The mainstage at 2011's Movement Electronic Music Festival during Carl Craig's set. (Photo by Douglas Wojciechowski for Paxahau)
Tomorrow, Saturday, May 26, marks the beginning of the 13th annual Movement Electronic Music Festival (formerly the DEMF and Fuse-In Detroit), widely considered the most prestigious and well-curated electronic dance music event in the country.
Here, in downtown Detroit's Hart Plaza, over 100 techno, house, dubstep and other electronic dance music DJs and artists will perform before approximately 100,000 fans over three days. Yet, as Memorial Day segues into what has been labeled "The Summer of EDM," one has to wonder why the year's most commercially successful dance artists - including Skrillex, David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia, Deadmau5, Kaskade, Avicii, Tiësto and others - are nowhere to be found.
David Guetta, he of will.i.am and Nicki Minaj collaborations, approached Movement's promoters Paxahau about playing the festival, according to a recent Detroit Metro Times story. He was turned down. Which begs the question: why?
"We feel a responsibility to utilize this festival as a chance to maintain a sense of history and heritage about the music itself," says James Canning, media director for Paxahau, promoters of Movement since 2006. "We think [contemporary mainstream EDM] is a tremendous thing for the music scene in general as it relates to electronic dance music, techno and so forth and it's a great opportunity to expose a broader audience to music so many people have known for so long. Here in Detroit, people like Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May have been doing this for 30 years... We see ourselves as stewards of this music. "
Indeed, Movement's three divergent headliners -- Little Louis (a Chicago House icon), Public Enemy (hip-hop hall of famers), and The Wizard Jeff Mills (a Detroit techno pioneer) -- have been making music since before Grammy-winner Sonny "Skrillex" Moore, 24, was out of diapers. The same is true for many on the weekend bill, including Juan Atkins, Stacey Pullen, Derrick Carter, Eddie "Flashin" Fowlkes, and British reel-to-reel DJ Greg Wilson.
Skrillex, it should be noted, performed at last year's fest; but he was booked before his star and the EDM phenomenon began to crest. And Deadmau5, too, played in 2008 on a card table. This year as well there are many up and comers, including Araabmuzik, Major Lazer (with Diplo and Switch), SBTRKT and Gold Panda. Movement isn't trying to shut anyone out, Canning says, just that Paxahau puts "a lot of effort into the line-up" and doen't want any one artist to upset the festival's curatorial and audience balance.
Minutes Before Blowing Up: Skrillex performing on the Red Bull stage at the 2011 Movement Festvial. (Photo by Bryan Mitchell for Paxahau)
Hart Plaza, the festival's open space venue in downtown Detroit, has five stages and a capacity of 45,000. Its largest stage accommodates 8,000. And last year, for the first time since the festival began charging in 2005, Saturday sold out. To have any one artist overwhelm ticket demand could also upset the wide-ranging demographic balance of local, national and international dance music heads of all ages and races who turn out for Movement and ultimately undermine the fest itself.
Judging by the Movement Fest's sponsors and continued growth, however, the event is doing quite well under Paxahau. Since the event company took over, the festival's attendance has steadily grown each year. According to Canning, attendence has gone from 40K in 2006 to 52K in 2007, 70K in 2008, 90K in 2010 and 99K last year. This year they hope to finally cross the 100K threshold.
Pre-sale tickets purchases, which sell for $45 a day or $80 for a three-day pass, are healthy. And special VIP packages, which cost $200 -- of which there are about 2,200 tickets -- are almost sold out.
The festival's website is filled with sponsors' logos. This year's primary backers include Red Bull Academy, Made In Detroit (Kid Rock's clothing line -- the pop star in past years has popped up at the fest) and Beatport - all of which have their own sponsored stage. Vitamin Water, another primary sponsor, is backing this year's Movement app.
An estimated 100,000 dance music fans will attend this year's Movement fest (Photo by Joe Gall for Paxahau)
For the second year in a row there will be a 2,500 square foot Technology Center sponsored by American Music & Sound. The space will showcase electronic gear and brands offering interactive experiences and artist demonstrations by Carl Craig, Juan Atkins, Kyle Hall and Mike Huckaby.
Movement will debut an outdoor Biergarten this year located on the grounds of the recently torn-down Ford Auditorium adjacent to Hart Plaza. The area will serve food and drink, including wine courtesy of Michigan's M. Lawrence Winery, BBQ from Detroit's famed Slow's To Go and beer from the Frankenmuth Brewery and the Detroit Beer Company amongst others.
This 2012 fest will also have some 29 official afterparties, which includes a boat cruise with Danny Tenaglia and a skating party with Moodymann as well as dozens of unofficial ones across the city.
And Ice-T and Coco, of E! TV reality show Ice Loves Coco fame, are rather incongruously slated to be the celebrity MCs Sunday night introducing hip-hop producer Loco Dice and headliner Public Enemy. One can't help buty wonder, what kind of crowd they'll draw?