Ectomorph’s Insider’s Guide to Movement Detroit Festival

Photo by Douglas Wojciechowsk and courtesy of Movement Detroit.

In a country where an “electronic music festival” can mean hordes of teenage kandi ravers and neon SEX DRUGS AND DUBSTEP tanks, Movement Detroit is a crucial anomaly. Over the past 15 years, it has become the United States’ only large-scale dance music event that focuses on Detroit’s techno pioneers and other artists who don’t quite fit the bill for a typical American EDM blowout. This year’s installment launches on Saturday, May 23 with a lineup that includes hundreds of DJs and producers, including Carl Craig, Ryan Elliott and Joy Orbison, not to mention a slew of after parties every night after the fun at Hart Plaza winds down. The endless opportunities can paralyze even a veteran festivalgoer, so we tapped Detroit local and longtime Movement attendee Brendan Gillen, who runs the Interdimensional Transmissions label and founded the group Ectomorph, to help us navigate the bill. Here are his picks for Movement’s must-see performances and after bashes.

Saturday, May 23 @ The RBMA Stage: Rick Wilhite, 15:00

Rick Wilhite is the godson and one of the original Three Chairs, his group with Moodymann, Theo Parrish and Marcellus Pittman. He’s the real deal, a Detroit head whose roots stretch to the beginning. He’s also throwing an after-hours on Friday with all four members of Three Chairs.

Saturday, May 23 @ The RBMA Stage: Octave One Live, 19:00

On the same stage that day, Octave One will bring an entire studio with them to play live. It’s actually a really dynamic show. My favorite track from them is “I Believe,” which has lyrics from Anthony Shake Shakir. It’s a pivotal record that marked the dawn of Transmat’s next generation. Mike Banks gave them the responsibility of marketing “Knights of the Jaguar,” and they got Derrick May to come out of retirement to make a remix for that. They showed up at his hotel, called him from the lobby and were like, “Hey man, you still wanna do that remix? OK great, we’re in the lobby and we have all your equipment.”

Saturday, May 23 @ The Beatport Stage: Atom™ & Tobias, 20:00

The stages at Movement have different characters. Beatport’s usually the place where you’ll catch Seth Troxler or Magda or something like that, so it’s surprising to me they booked Atom™ and Tobias. Regardless, that’s one of the best live shows you can catch in electronic music. There are about ten great live techno acts, and on Saturday we’ve got two of them.

Saturday, May 23 @ The THUMP Stage: The Detroit Love Showcase with Urban Tribe, Recloose, Carl Craig and Mad Mike Banks

The Detroit Love showcase opens with Urban Tribe, an unsung project by DJ Stingray that’s also one of the most futuristic. Recloose is also a hometown hero. He’s lived in New Zealand for a long time and finally moved back to Brooklyn, so it’s great to have him again. Then Carl Craig will close it out with Mike Banks—I haven’t seen them play together yet, but people who have seen the project were blown away. Mike brings the church to it.

Saturday, May 23 @ The Underground Stage: Kangding Ray (15:30) and Regis (22:00)

Regis is closing out the first night at the Underground stage. If you like that techno thing, he’s one of the Official 12 Inventors of Techno. And Kangding Ray’s live show is absolutely out of this world.

Sunday, May 24 @ The RBMA Stage: Waajeed, 17:00

Waajeed’s contributions to the Dirt Tech Reck label as Jeedo expanded his musical repetoire to include a hybrid form of techno that combines Detroit hip-hop and bass music. He’s real Detroit hip-hop, which is a rare thing. There’s far too little of it. Who knows how he’ll play; he’s so across the board.

Sunday, May 24 @ The THUMP Stage: The Ghostly International Showcase

The huge deal for me that day is the “Untitled” portion of the Ghostly International showcase. The Untitled showcase is the heroes. It’s a celebration of the Midwest mavericks and what they launched. Untitled was the name of a night with Johnny O, who used teamed up with [Ghostly founder] Sam Valenti and put together a tag team with Matthew Dear, Tadd Mullinix, Derek Plaslaiko and Mike Servito. Then Todd Osborn got into regular rotation. And it’d be insane not to mention Ryan Elliott, who was usually Matt Dear’s tag-team partner. He’s part of this too. To me, Ryan is the heart of Ghostly, and he was my favorite DJ in Detroit.

Sunday, May 24 @ Tangent Gallery: Interdimensional Transmissions & The Bunker NY Present No Way Back

There are up to 50 after parties each night, which is a miracle because on any other night of the year it’s a feat to pull over 300 people. I saw Marcel Dettmann play for 15 people. But during the festival, it’s possible to have well over 500 people at a party. For one weekend every year, there’s an illusion that we’re a part of the world on that level. On Sunday there will be ten after parties where the promoters make a real profit, and this city is a place where people break even. That night I have my own after party called No Way Back. The first time we threw the party, we used an old bank with an unfinished ceiling, so it rained on the dance floor, which turned into a legendary aspect.

When I moved to Detroit from Ann Arbor, I thought, “Where is the nightlife that I dreamed of and used to come to?” So I threw a party that referenced what had inspired me about the ’90s—not the crappy part; the amazing part where it felt like everything was possible. No Way Back spawned into this huge organic thing, and each year it gets a little bit bigger. Everybody’s there to see the masters performing on a major soundsystem in a fully transformed place, decorated with a level of attention that we used to put in the ’90s when rave was still outlawed here. It references all that, and it’s a rare chance to see the pre-industry version of Detroit late-night partying. This year, the reaction has been even huger, so we added a second room of mental stimulation music, outer space music. We got John Elliott from Spectrum Spools to do his debut DJ set.

Monday, May 25 @ The RBMA Stage: DJ Godfather, 15:30

DJ Godfather’s set at Movement is a Detroit tradition, and he does it every year. He plays sinful music that makes you go nuts, whether it’s ghetto house, booty bass, or ghetto tech. It’ll be an hour of aural pornography, and it’s the only thing happening here that touches on one of Detroit’s flagships at the end of the ’90s.

Monday, May 25 @ The Sixth Stage: Shawn Rudiman (21:00) and Detroit Techno Militia (21:30)

Shawn Rudiman is doing an all-hardware live show on the mysterious Sixth Stage. He’s a stalwart from our crazy underground scene. He’s got records out, and they’re great, but he’s 50 times better as a live performer. He’s living, breathing Detroit techno, and the Detroit techno everyone wishes there was more of. After that Detroit Techno Militia will close out with a half-hour tag team. They’re going to use six turntables and all play over each other, but it’s fluid and incredible. I’ve never seen any other group pull it off. They know the music and they know each other, so it’s something bizarre and special. All these weird anomalies can only happen in Detroit.

Click here to read more insider’s guides to the most exciting festivals of the year, including Weather Festival in Paris and Berlin’s CTM.