Even though it’s been going strong under one name or another for more than a decade now, this was my first time at Movement, a festival that’s pretty much tailor-made for my love of electronic music. I’d wanted to go last year, but hemmed and hawed until the last minute and ultimately didn’t make it happen. Detroit is a day’s trip away, tantalizingly close enough to make a trip feasible but still somewhat complicated to prepare for. This year, I just decided that I was done making excuses not to go, so I booked my weekend pass, train ticket and hotel room a few months in advance. A few last minute challenges aside, I somehow managed to get myself there and back in one piece, and had a pretty fantastic time.
I liken the experience to the first time I went to an anime convention. It’s quite a shock to step into a place where everyone shares the same passion as you, particularly when it’s one as culturally marginalized in America as anime or techno. Sure, lots of people think they know what “techno” is. But ask the average person here and they’ll likely imagine club remixes of modern pop hits or trance-pop like Groove Coverage. (As for anime fans, the idea of “techno” appears to run the gamut from this to this… so much for two misunderstood subcultures finding common ground anytime soon.) Even in the world of indie music, which the standard indie rock model has slowly been supplanted by more dance-friendly fare — I’d say that Daft Punk now occupy the same legendary/influential niche that Pavement did a decade ago — authentic techno remains one of the last branches of dance music that the Pitchfork nation has yet to absorb or understand. Disco, electro, house, even dubstep are now part of the fabric of indie music in America and have been well-plumbed by both indie rock bands and indie rock media, but techno (particularly Detroit techno) remains largely untouched (not that I’m looking forward to the day that Animal Collective or Spoon fans start namedropping Underground Resistance). Anyway, this is all just a longwinded way of saying that techno — think music on M-nus, Planet E, Basic Channel, etc. — is pretty much invisible in America. How strange it was find a giant a giant carnival devoted to it right in the heart of a major US city.
Maybe that’s a little misleading, as Movement’s roster of artists represented a variety of electronic styles. But techno remains the central idea that the festival is based on, or at least where it finds its “heart.” Despite the necessary corporate sponsorships that makes the festival possible or at least reasonably priced — Red Bull and Vitamin Water get their own stages — there’s a sense that the festival represents the uncorruptable spirit of electronic music, which has enjoyed occasional periods of great success but largely thrived on the margins of culture for decades. It feels like no small miracle that such a fragmented world could actually come together for such a big event, and one that people would actually come out for.
The visitors at Movement came from all sorts of backgrounds and subcultures. There were lots of young people there, the sort of kids that might have been called “candy ravers” at one point, but who defy such easy categorization today. There were plenty of older folks on hand too, veterans of both festivals past and the golden days of house and techno, and for whom the classic tracks represented not just “know your history” landmarks but real, tacit memories. There plenty of hippies, people in spectacular/ridiculous costumes, and glowstick wavers, but most everyone there was simply dressed for a hot summer afternoon. Saturday’s rain didn’t put a damper on things; everyone seemed eager to take the dreary afternoon as a challenge to have fun.
A few of my personal highlights:
Space Time Continuum — I only caught the end of this set, but wow. I thought this was supposed to be some dated-sounding electronica for hippies. Instead it was a totally banging set just wouldn’t quit. This guy (Jonah Sharp) apparently hasn’t recorded anything for a while, but he clearly knows how to work a room or at least end a set on a high note. RYM reviews of his albums suggest that his work is more psychedelic and conceptual than the ten minutes of music I heard on Saturday, but I’m still curious to check it out.
Cio D’Or — Whenever I play my “recommended” radio on Last.fm, a Cio D’or track or two usually pops up. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard of her so far, and her set (abbreviated by technical problems?) didn’t disappoint. Smart techno with a real punch that was slow to lift off, but once the beat dropped, she had the crowd moving for more than an hour. The (literally) underground Movement stage boasted a few acts that I enjoy but who didn’t do much for me live, but this set was extremely compelling.
Tortured Soul — I don’t listen to much funk or “live dance” music, but these guys were really good. I expected something like Galactic but they sounded closer to Tortoise, The Roots, or even The Rapture. They definitely earned their main stage spot.
Kerri Chandler — Simply a great set dripping with soul. I know he’s a legend, but how much does the crowd really care? All I know is that the bowl at the park was half filled when he began playing, and was positively packed less than an hour later (in the rain, no less). So many people are skeptical or misinformed about what electronic dance music is and what it’s like to experience on a large scale. I wish those kind of people could’ve been there for this set.
Margaret Dygas – Just a great DJ set, good mix of classics and new tunes. Had the fortune to be up front for this and was really, really feeling it. I’m usually too much of an introvert to dance, but I couldn’t help myself here. I don’t think she’s got superstar status or anything yet, so it was nice to see so many people coming out to see her, even before the latecomers began pouring in for…
Ricardo Villalobos — I thought this was his first US show, but apparently he’s played here before (in Detroit, no less). Nevertheless, his appearance at this year’s festival was still a big deal! And the hilarious thing about it was that it seemed obvious that he couldn’t have given less of a fuck about it. Bringing out at least 20 people on stage with him, who proceeded to have a drunken picnic, he eased into his brand of mind-warping minimal, Latin techno that seemed to have sound engineers going bananas. I think they were pleading with him to turn it down, while he either didn’t understand them or simply pretended not to (for about five minutes, this was great comedy). I’ll admit this wasn’t as amazing of a set as I’d been anticipating, but my expectations for him were simply too much for him to ever deliver upon. I mean, I’ve actually dreamed about seeing him play before (in a setting too bizarre for me to possibly describe), so it’s little wonder that reality can’t quite live up to the fantasy that I’d concocted for it well in advance. I actually left his set after an hour, for fear that my facial cartilages were slowly being liquified by the bass.
69 — A real feast for the eyes and ears. I really like Carl Craig but had no expectations for this going in. Was there a reason he was performing under this name? I still don’t know. All I know is that this was the most potent techno I heard all weekend long. Just electrifying stuff. The crowd was going crazy for this, and rightfully so. My camera had run out of memory by this point, but I’m not sure a little video would do the whole experience justice. I hate to say it, but you really had to be there for this. To think that one man could put on a show like this, and that such a massive audience could come together to appreciate it, sort of gives me hope that the world really isn’t as hopeless of a place as it sometimes seems. I know that’s a tremendously corny sentiment, but that’s why the optimism and excitement that’s so inherent in techno is also so ineffable to try to put into words. You either know it or you don’t (yet).
Here’s hoping I can come back again in the future. The next few years look pretty bleak, financially, but I’d hate to think that I’d never have a chance to have an experience like this again.