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The rave spirit of Detroit is what makes Movement Festival truly shine

Detroit hustles harder

  • Words: Jeremy Abbott | Photos: Anthony Rassam, Bryan Mitchell, Chris Soltis, Xavier Cuevas, Nick LeTellier, Douglas Wojciechowski
  • 30 May 2019

"You guys aren't from around here are you?"

"No, this is my first time here, I'm from London and he's from New York."

"You're from London?! Well damn. Welcome to Detroit, Michigan, baby, hope you enjoy yourselves"

This would be one of many times we were welcomed to Detroit over the course of Memorial Day weekend. This pleasant greeting, while a simple exchange, happened countless times during our stay, whether in a taxi, at a restaurant, or riding an elevator at the hotel. It's a sentiment that was echoed around the city and to put it simply, we felt like part of one big family while attending Movement Festival this year.

Whichever way you look at it, Detroit is techno, techno is Detroit and Movement has been a staple of the Motor City for over two decades. The three day affair takes place over Memorial Day weekend and from Saturday to Monday, visitors from all around the world are treated to one of the finest servings of electronic music the USA has to offer.

Across the weekend, the sheer variety of music on display is staggering. One minute you could be listening to ferocious techno, the next some bumping Detroit house, even hip hop was heavily represented. One of our first stops on the Saturday was with a local hero and a selector who has always dared to be different, Seth Troxler was on true form as the sun went down on the Stargate Stage.

Troxler, who had just played at Well Done Goods for DJ Bone's Homeless Homies charity fundraiser, was wearing a shirt from the event brandishing the likes of Josh Wink, DJ Bone and Derrick May, all of whom also played. Touches like that show that Detroit's spirit in the face of adversity always shines through and his set was a high-octane masterclass that weaved in between loopy house, trippy techno and stabbing acid. Despite an evident sound-delay at that stage, his set was a good foundation for the rest of the festival to be built upon.

A short stop over to the Movement Stage, the festival's main arena, would show Amelie Lens continuing her unstoppable hot streak. Visibly in her element and in full control of the crowd, Lens showed the Detroit regulars why she should be held in such high-regard with techno-fanatics. Clean mixing combined with fierce selections meant it was one of the busiest sets of the weekend there.

As with any festival, we ventured to as many stages as possible to gauge what was out there and with Movement's intimate layout, it's easier than ever to bounce around. Sure enough, the festival continued to deliver on the varied front with a set from Virgil Abloh. The fashion designer turned DJ was an interesting booking for a festival so steeped in heritage and techno-purism but sure-enough, Abloh had the crowd commanded and ready to go.

We arrived at his set to a barrage of bonafide classics. 'Brighter Days' by Cajmere was mixed into 'Percolator' by Curtis Jones under his Green Velvet alias. After that the Off- White founder traded techno for trap and launched into a medley of hip-hop bangers, including 'Fade' by Kanye West and 'Desiigner' by Panda. Everyone soon swapped fist pumps for Future-esque flexing and in hindsight, Virgil made it very difficult not to enjoy his Movement offering.

Our dancing was interrupted however when we heard a weirdly out-of-place cheer to our left and we assumed it was a group of rowdy ravers giving Virgil some extra hype. Alas, one attendee was down on one knee facing his girlfriend and before you knew it, he had brandished a ring and proposed. Cue madness and over-joyed embraces from everyone surrounding the newly-engaged couple and another round of rabid cheering. As far as festival moments go, they don't get much more loved-up than that.

A battle of the brothers commenced between Disclosure and Orbital to end the first day and both headliners drew huge crowds. Both pairs played their classics, however while Disclosure opted to draw for the big guns like 'When A Fire Starts to Burn' and 'F For You' within the first ten minutes, the Hartnoll brothers saved the best till last and took the crowd through their newer material first.

Orbital's debut at Movement was an undoubtedly political affair, with visuals showing homelessness in London and a governmental system gone wrong. The parallels between Detroit's stark problem with poverty in the city and London's current societal breakdown were easy to draw and it made for poignant moments in between the ferociousness of the rave music blasting out of the speakers. The crowd engaged to an extent but were considerably more stationary than we expected for an Orbital gig and while the anthems connected, the super-clean synths of their newer tracks didn't quite land. A fitting end to the first day regardless.

As day two rolled around and the hangovers from the numerous after-parties rumbling around the city were brushed away, we headed to the Red Bull stage where Channel Tres not only soothed with his hip-hop meets Detroit house grooves, but stunned with a high-energy performance filled with precisely choreographed dance moves and audience conversation. But this was Movement so techno and 4/4 was the order of the day and before long we found ourselves watching Charlotte de Witte on the main stage.

de Witte's astronomical rise has been well documented but seeing really is believing and as with Amelie Lens the day before, it's refreshing to see such an assured and confident performance from an artist who's still relatively new to the circuit. Her feisty combination of kick-heavy techno and sharp, stabby, rave-throwbacks worked like a charm, with Alex Bilancini's 'Oblivion' acting as the perfect example of her style.

