My first Detroit music festival weekend is in the books. It only took me 17 years to get myself in gear and now I feel more passionate about the music, people, and city than I ever did before. In five days I only got a small taste of what the city has to offer but what I got I thoroughly enjoyed. For me the trip was only nominally about the Movement festival. Sure I wanted to see some artists perform whom I’ve admired for years (Shake, Larry Heard, Model 500 to name a few), but beyond that I also needed to see the city that I always speak about with such reverence. Here is my best attempt to capture the highlights of what I experienced from this past weekend with my childhood friend/sister from another mother, Chana.
Friday, May 28th
Got into town with just enough time to catch the last two emotionally rousing songs of the screening of “Timeless Suite For Ma Dukes,” who also happened to be in attendance. “The Drive Home” documentary followed detailing the events of the first DEMF, both from the planning and execution standpoints and featured some great footage and entertaining interviews with Detroit artists and city officials that pretty much paralleled all of what was said in RA’s recent Oral History feature. Derrick May then introduced a live set from Timeline that blew smoke rings around most current techno attempting any jazz embracement. The set up included what I believed was Mike Banks on synth and drum machines, Jon Dixon on keys, sax player, and DJ as well as Carl Craig sitting in one track for some analog circuitry business similar to that new No Boundaries project. They started off with “Journey of the Dragons” and moved into newer material (“Ghost of Graystone” and an untitled cut) that will be on a forthcoming release. An encore of “Hi-Tech Jazz” got me out of my seat.
From there it was over to the Beretta/FXHE party where Reference were laying down some techno including their own new one on Planet E. Kevin Reynolds was no where to be found, but ran into Kyle Hall sporting his “KMFH” ball cap and said hello to him. Omar S came on in the main room and served up a bumping mix of Chicago (E.S.P.’s “It’s You” in particular had me going) house, acid (a sound that became a recurring theme throughout the weekend) and ‘90s house classics before dropping some soulful Stevie Wonder and George Benson house edits. It wasn’t what I was expecting to hear but it was welcomed with open arms nonetheless. Sound complaints pushed the volume down around 3:30 and it seemed to die down at that point. And as we left the BBQ sandwiches being slow roasted (a welcome change from the ubiquitous hot dogs in most cities) in the front were calling my name, but I passed. Still kicking myself for that.
Saturday, May 29th
First day of the festival took me on a couple detours. Mainly to Submerge—which usually open by appointment only was leaving their doors open all weekend and doing a brisk business—to buy some records (new Red Planet and Bileebob as well as that DJ John Collins-an amazing record btw) as well as a shirt for my son. Talking to Cliff there and he led us upstairs to check out the Detroit techno museum. If you’re into Detroit techno/house history this is not to be missed is all I can say. After that we dropped in on a Los Hermanos BBQ being hosted at Tunnel 7 AKA Ray 7’s house. Great people turned up from all over both Detroit and beyond, with a common appreciation of Detroit techno and more than a few artists/DJs included. Gerald Mitchell mentioned that they might try to make this a bigger event next year at Belle Isle, so keep an eye out.
Got to the festival just in time to catch Kyle Hall making his debut in the Made in Detroit underground stage, mixing up the styles and tempos, from straight up club gear to Minnie Ripperton and Grace Jones to end his set. Rick Wilhite came on and took it to a deeper level. I didn’t catch all of it but heard some Gino Soccio and Sleezy D. Frank Glazer (from ISM) tweeted that he heard some Bjork but I had migrated to the Torino stage to check out Kirk Degiorgio’s Ableton enriched set. Whatever anyone says about a DJ using the laptop as a crutch it certainly isn’t true of Kirk’s performance. The man was working it up there requiring a towel to his brow every third track just to maintain visibility while pounding out some serious techno heat, dropping stuff like “Altered States” and Ian O’Brien’s “3-5-3” while keeping it current with loads of techno bangers from Ican and his own material. It certainly wasn’t as nuanced as some sets but it was a thrilling ride nonetheless. Decided to skip Theo Parrish’s set in exchange for some rest and knew we would see him later that night anyway.
Showed up for the Deep Detroit party a bit early and found out it was essentially in a theatre space with a café. Coffee in hand we got in there waiting for things to heat up and a bar to manifest. We were 1 for 2. No alcohol appeared (in keeping with the original Music Institute policy perhaps?) but the place got going as Larry Heard dropped some deeper jazzy vocal cuts and then started to intersperse them with acid tracks, but keeping the flow smooth instead of jacking up the intensity too high and burning us out.
Kai Alce came on and took control with a solid selection of house and disco material, none of which I can recall completely save for the last one, a gorgeously funky disco track that featured some tight jazz riffs that kept rolling along. Theo closed it out with some crazy rhythms ranging from Jamie Principle’s “Bad Boy” to an edit of James Brown that he kept stretching out the vocal longer and longer after each break. Rolling outside to catch some air I ran into Eddie Fowlkes and Omar S who flipped me some shit about my t-shirt that had “Kenny&Theo&Carl&Omar” printed on it. “Is that that ugly ass Omar over in England?” he asked. “That can’t be the handsome Omar here in Detroit,” he said while cracking a smile and asking me if I had picked up his latest release.
