Detroit is a city of contrasts.
On the one hand, you have the ubiquitous blight, 20,000 abandoned buildings awaiting demolition, and decades of social unrest. The TSA agent screwed up his face in suspicion when I told him I was travelling on from Chicago to Detroit for tourism reasons.
On the other, you have a growing bar and restaurant scene and the glittering towers of General Motors, analogous to the common sight of neighbours watering flowers on their porches next door to three boarded up houses. Above all, Detroit is known for its incredibly rich cultural history, from Motown to techno.
Photo: Alex Brisbey
Photo: Miriam Johnson
Movement is a festival that is rooted strongly in the latter. Unlike in London, where the city’s musical scene continually faces challenges from the authorities, Detroit welcomes Movement with open arms – like a once wayward teenage son who now pays for his grandparent’s care bills.
As a cynical Brit, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from my first American electronic music festival. The concepts of “kandi” and “PLUR” both provoke quite physical reactions of repulsion within me, but I’d been assured by my American friends that Movement was a long way from this.
First entering the festival on a blazing hot afternoon was an assault on all the senses; the site was smaller than I’d expected, meaning there were few areas to escape from sound clash from competing stages. There were glitter boobs, booty shorts and neon fur, and, interestingly, a whole lot of shirts with food patterns. I’d been told that in the US, dance music fandom is still seen as a fairly niche interest, and looking around it wasn’t hard to see why.
As the weekend went on, however, the positive spirit of Movement revealed itself to be wholly more authentic than it seemed at first glance. Away from the mollied-up teenager tropes, there were plenty of families with kids wearing ear defenders, smiling afternoon breakdance circles, and people who wanted to chat to us about coming all the way from London with a visible sense of pride in their city.
It was great to see Movement embracing Detroit’s local talents on the lineups; alongside the likes of Carl Craig and Stacey Pullen – two of our Saturday night highlights – there was forward thinking hiphop and jazz fusions from rising talent Shigeto, and a new soulful live project from Will Sessions and Amp Fiddler (the man often credited for teaching J Dilla how to sample).
A special mention has to go Chicagoite Eris Drew for battling with a distorted sound system on the Resident Advisor stage to deliver a sweat drenched vinyl only set full of breaks, Burial-esque dusty beats, acid stabs and emotional breakdowns that will be familiar to anyone who listened to her career-making RA podcast. Further highlights came from KiNK and his unbeatable live set, and of course Laurent Garnier – even though I was sober, at the back of the crowd and fretting about the following morning’s flight, it’s impossible to not be swept away by the man’s sheer energy and passion for what he plays. Between punishing techno and acid, to piano house and acapellas, Garnier was clearly in his unpredictable element.
Finger’s Inc’s ‘My House’ is an oft overused vocal in dance music that can feel cheesy at the hands of the wrong remixer or DJ. But as the familiar lyrics about Jack bringing together all nations and colours rang out across a heaving crowd underneath the gleaming spires of General Motor’s new headquarters, it felt strangely moving.
In a city that went bankrupt just a few years ago, electronic music truly is helping to support Detroit’s rejuvenation, providing jobs and hope for hundreds of residents. At Movement, I felt proud to have at least taken part in one very small piece of that.