By. Max Totsky | It is impossible to discuss Movement Festival without touching on the significance of its hometown. Detroit is so many things, yet one of the most realized is the “birthplace of techno”. Movement Festival (formerly known as DEMF) exists to touch into that part of the city’s history, by piling on as much proof as it can that the scene’s spirit lives on. The festival stands as a statement that hundreds of artists can get together, all influenced by one sound, and deliver a few days of diverse, inspired entertainment.
This narrow scope can make dropping $75 on a day ticket rather hard to justify for the casual electronic music fan. Outside of a handful of crossover acts, there really aren’t too many big names. In fact, the stars at Movement are artists who grace the “dance tents” at broader festivals. Nonetheless, with some exceptions (think DJ Snoopadelic) Movement puts a heavy emphasis on authenticity over popularity. Scattered around the lineup are textbook examples of “techno pioneers” playing hometown sets, with whole stages curated by originators like Kevin Saunderson or current scenesters like Matthew Dear. Similarly, this festival experience is all about immersion. If you are going to Movement, you better have a high tolerance for flashing lights, throbbing bass, and relentless repetition. There is a very specific sound that dominates this festival, and even if it becomes mind-numbing, something about its atmosphere ensures that no matter how monotonous it gets, the vibe will rarely fail to hit the spot.
There is a very specific sound that dominates this festival, and even if it becomes mind-numbing, something about its atmosphere ensures that no matter how monotonous it gets, the vibe will rarely fail to hit the spot.
Movement is a place where social constructs are shunned in favor of warmth and invitation. It seems like, more so than other music events, there is no fear of interaction between attendees. Instances of strangers sharing gum while rolling on MDMA or embracing each other in recognition of the overwhelming musical vibe were admirably frequent. Of course, like any other hotbed for electronic music, Movement has started to appeal to the new wave of EDM bros, but the hilarious elements of “rave culture” completely overshadowed the more self-congratulatory and annoying ones, ensuring that positivity reigned supreme.
Movement has six stages and they all shelter a very different ambience. The Thump Stage is visible from outside of the festival, and hosted stellar sets from the likes of Fort Romeau and Shigeto, taking the pain away from those waiting in the ungodly line to enter the festival. The appropriately named Beatport is situated right by the Detroit River and drew massive crowds for Iranian house-music icon Dubfire, but with the high audience density it was practically impossible for latecomers to settle in. Thus, the party didn’t really get started until a set from mysterious Dutch DJ Steffi kicked off on the Underground Stage. This stage differs from the rest as it is located on the lower level of Hart Plaza, the only part of the festival covered by a roof. It enjoys a much more club-friendly and secluded feel, which was perfect for the harsh, minimal electronica brought on by Steffi.
After Steffi, it was time for one of the festival’s most current names, Hudson Mohawke, to grace the RBMA stage. With the daytime backdrop working against him, Mohawke relied on his absolutely earth-shattering arsenal of bangers do all his work. His 2012 TNGHT EP with Lunice has become massively influential in trap music, so his presence fit Movement’s innovative mood quite well. It was also a set that showed off his variety; amidst hype tracks like ‘Chimes’ and ‘Higher Ground’, which base their appeal off of anthemic drops, stood subtle slow-burners like ‘Ryderz’, which displayed his headrush maximalism in a way that transcended the predictably appealing bulk of the set. Overall, it was very strong performance and was quite eloquently defined by one of the night’s most discussed moments; a festival police officer walking onto the stage, making the crowd assume he was there to shut down the show, but instead giving the audience a salute. It was a burst of energy that left the crowd in anticipation for what was to come next.
The anticipation was justified, because what came next blew everything else out of the water. Rapper Danny Brown delivered an extremely livid homecoming set, which appeared to please everyone involved, even if it was a slight diversion from Movement’s electro-dominant standard. Brown was one of the biggest celebrities at the festival, but he balanced his own energy off of his hypeman Dopehead and his DJ, SKYWLKR, who introduced the set by playing instantly recognizable tracks like Waka Flocka Flame’s ‘Hard in Da Paint’, Carnage’s ‘I Like Tuh’, or even a trap remix of the theme song from Little Einsteins. When Brown walked on the stage, however, this bubble instantly popped. He chose the appropriate selection from his catalogue for this show, focusing on his much more accessible, festival-ready tracks that dominated the back half of 2013’s Old. As soon as ‘Break It (Go)’ whipped into its bass-heavy beat drop, the excitement was permanent. Brown’s set, at a mere 40 minutes, felt somewhat brief, but he made the most out of the time he had. Every track, in one way or another, was a banger and even when performing the somewhat pensive ‘Grown Up’, the energy was boosted by the fact that the scenes Brown was describing only took place a few miles from where he currently stood. It was an extremely fun set that seemed to adapt Brown’s style for the hyper-infused crowd that typically shows up to Movement.
The main stage at Movement has a different vibe entirely. It is stoney, industrial, and is set on a pavilion, meaning that the ideal place to stand was somewhere close to the top where the music was still loud but the stage could be viewed without limitation. Loco Dice was wrapping up his set when Danny Brown walked off the stage, and graced with some intense lights and a huge sound, he served to keep people moving while waiting for the night’s headliner. At first the name Dog Blood might not ring any bells, but the fact that it is actually the moniker for Skrillex and Boys Noize’s acid-techno side project explains why their set drew what were apparently the biggest crowd of the festival. Although the two are definitely not favorites of techno purists, they absolutely killed their Sunday night show, drawing on practically no material from Skrillex’s solo career but pleasing the crowd with the onslaught of synthetic vigor they brought with them. It was an interesting ending to a night that seemed to be all about unity and chaos. Most importantly though, Movement seemed to bring Detroit back to life. It might seem weird, but buildings look way better surrounded by spirit.