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[live review] Movement Electronic Music Festival 2011

When visiting a new city for the first time, you're bound to encounter at least a few trials and tribulations along the way -- parking, navigation, finding a decent place to eat, etc. Somewhat daunting, but I've always looked at it as more of an adventure than anything. But if that new city already happens to be as trialed and tribulated as Detroit? Well, there's a good chance that city may chew you up and spit you out, snatching up your car, cell phone, and hotel reservations in the process.

More on that a bit later, as I sit here nearly a week following the wrap of the MOVEMENT ELECTRONIC MUSIC FESTIVAL 2011, attempting to translate a weekend's worth of 4/4 beats into words. As much as the city took a toll on my body and mind and such, this review is about the music, man.

The festival itself, now in its eleventh incarnation, took place Saturday to Monday over Memorial Day weekend and was primarily broken into two parts: Movement, the day portion of the fest taking place noon to midnight, and the after-parties, which are sponsored by the festival but held in off-site bars and clubs.

The day portion is set in Hart Plaza, a city park located on the tributary dividing Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie, overlooking Windsor, Ontario. They somehow manage to fit five stages into this area that barely equals three city blocks. In Bostonian specs, it would be comparable to jamming five stages of thumping electronic music into the space that separates the Aquarium and Faneuil Hall. Much respect goes to the sound engineers for absolutely no bleed over between stages, but surely they already know how ace they are at their job.

Now that I've set the scene, the best way that I can think to tackle this beast is from the beginning. I'm not going to bother outlining every performance that I caught in separate graphs. I saw a lot of acts, it was a blur, so here's a myriad of words and visuals to accompany said blur:

Saturday

We arrived at our motel in Dearborn on Saturday afternoon, realized our motel in Dearborn was located between a strip club and a porn store, and relocated to a Hilton in the Downtown Detroit area. After a 13-hour overnight drive and a hostile phone call with hotels.com, in which I accused them of putting my livelihood on the line by even allowing me to book that Dearborn motel, my compatriots and I coasted into the festival grounds in a bit of a glossed over state of mind.

That was quick to wear off thanks to KERRI CHANDLER. Dude is nothing short of a legend and he laid the groundwork for a reoccurring theme of the weekend: Acts that I've only previously enjoyed from the comfort of my laptop speakers, throwing down right before my eyes. You try keeping a pout while listening to a set of whip-crack house in the drizzling rain. Shout outs to arm-banded industrial bro popping and locking directly next to me. Totally set the tone for the weekend.

Next we ventured to the Movement Torino stage, which is actually located in a concrete bunker under the park. This seems like it would lend itself to nightmarish acoustics, but we were there to witness VENETIAN SNARES, who creates bludgeoning drum and bass, so the set and setting went hand in hand. If I under the influence his set would've been ace, but being of a clear mind, I could only take about 20 minutes before I felt as if I was being curb stomped.

RICHIE HAWTIN is a tough nut to crack. Public perception of the polarizing techno poster boy seems to fluctuate as regularly as the seasons, with many claiming his ‘minimal' style is worn. And maybe it was being surrounded by a couple thousand of his biggest fanboys, or my virginal wideeyed perception of the weekend as a whole, but Richie delivered the standout set of day one for me. Nothing polarizing from my vantage point. And most likely the people bitching about him online are just that, people bitching online. Totally unique style, sleek mixing method, never knowing where any of his tunes start or end as he introduces a peculiar beep or glitch that immediately draws your attention while he fully mixes out the rest of the track under the distraction. Quite hypnotic really.

SETH TROXLER equals sexy time. Unadulterated liquid house that lends itself to serious crate digging. We briefly stopped by his set at the Made In Detroit stage on the way out of the fest, knowing full well we were going to catch an extended take during his headline set at the Circo Loco after-party. Unfortunately, we arrived at TV Lounge a little after midnight to find out via the set time printout posted on the club wall that a ‘headlining' set actually meant he wasn't playing until 10 o'clock the next morning. Also greeting us at TV Lounge was the club owner, a hulking mass of a man wondering why the fuck we came all the way out to Detroit for a music festival. Any suspicion that he was harboring ill will towards us for invading his city was vanquished around 8 AM when he bumped into us on the dance-floor and let us hit his bottle of 1800. Reoccurring theme No. 2: The locals love outsiders because we dump our money into their city that doesn't have much opportunity for income otherwise.

By 10 AM, we had survived sultry sets by way of Cassy and Jamie Jones and moved the party onto the outside terrace for Troxler's set. Of course this also meant a near 48-hours without sleep for myself, and basically a brain meltdown. One thing I can say with complete certainty is that Seth had the mustache of the weekend.

Sunday

The thing about pushing your body to its absolute brink is that once it shuts down, you're not likely to not wake up until it's damn ready to wake. So as I arose from the comfort of my Hilton cot around 7 PM Sunday evening, I was slightly dismayed by the fact that my cell phone was no longer working -- your guess is as good as mine -- and even more crushing, I had missed Soul Clap's festival set. But really no sense in crying over spilt braincells, as I gathered my bearings and made my way to the Plaza for day two.

