chicago and Detroit ghetto djs. After a few technical hitches with laptops, Slugo got things going off in fine style, getting the floor filled up quickly with lots of classic Chi-Town ghetto house. Godfather, accompanied by MC Omega and a troupe of scantily clad dancers, was up next. It was nearly surreal to here this stuff on a hot summer's afternoon in the outdoors but it definitely worked.
As much fun as it was, Osunlade was taking to the main stage in the middle of it and he provided a somewhat alternative soundtrack to the sun. A masterfully structured set of deep house ensued for the next hour and a half, and while the dancefloor area was maybe a little quiet - due to late night after parties that go on till around 6am after the main festival closes at midnight, a lot of the crowd don't arrive until late - I sat back on the steps rising up from the floor and soaked in one of the highlights of the weekend. The Innervisions live PA was up next and it was a tad disappointing. They tended to meander at times and it rarely hit a full on groove, but not without its good points.
Following directly after was Dennis Ferrer, who was more comical than anything. The main stage set up means that some of the DJs play on a tier lower than others, and are quite isolated from the stage entrances and what not. As we know, this is where the hangers on like to shuffle about looking cool, mingling around in the background. Ferrer decided to bring his posse with him to his tier and it looked nothing but embarrassing, with six or seven posers standing around him, looking a bit out of place. This coupled with a poor set that fluttered between bad house to bad techno meant it was time to go further afield again.
After a quick dip in to see if the sound on the Detroit stage was as bad as yesterday (it was) it was time to hit up The Wighnomy Brothers on the Beatport stage. It was a real shame that the line up on this stage was for the most part not to my liking - I hadn't travelled across the ocean to check out a load of Euro mnml and electro house that I can see anywhere every other week - as the area was top notch. In an ironic touch not lost on the two Germans, they played an all vinyl set on a stage purporting to promote digital downloading. The younger of the two displaying an hilarious fetish for wax, licking nearly every record he took out of his bag while scoffing at the â€˜Download Music Digitallyâ€™ backdrop sign and then pretending to play on an air-laptop, while Guy Gerber set up his real one beside them. Technically superb DJs who really know how to work tracks in the mix, they were the surprise package of the weekend, going from dub techno to minimal to jacking house and melodic techno, seamlessly. They left Gerber with a tough task, and he managed to empty the floor a bit. No real closing highlight for the main night, but a much more satisfying day.
Day three. Tired from some late night partying and early morning record shopping I caught the last part of Flying Lotus on the Red Bull Stage. His off kilter hip hop groovings had mutated into pounding techno and jungle rhythms. The little I saw was a welcome departure to much of the rest of the sounds of the weekend, and it was easily the busiest i'd seen a stage, pre-5pm. The main stage was to be populated by the Detroit heavyweights. â€™Bout time. Before them though, New York's Quentin Harris was doing the polar opposite to Osunlade â€“ ie playing an ill-fitting set of uptempo house that didnâ€™t really work.
Carl Craig soon arrived in a glorious white suit. He kicked things off with a strange opening few moments of ambient oddness before heading into a set that could really only be described as dull. Dull, inoffensive, techy flavoured selections that plodded along, rarely going anywhere. And seriously, do we need to hear â€˜The Bellsâ€™ and â€˜Blackwaterâ€™ ever again? Definitely not at 6pm on a sunny Monday evening. There was a couple of choice selections along the way, but it was definitely a let down, and I found myself gawking around at the raver kids and goth types while waiting for Los Hermanos.
In a time when most â€˜liveâ€™ acts contain little more than a laptop and a midi controller, it was thrilling to see a drummer, guitarist (Piranhahead no less), cellist and violin player accompany the more traditional synthesizer/DJ/MPC set up. Their Latin-infused techno helped get more people on their feet and the likes of â€˜A Deeper Presenceâ€™ really kicked off the nights proceedings. Around midway through their set a group of burly men dressed head to toe in white took to the stage for some brilliant choreographed dance moves that stirred up the crowd even more. Actually, around most arenas at any given time groups of kids could be found breaking to whatever music was going at the time, which was a fun distraction when things got a bit boring. They closed with a rousing rendition of â€˜Knights of the Jaguarâ€™, which may be another played out track, but it's not everyday you see it being performed on live strings with a gang of six foot something dudes throwing the funkiest moves this side of Soul Train while the sun sets on Detroit.
White must have been a theme for the day as Kevin Saunderson arrived out in all white apparel next. It would have been more preferable if he'd not come out at all. This is one guy who needs to retire. Now. Playing possibly the worst "upfront", "banging" techno and house available to man kind it was a depressing sight to behold. Yes, the crowd were lapping it up, but I don't think it's a vicious criticism to say that many of the crowd would dance to anything. Dance music festivals of this kind are few and far between in America and you simply don't have the variety of Europe, so when one rolls into town invariably any Tom, Dick and Harry turns up to bop their heads to whatever is closest to their ears at the time. Or in the case of one glowstick merchant, it can be an amalgamation of two stages: at the same time Saunderson nearly made me and my friends give up the will to live, piss-poor dubstep was emanating from the Red Bull Stage. We were sat in between which made for a somewhat in-decipherable blend of the two (though it still sounded better than the Underground stage), yet this chap proceeded to dance away to, well, we weren't sure what. Maybe there was something far more entertaining going on his head.
And so after two painfully slow hours it was time for loudmouth techno don Derrick May. Today had fairly lacking so all hopes were placed on Delboy closing things out on a high. After a somewhat shaky start The Innovator delivered the goods. At times his DJing focuses more on the percussion than the beat, dropping it for lengthy spells while the rest of the rhythm takes centre stage. In between some wondrous techno selections some cheeky old house and disco numbers got the Mayday work out. When he gets going he's a one man army behind the decks, never letting anything settle for more than a minute while twisting out all sorts of funk from his selections. A big mouth he may be, but that's 'cause he's got the skills to back it up.
And so the party came to a close, thankfully on a high. As much as I'd like to think that the festival lived up to expectations the simple truth is, it didn't. The crowd, while amusing at times, are a mish mash of trance rejects, not very exciting suburban kids along with the more obvious music fans. Over the weekend at some after parties I got a feeling for what I believe a true Detroit party to be like, ones heavily populated by locals who set a dancefloor on fire in a style you just don't see at European parties, soundtracked by the sounds of Detroit, New York and Chicago. In a world where Europeans producers have become the bigger draw for many, one can forget that much of this music owes its heritage to the cityâ€™s culture. It's more than a little bit sad to see that massive element sidelined from what should be a celebration of it. That coupled with total let-down that was the Detroit stage meant there were just as many lows as highs over the weekend.