The biggest story of this year's Movement: Detroit's Electronic Music Festival is that there was no story. The annual Memorial Day weekend event has been plagued by organizational and financial drama almost every year since its 2000 inception. This year, by contrast, was calm, giving organizer Paxahau enough time to put together a green initiative and provide attendees with the luxury of focusing on the music.
Things started slowly with lackluster sets from Efdemin and Ryan Elliot at the official Friday preparty. Despite Efdemin's obvious house appreciation (see "Just a Track"), he stuck with inoffensive, directionless techno, the first disappointment of the weekend. Even Guys on Drugs' darker tunes in the basement were marred by technical problems, diminishing the grungy vibe.
The next day, procrastinators were rewarded early by avoiding the lengthy will-call line. The party started at the underground stage with Minx and Mike Grant and over on the Beatport stage with Alland Byallo, but things stayed largely mellow until nightfall on the main stage, with a steady build from Deepchord's dubby techno in the afternoon through Half Hawaii and DBX's gear-driven performance. Moby's amped-up set included his classic "Go," and thankfully stayed far from the mediocrity of his latest album. The day's highlight was Deadmau5, who lived up to the hype of being Beatport's top seller, picking up where James Holden left off years ago in removing the cheese from progressive music.
M_nus' afterparty featured the label's highest-profile artists in what was billed as one huge jam session. In reality, it was just a few collaborations, but Paco Osuna's extended set in the lower room demonstrated all that is right with minimal techno, with just the right mix of headiness and dance-floor bump. Not even Richie Hawtin could top Osuna, despite the hero worship.
Sunday, Seattle's own Lawnchair Generals brought the Flammable vibe to "the D," opening for Miles Maeda and Mark Farina, mixing West Coast house with acid, Chicago, and Detroit tracks. Osuna repeated his crowd-slaying performance while Punisher lived up to her name on the underground stage, followed by Kenny Larkin's "all things Detroit" set. Electrohouse superstar Benny Benassi brought out the club crowd, packing the Pioneer tent. His audience carried its rowdy energy to Carl Craig's set, crowd-surfing and fighting during the jazz-leaning live performance, almost enough to ruin an otherwise sublime experience. At the Underground Resistance afterparty, Mark Flash's ballistic set reinforced the crew's militant reputation.
By Monday, people were dragging themselves around the festival grounds, but Cassy's midafternoon deep-house set inspired even the achiest bodies to move. Par Grindvik struggled to keep that energy up leading into Cobblestone Jazz's jam session. The day's defining moment came during Paul Ritch's set, when the skies momentarily opened up. The main stage cleared as people moved to dry ground, but in minutes, a fresh crop of dancers embraced the rain, renewing Ritch's enthusiasm. The resurgence powered through the night, with Dubfire earning his post–Deep Dish praise, Kevin Saunderson playing to the crowd, and Speedy J closing out the festival to Scott Pagano's inventive visuals.
As thousands departed for one last night of afterparties, it was evident that Paxahau has seemingly done the impossible: transform the DEMF into a smoothly run festival.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Moby's appearance on Sunday at Neumo's. On the one hand, it's Moby, the same guy who mastered the art of selling out, licensing his entire Play album for marketing. Yes, he was a bit insufferable for a while, and no, his new album isn't that great. But he's still freakin' Moby, the one lasting face from when "electronica" was the next big thing. If you're looking to relive your rave days, look no further.
Taking advantage of the weather, SAM is hosting a special edition of their Remix series on Friday, with resident DJ Kid Hops and SunTzu Sound taking over the Olympic Sculpture Park for a party until the sun goes down. Let's hope it's not the only party of its type to go down in that wonderful space.
Moby plays Sun June 8, Neumo's, 8 pm–2 am, $15, 21+. Sold out.
SAM's Remix is Fri June 6, Olympic Sculpture Park, 6 pm–midnight, $5, 21+.