We ventured back into the bunker for BEN KLOCK and MARCEL DETTMANN. Even more suited for the dingy environment than Mr. Snares, the two deliver the spookiest techno imaginable. The beats pummel, but never into submission, opting instead to keep an even hand while berating you over the head. My next techno pilgrimage may very well be to Berlin to see these two on their home turf during their residency at the infamous Berghain. Stay tuned.

A side effect of mesmerizing German techno happened to be missing most of CARL CRAIG's debut performance under his 69 moniker. The final 10 or so minutes I did happen to catch made it seem like it was something special though.

Next up was the I'm On A Boat 3 after-party, taking place on a boat, on the aforementioned tributary. Headlining reigns were granted to SVEN VÄTH and RICARDO VILLALOBOS, who happens to be one of the few people I consider an idol in this small world, as I let him know when I saw him boarding the ship next to me. He looked humbled, I looked like a fanboy. These two play records with the reverence in which they are meant to be played, clearly feeling the music, as clichéd as that sounds. Sven holds up every record before and after it touches the needle in a bout of ritualistic worship. And Ricardo looked absolutely pissed when they told him he had to cut his set at 5 AM, seemingly prepped to keep the boat rocking for a couple more hours. Someone had tipped me off that they cut beer sales at 2 AM, so instead of acting like a responsible adult and using that opportunity to curtail my alcohol intake, I bought and pocketed five Budweisers like a squirrel hoarding nuts for the winter. By 5 AM I was doing that oh-so-smooth dance where I try to bust a move, end up stumbling around a lot, and attempt to make it look like it was part of my repertoire all along, so I was more than willing to call it a night.


Monday

If Saturday was all about the house, and Sunday the techno, then Monday was dominated by dubstep. And as unfortunate as that may sound, there were some choice acts present that currently dominate much of my daily listening pleasure. This charge was led by PEARSON SOUND aka Ramadanman. The baby faced Brit looked positively overwhelmed onstage, but dropped bass anthems with the dexterity of someone who knew what the fuck they were doing. Hearing Julio Bashmore's "Battle For Middle You" was particularly fulfilling. Only caught the tail end of SCUBA's set but it was basically more of the same, proving that just because it carries the dubstep label doesn't mean that it has to wobble.

Amidst the barrage of low end bass frequencies, I ventured over to the main stage for GREEN VELVET, a Chicago house OG who knows a thing or two about getting a crowd moving. Many had insisted that I not miss his set and from the jump it was not hard to see why he's regarded with such acclaim. Dude doesn't even DJ his own records during his live set, opting instead to occupy the space in front of the decks with some silly dance moves, enthusiastic belting of his anthems, and a Juke squad from his native land. The audience responded to the hysteria accordingly, giving him the most rapturous response I witnessed all weekend, hell bent on burning up the reminder of their energy, I suppose.

"I'm scared as fuck right now," proclaimed Detroit native FLYING LOTUS, before admitting that he doesn't make it home as often as he should. Understandable, as he is a busy man. He was quick to wash away his nerves however, thanks to the aid of a bottle of vodka and a wholly receptive hometown crowd. He probably cut the music for story-time one too many times to grant his set my full stamp of approval, but he was drunk, I was drunk, and it's not difficult to reengage my interest when you're dropping transitions like "Return of the Mack" into "Nas Is Like". He worked through numbers by J Dilla, Radiohead, and his own excellent "Do the Astral Plane", providing a fittingly OCD cap to a momentously OCD weekend.

Random Musings

-Hey sweaty shirtless bro, I let you cut in front of me so you would keep moving and get the fuck away from me. Not so you could gyrate in a K induced stupor two-inches in front of my face. Same goes to you overzealous water throwing girl. I realize that within your ecstacy riddled brain you probably think that everyone around you would like to be as drenched as you are, and you may even garner a couple high-fives from like-minded dimwits, but your mouth was on that water bottle and I don't even want to think about where your mouth has been this weekend.

-Jam of the weekend goes to Matt John for "Hello Again (California Sunrise)". No clue who this dude is or if he was even aware of the happenings in Detroit, but his tune was omnipresent all weekend long, even if it was just inside my head.

-A bit earlier in this review I compared the specs of the fest to what it would be like if it was held in Boston. Laughable really as one can only imagine the hellish nightmare that promoters would be dragged through to even get the ball rolling on something comparable in scope. And a bar that serves alcohol after 2 AM!? Forget about it.

-Corn dogs!

-I left the fest with no concrete gut feeling that I need to go back next year. My car shit the bed on the ride home, turning an already daunting 13-hour drive into a 19-hour drive. I spent more money on a hotel, car repairs, and a new cell phone than I could really afford. I still haven't listened to anything resembling electronic music since returning home. But all it really takes is one glance of this photo of Sven, courtesy of Detroit Free Press, to remind me that the trip was no joke:

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