Famed Techno Festival Returns After 2 Years
Words and Photos by: Dominic P.
The “Movement Stage” at Movement Detroit 2022
Detroit is the birthplace of techno music. It is also the home of techno music. The former has long been established by the legendary artists, producers, and record labels that contributed to the genesis of the genre in the late eighties and early nineties. The latter is proven every year on Memorial day weekend as the city stages an epic celebration that continues, uninterrupted, for five consecutive days.
At the center of the non-stop revelry is Movement, the three day electronic music festival that showcases the immense talent of the Detroit scene alongside premier DJs and musicians from around the world. The yearly festival, which began as D.E.M.F (Detroit Electronic Music Festival) in 2000, takes place in Hart Plaza, a sprawling area in the city’s downtown core, which backs onto the Detroit River and is otherwise surrounded by the city’s impressive skyline. Covid-19 related restrictions meant that the festival was unable to be held in either of the last two years. In 2022, Movement was back with a vengeance.
The energy in and around the festival was palpable—familiar, welcoming, yet slightly hesitant. I can only speak for myself, but being in a crowd of this size felt unfamiliar after a couple years of social distancing, lockdowns, and so on. This feeling quickly dissipated, and it was all the more cathartic when it did.
I’ve always been impressed by the layout of the festival. Despite packing in six stages into a relatively confined area, and enough sound equipment to register on the Richter scale, each stage is expertly situated to create its own acoustic pocket. The first wave of sound that hits you as you walk through the front gates comes from the Stargate stage. Towering over the dancefloor to the right of the stage is the immense 63 foot iron sculpture “Transcending,” which commemorates the legacy of the labor movement in Detroit. It forms a shiny, notched ring, meant to resemble a gear; the slight break toward the top of the ring is connected at night by lights projected from either side of the statue. One would be hard-pressed to find a work that is more aesthetically suited to a techno-festival. Metal rigging runs above the dancefloor, creating a prism around the contours of the area with an array of speakers on either side every 20 meters or so.
Norm Talley (above) and Sama’ Abdulhadi (below) play the Movement stage at Movement 2022.
The main stage of the festival, the “Movement Stage,” is situated at the bottom of a concrete Amphitheater. Giant concrete steps descend through around a dozen levels before flattening out to create a sizable dancefloor. The tiered structure of the main stage allows viewers to look down and see the movement of the entire crowd in a way that isn’t possible for flat stages. Observers standing at ground level can perceive the ebb and flow of the crowd as a singular, homogenous entity. Due to its location, this stage is often the first to gather a crowd as attendees trickle through the gates. Artists that play this stage at any time of the day take on the responsibility of setting the tone for the entire festival.
Detroit Deep House icon Norm Talley gave a masterclass on progression. Kicking off a late afternoon set on the Movement Stage, Talley expertly transitioned from laid-back, downtempo house tracks with tasty vocal hooks to his own exuberant brand of deep house. In addition to his own records, Talley sprinkled in a variety of Detroit house tracks, such as Rick Wade’s “Fade Away.” Talley played an all-vinyl set and showed his class as a DJ in the strictest sense of the term by commanding the crowd at every moment of the set.
Palestinian DJ Sama’ Abdulhadi took to the Movement stage for an evening set on the first day of the festival. Hailing from Ramallah—in the occupied West Bank of Palestine—Sama’ first honed her skills as a DJ in the Beirut techno scene. The 19:00-20:30 time slot meant that Sama’ played directly before Jon Hopkins, who was followed by opening night-headliner Richie Hawtin. This is a big set, especially for a Movement debutant, and speaks to the meteoric rise of Sama’s burgeoning techno career. Sama’ more than rose to the occasion. Her energy was contagious and allowed Sama’ to control the crowd with ease which, at this point, was overflowing out of the concrete bowl of the mainstage. In her artists’ profile, Sama’ describes her style: “The music is Berlin techno, but I interpret it in a Lebanese way.” If you ever needed proof that the Underground knows no bounds, this is it. Berlin x Beirut x Detroit worked, and it was glorious.
