Tuesday, June 29, 2010

detroit, briefly (or not)

it's been a month already since that memorial day weekend, so i figured i should finally get around to finishing this, my final thoughts (with pictures courtesy of my friend ivo and RA) on movement aka DEMF aka my first detroit experience.

i wasn't really sure i would even be doing this until just days beforehand. but for the most part, this worked out fine. saturday morning, i hopped in my buddy ivo's car. after a long drive and extensive traffic delays, we got into detroit that early evening, and stumbled upon sibin, a friend of a friend and a fellow DEMF first-timer, in need of a ride into the city. long story short, sibin ended up staying with us for the duration of our 48-hour stay in the city, and we had a blast.

due to having work tuesday morning, we reluctantly left detroit monday evening, but we packed a bunch of music into those 2 days. i did miss a few acts i really wanted to see, including the basic channel/chain reaction showing of mark ernestus, scion, and the moritz von oswald trio... but it was hard to get too upset when there was plenty of other great music. in general, i approved of the crowd: young or old, everyone was there simply to have a good time. perhaps the 'run-down' image of detroit acted as an obstacle only fit for only the most devoted of dance music fans. anyway, here's my thoughts on the weekend.

SATURDAY early saturday evening was a pretty casual affair, with fun sets by jamie jones, paco osuna, and claude vonstroke. it was josh wink, though, who opened nicely in front of richie hawtin's plastikman set. moving back and forth across the festival grounds, we caught the ovum label head working the main stage crowd with anxious, reduced, acid-inflected tracks of foreboding techno. perhaps we made one mistake in leaving him to check out marco carola for a bit. if you 'get it', marco can be a lot of fun with his amped-up minimal techno, but i just couldn't buy into his hype tonight.

check out this picture, showing the crowd looking on as josh wink works under a single light in the middle of a darkened stage...

and then check this one, as the amphitheater is immersed in richie hawtin's dark, introspective world of plastikman. look up the pictures and video elsewhere if you want... starting with an abominable bass drone, hawtin took off, launching wave after wave of polyrhythmic acid riffs, supplemented by booming kick drums and snare hits. familiar melodies, drum rhythms, and vocals popped up all over, and in a variety of tempos. at times, the set went into downtempo, hypnotizing the crowd with slow, funky rhythms accented by huge hand claps. hawtin ended the hour-long set with an all-too-brief drum machine jam, and grabbed the mic to say thanks as the crowd roared in thunderous applause... but i know i wasn't alone in hoping that he would have played for (much) longer.

regardless, the night had only just begun, as we headed to the centre street social party. this was originally billed as a sort of showcase for the ostgut ton record label, with 3-hour sets by ben klock and marcel dettmann (as well as daniel bell and a pile of other american talent), but things started to turn sour just a few days before the festival, when dettmann had to cancel due to the much dreaded 'visa issues'. the show went on, with ben klock ready to throw down a 4-hour set... which was stopped an hour in. sometime after 4am, the sound was cut off as the party organizers announced the music would resume after a police check of the venue space; then, we were told the music would have to stop until 6am; then, we were told the party was shut down completely. seems like a shooting nearby scared the police into shutting down a number of clubs and afterparties. while sibin headed to the 'i love you but i've chosen techno party' (and later reported it was a great time), ivo and i were tired from our drive and called it a night. what a bummer, and definitely the biggest disappointment of the weekend.

SUNDAY after enjoying a leisurely meal at a small french diner (i think?), we made our way back to the festival for day 2. earlier that week, a HUGE lineup change occurred. the much-anticipated ricardo villalobos, due to break his near-decade-long absence from the U.S. with a 3-hour set at the festival followed by a boat afterparty, had to cancel due to... you guessed it, 'visa issues'! taking over his spot would be a richie hawtin dj set.

this lineup change created some interesting dynamics. seeing hawtin dj outside to a 'hometown' crowd was intriguing, as was the idea of skipping out for an hour in the middle to see robert hood's live set. but one thing was for certain: berlin-based cassy did a magnificent job opening for hawtin, putting together one of the absolute best sets of the weekend. it was interesting comparing her set to claude vonstroke's just 24 hours previously: whereas CVS played to the crowd, cassy took control. revealing a discrete smile and little else, the adorably zen-like panoramabar dj fed the audience a hypnotic blend of hard-hitting techno. a friend referred to her mixing as very 'casual': the transitions weren't perfectly precise, but they didn't have to as tracks swirled hazily in and out of each other. i did not expect her to bring that type of intensity, but maybe that was the 'hawtin effect' ... either way, i was thoroughly impressed.

