Preview: Movement Detroit 2012
Classic Detroit artists reflect on the growth of a ‘movement’
Words by Ben Solis
Photos By Paxahau Entertainment, Chad Stuemke, Rebel Butterfly, DJ Deus, Mark Tucker & Analog Giant
As landmark Detroit DJ Stacey Pullen meditates on the musical ark that helped bring American techno to the far reaches of the globe, he does it with the esteem of an aging admiral not quite content with giving up the captain’s chair.
“The more I travel the world and the more I play with new and different people, it’s obvious that we have a new generation of electronic dance music followers,” said Pullen, 42, a second-wave innovator of the Detroit techno sound. “It’s become a way of life in a lot of ways. For us, the first guys to do it, we feel like we’re still ambassadors for the city and the movement.”
As Pullen, his compatriots and a modern batch of sonic explorers get set to take the stage this Saturday at Movement Detroit 2012, fans of the old and new schools of electronic music have more than enough to look forward to.
This year, the twisted urban landscape of Hart Plaza will again be transformed into the Memorial Day weekend event that is known world-wide as one of the most influential outdoor festivals for the genre. Movement has not only maintained its popularity with die-hards and those looking for a good party atmosphere, but the promoters and managers of the gig have sharpened their senses to deliver what many consider a case study in the evolution of the art form.
From classic acts like Pullen and founding father Kevin Saunderson, to newcomers Kyle Hall and modern hero Jimmy Edgar and John Arnold, the lineup this year really does have something for everyone.
Branching out to the semi-familiar territory of recognizing hip-hop’s influence on DJ culture and turntable trickery, socially conscious superstars Public Enemy will be closing out the crowd for an hour on Sunday – a huge step forward for Movement’s promotional prowess.
Aside from merely pointing patrons on a roadmap of where eclectic club music came from, and its possible future destination, the mix of diverse artists says more about the growth of the festival than it does the genre as a whole, according to Saunderson.
“I think just the fact that it has evolved and survived for so long is exciting,” said Saunderson, 47.
Saunderson is credited with helping to create a Detroit techno template with friends and collaborators Derrick May and Juan Atkins, who is also playing on Sunday night.
“It’ll be 25 years for me. I’m getting older, and the festival is too. I’m just excited that it continues as strong today,” he said.
Indeed, the festival has been through ups and downs, trying to not only maintain its niche but to also keep things fresh and relevant. Since taking over management and promotion for the festival in 2006, Paxahau Entertainment has been striving hard to offer both contemporary international and national acts while staying true to the Motor City’s roots, giving valuable headline time to the greats.
“I think keeping it going starts with the pride and the spirit of the festival first,” Pullen said. “We didn’t know when it started how important it was going to be. It had an identity crisis for a while, but Paxahau have really taken it places, while knowing they had to keep it true to its core.”
By putting the Detroit acts on a pedestal, all the while garnering fresh sponsors and DJs, the festival still kicks with heady and dance-ready mojo.
“If it was the same every year, it wouldn’t have as much impact as it did all those years ago,” Pullen said.
However, the inevitable evolution of art always leads to a handful of speed bumps and naysayers. For Saunderson – who like a proud parent has seen his fledging sound reach puberty and manhood – many of the popular sub-genre mutations such as dubstep and electro-house have become a proverbial plague upon his hallowed dance floors.
Saunderson just isn’t feeling the love.
“When we started out, we made an imprint, and that imprint came from a true love of music,” he said. “I’m not sure if many Detroit DJs these days can really say they love what they do. I’m not sure if they love it the same way we did.”
Although wary of the future of the genre’s purity, Saunderson isn’t dismissive of powerful new sounds.
“I do think it’s a good thing when a sound trailers off, and a new wave is created out of the genre that it came from,” he said. “It helps give it a different perspective musically. That’s just how any genre really starts and evolves.”
There is just one piece of advice Saunderson gives to young DJs: don’t get too attached to something because it makes people dance only momentarily.
“The only problem when that happens is when it stops. Take the dubstep thing: it’s down tempo and it has these psychotic sounding beats. It’s got some reggae and it’s electronic, and it’s kind of unique. It can grow or it just becomes another sound that fades away,” he said. “The best music experience for me is a crowd that will go to a dubstep show, and then will go to hear some house, or techno; a crowd that is into all of these other types of music and experiences them all at the same time. You know, people that aren’t like ‘dubstep, dubstep, dubstep.’”
The idea is to not just focus on just one groove.
“That’s what can be dangerous of a new sound in the American market. DJs come up with promoters that are only in it because a sound is suddenly popular. They’re in it for the money now and they don’t really care about where it’s going. I think that is something people need to be careful of.”
While Pullen shares a similar belief, he is far less pessimistic of the melting pot.
“I’m optimistic man. I’ve been doing it for a while now, and have seen the changes and shifts. I remember playing parties that were 132 BPM,” Pullen said. “Now when I play, I may not go over 126 BPM. It’s cool to see the different forms come to form and understand where it came from.”
To check out the full lineup, visit http://movment.us/lineup. Stay tuned to Music Marauders for continuing coverage of Movement, artists interviews and a breakdown of the after parties that will be worth your while.