Amp Fiddler (left), Soul Clap (middle) and Greg Paulus (right) play the Waterfront Stage at Movement 2022
Boston duo Soul Clap (made up of Charles Levine and Eli Goldstein) took to the Waterfront Stage in the afternoon sun to play a live set with Detroit legend Amp Fiddler. It’s not the first time the group has played together— their marching band themed live set at the 2017 iteration of the festival is often counted among the all-time performances at Movement and for good reason.
The Waterfront stage faces east and is one of two stages (the other being the Pyramid stage) that backs onto the Detroit river. A concrete area directly in front of the stage gives way to a sloped grassy section, generously shaded by trees. Many festival goers relaxed on the hill while listening to the performance while taking in the view of the winding river, boats anchored off the shore to hear the festival, and the shoreline of Windsor, Ontario on the opposite side of the river.
The set opened with a land acknowledgement powerfully delivered by Soul Clap and Amp Fiddler. Backed up by the trumpet playing of Greg Paulus, and a video montage depicting Indigenous peoples marching and carrying signs at demonstrations, Eli of Soul Clap acknowledged that the performance was taking place on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe nations of the Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatami. The message explicitly critiqued settler colonialism and extended a message of solidarity to BIPOC and LGBTQ+ groups. Full of conviction and with a corresponding tone of protest, it was refreshing to hear such a message in a context where it isn’t necessarily expected. It also fit thematically, showing that Soul Clap and Amp Fiddler fully appreciate the relationship between their funk influences and Afrofuturism. This should come as no surprise—Soul Clap’s artist’s profile opens with a reference to P-Funk and Sun Ra in the first sentence and Amp Fiddler spent time as a member of Clinton’s band in the 70’s.
Greg Paulus played the trumpet, Amp Fiddler was flanked by two keyboards and provided vocals, Charles seemed to have a keyboard/synthesizer along with an electronic drum pad, and Eli appeared to be responsible for a set of turntables. The chemistry and mutual respect between the artists was evident, resulting in a magnetic performance. At the side of the stage the sound guy, Woody, watched over the mixing board and testified to the level of intricacy of the performance. The live element of the performance simultaneously looks backwards to the roots of electronic music and forward to new and creative ways it can be performed. After the set, I asked Amp Fiddler what motivates him and Soul Clap continue to put on these live sets at Movement, his response: “we’re just trying to keep innovating.” Mission accomplished.
Sard (top) and Ke Thu (bottom) play live sets on the Detroit Stage at Movement 2022
My favourite stage by far was the Detroit stage presented by JARS. The stage faces south in front of a small, grassy dance floor with the iconic Renaissance building towering over spectators just off to the east. Although it is the smallest stage by some margin, the sets here are often the most exciting. As the name suggests, the artists that perform here are locals who either grew up in and around the city or lived there for a number of years. The size of the stage gives it a more intimate feeling, but the energy and concentration of the crowd matches any of the larger stages. The support that local artists have of one another is heartwarming; at any given time you’ll find a handful of DJs from Detroit dancing among the crowd.
One of the more impressive facets of this year’s lineup at the Detroit stage was the amount of live sets. Live PA artist Sard made his Movement debut in front of a packed crowd at dusk on the opening night of the festival. Currently based in Chicago, Sard spent several years living in Detroit, studying his craft while organizing and playing shows in both Detroit and across the border in Windsor. Performing with a setup that included a modular synthesizer, a drum machine, and sampler, Sard effortlessly enchanted the crowd. Hypnotizing synth stabs quickly gave way to sliding hi-hats and 303 bass lines as he deftly increased the tempo along with the jubilation of the crowd.
This stage truly never misses. Detroit duo Ke Thu were another excellent example of the quality of up-and coming local artists. One of the great treats of the festival is walking over to the Detroit stage, catching an act you weren’t yet aware of and walking away an instant fan. Ke Thu were excellent and reminded me of one of my favourite live acts of all time, Octave One. The same goes for Francois Dillinger, yet another local live act that delivered an incredible performance. Dillinger’s set was fixating, and provided one of the many moments at the festival that force you to throw your planned schedule out the window.
