Detroit's Electronic Music Festival 2004

What would you say if someone offered you the opportunity of putting on a free three-day concert for over a million people in the heart of your city? Would you do it? Now, what if the task came with these additional stipulations: make it happen with almost no budget, for little or no pay, and likely even put your own income at risk? Would you still say yes to that opportunity?

Movement: Detroit's Electronic Music Festival will happen this weekend because a small group of people under the leadership of techno god-father Derrick May all responded with a resounding "Yes!" to that challenge. Despite issues plaguing the event all the way up to the end, the festival goes on through the efforts of this unyieldingly optimistic and steadfastly determined group of volunteers who have all seen this as a labor of love. There have been problems and the scarcity of information has been maddening, all that said, the challenges faced by this essentially volunteer outfit are epic in scale.

The Movement team at work is not unlike watching the crowd at the festival. A constantly rotating staff whips through the Movement headquarters. Some are local, while others come from as far away as the United Kingdom, Amsterdam and other parts of Europe, and Australia. One could never accuse this bunch of sitting around. It's all about movement. As far as asking any questions goes, the truth is no one stopped moving long enough to get a word out.

We did manage to slow down Movement Director Derrick Ortencio long enough to answer a few questions about this year's festival and the efforts behind it. For Ortencio, who has devoted ten years of his life to dance music and the last year and a half on the Movement Festivals, "this represents the pinnacle" of those efforts. He speaks for the entire Movement organization that they do it not because of money, (in fact the event tends to be lucrative for everyone involved except the people who put it on) but because they, "love the city, love the people, and love the music."

The difficulties of putting on a festival of this scale are multi-fold. First of all as Ortencio puts it, "the business of art is a complicated process." Some of the duties involve arranging acts (many of whom still volunteer their performance), confirming sponsors, procuring equipment, coordinating volunteers, and interacting with the media. To pull this off smoothly, typically requires a well-established, well-funded outfit. The Movement team, however, evolved from May's own Transmat label and connections through the music industry. This means that at times the vision of May and co. often end up at odds with what is actually feasible. That divide is certainly a main contributor to communication breakdowns of the past that continue to haunt them today.

Certainly money would help make many of their troubles go away. The volunteer Movement staff would gain stability and be able to acquire typical office things from a phone system to a copy machine. The city of Detroit is not putting up any money, and in fact this year began charging Movement for the use of Hart Plaza, the festival's center. They also suffered a major blow when major sponsor, the turntable maker Technics bowed out with about two weeks to go. Despite all this, they soldiered on and in some sense are overachieving given their means. (It is interesting to compare the level of resources being thrown at the Superbowl to Movement. While the Superbowl will unarguably bring an enormous national showcase to Detroit, the Movement Festival brings people right into the heart of the city and out on the streets.)

Obviously, in order to put on a free concert, sponsors are a necessary part of the operation. Movement attempts to offer a different approach to their sponsors - integrate their advertising into the spirit of the festival. Along with this, Movement hopes to become a brand in and of itself. They want to be more than just this festival, but an internationally recognized, ummm, movement in touch with a generation of urban culture.

Ortencio sought to define what the festival is about. "First and foremost this is a showcase of Detroit artists, this will always be - old, new, up and coming, and established. Secondly, we hope to deliver acts that are inspiring from all over the world." All of these acts fit under a broad umbrella of electronic music and pay homage to modern urban dance music. Whether around the corner or on the other side of the world, all of this music comes emerges from a unifying link of urban culture.

There are a lot of new things to look for in these years festival. The festival will have a "Techno Boulevard," running parallel to Jefferson Avenue designated for independent music vendors to help promote and nurture emerging talent. The Festival offers more than just sound, as they have collaborated with Eclectic Detroit to bring an on-site light and sound installation located next to the river stairway, near the Pyramid Stage in Hart Plaza. This year's Underground stage will be hosted by Movement's European partner: The Generator. A broad range of different Detroit-influenced styles, performed and played by artists from Holland can be heard during the weekend.