rumors circulated that maybe villalobos was in town; indeed, a familiar-looking dj strolled behind cassy as she played. but no, it was just someone else (adrian from dj duo masomenos, i've been told)... and so hawtin took over with typical fanfare. to his credit, the man seemed to be filling in very well for the (hugely) missed villalobos, splicing together loops of digital beats and dropping atmospheric breakdowns, but we knew we had plenty of time to see him later...

so, then - robert hood! the contrast between the two techno masters was easy to see. whereas hawtin created sleek, precise music with computers hooked up to high-end midi controllers, hood took a truly simplistic analog approach. his set was all about weaving fast, harsh, skeletal rhythms together, over and over and over, even if things didn't sync up 'perfectly'. i've read that he encountered problems early on his set, but having arrived late, i only saw an excellent set of raw, authentic, hyper-rhythmic techno.

after hood blew out our ears, we finished the festival with a final hour of hawtin. after hood's live set, i felt a bit underwhelmed, but hawtin grabbed my attention one last time by ending his set on a suite of plastikman loops. as the crowd gave him one final round of applause, we left in order to grab a bit of rest in order to make it through the late night and early morning...

MONDAY after what i guess was a few hours of sleep, we awoke, showered, and headed for the resolute party/vakant vs. dumb unit showcase at tv lounge. confused set-times meant we arrived near the end of camea and alexi delano's tag-team set... but, the vakant 1-2 punch of alex smoke's live set and dario zenker's dj'ing more than made up for it. alex smoke was particularly interesting, crafting a weird, noisily melodic set supplemented by his own (fx'd) vocals. then around 6am, the attention turned outside, as chicago favorite, kate simko, started up in the bar's outdoor area. as the sun crawled higher into the sky, kate kept it simple, slow, and groovy, with just the right amount of depth. then elon took over with a set of seriously deep house music. our new friend sibin thought it a bit intense, but i thought it was nice seeing a dj push the limits with some really scandalous tracks. at 9am, with the party still going strong but realizing we needed one last nap before the push into daytime, we retreated once more to our hotel...

before heading to old miami. we had heard a lot of tradition surrounds this old biker/veteran's bar, so we had to check it out. the music takes place on a shaded patio on the back lawn of the property, and when we arrived there around 1pm the entire place was fairly packed as the UK's matt tolfrey finished a (relatively, at this point) high-energy set to a crowd that was finally starting to slow down after a few days of nonstop partying. after tolfrey, it was time for a few detroit kids: matthew dear and ryan elliott.

bad weather threatened to end the fun early: just as dear and elliott began their tag-team set, rain started coming down hard, and even as the PA speakers were covered with tarps, seth troxler, another detroit darling and ringleader of the event, got on stage to announce that the music would stop. with his word, the party started clearing out, leaving only a fraction of us left wondering what to do. but the guys found a happy medium to keep us dancing: keeping the larger, outside speakers off, but turning up the monitors under the tent (and as you can see from the picture, using a blanket to cover up wires and cables). having created a solution, dear and elliott playfully responded to the weather (it was still raining) with a slowly-developing set of warm, gentle dance tracks, enhanced by the duo's geeked-out fx accents. soon, the sky cleared enough to turn on the main speakers, and the slim crowd was rewarded for their faith with looser and funkier jams.

with just a few hours left in detroit, we decided against taking the time to get back to the festival, so we stuck it out as long as possible at old miami. dear and elliott brewed up an addictive stew of slow-burning tracks for hours... with a few solemn pauses for observances by the military veterans on site. as we slowly cruised through the 5th hour of their set, reality began creeping up into the back of our minds, and we ejected ourselves from the party, dropped sibin off at another hotel, and started the drive back to chicago.

to conclude, i had a great time and i think we did a good job for being first-timers. next year, we know to leave earlier, and plan on having tuesday off in order to stay monday night, and really trying to soak up as much music as possible, no matter what. there weren't too many problems that weekend; missing some music is to be expected, but what we saw was consistently good. with particularly excellent festival sets by plastikman, cassy, and rob hood, as well as some great afterparty action, i think our weekend in detroit was a success.

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