The view from the Pyramid Stage (top). Louie Vega plays the Pyramid Stage at Movement 2022 (bottom).
It’s difficult to tell who has the better view at the Pyramid stage: the crowd or the DJ? In contrast to the descending bowl of the main stage, the Pyramid stage features a giant concrete pyramid, with tiered levels ascending above the stage, providing audience members with platforms to see the crowd below. The Pyramid stage is the only stage that backs onto the Detroit river, creating a sweeping vista for those on the upper levels of the pyramid. Facing north, the view from the stage captures the majority of the Detroit skyline.
House music pioneer Louie Vega took over the Pyramid stage in the early evening. Vega’s set was predictably good, as you’d expect from a grammy award winning artist that’s been at the forefront of the scene for the last three plus decades. If it were anybody else playing a set with so many bonafide house classics it might come across as cheesy, but there’s something especially gratifying about hearing these tracks played by the man himself. It’s not often that you get to hear tracks like “I can’t get no sleep” by Masters at Work only to look up and be reminded, “holy shit that’s Louie Vega!”
Ukrainian DJ Nastia plays the Underground stage (top). DJ Stingray plays behind a curtain at Movement 2022 (bottom).
The darkest sets of the festival take place deep inside the bowels of Hart Plaza at the iconic Underground stage. You enter the stage to the right of the mainstage and proceed to a subterranean concrete dungeon. There’s hardly a better setting for a techno show—close your eyes and imagine a Cyberpunk dance club and you’ve got it. The temperature instantly increases by what feels like 10 degrees when you cross the threshold to the dancefloor. Concrete daises are spread out across the floor allowing groups of a few people at a time to dance on a pedestal.
Ukrainian DJ Nastia played an evening set in the underground to a raucous crowd. Nastia has found herself at the center of the techno community of late both for her outspoken advocacy against the war in her country and her criticism of Russian DJ Nina Kraviz. Kraviz, a hugely popular artist and founder of the record label ‘Trip,’ was also scheduled to play at Movement but canceled several days prior to the start of the festival. The substantive criticism against Kraviz is that she has largely remained silent about the war in Ukraine. Kraviz eventually offered a deeply unsatisfying response in which she disavows violence and prays for peace, all the while claiming she “doesn’t understand politics or the social processes it creates.” Kraviz then went on to quote the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca, seemingly to further substantiate her lack of political understanding.
The real Stoic in this situation is Nastia who, smiling and dancing throughout her set, delivered a powerful performance well deserving of the Underground stage. Several people brought Ukrainian flags which were raised whenever Nastia punctuated particularly exciting moments during her set. The war in Ukraine is tragic, and the controversy with Kraviz is unfortunate. What shouldn’t be lost in all this is that Nastia is a talented artist that is adept at her craft.
DJ Stingray 313 closed out the Underground stage on Saturday night. The local electro maestro—known for his reclusive mystique and patented outfit of Detroit sports team shirt (typically Tigers or Lions) and armband paired with a dark balaclava—delivered a monumental performance. Stingray upped the ante on his shrouded identity by performing behind a black curtain. This produced a fascinating effect of denying performative theatricality by hiding the stage behind a curtain; a theatrical technique par excellence. Electro is arguably the genre best suited for the Underground stage and DJ Stingray 313 showed why this is the case.
Richie Hawtin plays the main stage at Movement 2022
It is impossible to provide a full picture of what the experience is like. Between the six stages of the festival and innumerable after parties, every magnificent set that you take in comes at the cost of missing other incredible ones. Underlying it all is a quintessential Detroit attitude: welcoming, humble, confident and unapologetic. Above is merely a selection of the sets I was able to take in, and had something to write about. To understand why Detroit is the home of Techno, you have to see for yourself.∎
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