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.
According to his official Discogs page, Keith Tucker is “one of the true keepers of the faith of pure electro.” As a member of the influential Detroit electro duo Aux 88 and co-founder of the Puzzlebox label alongside Anthony “Shake” Shakir, Tucker has helped to shape the genre’s jittery beats and brittle soundscapes. Thus, he’s the ideal candidate to compose a bulletproof beginner’s guide to the Motor City’s electro highlights, from Juan Atkins’ projects Cybotron and Model 500 to Drexciyan legend Dopplereffekt.
Cybotron — “El Salvador”
Cybotron, the kinship between Juan Atkins and Richard Davis, was incredible. “El Salvador,” with its haunting vocoder vocals and insatiable claps on the second and fourth beats, takes me on a journey every time I listen to it. This track is an inspiration.
Dopplereffekt – “Porno Actress”
Here, Gerald Donald shows us why you should still keep an ear and eye on Detroit/ Not many artist can paint a real picture with music—but the former Drexciyan demonstrates that he can.
Aux 88 — “My A.U.X. Mind”
Aux 88 picks up where Model 500 left off, and the electro revival began anew. Aux 88 forged ahead with vocally driven songs that move the dance floor….YOU JUST CAN’T SIT DOWN WHEN AUX 88 COMES ON!
Model 500 — “The Future”
This track was a message that told the world that Detroit and the techno revolution could not be stopped/////and look where we are “ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY.”
Drexciya – “Aqua Worm Hole”
Stinson and Donald never stopped pushing their dream-driven arps and aquafunk to the streets and the world. This track was not only funky, but also beautiful with its simple bell tones and arps.
Aux 88 – “Direct Drive”
Aux 88 basslines and grooves are legendary / but “Direct Drive” took it to the street level and then on to the world. The Aux 88 crew never disappoints the jit dance scene or Detroit radio shows.
Sole Tech – “Jit the Anthem”
Jit jit …..do you even know? That’s the dance craze created in Detroit, and this is a Detroit anthem. The simple sample is catchy and can be played with any style of dance music.
Aux 88 – “Space Satellites”
Aux 88 sored to new heights with the track “Space Satellites” off the Mad Scientist LP. The track’s strings are menacing//Aux 88 showed that producers and the genre itself could still grow.
Sound of Mind — “Programming”
1987 / Erik Travis BROUGHT US PROGRAMMING////This track was heavily played by Jeff Mills on Detroit radio…He was known as the Wizard in those days. This track inspired a lot of groups to create electronic music in Detroit.
DJ Assault – “Shake It Baby”
Ade Manor and DJ Assault….This track is just funky/ This is clearly where ghetto tech got a boost in originality. The duo pushed the genre with a great bassline and vocoder chorus “Shake Shake It.”
Mark Smith is one half of improvisational electronic duo Gardland, whose most recent LP, Syndrome Syndrome, was released in 2013 on RVNG Intl. Currently based in Berlin, he is a regular contributor to electronicbeats.net and Electronic Beats Magazine. This recommendation of Transllusion’s 2001 LP, The Opening of the Cerebral Gate, was originally printed in our Fall 2014 issue, and the record is about to be reissued by Berlin club and label Tresor.
It’s a little sad to me that Drexciya feels like an unattainable artifact. No matter how many reissues and reappraisals attempt to push them back into modern electronic discourse, I can never fit them into any cogent narrative. While contemporaneous acts like Underground Resistance cultivated a similar sense of distance, UR’s was much more an inclusive and empowering brand of isolated autonomy that was directly applicable to one’s everyday life. Drexciya, on the other hand, seem hopelessly far away. There is no takeaway message—or if there is, it’s too deeply alienated and abstracted for terranean brains. I find it hard to even consider them as people. Their musical character occludes their human character completely. This is music beyond empathy. It doesn’t care about you.
And that’s why I value The Opening of the Cerebral Gate so much. It exists within a vacuum, surviving purely on its own narrow but perfectly taut aesthetic. Drexciya exists in a zone beyond the pretension of your ego, yet its world is self-made and totally powered by the collective id of James Stinson and Gerald Donald, as is Transllusion, a Stinson alias.
I wonder if this degree of artistic self-curation is possible in the music world today. These days, there isn’t a lot of cognitive dissonance surrounding the necessity of dressing your boring self up in some sort of vaguely transcendent narrative. Drexciya kind of blew right past that. They came up with perhaps the most ridiculous framing concept in electronic music to date and then inhabited it so totally that their position was unassailable. It’s awesomely ironic that they used a spectacle to maintain their autonomy. I’ve yet to hear a cynic calling in to question the artifice that’s central to the Drexciyan identity.
There’s the usual glut of Detroit signifiers on The Opening: malignantly pitched harmonic progressions, laddering arpeggios, big 808s, the occasional unclassifiable noise, but Stinson manages to remain distinct from the city’s history. I put Terrence Dixon on a similar pedestal, but even he occasionally reclines back into the welcoming arms of the Detroit identity. However, as Transllusion, Stinson’s sound design gets a facelift. Bright transients and some modern reverb contribute to a more searing palette than his warmer early nineties material. It’s a suitable coupling to the brain-pain themes that the record courts.