Events will be happening across the river as well. The Art Gallery of Windsor hosts "Nodes and Circumstances": an Electronic Music Forum. On Saturday the gallery will host a discussion panel featuring May and others, as well as a series of educational and hands-on activities relating to electronic music. Pretty cool stuff. (Note to Detroit arts organizations, something like this ought to be happening in Detroit next year.)

There are some new things to look for besides the music with this year's festival. The long awaited Movement Program. This document offers bios and photos of over fifty of the artists that will be performing. Ortencio states that, "the beauty of [the festival] is that no one person is in touch with what everyone performing can do. [The program] thus becomes an enlightening experience for everyone." By offering this material, they not only have produced something people can remember the event by, but they hope to help everyone know about all the performers when they leave. The program (which includes the schedule of performances) will be available for $5 at the festival.

For an event that charges nothing to get in, this program serves as an important source of revenue, as does the release of the Movement DVD and the three-disk box-set. The DVD features footage of the festival and the acts from last year's festival (The film can also be seen on the big screen at the Roseville Theatre.) The box-set, billed offers "the official sound track of the 2003 Movement Festival." Compiled and edited by May and Kevin Reynolds, it features tracks that showcase the artists at last year's festival. Both the DVD and the CD-set will be available at the festival and eventually through the website as well.

For those who attended the festival in previous years, one thing of note is how well-behaved the teeming crowd was. Ortencio offers an explanation, "The underlying theme of the music is dominant in the atmosphere. The reason they're there is not lost in the madness of the crowd. The music deters all the other drama." And maybe that's a good metaphor for the whole process. Despite the sometimes chaotic nature of planning and coordination, in the end it's about the music. And Movement. Hope to see you there.

For more details, the up-to-date line-up and schedule, go to

Beginning with it's inception in May 2000, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival has become one of the largest free outdoor music festivals in the world, and it will be happening at Hart Plaza this Memorial Day weekend (May 29-31).

Check out the official Movement 2004 website for details on the many acts that will be performing, as well as artist bios and the performance schedule. Then get out to Hart Plaza this Memorial Day weekend for fun, sun (weather permitting), and as much free music as you can handle.

And of course, don't forget there are a lot of after parties each night of the festival. The press release boasts that Downtown Detroit bars, clubs, and galleries will host 200 separate after parties and events hosted by the world's top promoters, record labels and magazines.

The Festival will be throwing a few after-dark bashes of its own:

Saturday May 29, Movement Presents ' Check-Stub' featuring Dj Assault, Disco D, DJ Godfather, Djs Don and Vjing from Electric Violence. Champale Bar and Showgirls in Free… "Girls, gots to see your check-stub."
Times Square Detroit ,1431 Times Square . Doors open 10. $15 before midnight or presale via $20 after midnight.

On Sunday, May 30th, join Movement organizer and Techno pioneer Derrick May for his only set of the Festival. May will be playing with the legendary New York DJ Francois K and Festival favorite Stacey Pullen alongside leading DJs from Detroit, Chicago and New York. Do not miss this rare opportunity to witness these DJs performing together under one roof in a celebration of music and 'After-Dark Dancing'.
The City Club, 400 Bagley at Cass (Inside Ramada Hotel). Doors open 10pm. $20 before midnight or advance from or . $25 after midnight.

Monday May 31st, KMS Productions and Boldface Media Present "Kevin Saunderson and Friends.. Encore 4" , the Final Movement Party . Featuring an impressive lineup of DJs that include Kevin Saunderson, Kenny Larkin, Ron Trent and others. Expect the vibe of past years in a new venue with surprises, guests and more.
Panacea, 205 W.Congress (at Shelby). Doors open 11pm. $10 advanced, more at door. Tickets at Record Time Ferndale , KMS booth at Festival and

© 2002