It was a hot Memorial Day weekend for Detroit and its techno Movement festival, the city’s ever-growing annual event. The festival sprawled over Hart Plaza, and the sunny heat turned into a warm fog when evening closed in, the sun leaving behind a wet air as festival goers filled the grounds. They came in cut shorts, black shirts, shaggy hairstyles, happy jitters, hollow eyes and colorful bracelets. More than one man wore a graphic t-shirt that read “I wish Movement was a city and we all lived in it together.” Another read “Sex, Drugs and Techno.” The hip ones carried PBR beer cans. The less conscious held Bud Light Tall Boys.
This year’s lineup had over 80 acts, performing across five stages. Detroit mainstay Kevin Saunderson, Ann Arbor-raised Shigeto and U-M Alum Matthew Dear were all there; bigger, more mainstream acts were too, like Diplo and the Wu-Tang Clan. Like at most festivals, regulars spoke of past lineups with a misty nostalgia. “Yeah, last year’s was incredible…,” I overheard, “just can’t top it.” Whether that’s true or not isn’t really the point. They’re back nonetheless. Next year won’t be as good either, but we’ll still return.
A Pylon structure stands 120 feet tall at the entrance, looking down over the crowd as they descend the walkways towards the Horace E. Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain, which acts as the watering hole for the parched and burned. Many entrances were hidden subtly, so when entering a new stage, one felt like a sweaty, tired explorer discovering new land after months rocking nauseously at sea. This was especially true of the underground stage, which sat beneath the park. The stage stood at the end of a sunken platform, and onlookers stood around the edges and watched the dancers; the dancers kept their heads down, watching the ground. Once down the stairs to the stage area, it was hard to tell what time it was. We arrived around five in the evening, but it may as well have been midnight.
Mark Flash played a great set, incorporating saxophone at even intervals to the beating 808s, as well as the melodies of a few popular jazz tunes. It made for some of the most danceable music of the weekend. His follow up, the young Belgian Charlotte de Witte, matched her former’s intensity, though she kept to a stricter, sharper sound than Flash. She was a hit among festival goers, and her set filled the Underground Stage to capacity.
As someone only peripherally educated in techno, there were moments when the acts seemed to blend together. Some seemed one and the same, that similar, eminently danceable half-time rhythmic bounce following me around to every stage. That repetition grows on you, and by the last day I couldn’t stop repeating it under my breath — one and two and one and two and…. The moments that cut through were all the more memorable. Nina Kraviz, at the fore of techno today, started her set with a fifteen-minute manifesto. Her forceful voice called out facts as accusations: “Black and Hispanic women are paid 63% of every white man. Black and Hispanic women are 63% of every white man!” The crowd cheered, and she transitioned into severe, poetic language about being quite literally fucked by the capitalist system. “This is not feminism, this is inequality!” she yelled. Her production was equally as intense, switching quickly between styles without regard for cohesion.
German duo Modeselektor played a DJ Set, but still managed to bring some of the strongest energy of the weekend. One half of the duo wore a janitor’s outfit, and ran around the front of the stage moving his arms up and down like he was summoning God, or Satan, whoever cared to listen. About halfway through their set, a few stern police officers drove through the crowd on Segway PTs, and festival goers put their little plastic baggies away with wry grins.
Diplo and the Wu-Tang Clan both headlined on Monday. Diplo forewent the big drops and 12 beat crescendo that he helped popularize for a more consistent beat, a nod to the festival’s sound. By the halfway point, he began incorporating more popular tracks to the beat, turning Migos “T-Shirt” into a moment of euphoria.
The Wu-Tang had a much more sizeable showing than Diplo, the magnitude of their 25th anniversary performance clearly not lost on Detroiters. It was an arresting moment, a lyric heavy group that helped revolutionize rap at a largely lyric-less festival; but their raps took on a kind of mesmerizing, almost techno-like quality, and the pairing made sense. As the legendary supergroup played hits like “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Protect Ya Neck,” the crowd rapped along with every word, throwing up their hands to form ‘W’s. RZA chanted “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to fuk with!” over and over. One and two and three and four and…