Friday, June 25, 2010

DEMF 2010 In Retrospect...

This year’s DEMF was a bit of a mixed bag… With cancelled headliners, paranoid cops shutting down parties every night and foul weather on Monday there were plenty of reasons to get upset, however, as with every year I’ve been to the festival, I ultimately had an excellent time. Here is a round-up of what we got into over Memorial Day weekend.

We arrived at our chosen hotel, The Motor City Hotel & Casino, on Friday night. After hitting the room service for dinner we made our way over to Bookie’s Tavern for the annual Bang Tech party. Every year we’ve been to DEMF this has been the starting point for our weekend. While the Bang Tech crew may not have a ton of global headliner names, you can easily tell they have a ton of heart- gathering all of their DJs for one huge Movement pre-party every year. Spread over three floors of a sports bar, the surroundings for this techno party are always a total trip: flat screen TVs on ESPN and sports memorabilia hanging everywhere. However, what makes this space stand out is the awesome outdoor roof deck on the third floor. As we made our way up, an unknown DJ was banging out a house mix in pure old school style: scratches, back spins, rapid cross fader manipulations etc. While I never managed to find out who the guy spinning was, he gets mad props for getting the entire terrace moving and dropping one of my all-time favorite house classics: Black Science Orchestra’s “New Jersey Deep”.

Near 1am we decided to make a move to the next party. Divided between the Third Ear and Beretta party we chose the latter as all of us were eager to catch Omar-S in action in his hometown. When we got to the venue, the main FXHE man was just setting up on stage. Unusually for Omar-S he was sporting quite a large smile and looked quite satisfied with the large local and international crowd gathered to see him perform. Dropping a set which moved rapidly between vocal house and jacking techno, he had the whole place on fire.
At around 4am we decided we’d had enough for the night and took a leisurely stroll through a strange half-warehouse / half-residential neighborhood to get back to our hotel. After the crew made a bit of cash gambling we hit the beds round 5am for a few hours of shut-eye before the main event…

Waking up with the usual DEMF hangover at 2pm on Saturday, we decided to skip a proper lunch in favor of getting to the festival early. We were rewarded for our efforts by being able to catch the latter half of Patrice Scott’s set at the Real Detroit stage. His mix of deep Detroit tech with tribal(ish) house was the perfect start to the afternoon. While I had a hard time recognizing the vast majority of what he dropped, I do recall him playing the beats version of Ferrer and Sydenham’s “Timbuktu” which actually sounded really powerful in the concrete Underground stage. The crowd was pretty decent at this point, with a good mix of break-dancers, ravers, chin-strokers and random locals and out-of-town visitors. Unfortunately Niko Marks failed to capitalize on the momentum generated by Patrice with his ‘live’ performance of classic house and techno tracks. While I can understand Niko’s desire to play a tribute to his favorite producers, hearing him sing over classic tracks such as “Sun Can’t Compare” was unfortunately not very exciting. I believe the crowd felt the same way as the dancers quickly thinned out to look for other thrills.

After leaving the Underground stage we wandered around for a bit between the stages with nothing holding our attention for too long. Onur Ozer almost put us to bed with his comatose mnml techno and later Ida Enberg looked very pretty in the sun but played progressive mnml house which failed to really connect with the crowd. Martyn had us going for a bit, dropping the classic UK garage track “128 Trek”, but unfortunately lost us when he wandered into uninspiring dub-step territory. After a few hours of aimless bouncing from stage to stage, we somehow ended in the middle of the main stage during Woody McBride’s set. While I have no idea who this character was previous to Movement, I must give him props for dropping a pretty killer set of hard techno (on vinyl)! Since guys like Adam Beyer and Chris Liebling are nowadays more interested in advanced computer manipulations than rocking a crowd, this was actually pretty refreshing! Dude kind of killed it!