In what was perhaps the most surprising set of the weekend though, even more so than Virgil's the day before, Fisher drew the biggest crowd of the entire festival. With ravers packed in all-the-way to the back of the Stargate stage, the Australian phenomenon lauded around behind the decks with a swagger that indicates he's used to this schtick by now. He steam-boated through the naughtiest tech-house rippers this side of DC-10 and although it seemed like the opposite of what's received well in the D, Fisher had undoubtedly garnered the most engaged and up-for-it crowd of the entire event. File this one under curveball.

By this point though, we'd almost resigned ourselves to the fact that curveballs were in abundance here and trying to even get a look in at Gucci Mane on the Red Bull stage was near-on impossible. Turns out revelers were just as keen on naughty tech house and mosh-pit-inducing hip hop as they were barnstorming techno. While we only caught a bit of Gucci, it didn't take long to realise he was on absolute fire, both in his performance and his popularity.

Oscar Mulero on the Underground Stage seemed like an obvious choice for us to end the day. You're in Detroit, you want some 145bpm+ slammers from one of the masters of trippy, hypnotic techno, Mulero was a no-brainer. We'd go as far to say it was one of the hardest sets we saw all weekend and we felt like our faces were suitably melted by the end of it. Job done.

As Memorial Day kicked around it signaled the end of what had been a pretty damn joyous weekend. It felt like a day to fully immerse ourselves at the Underground Stage, the dark, sweaty basement located underneath the main stage. A place where time is irrelevant and sun-light non-existent. With easily the best soundsystem across the whole site and arguably the strongest programing, techno was the order of the day, as it was everyday but with the run of FJAAK into DJ Bone then DJ Nobu, it made sense to see it through.

DJ Bone served up arguably our favourite set of the weekend and it felt drenched in Detroit heritage. Tracks like 'The Bells' by Jeff Mills, Planetatry Assault System's remix of 'Bad Boy' by The Advent and 'Detroit Is Hard' by the man himself rumbled around the room and received cheers at every turn. His complex and choppy mixing style coupled with the fact there was never a synth too far away meant there was respite in between the pump. Nobu afterwards swapped the vibe up with what he does best, dystopian melodies and seamless blending. The two combined meant that three hours never felt so short.

In between this, Floorplan, consisting of Sir Robert Hood and his daughter Lyric, explored the funkier, more gospel side of techno and this time their show was more live than ever, with the addition of a guitarist laying riffs over the top and a singer belting out the word of god for all to hear. In what seemed like a clear progression for the pair, Lyric was mixing the tunes while Robert toyed around with live elements, meaning tracks like 'Baby Baby' and 'Never Grow Old' felt chopped up and fresher than ever.

By the last beats of the festival, the rain had finally taken over and in most cases when it comes to a wet evening while partying, you'd expect people to flock to shelter, not in the D though. We'd been excited to see how Yaeji would navigate a festival-closing set all weekend and people had turned out in their droves to see her perform, bouncing their umbrellas up and down in time with the music. That being said, keeping a constant rhythm throughout wasn't easy as she expertly and masterfully chopped between jungle, house, techno and drum 'n' bass.

As the lyrics to 'Raingurl' came creeping in, the rain got heavier and she burst out in front of the stage with a mic in hand and proceeded to bounce around the stage with glee while singing the track. To put it simply, hearing Yaeji perform 'Raingurl', in the pouring rain, with the crowd absolutely losing their shit, was the moment of the festival and one that everyone in attendance will be telling their friends about whenever her name is mentioned again.

And that was it, Movement was over for another year and Detroit came out in full force to celebrate the sound that they're rightfully so, so proud of. What's more startling than the music on offer however, is the city itself. There's this feeling when you're there of undeniable spirit and togetherness. The locals and Detroit natives seemed genuinely excited to host us in whatever we did and wherever we went.

The rave spirit isn't something that comes to Detroit for a weekend in May, it's so engrained within the roots and lifeblood of the city that it feel's like nowhere you've ever been before and like it's been there forever. It's easy to see why hundreds of festival attendees adorn clothing with Detroit Hustles Harder branded across us because frankly, it really does.

As DJ Bone says in 'Detroit Is Hard': "Detroit is what I love, Detroit is what I need, Detroit is where I’m from, Detroit’s the air I breath."

This weekend we truly realised what that sentiment meant and it's hard not to agree with every word.

Funster is Mixmag's Global Brand & Content Editor, he left a piece of his heart, mind and soul in Detroit and will be going back to collect them same time next year, follow him on Twitter

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