Movement. Now. (Or: I Heart Jason Huvaere)
It has been three weeks since Movement ended. My head still throbs with the bass vibrations, my body still swaying to the syncopated beats. After leaving the pulsing lights and packed dancefloor of the final after-party, dancing one last time to Benny Benassi’s distinct brand of heart-thumping electro house and inhaling the last wisps of cigarette smoke, I returned home to remove the wristband that had so completely become a part of my being, a reluctant admission that it had all come to an end. Movement is so much more than just another music festival; it is a call of duty, a battle-cry for techno fans across the world, a journey, a bond.
I cut off the armband, pulled out the last few flyers for after-parties that were stuffed inside my pockets, and laid down to bed well past 3:00AM for the fourth consecutive night, eardrums still blaring the distorted memory of all the remnant bass. For four days I stank of the sweat of throngs of dancing fans, trying to stay hydrated with endless supplies of Vitamin Water (mixed, of course, with vodka), sunburned, sweaty, tired and sore. I barely slept or ate. It was one hell of a weekend.
Movement is the latest and greatest incarnation of the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, which was launched in 2000 by festival production/promotion company Pop Culture Media, headed up by one Carol Marvin. The event was quite generously sponsored by the city of Detroit and (beginning the following year) Ford, and admission for the estimated 1.1 million attendees was free. Metro Times dubbed Marvin the “Queen of the DEMF,” and everyone lived happily ever after.
Or not. Like any other massive production enormously dependent upon corporate sponsorship and with power-hungry leadership steering the ship, it eventually slammed into a massive iceberg and suffered a series of Titanic-sized losses; the festival was on the verge of bankruptcy. Ford withdrew their sponsorship and the City of Detroit withdrew a huge chunk of funding, there was a great deal of controversy over the dismissal of DJ Carl Craig as artistic director which ultimately led to the end of Marvin’s reign as “queen,” DJs Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson of the “Detroit Three” (the originators of techno music as we know it) both took shaky turns at producing the event after Marvin and her team were ousted, the festival changed its name twice and began to charge admission to cover its own budget (though it was still unable to recoup its expenses), and in early 2006 it was an orphan, without a producer, major sponsorship, or much hope of survival.
Enter Jason Huvaere of Paxahau Event Productions.
“The big challenge was to heal the wounds still infected from the drama that surrounded the 2001-2002 events after Carl was pushed out by then festival producer and the related controversy including upset fans, stakeholders and vendors for hire,” says Jason Huvaere, president and co-founder of Paxahau Event Production. “Even with new faces from 2003-2005 the event still suffered due to bad info reported from previous events and it became difficult to earn the trust from top level contractors. During our first year (2006) we had 8 weeks to produce a festival that is really a year round job. We were very focused on stabilizing during the first year; then after we got our festival legs under us we began to explore ways to improve the production and sound quality at the festival. Every year since then we have tried to take it to the next level.”
In 2006, after Saunderson stepped down due to lack of funds and promotion, the DEMF (now known as “Movement”) was up for grabs again and Marvin lobbied to regain control, though she ultimately lost to a little event production company from Ferndale called Paxahau. The decision to hand control over to Huvaere’s company was widely supported by those who had involvement with past festivals, including Craig and Saunderson. Huvaere swooped in like Captain America to save the day, wresting control of the festival away from the villainous clutches of Carol Marvin. Well…perhaps that’s a little extreme, but Marvin certainly didn’t make many friends throughout her reign and Huvaere worked no small miracle reviving the festival to its former glory. Since Paxahau took over, new life has been breathed into this formerly troubled festival, once again attracting top-name talent from around the world, and growing attendance every year after it dropped four years straight down to only 3% of its peak (from 1.7 million attendees in 2002 to about 41,000 in 2006). And all the credit rightfully goes to the humble Huvaere.
“Attendance this year was excellent,” Huvaere tells me. “We had an attendance of 83,322 at Movement over the three days of the festival. It is the largest three day weekend crowd the festival has had since it became a ticketed event in 2005.”
Being at Movement 2009, you’d never know there had ever been any trouble. Detroit’s scenic Hart Plaza—situated between GM’s impressive world headquarters and the Detroit riverfront—was swarming with techno fans from the minute the gates opened every day. People from all over the world once again poured into Detroit for what is still the largest electronic music festival in the United States, and the only one of its kind with “an urban outdoor venue like Hart Plaza with four stages, nearly 100 performers and 36 hours of programming,” according to Huvaere. As a native Detroiter, it was surprising to find that most of the people I spoke with were from out of town; as a local I found myself in the minority.
One of the greatest things about Movement is all the different people you meet. There’s just something about the energy there—everyone together for the specific purpose of dancing and having fun, many from out of town looking only for an enjoyable experience with friends and strangers alike—that bonds people together. Perfect strangers become best friends; you might start the day with one group of friends you lose track of halfway through and end the night with another group you just met. People from different cities, states, and countries meet, connect, and share some of the best moments of their lives in the most unexpected ways. Movement is its own makeshift community—ephemeral yet viable. You might never see that group of strangers again, but rest assured you’ll never forget them. This is all part of the Movement experience.