The early evening was a bit of a mixed bag with talented Detroit DJs such as Rick Wilhite and Kyle Hall forced to play mostly heavy techno tracks due to the acoustics of the Underground stage. The one pleasant surprise was A-Trak’s tribute to J-Dilla at the Red Bull stage. After a lot of noisy, electro stuff, the Canadian DJ killed the music for a second before scratching up some Dilla beats while JD images and footage went up on the screen behind him.
At around 11pm it was time to head for the main stage for Richie Hawtin’s closing act as Plastikman. At this point we were pretty beat from running around in the sun all day, so it was no surprise that the onslaught of multi-colored lazers, static noise, crackles and syncopated kicks failed to really get us going. After “Panik Attak” was finally dropped to raucous screaming and applause, we quickly made our escape back to the hotel for some rest before the after-parties.

Arriving at Kai Alce’s annual ‘Deep Detroit Party’ at around 1am, it became clear to us that the party had grown enormously in popularity this year. While last year’s event had a pretty intimate feel, this year felt like an all out, crazy house party complete with a keg in the attic and tons of discount booze in plastic bottles. Kai dropped an impeccable selection of disco, italo and house and then Theo followed up with similar fare. The highlight track of the night proved to be the recently reissued Ron Hardy edit of Jamie Principle’s “Bad Boy”. Overall, ‘Deep Detroit’ managed to easily meet the high standards achieved by last year’s party and proved to be one of the best events all weekend.

Sunday we got to the festival around 5pm in the afternoon and were immediately confused at the lack of quality music options available. DJ Pierre was moving gracelessly between tough acid tracks and commercial club hits, Ryan Crosson was playing dry, and uninspiring minimal at the Underground stage while our other options were Kid Sister (no) and Martinez Brothers (mehhh). Instead we chose to chill for a while, waiting for Larry Heard to take the main stage. Eventually the Chicago legend came on but failed to generate much crowd momentum as the dancers at this point were worn down from Pierre’s commercial onslaught. Things would start to heat up once Larry dropped Adonis’ “No Way Back” but for the most part his set failed to really grab our attention.

Eager for something with a bit more kick, we made our way down to the Underground stage where K-Hand was dropping all sorts of funky house business mixed in with techno. The crowd was eating it up and we quickly realized that, despite the poor sound quality, the real action today would be down in the concrete chamber.

After Kelli wrapped up, Anthony “Shake” Shakir delivered a fantastic set full of classic Detroit techno, with tracks such as Reese’s “Truth is Self-Evident” keeping the energy level up throughout the early evening. The only minor gripe was that Shake bungled a few mixes here and there, however, it was easy to put up with some minor sound clashes given the excellent track selection. Eventually Rolando took the stage and began pummeling the crowd with a mix of Detroit classics and more current underground productions such as Silent Servant’s “Lo Profundo” and Tony Lionni’s “Found a Place”. As expected (demanded?) Rolando dished out his hit “Jaguar” in the form of massive remix that seemed to last 15 minutes. As predictable as it was, the crowd reaction was fantastic with everyone screaming and dancing with total abandon.

Finally at 10pm the man we’d all been waiting for took the stage… Robert Hood looked dead serious as he set up his machines in the DJ booth. Focused and calm he laid down an initial 808 pattern. While we couldn’t see the equipment from our vantage point, this set was billed as a live show so we figured that Robert was up there doing some serious machine programming. The ensuing two-hours were surely the most intense of the entire Movement weekend: pummeling techno at its relentless best. With the temperature at boiling point and the lights shifting between being totally off to just entirely8 RED, the entire dance-floor felt as if it was suspended in a parallel dimension. Hood gave us all what we wanted, covering some of his best early work as well as newer material. “Unix”, “Station Rider E”, “Alpha”, “Omega”, “Museum”, “The Pace” all flew by with mechanical precision. Finally with the crowd in a sweaty mess and the evening ready to end, the well-known synth-line from “Minus” came on, hypnotizing everyone left standing before the final onslaught of kick drums arrived to send us home.

The Sunday night after-party scene was all about Soul Skate and we headed directly from Hart Plaza out to Northland Roller Skating Rink on 8 mile at around midnight. While I probably hadn’t skated in the last 6 years or so, I felt like living on the edge after the Robert Hood show so strapped on some wheels. While it was initially terrifying going out on a rink packed with talented local skaters, eventually I got the hang of it and had an awesome time rolling to classic jams selected by Moodymann. There is nothing quite like skating along to “Sharevari” while everyone is sporting a huge smile and top skaters are busting crazy stunt moves all around you. Overall Soul Skate definitely proved to be as fun as it is unique and I will most definitely be heading back for the next edition.

