Movement Music Festival 2022: Detroit Doubles Down on the Underground

by | Jun 6, 2022 | Essay, Event, Stories | 0 comments

Movement Music Festival returned to Philip A. Hart Plaza in Detroit for the first time in three years over Memorial Day Weekend. The three-day gathering’s organizers were under pressure to provide an experience that lived up to attendees’ eagerness for release. By almost all accounts, they curated an event that lived up to the feverish anticipation of the moment.

What factors have made Movement a success since its 2000 incarnation as Detroit Electronic Music Festival still remain, to be sure. Hart Plaza seems to have been built for the express purpose of hosting a six-stage music gathering, wedged between iconic skyscrapers on one side and the Detroit River on the other. Paired with the promoter’s longstanding penchant for emphasizing techno while still allowing room for adjacent styles, the event promised a homecoming of sorts for discerning dance music enthusiasts.

Detroit electronic music event brand Paxahau could have executed a successful festival simply by repeating what’s worked in previous years. Instead, they found a number of ways to raise the bar.

The placement of up-and-coming Detroit artists on this year’s bill stood out as a notable departure. The celebrated return of the Detroit Stage provided a platform for deserving locals like Henry Brooks, Rebecca Goldberg, and Deon Jamar. A number of Motor City mainstays even performed on the main Movement Stage; Norm TalleyAsh Lauryn, and Huey Mnemonic each graced the sun-soaked terrace with distinctive permutations of the melodic yet melancholic style of techno from which worldwide offshoots of the genre originally grew. Regarding the techno originators themselves, first and second-wave Detroit techno forefathers like Kevin SaundersonJuan Atkins, and Carl Craig also made their essential appearances at this year’s festival.

The curation of international talent reflected just as much intention. At any given time a reveler could bounce between the stages encircling the Horace E. Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain and generally take in a significantly different sound from each one. From 2ManyDJs at the Waterfront Stage to Octo Octa at the Pyramid Stage to Will Clarke on the Star Gate Stage, the weekend encapsulated a wide cross section of the house and techno spectrum.

Even the programming of headline sets showed a great deal of deliberation on Paxahau’s part. On Sunday, more casual music fans could catch a closing set by Adam Beyer, the Swedish DJ and producer behind the world’s most commercially successful techno record label, Drumcode. On Monday, however, the diehard fans who took extra time off enjoyed a spectacular showing by Detroit techno philosopher king Jeff Mills. Starting off simply and gradually blossoming into a dynamically layered soundscape, his set combined DJing with live elements to yield a sophisticated finale befitting the Techno City’s landmark celebration.

The most notable additions to the 2022 installment of Movement Music Festival were arguably improvements to an area virtually hidden from plain view. The expanded presence of the Underground Stage arguably stands out as the organizers’ most symbolic effort of the event.

Previously, the stage occupied one closed-off end of the long, literally underground corridor below the fountain. This year saw the production team place the DJ booth and sound system along the length of the expanse instead. Colorful LED animations flickered up and down the support pillars interspersed across the dance floor, creating an immersive environment inhabited by a mass of writhing bodies that seemed to never dissipate over the course of each day.

The artists billed for the Underground Stage reflected recent trends towards harder, faster techno in the genre’s active undercurrent. Anfisa Letyago delivered one of her fluid yet rapidly shifting DJ sets, and artists like Paula Temple, Dax J and Blawan ignited the dance floor with corrosive textures and unrelenting rhythms. DJ Stingray broke up the repetition with hard-hitting yet danceable electro, and Adam X accomplished as much with his industrial-leaning style of techno. By and large, fans of the most challenging electronic music found a welcome refuge within the concrete confines of the Underground Stage.

The influx of Movement attendees also gave Detroit nightlife its usual injection of activity. Leland City Club hosted some of the most memorable gatherings. Among them was Intellephunk‘s Movement pre-party, Meta Ta Physika, headlined by Noncompliant, Dustin Zahn and Function, as well as Observe Scene, an after party that billed the likes of NørbakInsolate and Cell Injection (Drumcell and Truncate). Queer techno had a home at Club Toilet, a lively showing at Menjo‘s showcasing artists like Ariel ZetinaColored Craig, and Dee Digs. Capping off the weekend early Tuesday morning was Los Angeles promoter Dirty Epic‘s Anthology Detroit after party at Leland headlined by DVS1Oscar Mulero, and Answer Code Request.

