Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Feelings after Detroit Electronic Music Festival 2011

The Detroit Electronic Music Festival - or Movement, as they want to call it - used to be the largest music festival in the world, attracting over a million visitors in 2001-2003. After transforming into a more commercial venture with tickets, the attendance has been under 100,000, still being a major event, especially in the context of electronic dance music.

Sven Väth playing on the main (Vitamin Water) stage on Sunday evening
There have been big names behind the festival: Carl Craig, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, all legendary techno producers from Detroit. Even though the tickets to the events are quite pricey (weekend pass $80 plus taxes if bought from the gate), the festival is very much a product of local culture and talent. I was happy to be able to take part this year, on the Memorial weekend in May 2011 and experience the whole thing.

I only attended on Saturday and Sunday because my feet were too sore to go on Monday... There were five stages (Movement/Torino, Vitamin Water, Made in Detroit, Red Bull Music Academy and Beatport), each with a slightly different style of techno but still offering a true bass pounding experience - and the Made in Detroit stage featured exclusively DJ's from Detroit.

I haven't attended many music festivals. I went to Joensuu Song Festival in 1995 and Donauinselfest in 2001 but both were mainly about popular (and rock) music (the latter was free to all, attracting more than a million visitors). At DEMF everyone seemed to be interested in the music, there were no intoxicated people around (though the cannabis odor was everywhere) and all organization seemed to be well in place. And the music - it was as true to the city as it could be, just techno everywhere.
The Vitamin Water stage is visible in the background, and so are the skyscrapers of Detroit's Financial District. I may look grumpy but I am actually quite happy.

At one point in the early evening of Sunday, one DJ at Made in Detroit stage had some problem starting his set, so another guy grabbed the microphone and gave a little speech to the crowd. I try to recite some of it: "Welcome to Detroit! We are here to show you how we like to do it. Have fun - or as we say it, get busy!"

The people at the festival - both visitors and the artists - seemed to be immensely proud to come from Detroit. Different Detroit or "D" t-shirts were very common in many designs. Detroit has a pretty bad reputation worldwide, for being a dirty industrial city with lots of crime and other problems, like urban decay and poverty. However, it is also a city of culture and great music. The legendary label Motown (short for Motor Town, a nickname for the city) originated from Detroit, as did the techno group Underground Resistance later - of which the "father of techno music" Juan Atkins was a member.

By being there, one cannot avoid the feeling that the festival is Detroit. It is not just an event, just music or just a festival. The artists, the music, the surroundings - all of it is Detroit. When techno music was born there over 20 years ago, Juan Atkins wanted to give the city an exhilarating soundscape, drawing inspiration of its industrial atmosphere. I see the techno movement as contributing to the community, instead of just producing dance music. The festival is a continuation of that.

DJ Rolando's hit track Jaguar played live by Mark Flash & co.
Of course, there would be much more to write about. The numerous afterparties (which I did not attend), the fabulous lineup (in addition to Adam Beyer, Sven Väth and Richie Hawtin), excellent PA systems, the cooling rain, bikini girls, Moog synthesizers at technology showroom, powerful strobes & other lights, Christian electronic music booth, Border Patrol officers, breakdancing local youth, expensive beer and so on. I hope I can visit this event again some other year, but as I am just studying in United States, I am not sure if it is possible.

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1 comment :

  1. Hi there! I've been working on an Electronic Music Festival blog, liked your content and wanted to share my own. Excellent content on your site, keep up the awesome job :)