Monday was a bit of a struggle. Two days of dancing, drinking and screaming were finally starting to catch up with our bodies and to make matters worse, it was raining outside. Eventually we dragged ourselves back to Hart Plaza, heading for the nearest cover we could find from the rain- the Red Bull Stage. This proved to be a rather fortuitous choice as DJ Koze was playing some cool records such as Ron Hardy’s “Hiccup Track” and Robert Hood’s “Funky Souls”. His mixing was strangely out of sync but I imagine it was likely due to the sound engineers moving things around to keep the equipment dry. Next up was Michael Mayer who started off slowly with the melodic, soft-hued techno his Kompakt label is known for. While this scared off a good chunk of the crowd, I put my faith in Michael pulling a few choice selections out of his record bag. Having seen the German spin a few times, I was certain he’d deliver a quality set… We were definitely not disappointed! His mix of emotive techno and warm house ended up being the perfect complement to the rainy weather and the crowd ended up loving it as people crowd surfed and climbed on stage as the afternoon progressed.

After the sun set Simian Mobile Disco took the stage and started playing brash, electro tracks which we took as our cue to go check out some of the other stages. Over on the Beatport stage Chris Liebing was experimenting with kick drums on his laptops during what proved to be a pretty boring and repetitive set of nothing but drums and sound effects. Magda meanwhile was busy laying down a staid, mnml groove in the underground. Bored at our options and somewhat unimpressed with Kenny Larkin’s live show, we caught the beginning of Model 500’s set before heading home for a bit of rest.

The final after-party during DEMF weekend is always a bitter-sweet affair. On the one hand your body is screaming for you to give it a rest while your mind is slightly depressed that the fun is almost over. This year however we were to be treated to a very special Sarcastic Disco performance by DJ Harvey at the TV Bar. Unfortunately the Detroit Police Department had another idea as the party got shut down at 2am just as Harvey was hitting his stride- a truly sad ending to an otherwise amazing Memorial Day Weekend in Detroit.

Looking back almost a month on from the festival, only the positive memories really stand out for me. While the weekend had a few setbacks, I felt that there were no major problems that kept it from being a truly enjoyable experience. Having been three times now, I can say that this year definitely felt just as well run and orchestrated as any other time and that the sound at the Underground stage was markedly improved. That said, it would be fantastic if the Underground stage was reserved specifically for techno-focused acts as opposed to just generally Detroit artists. While Robert Hood and Patrice Scott’s set actually sounded pretty great down there, it was a true shame hearing the track selection of artists like Theo Parrish, Rick Wilhite, Minx and Kyle Hall sound completely muddled just because they dared play melodic house or disco. Besides the gripe with the programming of the Underground stage, the rest of the festival was well-run and enjoyable with the after-parties matching the excitement delivered at Hart Plaza. All in all, Memorial Day was once again Real Right in Detroit. Real Right.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. loved to read your retrospective on DEMF 2010 as I used to be on pretty much the same venues...well done!!! (ok, I missed out Soul Skate due to some screwing "cab driver" action)...

  3. Thanks for the props. I will have to check out your radio show soon... Your playlists look excellent!

  4. I concur with a lot of points. The crowd in the underground stage responded more to Techno than any other sound. You have a good point about making the underground stage a "deep" Techno stage as opposed to a "Detroit" stage. It would be a great idea if the underground stage becomes a Techno stage while the current "Toriano" becomes a "Deep House" stage (but they have to remove the Playstation booth in front of it since the video game music drowns everything out heading to the stage). Besides segregating the Detroit artists just marginalizes them in a festival that was created to celebrate them. Using sound as a basis for dividing the stages it diversifying the sound of the festival. The relative lack of Deep House was apparent at DEMF. Besides, it would make the acts flow better.

  5. Definitely agree with all your points Myron... I think separating stages by the music style which most fits each stage would make alot of sense. I guess we'll see what Paxahu do next year!

  6. Cool review. I'll be going this year, cant wait! I'll take you recommendations too...