I can easily award my ‘favorite weekend’ crown to Memorial Day; since the inception of Detroit’s electronic music festival, whatever you might call it (DEMF, Movement, Fuse-In) I’ve been in town catching up with lovely friends and family, hearing amazing artists and stomping around one of the world’s most intriguing cities. I take a little pride in only missing one festival, in 2001, and have seen it go through all sorts of changes. Compared to previous years, 2008 was professional in concept and execution, with Paxahau, the party promotion company which took reins over last year, honing an already strong element of expertise to managing the three-day event. Each year is a little different, but this was on balance one of the best yet, with a huge array of options.
I’ve written a review for Earplug, where I go into most of the music. I’d like to mention a few things that weren’t germane there. A caveat to the main review–I didn’t see everyone. I didn’t even try. There were over 100 artists involved. And I didn’t soldier through afterparties as much as usual. I guess that’s a good place to start. I missed a few people, Matthias Kaden, Alex Under, Cassy…despite what felt like a really sharp swing toward poppy/progressive stuff (benny benassi, moby, girl talk [all of which from a few glances had crowds going nuts]) there was still enough great techno to go around at the festival.
There was a big dearth of vinyl this year, and it was a little sad. Carlos Souffront & Zip were some of the few I saw at the festival playing only records. That may have contributed to what seems like no consensus ‘song of weekend.’ I figured I’d hear mumbling yeah a few times but didn’t at all. I think ghostly was the only vendor that was actually selling records. Bummer. Afterparty-wise, soul skate on saturday was a genuinely positive experience and a good respite from a day of pounding. folks say the real intensity on Saturday was at too far gone…no way back…, thrown by Interdimensional Transmissions. We had to be up at 4am for our flight over so there was no chance of going super late Saturday.
I didn’t really go nuts on photos; I’m still getting used to this new Ricoh GRII I picked up a few months ago. But Dan Sicko didn’t just write the book on Detroit techno–this year he took the photos too. Check out his great sets on Flickr.
This year having a press pass was, shockingly, a pain in the ass. Last year, a credential got you almost anywhere on the grounds, into the VIP areas, wherever. This year, it didn’t, and wasn’t very helpful. I was so surprised when I wasn’t allowed into the back area behind the main stage (useful for lounging or cutting through when traffic builds up) that I went back to the media area where, when pressed a bit, they explained–top tier press, like Resident Advisor or the Free Press I’d imagine, get VIP badges (which you could buy beforehand as part of a package). The rest just get the basic credential which is a festival entry pass, no more. Weaksauce. If someone in the media relations squad for Paxahau had mentioned I’d be getting a B-list pass I would have quit the tedious application process and just paid the $175 bucks for a VIP badge; that was what all my friends did, and if you were into alcoholic drinks and clean bathrooms the thing more or less paid for itself. If you’re buying beer on the concourse (7.50 per with the silly ticketing currency scheme) the 15 free drink tickets would be equivalent to over 100 bucks. That plus 50 for festival entry and you’re already close to the VIP cost. At any rate, Movement Festival media people, if you’ve got your Google Alert set up like good flacks and see this, I’d have paid the bucks if you’d have told me my publication wasn’t good enough to merit full access. I’m sure lots more would have, either through their editors or out of their own pockets. Everybody wins.
The weekend wasn’t all techno. Juno and I caught up with my parents and went to see the Tigers play the Twins on Sunday, taking part briefly in the Tigs’ misery when Francisco Cruceta broke a 1-1 tie by walking a few batters, working Michael Cuddyer to a 3-2 count and then lobbing a cheeseball over the plate. Cuddyer promptly cranked it some 420 feet. Considering all the potential outcomes of the pitch, it would have probably been less damaging if Cruceta had just thrown it into the outfield himself.
The game had some good examples of advertising as an economic indicator of recession. Listening to the Tigers play on MLB.com’s audio stream, I’ve been hearing radio ads selling things like Little Caesars’ new pizza deal “Feed your whole family for five bucks!” and tourist spots for London, Ontario “Get away from it all and spend half a tank of gas” and have been thinking about examples of economic downturn I might find at Comerica Park. It was a little depressing to compare the luxury electronics advertisers Yankee Stadium caters to (due, in part, to their Japanese TV rights) to what was going by on the electronic signage down the first and third base lines at CoPa. Where the Yanks have things like Hitachi, the Tigers have Murray’s Discount Auto Parts and two hairdressers, BoRics and a salon pegging itself as walk-in friendly. Those softened the blow a bit when I saw an airplane dragging a banner for a scrap metal yard around the festival–though it might have been better for business if you could bring your salvage directly to the festival and trade a few manhole covers and some copper pipe and wire for a one-day pass.
Joking aside, illegal salvage and scrapping, always a problem in Detroit, has become really bad. A friend working in real estate trying to lease buildings routinely sees damages in the tens of thousands caused by people breaking into buildings to rip a few hundred dollars worth of copper out. He says active water pipes are often twisted out, leading to flooding, which compounds the cost. And the scale is getting larger, suggesting organized crime. Recently, my friend said, he got a call from a building owner who went to show off a property and found the lights off. He’d paid the bill, and couldn’t figure out what the problem was. When they went to check the mains, they found the line into the building, a high-voltage wire, had been snipped and the place had been eviscerated of its copper. He also relayed incidents of thieves cutting down power poles for the balls of copper in the overhead cans as well as going after substations, suggesting either a high degree of technical expertise or a total disregard for personal safety. If it’s not just crack heads anymore, maybe Albanians are involved rather than Russians or Italians; it sounds like something on the high risk-low reward end, like ripping ATMs out of drug stores, that they’d be ballsy enough to take on. Maybe once the Freep gets done with Kwame and can free up a few reporters to dress up like the junk man in the last season of the Wire, with a horse and carriage, and take obviously thieved copper fittings around town to expose the salvage yards that enable this architectural brutality. Better yet, if anyone has contact with a gang of copperheads who might be looking for a summer intern, get in touch.