May 22nd to 25th 2015 marked the sixteenth year of Detroit’s Memorial Weekend tradition of bringing electronic music to Hart Plaza. For the last ten of those years, it’s been known as Movement Electronic Music Festival, and despite some attendees deriding event promoter Paxahau’s recent moves to appease more EDM and mainstream crowd (with acts such as Dog Blood, GRiZ, and the completely unnecessary DJ Snoopadelic), this is still the country’s premier underground dance music showcase proudly held in the birthplace of Techno. To drive home its influence, my travel companion and I ran into a visitor who traveled all the way from Scotland, saying it was the best festival he’s ever been to. So they must be doing something right. This was my first visit, and I came out of it with a positive energy and lasting memories. I could go on for many rambling paragraphs, but I will sum it up in an organized manner by giving my top twelve performances of the festival and its after hours. This list is by no means comprehensive, and is purely subjective. If there is an artist missing from the list, there is a good chance I didn’t even see them play. Once I can clone a minimum of six of me (the number of stages at the festival), then we’ve really got something.
12. Paco Osuna (Beatport Stage, Monday @7:30pm) – Wow, is it ever hard to narrow an event like this into just twelve standout sets, let alone put those twelve in some sort of order. The first entry is no slouch for sure. I have loved Paco Osuna for years, but have also recently been buying less of his, and similarly styled, productions. I suppose I found it becoming a little too commonplace when I went to the club. Well I certainly was reminded why it’s so popular in the underground dance scene. His brand of accessible, energetic techno had me dancing nonstop more than anyone else at the festival.
11. KiNK (Beatport Stage, Saturday @4pm) – With essentially a permanent smile on his face, KiNK was the perfect performer to be one of the first to greet us to the festival. His live set showcased his unique mix of tech house and breaks, with him holding up many of the magical gadgets he was using to conduct his wizardry. I almost always have a KiNK track in my sets, so it was great to hear him live up to my expectations.
10. Stacey Pullen (Made In Detroit Stage, Saturday @8pm) – Stacey’s set straddled the line perfectly between Techno and House to create the seemingly ambiguous Tech House genre. The balance of raw drums with shuffling highs and soulful melodies defines the genre in the best way. Watched a legend rip it up proper.
9. Maya Jane Coles (Beatport Stage @7pm) – Perched high atop the concrete mountain to the side of the stage and looking over the river, I had a bird’s eye view of Maya Jane Coles and the absolutely packed crowd she was commanding. Starting off with a slow, methodical deep house ride, she soon worked said crowd into a frenzy. Maybe deep house IS the new EDM.
8. Steve Rachmad (STERAC) (The Works @3am) – There was a good amount of mind blowing, unadulterated techno acts at and around the festival, and Steve Rachmad was one who really delivered. I have had the pleasure of seeing him in Amsterdam for his residency at Studio 80, but The Works has an even more sinister and fitting room for his STERAC brand of driving, dark techno. Ingredients for his potent cocktail were simple: Two strobes, black and white projections, big sound…mix well.
7. Navid Izadi (TV Lounge, Saturday @1ish? Arrived mid-set) – Anyone that knows me and my Box & Plum project know I love to dance and mix in the 110 bpm range. There is not much of this to be found at the festival, so it was a pleasure to arrive at Soul Clap’s House of Efunk to Navid Izadi laying it down. It was an absolute winning set of the slow and low Nu Disco bombs.
6. The Saunderson Brothers (Made In Detroit Stage, Monday @5) – it’s a family affair! Dantiez and Damarii Saundeson made their legend father proud as they worked a techno soul set worthy of the strong Detroit namesake. Dantiez seemed to work the knobs a little more, but Damarii had undeniable stage presence. The highlight was about 20 minutes in when Dad came up to date he stage to slip in a mix. Here’s to lifetime member privileges!
5. Oliver Dollar (Main Stage, Sunday @4:30pm) – This dude brought the F U N K with his shuffled, chunky tracks ladled with crowd pleasing vocal samples. Plus he really looked to be enjoying the whole experience himself. A perfect late afternoon “picnic set.”
4. Joris Voorn (Beatport Stage, Monday @10:30pm) – I was expecting Joris Voorn to be good, but not top of my pics good. I was wrong. Sorry “DJ” Snoopadelic, but that was the way to close out this festival. He worked his way through soulful and classic acid remakes, into progressive techno, and ending with the seminal Detroit classic “Knights of the Jaguar” by Aztec Mystic/Underground Resistance. Fitting and respectful to his, and our, techno roots.
3. Alexander Robotnick (TV Lounge, Saturday @2am) – “Who is this old guy” was a though that entered my head for only a few seconds before I remembered Alexander Robotnick was on the bill. Talk about not missing a beat! Smooth mix of classic and new productions (of which he has MANY) all blended in harmony. the highlight was when he picked up the mic for the male vocals in his most famous classic, “Problemes d’amour.”
2. Octave One (Red Bull Stage, Saturday @7pm) – Go watch a live video of Octave One online. Pretty darn good, right? Now multiply the experience by 10. Brothers Lenny and Lawrence Burden are a blast to watch as they work as human metronomes through their racks of soulful and funky techno creators.
1. Mathew Jonson (TV Lounge, Saturday @4am) – One third of longtime favorite Cobblestone Jazz, Mathew Jonson took the stage at 4am, yet again at TV Lounge. (can you tell yet that this was a good after party?) We were pretty tired at the time and were very close to heading back to the hotel. Within a few measures, we knew we were not going anywhere quite yet. His live set uses a plethora of gear, controlled with a massive mixing board and run through Live, and it was fun to watch him enthusiastically manipulate the goods. This was the game changer of the festival for me. Every sound seemed fresh and new. And oh my, the way those sounds were composed: twisted effects, unusual key changes and jumbled looping vocals all came together in a heavy hitting, yet funky, house and breaks set. Absolutely inspiring.
Shout out to the Trouble Tree crew for making it even better: DJ, Jessmar & Ben. Also all the Tucson and DC friends, and new friends, I ran into, especially Dina, who didn’t let this newbie miss out on anything good. Finally I want to give a shout out to all the people that worked hard to put on this festival (I am aware of the issues with lines, etc.) but even more so the people of Detroit. Everyone was super friendly and accommodating. I am humbled to be able to experience the birthplace of so much good music. It’s a super proud city working hard at a serious comeback, and I can’t wait to return.