This Memorial Day Weekend marked my third year attending the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, otherwise known as DEMF or Movement. What began for me as an overpriced people-watching session during prom weekend has become an annual, earsplitting, Detroit-pride rite of spring.

DEMF has been around for over a decade, attracting tens of thousands of some of the most devoted electronic music fans from around the world, and includes artists responsible for not only the festival, but for techno itself. And, of course, nothing beats spending Memorial Day bathed in River Walk breeze and noise pollution among the neon, furry-booted, Morphsuit-donned, proud, beautiful freaks of DEMF.

The first act to catch my attention on Saturday was British DJ Greg Wilson, who had filled up the expanse in front of the Main Stage quite successfully with unexpected remixes of tracks like “Stupid Girl” by Garbage and Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” But I didn’t spend too much time vicariously experiencing better eras; I was eager to check out the always cozy and crazy Red Bull stage, staking out a good spot to gaze upon the mysterious mask of SBTRKT.

On my way over, I spotted the Fushigi master in his standard spot near the “CIGARETTES CANDY” tent, his magical sphere slithering over his arms while he eye-flirted with transfixed onlookers. He would later be replaced by a struggling imposter half-heartedly waving around and dropping glow sticks.

At Red Bull, I shifted my weight from foot to foot while waiting for SBTRKT, remembering that there’s not much of a point to arriving early at any act at DEMF. While it’s pretty impossible to feel alone in the loving swath of Movement attendees, crowds remain pleasantly detached for the most part, leaving space for you to start a dance circle, swing some glow sticks, climb a stage structure, leap off a stage structure, drink anything under the rainbow, smoke anything under the rainbow, Double Dutch jump rope, parade under arm tunnels and find friends (all of which occurs in the Red Bull crowd).

Londoner Aaron Jerome (SBTRKT) was arguably one of the most anticipated acts at DEMF this year for his 2011 self-titled LP that has given him a huge following due to its poppy nature and vocal additions. Most of his performance was not LP material, instead involving its fair share of rap remixes but also a painfully cool remix of Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower.” Yet Jerome did play “Hold On” and “Right Thing to Do,” immediately followed by an onslaught of crowd-surfers flung around with abandon like Spandexed rag dolls. SBTRKT finished with “Ready Set Loop” and “Wildfire,” a discordant but popular track off the studio album that almost everyone in the crowd seemed to recognize.

The finale of SBTRKT transitioned into Roni Size, a British DJ who seemed to enjoy shouting his name a lot and kicked off his set with an auditory seizure. Maybe I would have danced till my neck snapped like everyone else in the crowd seemed to be doing, but, exhausted from SBTRKT’s set, I decided to leave Red Bull.

Over at the Main Stage, Chicagoan DJ Lil Louis was playing something soothingly funky and less assaulting than Roni Size’s set. I’m not exactly sure how many minutes I stood in some unbreakable trance induced by the larger-than-life screen behind the Main Stage — this year it was flashing a morphing neon beating heart-skull-Darth Vader-alien-squid creature.

Finally I was saved from DEMF screen hypnotism by the rhythm of “French Kiss,” the main hit of Lil Louis popularized in 1989. The thing about “French Kiss” is that it involves much more than just a kiss. There are a few minutes of the moans of a woman in orgasm, which went largely ignored by the audience for a while until Lil Louis slowed down the actual music and let the lady finish like a true gentleman. The rest of the crowd took note, commencing with a simultaneous fist bump accompanied by some clapping and woos. Then everyone danced and DEMF night number one was finished.


The next day Carl Craig, a prominent figure in Detroit techno, drew a substantial crowd to the Main Stage going at 4 p.m., while Underground, Montreal-based Adventure Club produced some of the grimiest, slimiest, sweatiest, stickiest dubstep. Glasses were fogged, earplugs were ineffective, and I left before my rib bones were rattled outside of my chest.

The truly intergalactic set, however, was London-born Derwin Schecker, better known as Gold Panda. His most popular song “You” is an insanely catchy if not adorable track that sounds like seizing space bunnies jumping around craters on a planet composed of drums and mercury. The song was introduced with an appropriately-dramatic distorted introduction, followed by a frenzy of pleased fans. It’s safe to say we all turned into happy space bunnies at Gold Panda that night. There was also a crowd-surfing Gumby.