Movement Music Festival 2022 of course had its misses. Second-wave Detroit techno icon Richie Hawtin closed out the Movement Stage with a predictably sloppy set on the first night, selecting tasteful music but taking a great deal of risks that didn’t pay off. Brainfeeder boss Flying Lotus, who replaced Nina Kraviz on the same stage following her controversy with Nastia, preceded Mills on the final day. During his completely disjointed performance, he could be heard asking the audience what they wanted him to play.

By and large, however, this year’s installment of the event demonstrated that Paxahau spent their off time during the COVID-19 pandemic rethinking, reevaluating, and placing greater emphasis on what matters to their community. It served as a case study proving that there’s room for authenticity in the curation of large festivals — one that will hopefully ripple out and inspire other organizers. From giving techno’s elder statesmen their due to nurturing its next generation, Movement 2022 earned unquestionably high marks.

Longtime participants in the festival largely agree. “I have to say, this is one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time, and I think we all needed it,” said Brooklyn DJ Heather Heart (real name Heather Lotruglio) in conversation with Selector. One of New York City’s first techno artists alongside Adam X and his brother, Frankie Bones, she initially performed at Detroit Electronic Music Festival in 2002. She has returned a handful of times both as a performer and spectator.

“This is my favorite time, actually,” Lotruglio continued. “I feel like people are so ready, and we’re all missing community. The unity has been very apparent.”

“I think this year was different than the years prior because Movement hadn’t happened in three years due to the pandemic, so there was a lot of pent-up energy being released, along with joy and excitement that we were all once again able to gather at Hart Plaza for ‘Techno Christmas,'” said Henry Brooks, who performed at the festival for the first time. “I also think it was different this year as there were a lot more local artists on the bill than in the years prior.”

“After two years off due to the pandemic, it was more thrilling than ever to welcome the global dance music community back to our hometown, the birthplace of techno music,” said Rebecca Goldberg. “For me, having the opportunity to represent the Detroit-based artists on the lineup by debuting a new live techno set was an extra special opportunity.”

She continued: “Movement is a different kind of festival where old and new friends, family and chosen-family gather together in celebration for the entire weekend. Though the experience is always positive, for me 2022 felt uniquely uplifting and welcoming for artists and fans alike.”

Movement endured three tumultuous years as Detroit Electronic Music Festival from 2000-2002. The debut event was produced by Pop Culture Media and predominantly billed Detroit techno artists like Stacey PullenEddie Fowlkes, and Kenny Larkin. At different times, Carl Craig and Derrick May each served as artistic director — the latter of whom was notably absent from this year’s festivities following allegations of sexual assault that surfaced in 2020.

2003 marked the first edition of the festival billed as Movement and coproduced by Kevin Saunderson. Amid continued financial setbacks, it briefly rebranded as Fuse-In Detroit in 2005 — the first edition in which successful talks with city officials allowed organizers to charge for admission to Hart Plaza. In 2006, however, Saunderson stepped down from his position and Paxahau, which initially launched in 1993 as a webcast service, assumed full control of the event.

Movement may have found its path to viability under Paxahau, but some might argue it came at a cost. During the EDM explosion of the past decade, more commercially accessible acts like RezzKill The Noise, and Mija gained more presence on its lineups.

The festival was never billed as a strictly house and techno event, to be sure, and the 2022 event was not devoid of EDM. Bass music artist GRiZ performed at the Waterfront Stage, and OWSLA boss Skrillex would have delivered a set had he not canceled (ostensibly in favor of working on upcoming albums).

For the most part, though, Movement’s curatorial direction in 2022 signals what certainly appears to be an intentional return to the authentic roots of the event. What remains to be seen is whether its organizers stay the course and if setbacks reminiscent of the early years befall them along the way. Some amount of responsibility also falls on the fans themselves: was this year’s turnout an anomaly spurred by a post-COVID yearning for connection, or will music lovers continue to show support in the face of climbing prices and diminished novelty?

For the time being, at least, the underground appears alive and well if Movement Music Festival 2022 served as any indicator. One can only hope that the landmark gathering maintains its corrected course in the years to come.

This article has been amended to include quotes from Henry Brooks and Rebecca Goldberg.

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