Not much gets better than dancing with 33,000 people in downtown Detroit at the fantastic 12th annual Detroit Electronic Music Festival, aka Movement, to the techno music that was invented here.
The first day of three, a bit stormy weatherwise but warm and squiggly on the musical front, saw the five stages brimming with choice DJ segues like Greg Wilson into Todd Terje, David Squillace into Seth Troxler with Guy Gerber, SBTRKT into Roni Size, Derrick Carter into Lil Louis -- and the triumph (for me, and native Detroiters) of last night, young techno keepers of the flame Kyle Hall and Jay Daniel, playing a smooth classics timewarp set, into quintessential DJ's DJ Mike Huckaby, who took us all the way into wiggy jazziness.
The lovely vibes, zillion afterparties, surprising diversty, and distinctly non-pop energy are already helping compensate for some of the fest's dogged disappointments -- only five women out of about 100 DJs this year, all bunched up into opening sets, and only two San Franciscans by my count. (In a wee slap on both ends, one of this year's most exciting techno up-and-comers, SF's Christina Chatfield, is relegated to afterparty status. Next year please!)
But how can I complain when shirtless, buffed up, pecil-mustachioed house sage Lil Louis closes the main stage with his iconic "French Kiss" that breaks expertly into Diana Ross's "Love Hangover" during the slow part, and then Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" (sounding absolutely aces on a huge system) when everything gets fast?
Louis didn't let some horrifying technical glitches get in his way -- when his complex set-up melted down, he mixed headphoneless and rode a thick bass beat like a trooper while festival technicians actually built a whole new one practically from scratch next to him. No one can say Detroit industriousness is dead.
The big overarching narrative of techno right now -- and one that has huge reverberations at the festival -- is how the many established strains of techno, and its more adventurous community of listeners and connoisseurs, are reacting to the current spectacular pop success of EDM (electronic dance music represented by commercial juggernauts like Dead Maus and Tiesto, and heard at Movement's evil twin fest, Electric Daisy Carnival) and the droves of American youth pumping watered-down dubstep of the Skrillex variety into their earholes.
No, the all-ages Movement was not a snob-fest, and already it seems to be channeling its old underground, alternative energy again, now that all of its subgenre variations have something to unite about and rebel against. Teens flocked to the Red Bull stage for its more global bass lineup -- but I only heard two wub-wub dubstep drops while I was there, and the neon-drenched kids did just fine with an onslaught of good ol' polyrythmic UK two-step (the progenitor of dubstep) and old school live Brit-accented MCing, with hectically beautiful snippets of vocal garage house (dubstep's other progenitor) floated over top. It was a fine education from the likes of Brenmar, Photek, and Bok Bok, indeed.
And then Derrick Carter started slaying the main stage with passing train-horn sounds that rattled 10,000 bones -- his joke on the dubstep drop? -- and everybody laughed and screamed.