Movement Festival Highlights Detroit's Techno Roots, Slips With Snoop Dogg DJ Set

Joe Gall/Courtesy of Movement

Disclosure performing at at Movement Electronic Music Festival in Detroit in May, 2015.

Now in its 16th year, Detroit's Movement Festival showcases electronic music's thriving underground.

Memorial Day weekend has turned into a field day for EDM fans and a nightmare for promoters, with six major dance music festivals competing for the same big-name DJs. But the Movement Electronic Music Festival, which is held in Detroit, the city cited as the birthplace of techno, has carved out its own lane as the country's premiere event for dance music purists. Instead of chasing chart-toppers, the organizers, Paxahau Promotions, dig deep into electronic music’s progressive underground and serve up a sophisticated bill of pioneers and rising stars. The festival's 16th installment took place from May 23-25 in downtown's Hart Plaza and drew an estimated 100,000 fans over three days.

This year’s event stayed true to form with a roaring Underground Stage (located, fittingly, beneath the concrete plaza center) that spotlighted buzzed-about talents like Berlin’s Rødhåd and New York’s Anthony Parasolea Red Bull Music Academy stage that leaned hip-hop with acts like Method Man and French producer Brodinski, and a main stage featuring Detroit natives Griz and Richie Hawtin alongside some of 2015's most talked-about producers Ten Walls, Dixon and Maceo Plex.

The leaders of Detroit's historic techno scene – Juan Atkins, Carl CraigKevin Saunderson and Derrick May – got lots of love closing out the RBMA and Thump stages, but the stars of the weekend were Skrillex and Boys Noize who made a rare and rambunctious main stage appearance as their supergroup, Dog Bloodand reportedly drew the largest crowd in the festival's history. 

Morin Yousif
Dog Blood perform at Movement Electronic Music Festival in Detroit on May 23, 2015.

The odd man out was Snoop Dogg, who, despite having little connection to electronic music, was given a headlining main stage slot to spin as DJ Snoopadelic. He didn't seem to take the opportunity seriously, though, and dished out a lazy set of predictable Top 40 hits by Daddy YankeeIcona Pop and Journey, a puzzling and anti-climactic ending to a festival at the forefront of cutting-edge electronic music. It's hard to blame Paxahau for attempting to draw in new fans with more mainstream artists (last year, the controversial act was trap duo Flosstradamus), but this booking felt particularly off-brand. 

More importantly, it ignored the festival's strongest asset: Detroit. In a market flooded with stereotypical EDM festivals that function like pop-up cities, all pulling from the same grab-bag of Ferris wheels and branded cabanas, Movement has what every promoter wants but rarely gets –– an authentic sense of place. Detroit, and its gritty, progressive, rebellious underground, is the reason fans travel across the word to attend Movement. They want to experience a piece of electronic music history, to sample the remnants of a real scene. 

Bryan Mitchell/Courtesy of Movement
Richie Hawtin at Movement Electronic Music Festival in Detroit on May 23, 2015.

To be fair, Movement works hard to promote and pay homage to its hometown. Vice's Thump channel sponsors a Made in Detroit stage dedicated to local talent. On the RBMA stage, Detroit hip-hop icon Danny Brown and rap group People Under the Stairs shouted out Motor City. And the Beatport stage, which drew some of the biggest crowds of the weekend, was orchestrated by the company’s co-founder Clark Warner, a Detroit native. 

In the afterparty circuit, Dirtybird Records threw a 10 year anniversary party at the Fillmore with a two hour set from label boss Claude Vonstroke, who grew up in Detroit. And Paradigm Presents hosted Motor City Madness, a three-night takeover of the Leland City Club Hotel that felt like a trip back into the city's '90s rave movement. And, for those who could muster it, there were a handful of legendary techno parties that are still running strong, such as No Way Back and Visionquest's breakfast party at Old Miami, which filled around dawn and lasted, full-throttle, until sundown.