Sunday May 30th
This day presented some scheduling dilemmas from my perspective. Too much great talent placed at conflicting slots, creating a crisis of conscious that had me staying through to check out all of one and not some of all. I think it paid dividends too. Hitting the festival just to hear the last part of the Psycatron duo ripping out some hard-hitting techno, which included KiNK’s “Rachel “AKA” Keys Of Life, a track, I bemoaned earlier this year as being too derivative. Orlando Voorn’s live set was next and did not disappoint. He had come into town earlier in the week to practice with his back up players, Ray 7 and Dre, who accompanied him on percussion, playing synth drums. Always cool to see a drumstick knocking out a solid bass kick giving the music a human element to connect with among the synthetic sound processing. Orlando did a great job of taking the audience through some newer sounding experimental electro and techno and even dropped in classics like “Flash” and “Game One” while tweaking them out. And better yet, he did a superb job of playing the showman, giving us exaggerated facial expressions and gesturing while working the midi-keyboard and mixer. They even went so far as to pitch the tempo down during a track to a faucet drip while they moved in slow motion, with Orlando staring cross-eyed at this laptop for a good 5 seconds before kick-starting it back up.
From there it was back to the underground stage to catch the last hour of Shake, who was tearing it up, dropping funky techno joints from Wax 001 , Cooly G and his own “The Fake Left, Go Right Plan” to Kyle Hall’s new one on Hyperdub. An outstanding set that surpassed all of my expectations by providing harder edge stuff but with character, something that I’ve always admired about his productions. Rolando came up next with a non-stop set of dance floor bombs playing to the Detroit hometown crowd. I could name off about 3/4 of the set, which didn’t really excite me as much as Shake’s set, but still good to hear some tracks that I will always identify with my discovery of Detroit techno. He even fittingly dropped “Detroit: One Circle” while Rob Hood was setting up on stage beside him.
Hunger and dehydration had set in by that time and it was time go grab some festival food and eat on the grass while listening to Derrick May do his thing. Again a set that contained little in the way of surprises, choosing to work the mixer and play tracks that work the crowd but with little subtlety. Pretty sure I heard both of the most recent Transmat releases as well as that “Women Beat Their Men” track he likes so much. A pity too since we ended up missing Rob Hood’s live set. After May ended it was down to the main stage, which was pretty much packed to see Inner City playing live. Stayed for a few songs, long enough to hear one of my favorites “Big Fun” but it was lacking from a muddy sound quality and lackluster performance. I guess that’s what happens when all your favorite versions are their remixes.
That night another dilemma presented itself as Metroplex 25th anniversary party, KDJ’s Soul Skate and the All In The Family party all weighed heavy as possible destinations. But we instead ended up going to the No Way Back party hosted by Interdimensional Transmissions held at the Bohemian National Home, a massive brick building in a residential area that apparently was a refuge for Lithuanian immigrants in the early part of the last century. Got there in time to hear Serge from Clone throwing down a set that started laid back with some deep house and moved into full on acid territory. It was hard to tell when BMG came on but one of them dropped Farley Jackmaster Funk’s “The Acid Life” and set it off for me. I was certain that it had been played by Larry Heard the night before but in this context, a dimly lit, tightly packed room, and the surrounding tracks just seemed to set the mood and energy level to a bursting point. BMG finished up with some I-F, a welcome diversion to most everything else I had heard that weekend. Derek Plaslaiko came on and proceeded to play the blandest house tracks I’ve heard in years, and decided to let them play for an eternity. Needless to stay even an eagerly anticipated set from Carlos Souffront couldn’t keep us there and it was time to retire.
Monday, May 31st
I had every intention of making it down to catch the Moritz Von Oswald Trio play but a bonehead move on my part (leaving my festival bracelet back at the room), led me to miss the set entirely. At that point a visit to a record store was the one thing that was going to raise spirits and after a trip to a closed Peoples Records, it was over to Hamtramck to hit Detroit Threads. This funky store boasts both records (used and new) and clothes (vintage and music t’s). I was able to find some nice used techno and electro, quite a bit of Sistrum that I had slept on while finding a copy of the Oliverwho Factory’s “Rain 5th Wave/Together” a release that has become very hard to find after getting featured on Tama Sumo’s recent mix CD. I also ran into Kyle Hall dropping off some records for sale and some of his funny ass KMFH stickers. I thanked him for the interview he did with me way back when and we compared notes on the festival. But it sounded like he was tired as I felt at that point and not even DJ Harvey could pull me out for one more night and sadly missed Model 500 and Kenny Larkin playing live, probably the one regret of the whole trip.
While the festival had its downsides (inconsistent sound, never-ending mobs of raver kids, and obnoxious security), but all in all it was fairly minor compared to the numerous positive points about the city, people and music that overshadowed the festival itself. Thanks to so many people that I was able to meet up with, hang, kick it, dance and talk music with over those few days: Steve Mizek, Tom Cox, Frank Glazer, Minto George, Rik Simpson, Oleg Belogorsky, Jane Lerner, Donte Parks, Jeremy Borden, Jay Newhouse, Jwan Allen, Tori Jordan, Ray 7, Spore Print, Dan Caballero, Alvaro Parra, Isela Salazar, Tampopo, Mike Battaglia, Levon Vincent, Malcolm Moore, Orlando and Emily Voorn, the Butcher, Kyle Hall, Cliff Thomas, Mike Banks, Andy Garcia, Steven Cherry, and of course Chana Goodman (whose pics grace this post unless noted).