The Opening was the second part of a project called the Drexciyan Storms. Stinson and Donald were supposed to release seven records in a single year under a variety of aliases. This is the same series that gave us Lifestyles of the Laptop Café and Harnessed the Storm, so, needless to say, they were on something of a roll. I’d hazard a guess and say we’ll continue to see these records reissued. Personally, I’m glad for it. And this is basically how it goes talking about Drexciya; You hit an end point pretty quickly where all that’s left to talk about is the music itself, and we all know that gets old pretty quick. ~
In this interview taken from our Winter, 2012 print issue, magazine editor A.J. Samuels makes contact with the original Drexciyan and the missing link between Detroit techno and particle physics. Photograph by Frank Bauer in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, Munich.
There isn’t a lot of information on Gerald Donald. And that’s how one of the most important figures in Detroit techno would like to keep it. As one half of the aquatic afro-futurist duo Drexciya (together with the late James Stinson), Donald’s paradigm shifting musical vision and fantastical liner notes on sci-fi waterworld mythology spoke for itself. More recently, under the guises of Dopplereffekt, Arpanet or Heinrich Mueller (amongst others), the mysterious producer has moved away from science fiction towards science fact, recording a series of albums inspired by cosmology and stellar evolution. A.J. Samuels emailed and spoke on the phone with Donald to find out more about his thoughts on sonic efficiency and techno as a form of upward social mobility.
Gerald, anonymity has always been an important aspect of your image, as well as for electronic musicians in general. Paradoxically, it’s also had the effect of making your person even more intriguing. Did you know from the very beginning of your career that you wanted to avoid drawing attention away from the music, or did this develop together with Drexciya’s identity?
Well, I will not directly indicate my involvement in any project. I will leave this question open to observer interpretation. The most important thing has always been the music and concept itself. I adhere to this philosophy. People spend way too much time engaging personalities rather than the music that’s accompanying that personality. Thus, a proportionally inverse relationship is established and in most cases the personality acquires the larger value.
Just out of curiosity: Do you have any special connection to a specific body of water?
Have your albums’ powerful graphic designs been a way of letting images speak for you without having to further stoke people’s obsessions with personality?
There has to be a conceptual one-to-one correspondence between the visual and sonic. The graphical component has to manifest the concept musically and thematically. This is very critical in conveying a concept comprehensively.
The ambiguous and somewhat mystifying cover of Dopplereffekt’s Gesamtkunstwerk from 1999 features a white hammer and sickle on a black background. Also, one of the few well-known pictures of Dopplereffekt feature yourself and partner To Nhan Le Thi in front of Soviet and Chinese flags. What is your relationship to communism and socialism?
Socialism is an ideal political concept in theory. However, in practice, no one followed Marx’s or Engel’s instructions and visions to the letter. Therefore it became corrupted. We’ve seen the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, which had lasted nearly a century. This political theory was designed to place all men in an egalitarian position, and hence create a utopia for the working classes. The purpose of the connection on the album cover was to pay homage to the ideal of this political idea. Music is a communicative medium to represent concepts of any kind, political or otherwise. Dopplereffekt have music data planned for publication soon with the imprint Leisure Systems which will continue in the line of conceptual representation.
How can instrumental music be political?
Mainly in the structure of the data, it’s level of aggression and so forth. Usually we associate a particular set of tones, rhythmic patterns and timbres with certain emotions, conditions, ideas or environments. For example, a very rigid pattern and rapid percussion sequence can give the aura of a totalitarian state, as can industrial music. All music structure is reflective of its surroundings.
Underground Resistance is known for preaching a gospel of technology as a savior for the black American underclass. Do you also see technology as an important rung in the ladder of upward social mobility?
Yes. Technical devices allow the rank and file to express their ideas and to move forward in the socio-economic continuum more effectively. There are many demonstrations of this, including mobile communication, social media sites, the Internet in general and especially the production and publication of one’s own musical data. These advances have allowed many common men to be free of brokers and corporate monopolies on certain industrial processes and services.
But do you think there are any negative aspects to technical advances in music technology—say, cheap digital production and MP3s? What about an over-saturated music market fuelled by the Internet?
This has connections to upward mobility. Yes, the Internet has allowed an infinite number of non-specialists without years of the needed skill development to instantaneously become film producers, music specialists, authors and so forth. But I have no condemnation of people without training, because actually many are quite gifted. My opposition is against those who want to appear profound without proving their value beforehand. Such individuals must first pass through initial steps and gain the required proficiency prior to pronouncement.
With his bailout plans, Barack Obama saved Chrysler and General Motors, but Detroit still has one of the highest crime rates in the US and extremely high unemployment. What kind of effect has electronic music had on the city’s economy and cultural landscape?
To be candid in response, the electronic music scene there in particular is a response to urban decadence and the entire spectrum of the socio-economic condition. It’s an expression of a dystopian condition. This is why music that emerged there carries a certain atmosphere and depth.
Are there other cities in the world that you feel have a special kinship with Detroit, both musically and industrially speaking? Berlin, or perhaps Rotterdam?
