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Movement: Detroit Electronic Music Festival

DEMF 2011 Opens Hearts up to Techno

It was 1999 when Eminem famously sang the words "nobody listens to techno" in his song "Without Me." Turns out he was wrong, because the following year the Detroit Electronic Music Festival was born. The festival is in its 11th year and counting, and its longevity proves that techno is a diverse genre that won't fade into oblivion. Each year over Memorial Day Weekend, festival patrons gather in Heart Plaza, which becomes a place of pride for celebrating a genre that is unique to Detroit. 

Detroit, aka "the Motor City," is the home of Motown, the auto industry, and Eminem. But its most famous claim to fame is birthing techno. It all started in the late 1980's, when a "Detroit Techno" sound became widely publicized in the underground scene before becoming a full genre in its own right.

Contrary to popular opinion, Detroit is a charming Midwestern metropolitan city. And surprisingly, the city has the nicest people you will ever meet. If you take a good look around Detroit, you'll see that all the abandoned buildings, quiet streets, and grime contributes to the city's soulful character. And that soul rings true with Motown and techno music. To pay homage to their city, numerous locals were seen sporting "DET TECH" shirts.

The event took place over three days on the Heart Plaza riverfront. Unfortunately, the weather was quintessentially Midwestern for its bipolarity. It rained on patrons the first day, before becoming terribly windy on the second, until it finally turned hot and humid on the last day. 

The festival boasted five stages: Vitamin Water, Beatport, Made in Detroit, Red Bull, and Movement. Most of them were uncreatively named after the main sponsors who shamelessly used the stage as a plug for product placement. 

The festival mainly focuses on techno, but this year it featured an eclectic mix of electronic music, such as breakbeats, hip hop, electro, and tech-house. Some of the artists that played were well-known acts, while others were more underground including: Tortured Soul, Felix da Housecat, Richie Hawtin, Skrillx, Sven Vath, 69 (Carl Craig), Beardyman, Ghostface Killah, Dubfire, Green Velvet, Art Department, Little Dragon, Flying Lotus, and Fatboy Slim. There were also numerous official "pre-parties" and "after- parties" to keep patrons in festival mode long after Heart plaza closed at midnight.

The Underground Movement stage mimicked a cutout city, which was a great backdrop for visual projections. The grimy and techy beats created the ideal atmosphere to seek shelter from the rain. The humidity under the building grew as the days went on while more and more music pumped through the underground passages, complementing the break beat and alien sounding acts that performed on that stage in the latter part of the festival. 

Beardyman (think the Girltalk of breakbeats) made the Red Bull Stage on Sunday night jump with enthusiasm, when he started his set off saying "I am not a DJ." His unique mashups and sound effects caused festival goers to jump around furiously while others preferred to mosh. His act was then preceded by Ghostface Killah, who really brought everyone back to the city's hip-hop roots, and he punctuated his performance with some good old funk. Sunday also gave way to Minimal Tech-house artist Carl Craig (69). His high energy set and good breakdowns caused the festival goers to lower themselves and then bring themselves back up as if he was Otis Day and the Knights mesmerizing the party-goers in Animal House.

Monday boasted an even bigger line up to match the city's intense humidity. Electronic band Little Dragon blew up the Red Bull Stage with their live-set. Lead singer Yukimi Nagano had a unique, soothing, and powerful voice, which complimented her obscenely cute fashion sense. She even jammed out on some drums, showing us that women can really rock in this male-dominated genre.

Fatboy Slim was Monday's biggest headliner and probably the most well-known DJ at the festival. Fatboy Slim is well aware of his power and fame because he's been tickling and teasing us with catchy lyrics and funky beats for years. The artist truly demonstrated how infectious dance music really is, as his beats permeated the entire stage. Heart Plaza was filled with people jumping in happiness and magically dancing around the plaza's fountains in a trance. You can really get a sense for how he helped to shape electronic dance music by watching the crowd spontaneously break into dance. His performance delivered the right amount of nostalgia, but at the same time it also brought us new sounds. 

However, he also did what any large and popular electronic musician does by blending house and techno with top forty tunes. Finally, he closed off his set with Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up" (an electronic festival favorite), and Cee Lo Green's hit "Forget You" before looping back to the song that made him an internationally-recognized artist- "Praise You." In one last jokester move, Fatboy Slim throws off his headphones and egotistically basks in the glory of his performance before running off the stage while his turntables cut into Johann Strauss II's "An der schönen blauen Donau, Op. 314" ("The Blue Danube") while fans broke into a waltz.

The festival was a very different experience than the clusterfucks of the California festival circuit. People were nice, space was plentiful, and crowds were relatively tame. The festival showed us out-of-towners what Detroit really was about: the people, the music, and the soul. The city is very proud of its roots and they should be. Ladies and gentleman, I urge you to follow Freddie Le Grand's lead and "Put Your Hands up for Detroit."

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