Movement Festival Brings a Glimmer of Life Back to Detroit

“Techno is the story of jazz as told by machines, written by the mechanics.”

Detroit was a city that was once one of the largest metropolises in the U.S. and the “Automotive Capital of the World”. And most importantly, its musical legacies influenced the generations. 

Detroit is now known for its urban decay and suffering the largest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history. Half of the population has moved out. Empty apartment buildings and distressed skyscrapers line the streets. But there is also techno. And its helping revitalize the greater downtown area…

On Memorial Day weekend, Detroit’s Hart Plaza hosted the annual Movement Festival (AKA DEMF for the purists), steadily defining itself as America’s key techno showcase and drawing fans from across the globe. 

Movement is a celebration of love, pride and hope that captures the resilient spirit of Detroit by championing the do-it-yourself attitude of turning a grassroots idea into a reality. Though it’s hard to ignore the city’s economic woes, it’s impossible to forget Detroit is the birthplace of techno. 

Instead of chasing chart-toppers, Movement's organizers, Paxahau Promotions, dug deep into electronic music’s progressive underground and exposed audiences to a sophisticated bill of pioneers and rising stars. In a world filled with EDM festivals that are less about sound and more about commercial image, Movement was genuine and unpretentious as it zeroed in on what mattered most: the music.

The festival catered to all types of electronic sounds. If one was looking for a quick reprieve from the suffocating basslines of Cell Injection, Rodhad or Matador in the Underground Stage, then Maya Jane Coles, Hot Since 82 and Henrik Schwartz were ready with the tech-house and fresh air at the sun-drenched Beatport Stage. 

The Red Bull Stage was the most diverse stage. Hip-hop performers such as People Under The Stairs and Detroit native Danny Brown shared the Red Bull Music Academy Stage with Disclosure and Eats Everything among other house djs. Red Bull also hosted techno and drum n bass artists such as Squarepusher, a crowd favorite known for his audio-visual performances that combine jazz, drum and bass and acid house. Method Man and Snoop Dogg were also among the hip-hop acts. While this might come as a shock to electronic die-hards, the musical diversity has played a role in exposing larger audiences to local talent, both classic and new. 

Few festivals pay tribute to the legends like Movement Festival, which made sure to give recognition to the greats where it was due. On the first night, the Thump Stage paid tribute with a “Detroit Love Showcase” that invited legends like Stacey Pullen and Carl Craig to delight the audience. Among other notable acts was Kerri Chandler, who played a soulful Chicago-house style set reminiscent of Frankie Knuckles with classics such as Marshall Jefferson’s Move Your Body. 

Other notable performances included Dog Blood, a collaboration between Skrillex and Germany’s Boys Noize, who delivered a bona fide show for a young audience that left the plaza spent. Henrik Schwartz helped deliver an incredibly diverse tech house set. And Seth Troxler went back to back with the Martinez Brothers as the “Tuskegee.” 

Toronto house duo Art Department played one of their last shows together. They announced they would be going separate ways, with producer Jonny White continuing under the moniker and his partner Kenny Glasgow pursuing solo material. The impending split didn’t get in the way of a seamless interplay between the two onstage. 

The experience was truly underground. And you couldn’t help but feel inspired by the community that hustled to put Detroit back on the map. 

Check out Detroit photos and prominent songs from Movement below. (Article, music selections and photos by Alex Grabowski)