Monday I was pleasantly surprised at Red Bull with Keys N Krates, an electro hip-hop group that played remixes of artists I could actually recognize — Michael Jackson! MSTRKRFT! Justice! Jay-Z! The Verve! I even spotted Fidget the Shark — the “official Metro Detroit Party Shark”— among the crowd, and when Keys N Krates announced they were from Toronto and played a remix of the Weeknd’s, that shark flew. Later I was also impressed by the furious finger drumming of AraabMUZIK, then headed over to see the legendary Kevin Saunderson afterward.


Kevin Saunderson is a name most DEMFers probably already know (especially since the high ticket prices this year meant less pacifier-sucking candy kids and more straightforward techno fans). Saunderson has been around since techno began, along with his buddies Juan Atkins and Derrick May — all of whom attended high school just a short drive away in Belleville, MI. I spoke to Saunderson at the festival Sunday before he played his set.

“We started this music from Detroit,” Saunderson said. “It developed in Europe and began really huge. Through that process, my label (KMS) has put out many different artists that have become really big from Detroit — people like Carl Craig, Stacey Pullen, Kenny Larkin … some of my favorite, most precious groups that I’ve produced like Inner City, E-Dancer, stuff like that. It’s just evolved through time. Lots of hits, lots of sales, lot of history.”

And Saunderson has accepted his success graciously.

“The success came quick. It was just fun, it was no problem. I just went with the flow — never had a real issue with it.”

I asked him about Detroit’s current role in the techno scene, and his answer was refreshing.

“I think Detroit has come full circle,” Saunderson said. “A lot of older Detroit stuff has come back, so Detroit is very hot right now — on the market — so this festival influences a lot of people around the world.”

As for tonight?

“I play tonight, but, y’know, I come (to DEMF) every year,” Saunderson said. “I’ve been here since the beginning — it’s good to be here!”

I of course grooved to Saunderson’s set at the Main Stage, where he had an insane mass of fans, and decided to finish DEMF at my Memorial Day Weekend home of Red Bull Stage. There I was introduced to the mixes of the L.A.-based Dillon Francis, who had a conversation with the audience that went along the lines of: “I fucking love you guys!” “Woooo!” “Make some fucking noise for ‘Tequila!’ ” “Wooooo!” (A wonderfully destroyed version of “Tequila” commenced soon thereafter.)

My night ended with Major Lazer (the project of DJ/Producer Diplo), whose music was a little too much for me by that point in the night. I instead noted Major Lazer’s excessive but welcome interaction with the audience, including him on stage bellowing, “Did you come here to get fucked up? Hold on, hold on. Did. You. Come. Here. To. Get. Fucked. UP? Now Diplo! Diplo! Dip-motherfuckin’-lo!” And then he pounced off the stage into the audience.

Other antics included telling everyone who smokes weed to put their lighters or cell phones into the air and then jump around, which sounds really stupid (and yeah it is pretty stupid), but looked amazing in front of the darkened Detroit skyline. He also commanded everyone in the audience to remove his/her shirt and wave them around, which probably made for some potentially embarrassing YouTube videos (but it’s DEMF, whatever). Sexy ladies were told to scream numerous times, and apparently being over 21 was something to woo about, too.

Then Major Lazer said he had a new song called “Bubblebutt” and called up bubblebutted ladies to dance on stage (along with the multiple nearly naked women already displaying their bubblebutts atop the speakers). Other songs included a remix of “Like a G6,” “Dance (A$$),” “That Shit Crazy,” “Banana Boat Song (Day O)” and “Intergalactic,” after which Major Lazer chanted “R.I.P. MCA.”

And before you could shake your bubblebutt five times fast, DEMF was over, and I was stumbling my way in a dehydrated, danced-out stupor toward the Underground to refill my water bottle one last time in the beautiful Hart Plaza bathroom sinks. I left the festival grounds quickly, trying to beat the dreaded RenCen Parking Garage Traffic Jam of 2012, taking the time to take note of the “JESUS LOVES YOU” sign-holders that inexplicably appear every year at the end of DEMF. Soon enough, my body seemed to soak into the mattress while I savored the phantom DEMF 2012 beats pounding my eardrums as I fell asleep.

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