Berlin more so, as there are many similarities between the two metropolises. If you compare and contrast them you will discover this immediately.
Do you see yourself and your work with Drexciya as part of the lineage of American afro-futurism in America—next to artists like Sun Ra, Parliament, electric-era Miles Davis or Afrika Bambaataa?
I do not wish to specify any particular ethnicity. I would state that all variations of humanity have contributed to the evolution of electronic music. Electronic music is the only music type that is global in scope and not specific to any particular culture. Granted, if a variety stems from a particular culture, then it will apply its own idiosyncrasies to the form. But in general it’s a universal sonic medium with endless contributions. However, as an external observer, I can safely say that what we did was not the same. Our concepts took more stimulation from the world’s oceans and its marine life than any musical entity. This is the fact of the matter. The marine domain was the central axis upon which all other elements hinged. Of course all musical techniques influence one another, but in this case it was mostly nature itself.
Aside from the ocean and marine life being a reoccurring theme in almost all of your projects, science has also come to play a central conceptual role in your work—from theoretical physics to computer science. How do you understand the relationship between science and electronic music? Does it go beyond the utilization of new technology to also influence composition and an aesthetic sensibility?
Well, keep in mind that the apparatus used in the production process are the results of many technological breakthroughs in computer science, electronics and physics. It’s only natural that the sound created is of a technical kind. So yes, you can accurately state that the world of natural philosophy plays a role in the conceptual development of the sonic and visual aspects. For example, a certain sound or arrangement attempts to emulate nuclear fission or the Schrödinger wave function. It’s imperative that the soundscapes faithfully represent the natural phenomenon in question as much as possible. But the observer can also form his own interpretation.
Speaking of interpretation, what about interpreting the future of science in science fiction? Do you read science fiction?
Well, I like to study science in general, and there is no certain author that captures my attention more than another. If I am getting solid knowledge about various concepts, then it’s all acceptable. One has to be careful when bifurcating fact from fiction because the fiction is a projection of what may one day become fact. The only reason it is fiction is because certain technologies have not come to pass and matured. That is, critical understandings of nature remain open. Keep in mind that many technologies and discoveries that were once in the realm of fantasy, such as lasers, nuclear fusion and nanotechnology, are now commonplace in our society. We also have a new project entitled Neutrino Programme, which is a synthesis of cosmology, stellar physics and electronic music data—essentially a manifestation of this relationship in the four dimensions of space-time. We plan to further extend this concept.
Looking back, is there an earliest memory of science or technology that sparked your interest?
You could say it was the beauty of the scientific method and the wonder of discovering a new law or natural principle. When observation has a one-to-one correspondence with theory, it’s quite mind bending. The entire scientific process is fascinating indeed.
What about formative musical experiences growing up? What was your introduction into the world of electronic music?
Going back to environmental stimuli: If you are enveloped by a large diversity of sounds and ideas, this will most likely have an effect on your psychology and future course of musical actions.
Did you grow up playing an instrument? Were your parents at all an influence on your musical development?
My musical development was an evolutionary progression from a primitive state to a more advanced state, sonically. It was more or less an interest independent of environmental stimuli.
One fascinating aspect of your live performance is the way you move when you play your Korg Triton. For almost the entire Arpanet set I recently saw at ://aboutblank in Berlin, one hand was frenetically tapping the air double-time, as if you were conducting an orchestra of interweaving syncopation and arpeggios. How would you describe the relationship between your body and the rhythm when performing live?
The brain and body are synchronized by motor neurons and our multitude of senses— visual, hearing and so forth. When one controls apparatus for musical interaction, he or she must align mind and matter to ensure that all forces—intellectual and anatomical—are synched or programed for one objective: to operate efficiently in a musical context. This is the binary system and anthropomorphic system in symbiosis.
What about adapting your sound and set-up to a live environment?
A live environment is certainly more perilous than a controlled environment. There are many things that can and will experience the law of Murphy.
Holger Czukay of Can famously proclaimed that restriction is the mother of invention. Certainly there’s a minimalist aesthetic that runs through much of your music. What kinds of restrictions do you place on yourself when you compose?
I wouldn’t say “restrictions”. It’s more of a philosophy of sonic efficiency. One should include only what is musically essential—that is, that only “x” amount of elements are required to express a musical idea fully. Anything beyond is excess.
In a previous interview with Red Bull Music Academy you mentioned the importance of ergonomics in hardware and software design—ensuring that the musical set-up allows for an immediate ability to produce the sounds you want. How customized is your musical set-up for the effortless control of parameters? Do you manipulate or tailor your equipment to your musical needs?
Yes, and I think efficiency in production processes is key to successful sonic exploration and expression. If one has to do extensive, non-essential computer programming and program navigating in the midst of a creative process in sound, it will definitely retard the sonic exploration process and absorb creative energy. This is because you are doing two distinct technical procedures simultaneously: programming the machine and sculpting a sound. Software as well as hardware should have all the basic system errors fully removed or dramatically reduced before the technology is put to market. Beta and Gamma tested comprehensively. ~