On the first day you always have to acclimate—figure out the lay of the land, situate yourself in the environment. My first day actually started the night before at Detroit’s eccentric C-Pop Gallery with a pre-party featuring Planet E’s Monty Luke. (Though many people started their evenings even earlier with the official Paxahau pre-party at the Fillmore Detroit featuring the Prodigy, on tour for the first time in 8 years.) From there, it was on to a more unlikely space for dub bass and trance—Bookies, the newly relocated sport-centric megaplex located on Cass behind Foxtown. These pre-parties bled into the first day of Movement—a comparatively toned-down experience—which gave way to the first round of official after-parties.
Some of the most buzzed-about aspects of Movement (after the initial Internet explosion of “ZOMGZ THE LINEUP NOM NOM NOM!” dies down) are the after-parties. While grooving at the festival, you’re likely to be approached with half a dozen promoters handing out flyers to their various after-parties, many featuring some of the international talents featured on the festival’s bill—except in a smaller, darker, louder, boozier environment that could potentially continue on well after sunrise the next day. The locations range everywhere from art galleries to goth clubs to restaurant patios to yes, even sports bars, all transformed into feverish techno havens for the weekend. The festival is in a lot of ways just a precursor to the late-night/wee-hour parties that happen afterwards; at my best count there were some 70 or so, making the stage-hopping at Hart Plaza by day look like an amateur’s game. Always one to stay on top of the trends, this year Huvaere & Co. honored 13 such parties with the official Paxahau Blessing, partnering up with local promoters and businesses to make some of the festival’s best after-parties an official part of the festival itself.
“Every year since we began producing Movement in 2006 we have produced and worked with some great local promoters to develop official Movement after parties,” Huvaere notes. “The people that come to Movement truly enjoy the music, so by promoting official after parties fans are able to keep the party going once the festival has ended. It is great for the fans of the music as well as the local economy.”
Another partnership new to this year is Movement: Detroit’s Electronic Music Festival’s partnering up with Movement: Torino, the Euro version of the festival launched in 2006 and held over Halloween weekend in the Palaolimpico stadium built to host the XX Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. Huvaere hopes that with this partnership the two festival producers “will work together to promote one another’s festivals, while Paxahau will be instrumental in helping them book electronic music artists to perform at Movement Torino. This partnership will help to strengthen the Movement brand and expose more people Detroit’s rich Techno culture.” To which I say: field trip!
Day One/Night Two found me at 5 E Gallery for the Detroit Techno Militia show (and maybe somewhere else too but who even knows anymore); Day Two/Night Three found me self-diagnosing the self-inflicted bodily trauma from the night before in the Movement VIP lounge, watching Loco Dice vs. Luciano from the comfort of behind the stage while double-fisting Vitamin Water cocktails (‘cuz you gotta get your vitamins). Hey, you didn’t think I was just writing this piece for shits and giggles did you? Press passes, beyotch!
But Day 3: ah, that was the day. Bad Boy Bill. Afrika Bambaataa. Adultnapper. Bassnectar. Carl Craig. Benny Benassi. Kevin Saunderson. Derrick May. OMFG. It is refreshing to see an event of this magnitude practicing the time-honored art of saving the best for last—or perhaps the showbiz credo “Always leave them wanting more.” And more we got: Benny Benassi to be exact, my personal favorite of the festival who then spun at the official closing party at Plan B Nightclub—that final closing party that I left feeling so very bittersweet.
Despite all the new fancy partnerships taking this year’s Movement in a fresh new direction, in many ways this year also marked a return to the festival’s roots: on May 22nd, 2009, in a press conference with then-mayor Ken Cockrel, Huvaere announced that Paxahau officially named DJ Carl Craig the new Creative Director for Movement 2010. This was a landmark announcement, confirming that, under Huvaere’s steadfast leadership, the festival has been fully reborn, shedding finally all of the bad blood that came before.
Says Huvaere of the decision to reinstate Craig as Dreative Director: “I have known Carl for about 15 years now. We (Paxahau) have always had a very positive relationship with Carl. We have a tremendous amount of respect for him and were excited when he agreed to become the new Creative Director for the festival.
‘He has a complete understanding of the history of Techno Music in Detroit. He understands its impact around the world because he lives it every day. Carl is a musical visionary whose ambassadorship is unparalleled. The decision was natural and appropriately timed. We have all been busy with management of various projects over the years, this was time to recognize the history as well as the future of this great city and work together as a stronger team for the evolution of the festival. Carl has had vision for this festival since it began, and we are happy to be able to facilitate his involvement into the future.”
2010 will be another landmark year for Movement, marking the festival’s 10th anniversary. Big plans are in the works to make this festival the best yet, and Huvaere promises that “preparations for the 10 year anniversary began as we were finalizing the details for Movement 2009.” After seeing first-hand what they’ve been able to pull off so far, I have complete faith that the Paxahau team will make good on their promises.
Until then, I’ve done you the favor of putting together a little list of things for you to keep in mind for next year. You’re welcome.
Movement Survival Guide
1. 2 quarts vodka
2. 64 ounces of water
3. 3 removable layers of clothing for extreme temperature shifts
4. A painstakingly detailed plotted and annotated Google map of various after-parties with driving directions and force-rank prioritization based on three tiers of importance: who’s playing, how much, and how late
5. A healthy sense of irony and a high tolerance for flashing, spinning neon lights
6. Already-damaged hearing that will not be negatively affected by excessive bass
7. Lots of cash for booze inside festival grounds when you can’t easily access the two quarts of vodka in your car
8. A tattoo on your forearm that says “Eat,” just in case you forget
9. A list of phone numbers for local cab companies
10. A contingency plan should the friends you came with leave/pass out without you
All photos courtesy of this guy: