To explain the many twists and turns of the festival thus far, we turned to the people that were directly involved. Artists, promoters, city officials, journalists, more than 50 in all, presenting an oral history of Detroit's electronic music festival.
Richie Hawtin (DJ/producer): There were mumblings for quite a while about a festival in Detroit.
Rob Theakston (Planet E employee): Carol Marvin had done a lot of small-scale events around town. And then she helped put on this thing called The World Party, which was supposed to celebrate The World Cup in 1994.
Dan Sicko (author, Techno Rebels): I don't think they got nearly the attendance they hoped for at The World Party. But it was a decent event.
Daniel Bell (DJ/producer): They struggled to pull an audience.
Tim Price (jack-of-all-trades, Plus8): Rich played and Kevin with Inner City. I remember going, and it was terrible. They'd left all the lights around the edge on [of the arena] so it just had no energy at all. They maybe did 1,000 people. It looked like a rave, and back then [electronic music] was really underground.
Richie Hawtin: Shambles.
Rob Theakston: In my opinion, the biggest fiasco of a Detroit party in history [to that point].
Adriel Thornton (Detroit promoter): I helped Carol with The World Party. At the time, it was the biggest party like that that had happened in Detroit. It was after that that Carol started thinking about doing a broader festival.
Kevin Saunderson (DJ/producer): Detroit Electronic Music Festival. I remember the phrase being said, when me, Derrick and Carl got together and had a meeting in like '96 or '97. We were talking about things we wanted to do years later. I'm not sure who mentioned it, whether it was Derrick or Carl, but they talked about Hart Plaza.
Walter Wasacz (Journalist, Metro Times): Even before the first year, there were rumors. People were saying there's going to be a festival, people are getting it together. People like Carl, Derrick, Kevin. This was '98 or '99.
Adriel Thornton: [Carol] really loved and appreciated electronic music, so it was a natural thing for her. And she had the insight to get people who were more on the ground to help.
Carl Craig (DJ/producer): Derrick, myself and Carol were meeting about a year-and-a-half before the festival happened.
John Arnold (Producer): I remember walking around town and running into Derrick May on the street. This was late summer of '99. Derrick is an idea man, and is always very enthusiastic about his vision. He was telling me about an idea for an electronic music festival downtown. We talked about possible venues, and how such a feat could be pulled off. I left the conversation thinking "Who could pull this together?"
Rita Sayegh (filmmaker, The Drive Home): Derrick had talked to Carol Marvin, but then I think Derrick didn't really want anything to do with it, so Carl...well, he's usually up for any challenge.
Adriel Thornton: My understanding is that Derrick May was the first choice. Carol wanted someone who was a relevant electronic music artist who could help in securing other artists, so Derrick was an obvious choice. In discussing it, though, it came out that Derrick may travel too much and may have his hands in a few more pots. So Carol went and got Carl.
Rob Theakston: Carol assembled a pretty smart team to do public relations, including Barbara Deyo. And she had an assistant, Adriel Thornton, who had been involved with Detroit techno since the early '90s. I think those match-ups really helped Carol get to Carl, and vice versa. It made sense that Carol, with her connections within the Detroit community, would meet up with Carl and discuss this happening. She was really well-connected and she had the people with the funding to make it happen. Once things started to happen, everyone got really excited about the potential.
Adriel Thornton: Ernest Burkeen from the Parks Department was absolutely critical. He put his job on the line in order to make that festival happen the first year, and Phil Talbert was right there with him.
Phil Talbert (Special Activities Coordinator, Detroit Recreation Department): I was responsible for all of the events that occurred at Hart Plaza. We were approached with a proposal from a lady named Carol Marvin to do an electronic music festival around January 1999 if I remember correctly.
Left: Dennis Archer, Right: Ernest Burkeen
Ernest Burkeen (Director, Detroit Recreation Department): Carol Marvin came to us with a tape of an electronic music festival that had taken place in Europe to show us what it might be like.
Phil Talbert: I will be quite frank: I had no idea what electronic music was when she approached me.
Ernest Burkeen: We never had anything going on Memorial Day other than an Armed Forces parade.
Phil Talbert: We did the Jazz Festival, and the [country music] Hoedown, but we knew that we really didn't have anything for a young demographic. So when the proposal came, and once I found out how huge it was in Europe and how important it was locally, I went through the process of convincing the city.
Ernest Burkeen: Getting members of that administration on board was a hard sell.
Dennis Archer (Mayor, 1994 - 2001): I like music. I like all forms of music. Classical, opera, rock, Motown, the blues. I enjoy it. But this was a music form that was outside of my domain, not something that I followed or sought after, even though a lot of young people had expressed an interest in the electro-tech music.
Phil Talbert: We needed to get the mayor, Dennis Archer, up to speed on what electronic music was, and what this festival could mean. [Because we thought] it might help how the city was viewed in the United States and abroad. We thought that if we made an investment in showing that this could happen, that the city was safe, that it would be a help in bringing a new demographic to the city of Detroit. We felt we could do that through electronic music, if we did it right...There was some fear there though. We didn't want to do something that could be negative for the city.
Ernest Burkeen: Dennis has always been a very practical person, and he saw that this would bring a light on to the city in a positive way.
Dennis Archer: I do know that there was a lot of discussion about electronic music, and it was during my administration when I was in office. And as I began to read more about it, it appeared to be something that was remarkably widespread worldwide.
Before the festival began in 2000, there were few clubs in the Detroit area bringing in international guests on a regular basis. Motor was one of them.
Recloose: Techno was such an underground thing in Detroit.
John Arnold: It was relegated to one-off venues, torn down warehouses and house parties. Aside from the Motor Bar.
Dan Sordyl: Motor was my nightclub, where we were hosting DJs from around the world three times a week.
Josh Glazer: In addition to my job as a journalist, I was helping to run, Motor, which was the premiere techno club at the time. We were the place for dance music in Detroit, there was obviously lots of one-off parties, and things happening around it, at that point we were the only venue with a hard and fast commitment to dance music in general.
Jason Huvaere: We had a home over at Motor over in Hamtramck for a while, but the club scene was starting to wane, people were getting bored. They were looking around, seeing what else they could do.
Robert Gorell: Everyone was sick of going there, despite it being really the only place that you could reliably hear techno in Detroit.
Brian Gillespie: We can only do so many warehouse parties. After a while you need to do something on a larger scale.
Josh Glazer: We became a partner in the festival on a promotional level. So while I was kind of reporting on the festival and doing that whole end of it, I was also stamping and sending flyers all over the Detroit area, and all over the country with our mailing list.
Dan Sordyl: When the festival was announced it was really exciting. Here I had been promoting this music for years in Detroit, and now it was going to be on the main stage in front of the world, in the birthplace of techno. I wanted to help in any way that I could. We knew it would spill over into the club and put Motor onto a higher pedestal after this festival.
Barbara Deyo (PR): I'm a make-up artist, and Carol Marvin was a client of mine. One day she said, "I have a job for you that I think I'd be really good at. I want you to do PR for the festival." I didn't know anything about techno, I hadn't done any PR, so it was a whole new world for me. Carol offered me the job in August or September of 1999. I was originally supposed to start on November 1st.
Daniel Bell: The City Council at that time was dragging its feet.
Phil Talbert: Carol was looking for funding support to get it off the ground, which was something that the city didn't traditionally do.
Barbara Deyo: The whole staff didn't start working until February 1st.
Josh Glazer (Journalist, Real Detroit Weekly): I remember getting a call from our publisher one afternoon. He said, "I need you go to Carl Craig's house downtown tonight at 7 PM, he's going to tell you something." I was like "OK, that's a little weird..." I got to Carl's place and it was him and Carol Marvin. We sat down and they kind of told me the whole plan. They had literally just signed the contracts with the city in the past 24 or 48 hours.
Barbara Deyo: I didn't sleep for like three months. I was constantly pulling all nighters.
Tim Price: [Everything] had started three months before, so there was no time to get big sponsors.
John Arnold: Everything was real last minute. I was booked two or three weeks before the festival. Nobody even saw the flyer until a week-and-a-half before.
Matthew Dear (DJ/producer): The whole festival seemed to come out of nowhere, fast.
Robert Gorell (Journalist, Metro Times): It obviously wouldn't have happened without Carl, especially to talk all of those musicians to come in and play for a free festival.
Rita Sayegh: Carl called in like every favor from every artist he knew. The fact that it happened. I mean, it's like a miracle basically.
Daniel Bell: I think there was a mixture of skepticism and cautious optimism. The optimism mostly coming from the fact that Carl was involved, and he seem determined to make it a success.
Anthony 'Shake' Shakir (DJ/producer): I was definitely a doubting Thomas. That's kind of my personality anyway though.
Brian Gillespie (DJ/producer): I come from a scene where we do small warehouse parties. Hearing that someone was going to throw a big giant festival, I was like, "If I see it I'll believe it!"
Aaron-Carl (DJ/producer): I didn't know it was being planned until it happened. I was asked by a relative, "Are you going to the festival?" "Um, what festival?"
Josh Glazer: Being involved in the techno community in Detroit and having seen so many things NOT work, it was a little hard to swallow. Not necessarily that it wouldn't happen, but that anyone would come, or enough people would come. I was definitely skeptical. "Is anybody going to come to Hart Plaza for an entire weekend of Detroit techno?"
Richie Hawtin: Everyone was kind of in a bit of disbelief after The World Party, wondering whether this new thing was going to be our crowning achievement or most embarrassing moment.
Brendan Gillen (DJ/producer): I think most people were thinking, "Oh my God, what is this car crash going to look like?"
Kevin Saunderson: I don't know if Carl knew it was going to happen, I don't think Carol knew it was going to happen. Everything was last minute.
Adriel Thornton: At some point everyone other than Carol wasn't sure. Carol was really the only one who seemed to be like "No! This is going to be...huge!"
Ernest Burkeen: It went down to the wire.
Adriel Thornton: Carol was going and fighting the battle to get it done. She had endless meetings with the city. She's the one who had to convince them. And there were so many last minute hoops to jump through.
Tim Price: Even a week before the last approval from the city, we were chewing nails because there was a chance this wasn't going to happen. That all the permits were going to get pulled.
Jason Huvaere (Executive Director, Paxahau): There wasn't a green light for the event until the Thursday before.
Kevin Saunderson: It was organized, it was ready to go, there was a press conference. But it was really still all about the money.
Carl Craig: The city didn't sign the contract until the day before the festival. We didn't officially have the $300,000 that we were promised or even the permission to use Hart Plaza. Everyone did their part to make it happen. My brother-in-law used to work in the Mayor's office, and he went to his boss who has known my family for a long time. I came up to meet her on Wednesday, and brought various types of music to show her what it was all about because I don't think anyone in the Mayor's office really knew what was going on. After the meeting, I was told that his boss went to the Deputy Mayor and told him that it had to happen, and after that it was locked in.
Barbara Deyo: The city was supposed to front the money, and then it was supposed to be paid back with sponsorship money. But they didn't actually cut the check to Carol until two days before the festival. Stages were up, lights were up, everything was being delivered, people were flying in and we had no idea if it was actually going to happen. I remember running into the Parks department at 3:30 to pick up a check to run it back to Carol. And then she was racing to the bank, as she had to get there by 4:00 to deposit it.
Josh Glazer: The Friday night before the festival, I left [the nightclub] Motor at 2 AM. We were going to go across the border to Canada to this afterhours spot. On the way down we stopped at Hart Plaza. A bunch of our friends were a part of the production team volunteering. We ended up never leaving.
until the day before the festival."
Tim Price: The city had certain ways that they did things for city-run festivals. So for the entrance, they usually just got one of these highway signs and put it on a truck on a trailer. I'd seen that for the Hoedown. It was so tacky. So I said, "Can I use that budget for something else?"
Josh Glazer: At 4 AM we were building a giant sign at the entry that was made out of old TVs. Tim [Price] was a production guy, a jack of all trades for Rich Hawtin at the time, so we had kind of grown up building those crazy Plastikman parties. He was like, "Here's the 20 things that need to be done before the party starts." I mean, "Where's Tim Price?" were probably the words uttered most that night at Hart Plaza and at any significant party thrown during that era. It was almost the Detroit techno mantra.
Tim Price: I had my guys go out to all these used stores, thrift stores and bought TVs. We had about 34, and we built this long wall so that the TVs helped spell out a letter: DEMF. We covered it with sheet aluminum, and had them playing different kinds of static so it was kind of like an installation across the whole entrance.
Josh Glazer: I remember this girl at the time, who I was occasionally hanging out with, she was from out of town, and she was calling me, and everyone was saying "Dude! What are you doing, go hang out with her!" "I can't go hang out! Someone's got to hang these TVs!"
Rob Theakston: That morning at about 5:30 AM, Tim Price and I were in a golf cart together. We were sitting by the Detroit River, taking a breather, and I looked at him and said, "If we can get 10,000 people for this first one, we'll have done our job. It will be all worth it."
The original DEMF logo and a wet Hart Plaza on day one.
John Arnold: It was a slow start. I was one of the first performers on the main stage and it was raining. Raining bad!
Rita Sayegh: Every day would start off insanely slow, and it was just horrible weather-wise. There would be three people dancing in the big bowl.
John Arnold: From the stage you couldn't see anybody because everybody was hiding from the rain.
Rita Sayegh: There was nobody there, and you just kept thinking: "Oh my god! I really hope that people show up to this."
Kevin Reynolds (DJ/producer): We were setting up Transmat stuff in the booth, and it was literally just a gathering of crackheads and bums walking around Hart Plaza. It was like 1 PM, and some guy was trying to stick his hand underneath the tent, trying to steal someone's purse. We had to stomp on his hand. It was just like, "What is this shit?"
Kelli Hand (DJ/producer): I've seen a lot of people down in Hart Plaza before, but electronic dance music, techno?
Gamall Awad: A lot of people, press and otherwise didn't believe it was going to happen, a lot of people were skeptical. We were skeptical, on the first day.
Juan Atkins (DJ/producer): I had a bad time slot that first year. It was like 5 PM on Saturday, and I got there like maybe about ten or 15 minutes after my set was supposed to be over. So I wound up not playing. I didn't realize that that many people would actually show up for such an event.
Rob Theakston: During the Rhythm & Sound set I dropped a cinder block on my ankle. And finally someone said, "That's it! Go back to your hotel room for a couple of hours, take some Ibuprofen and sleep." The bowl was starting to fill up, but it wasn't packed. I slept, took a shower, came back and Barbara Deyo came running up to me with tears rolling down her cheeks, and grabbed me by the hand. We looked over, and the bowl was full.
DJ 3000 (DJ/producer): I was working that day. And people were calling me saying, "You won't believe it, it's crazy down here!"
Jason Clark (Movement Creative, Paxahau): It was crazy. The fact that we had been partying all night in these warehouses... and then all of a sudden here we all are gathered in the sunlight, out in the open. It was hard to believe it was all happening.
Josh Glazer: We were not used to listening to techno outdoors in the day, this was not something that ever happened in Detroit.
Robert Gorell: You saw people you'd never seen in daylight before.
Tim Price: It was like we were having a rave, but legally. That was the weirdest thing for us.
Jason Huvaere: Cops were protecting the event instead of shutting it down.
Dan Sicko: I think anyone who ever listened to techno music went to the festival on the first day.
Carleton Gholz (Journalist, Metro Times): The idea of it being outside, free; it was unbelievable.
Richie Hawtin: People who wouldn't go out to a nightclub, people who had bought a Derrick May record but didn't really know who was behind it, friends who had stopped going out, people with their kids. The whole family aspect was incredible.
Matthew Dear: Sometime during that first year, I remember walking by a big circle of dancers. Everyone was happy, dancing and watching some guys jit in the center of the circle. Then I realized that the Mayor of Detroit, Dennis Archer was standing on the inside of the circle with his family, smiling, dancing and enjoying the show alongside everyone else.
Phil Talbert: A lot of kids walked up to the Mayor, and said, "You're the Mayor? I just want to say thank you for doing something for young people." I think he realized, then, how important it was.
Ernest Burkeen: The Mayor was shocked. Whenever you do a first year event, you're happy just to make it happen. I never expected the crowds that we saw.
Stacey Pullen (DJ/producer): Even the customs officers at the airport were like: "What's going on in Detroit?! Why you comin' to Detroit?!" They weren't used to people coming here for tourism.
Buzz Goree (DJ/producer): The city didn't really prepare properly for the festival that first year. They didn't expect the hotels to sell out like that, the restaurants weren't ready to get bombarded like that.
Kai Alce (DJ/producer): It was amazing because they do festivals there during the summer all the time, but never something that big, with that many stages.
DJ 3000: The only thing we could judge it against were the other music festivals. The Jazz festival, the Hoedown, the Arabic festival. I remember one of my friends saying, "Wrap all those festivals into one, that's what it's like."
Carl Craig: The streets were full, not just the Plaza. Going all the way from Cobo Hall to Beaubien.
Phil Talbert: A number of kids who were into electronic music brought their parents down to the festival, and showed them that it wasn't just this underground rave thing.
Norm Talley (DJ/producer): A lot of people from the city came out that normally may not come to the club at night. People like my family, people from down the street, it was personal.
Eddie Fowlkes (DJ/producer): The fact that the festival was free was important. I put out my first record when Public Enemy was coming out, and then these people were seeing me playing at this party, this Detroit apex, that many years later. My uncles, my aunts had never seen me perform before.
Mike Grant (DJ/producer): The first time that I played at the festival was the first time that my mother had ever seen me play.
Brendan Gillen: You could show people pictures of what you were doing in Europe, but no one really believed until they saw it in Detroit.
Kevin Reynolds: You could be a rock star, famous everywhere else in the world, but in Detroit you were just another guy on the street.
Barbara Deyo: They're probably the most unfamous famous people in the world.
Carl Craig: In Detroit when you say, "I make music," the first thing someone asks is "Oh, do you sing?" The reference point is always Motown or someone you see on TV. For a lot of the guys, it was a validation from their parents, their brothers, sisters, cousins. People who were saying, "Oh, man, you're just playing other people's music. You need to get a real job, you need to work in the factory." For them, it was "OK, now I'm DJing in front of 40,000 people. Now what you gotta say?"
Carl Craig, Derrick May and Richie Hawtin: Three techno legends at the inaugural edition of the DEMF.
Kirk Degiorgio (DJ/producer): I remember, before the festival officially started, Carl Craig had mentioned that he really wanted to do something for the city of Detroit. I think it's a well known fact that, even though techno comes from Detroit and the United States, it isn't particularly well known, or it doesn't have so much of a high profile in general as it does throughout the rest of the world.
Dan Sordyl (Managing Owner, Motor nightclub): None of these guys had ever performed in their hometown in front of more than maybe a thousand people. Finally, they got the respect that the rest of the world had been showing them for years.
Stacey Pullen: It was a chance to showcase what we'd been doing for the past 15 years. Us bringing everything home, seeing our families, seeing our local supporters, seeing the city's skyline. That really meant more than anything because I think the Detroit community had no idea that we'd been traveling around the world as ambassadors for our city, ambassadors for our music, doing interviews about the city as a whole, the spirit of the city.
DJ 3000: You kind of felt like it was an award ceremony. People were DJing, and grabbing the microphone and saying "I want to say hi to my mom and my dad." They were thanking people, because they felt like they were finally being recognized.
Mike Clark (DJ/producer): I was walking through Hockeytown to Cobo Hall, and I heard a soft constant beat in the air. As I got closer to the festival, the sound formed into Pepe Bradock's "Deep Burnt." That's when the reality kicked in. As I was going through the tunnel to Hart Plaza someone writing about the festival walked up to me and asked, "How did I feel about it?" While trying to hold back the tears, I said to him, "Listen! Can you hear it? This is one of my favorite records and I heard it a mile away! In my own city! It's one of the greatest moments in my life!"
Dan Sicko: Dego.
Eddie Fowlkes: I played with a percussionist and some ex-members from Members Of The House, an old group that Mike Banks used to produce in that first year, I wanted to make it something special.
Derek Plaslaiko (DJ/producer): Theo Parrish.
Top: Moodymann fills in for Laurent Garnier. Bottom: Eddie Fowlkes seizes the moment.
Rob Theakston: Adult.
Brendan Gillen: The guy from Lost Poets coming on stage while Moodymann was playing and getting on the mic.
Rob Theakston: Clark Warner dropping it's "A Wonderful Life."
Carl Craig: DJ Assault.
Carleton Gholz: Derrick May playing James Brown's "The Big Payback."
Carl Craig: Jeff Karolski, a guy who sawed wood as part of his performance, opened up the Underground Stage. I loved it.
Brian Gillespie: "Jaguar."
Buzz Goree: "Jaguar."
Carleton Gholz: "Jaguar."
Kevin Reynolds: "Jaguar" played over and over and over.
Carl Craig: And Stacey closed out the stage on the first night.
Brian McCollum (Journalist, Detroit Free Press): That's when the crowd energy kicked in. That's when everything really clicked.
Derek Plaslaiko: Saturday night, 9 PM, standing in the middle of Hart Plaza and Stacey Pullen is just owning the place. Everyone was looking around like, "I can't believe this is actually happening."
Josh Glazer: It was really emotional.
Robert Gorell: I can remember it so clearly. Looking into this bowl that I'd been to when I was a kid with my parents, and seeing this party taking place.
Stacey Pullen: I played this track that sampled a Martin Luther King speech. I can just remember this surreal feeling of people coming together and it was...I remember seeing policemen, I remember seeing old people, young people and just the whole magic feeling. I remember seeing one of the organizers, she had tears in her eyes.
Barbara Deyo: Even more people came in after the first day because of the things in the news, they were showing these pictures of wall-to-wall people at Hart Plaza.
Jason Huvaere: It was Monday when it really twisted. Because that not only gave the event a couple of days to ramp up, but it gave people an opportunity for people to leave, make phone calls, invite friends. Also, a lot of people don't remember that a lot of the stages closed at 8 PM. They didn't go to midnight in the first years, they all closed really early. So when Richie Hawtin got on stage on Monday night, 100% of the audience that was left was standing in front of him. It was the last performance of the first weekend. It was kind of like the perfect storm.
Richie Hawtin: I remember Carl asking me to headline one of the nights. And I was like, "Sounds good to me, but... there are going to be a lot of people unhappy that you're asking me and that I'm agreeing. Are you sure you want to do this?" There were plenty of other people who could have taken that spot.
Tim Price: I've never seen Rich that nervous in my life.
Rob Theakston: He was trying to be cool and composed. But his hand was shaking as he was getting ready to put down the needle on "Gravitational Arch 10," the Vapourspace track he started with.
Richie Hawtin: I still get goosebumps thinking about it.
Tim Price: The crowd was chanting "Richie, Richie."
Richie Hawtin: I wanted to play classics from my Detroit. Classics that not only were Detroit classics that inspired me, but also classics of Plus 8 and other international classics that had made the whole scene move. I didn't want it to be all about Detroit because it was a celebration about where Detroit had started and where it had gone, and I wanted to reflect that. But no matter what I played, it was going to be wrong. It was kind of a no-win situation.
Jason Huvaere: He destroyed it. There were people crying everywhere, it was great.
Carl Craig: Richie Hawtin called up Jeff Mills during his set, and put the phone up toward the audience and said, "Listen to this!"
Adriel Thornton: People were there getting down together, people who had no idea what techno was.
Carl Craig: The best thing was that it was a free festival. It brought in a lot of people who didn't know what electronic music was, let alone techno. Or didn't care. People would just come to see Mos Def play.
Adriel Thornton: I had conversations with people who were like ïOK, I've read about it in the paper,r and ended up staying the entire time because they were turned on to something. It was a gift to those who loved it, but it also introduced it to the people who had no idea.
Buzz Goree: We were there to educate the inner-city families that caught the bus to get down there as well to try to have a good time, so I remember playing a lot of UR records. We were catering to the city as a whole, not just the electronic music lovers.
Rob Theakston: We had Mos Def and The Roots for the first year. Those names helped to bring people downtown that normally wouldn't go. The fact that it was free also brought families downtown. It was such a curiosity not just for electronic music lovers, but for lovers of music.
Kevin Saunderson: People who wouldn't spend the money, they would come down and check it out. They would be downtown and they would say, "What's going with this?"
Gamall Awad: Looking into the crowd, the first person I saw right in front of me was a Granddad in a suit, with a hat, a cap and in his mouth he had a pacifier like a raver, and next to him was some young white raver girl, doing the weird crazy raver dance. Obviously she'd given him that thing to suck on! And behind her was this really thuggish looking guy. Everywhere you looked it was someone different. It was every age. There were little kids, there were grandparents, I'd never seen anything like it.
Kevin Reynolds: You got white kids from the suburbs and then you got black folks from the city. Detroit's like 85-90% black, and for them to see this guy setting up on stage that looks like them, playing this exotic dance music, I think it really exposed a lot of people in the city to this music. It was literally like two completely separate cultures coming together as one. Ieve never seen that in Detroit.
Barbara Deyo: There's been a huge controversy over the years over the attendance number. It was based on a formula that had been used for years and years at Hart Plaza, so obviously we didn't know if it was accurate. At the time, we were basing it on the fact that there were claims that there were 750,000 people at the Jazz Festival. We were at breakfast, and I personally got the call from the police department saying that it was 1.6 million. That was the official number. Since it's been a ticketed event, those numbers have been drastically different, but using their formula, that meant that there were twice as many as people at the festival as there were at the Jazz Festival or the Hoedown.
Dan Sicko: I don't think anybody imagined that Detroit would get behind techno in that way.
Stephen Hitchell (Producer): It really was a beautiful thing to see something of that magnitude happening in the city of Detroit, which desperately needed it.
Ernest Burkeen: I grew up as a Motown person. Electronic music was very new to me, so to go down to watch the kids dance, to see that sheer vibrancy, that youth. It was like, "This is what we were, and this is what we can be."
Brendan Gillen: The big question for a lot of us before Kyle Hall and Seth Troxler and guys like that was, "What is going to happen to the next generation? Will there be one? Is it going to be Dutch guys just imitating parts of what we do? Are we now the blues?" When you saw kids there dancing, it was life-affirming.
Gamall Awad: In some ways it did feel at the time that we were witnessing history.
Barbara Deyo: I felt like I'd just given birth. It felt like the most painful traumatizing, agonizing experience. The hardest thing I'd had to do in my life, yet the most rewarding thing in the world.
Josh Glazer: There's that great Hunter S. Thompson line from Fear and Loathing about the high water mark. You can almost see where the waves crest and begin to pull back. In a lot of ways it felt like that, the '90s, particularly the late '90s felt just like this endless growth, it was almost like this techno bubble that was going on in America, and I think we all thought it was going to keep growing and we were all going to be rich.
Anthony 'Shake' Shakir: Of course like the Sade song says, "It's never as good as the first time."
DJ 3000: The immediate question was: Will there be one next year? For the first few years, even when they announced it, nobody thought it would actually happen.
Brian McCollum: I remember at that first press conference announcing the festival, there was just a few of us there. The next year, all of the TV guys showed up. Multiple rows of reporters.
Ernest Burkeen: 2001 was one of the few times we didn't have to beg for press. The press loved the first year of the event.
Barbara Deyo: As far as sponsorship went, nobody wanted to touch it the first year. "Let's see how it goes. Maybe next year." So a lot of the money that came in was from independent retailers or stores, the mom and pop shops. Then, it was massively successful, which led to Ford Focus being the title sponsor.
Tim Price: Carol knew how to get money.
Rob Theakston: Detroit was in the middle of that renaissance in the '90s, with Dennis Archer at the helm. It was a real energetic and optimistic time, not only in the Detroit electronic community, but in Detroit in general. It was like, we're going to turn this around, we're going to be the world class city that we dreamed of.
Tim Price: We had a major budget in 2001.
Josh Glazer: There were bigger stages, there was more international talent. Ford Focus was the sponsor, and they had these giant jumbotrons showing Ford commercials on mute during the DJ sets, then with the audio during the changeovers. Thinking about it now, wow, that was really tacky. But then again, we didn't know better, we didn't know how everything was supposed to work, we didn't know how everything could work. There was definitely friendships and there was definitely drama that second year.
Brendan Gillen: Detroit has a negative attitude about anyone doing something. There's so much player-hating in this town. If you had a million dollars, everyone will have an opinion on how you should spend it.
DJ 3000: The D is for drama.
Josh Glazer: Carl Craig. Carol Marvin.
Derek Plaslaiko: It was shocking.
Keith Worthy: You would hear a lot of what supposedly was going on, but unless you were in the room you wouldn't get a feel for what actually happened.
Brendan Gillen: People were furious. It was super, radically misunderstood. Nobody understood why he was fired. You'd need a 60 Minutes special to figure out why.
Derek Plaslaiko: All I knew was that someone that I respected that was bringing something awesome for us to hear had been fired.
Dan Sicko: The fact that they fired [Carl Craig] the artistic director three weeks before the festival. The timing of it was so strange. I think people reacted to that as much as anything. Because who knows what the story was behind the scenes.
Robert Gorell: Regardless of everything, it was tacky to see how it was done.
Anthony 'Shake' Shakir: The controversy was in how it was handled.
The vinyl effect
Norm Talley: Record Time used to always have a booth at the festival.
Mike Himes (Owner, Record Time): We didn't know what to expect from the first festival. After that, though, we had huge booths. We would do more sales than we would do in a normal month in those three days at the festival.
Buzz Goree: You might have three customers in a regular day. During the festival? It's a different thing.
Mike Himes: This was before a lot of mail-order and the internet, so there were Detroit records that people had never seen before in their local shops.
Mike Huckaby: We sold a lot of music to Europeans that we couldn't give away during the rest of the year.
Buzz Goree: People used to come to the Submerge store to seek and search out certain records. Old Detroit releases. It's one weekend that's a vinyl-selling Christmas.
Mike Himes: Techno Christmas.
Mike Huckaby: Tearing up bins like flesh, I actually filmed the bins, people grabbing titles. Drexciya, UR, Transmat, KMS, Metroplex. It was nuts.
Santiago Salazar (DJ/producer): In the first few years, Submerge was making sure to put out vinyl right before the festival. One, two, up to five releases at one time.
Mike Huckaby: I would go to the distributors like Watts and make huge orders before the festival began. A lot of producers were trying to get promos, white labels and that stuff out. Trying to schedule appointments at Archer with Ron Murphy to get their stuff ready.
Mike Himes: Record labels would make sure to have releases out right around the time of the festival. Limited things as well. Rod Modell made things special for the festival a few years in a row.
Mike Huckaby: If you were a DJ in Detroit, you were stupid not to have a record out for the festival.
Rob Theakston: We'd already made the announcement of the second line-up. We were all gearing up to do the job we did last year. Then it just let the air out of everyone's tires. I really don't think anyone saw this coming, apart from Carol herself and a few close people.
Adriel Thornton: There's a lot of people that are involved in making a festival happen, from the production director to the operations director. There are so many people involved, and we all have to be on the same timetable in order to make it happen. Everything sort of depends on having information in [a] timely [manner], but we weren't getting information about who was confirmed, contracted to play this festival.
Robert Gorell: It was two people with healthy egos.
Adriel Thornton: I had to have information in order to negotiate the best flight rates, to get the best flight rates, to get the best hotel rates to fulfill these things and you know, we were a free festival so time was really important as far as being able to get these things you know the difference between booking a flight two weeks in advance, there's a month in advance versus a week in advance!
Brendan Gillen: It was over content, I believe. They wanted to put in more crappy music. And he diligently fought to maintain his job as artistic director and not budge on that, and not take on suggestions.
Adriel Thornton: Carl was hired to do a specific job, and he just wasn't doing his job. And that became more and more of an issue. There were things where Carl wouldn't respond to e-mail, to phone calls, even to Carol, who was the boss.
Eddie Fowlkes: Carol Marvin was a businesswoman, and she did what she was supposed to do, promoted the product, cross-branded it the best way she could. I take my hat off to her. She made it what it was.
John Arnold: There were a lot of unpaid bills and hurt feelings that are still being repaired.
Carleton Gholz: People weren't getting paid to do some basic stuff in those early years.
Tim Price: The year before I didn't get paid, and I actually sued Carol Marvin. I spent money out of my own pocket for decorations and various different things. I think I spent over $1000.
Barbara Deyo: I actually wasn't directly involved with the second year because I got fired. All of these media people that knew me were calling, "Help me, help me, I can't get in touch with anyone!" I wasn't replaced by a person, and whoever was trying to handle it was bumbling around, so I ended up connecting people. "OK I have Much Music down here from Canada. Kenny Larkin, can you come down and do an interview for Much Music? They can't get a hold of you."
Josh Glazer: It was definitely weird and uncomfortable and made for some hostile stuff. Some really nasty threads on the 313 mailing list. I'm pretty sure if you go through the archives you will find a thread with DJ Bone threatening to kick my ass because I said he was a sellout when he sided with Carol Marvin.
DJ 3000: You've got a lady with a proven track record of doing events. A lot of people forget what she had done before that. The Jazz Festival was on its last legs, and she took it, and brought it back up to being a powerhouse, where everybody recognized it worldwide. So when the Electronic Festival thing came up, she was first on board. She went to Carl for the knowledge of the music part. The problem was, after the first festival, you've got two big egos. Carl's a techno god, and she's pretty tough herself.
Dan Sicko: I don't think a lot of people dug for what actually happened. I think once it got out that they fired one of Detroit's more beloved and long standing entities in the scene, people reacted to that more than anything else. I don't think they cared about the story behind it.
"Nobody knows who
this white lady is,
so she's the devil."
Adriel Thornton: Myself, Carol, Bridget everybody who was in the core group of people in that office, we were in that damn office almost nightly at this point until 3, 4 or 5 in the morning. That's what really pisses me off about how it all came down. We were framed as the villains. Had Carol been a weaker producer, that festival might have been ruined, that festival might never have happened that year.
Rob Theakston: I reacted the way that I knew how. We mobilized a group of friends and protested. We printed pink stickers, we made giant banners and we let our voice be heard. If you signed a petition that was delivered to the Mayor's office, you got a sticker that said "I support Carl Craig." We were gathering signatures all three days. There were a lot of angry people on the ground. You had that conviction, we were all willing to get arrested and go to jail for it. Because we felt that what she did was just not right. To this day, I still believe it wasn't right.
Rita Sayegh: Rob and I spearheaded the protests at the second festival. It was probably something I shouldn't have done, you know, being involved with the documentary of the first festival but I thought: "OK, I'm gonna separate myself, this has nothing to do with the other thing, this is just me, being me." So we created this kind of larger-than-life banner that took like eight or ten people to actually carry through the festival.
Derek Plaslaiko: I remember Rob coming up to me, saying, "We're going to meet at the top of the bowl before so-and-so goes on."
Josh Glazer: We marched through Hart Plaza on Saturday night. It was something that Rob made, it was literally 30 feet long and 10 feet tall.
Dan Sicko: There were buttons saying "I support Carl Craig."
Delano Smith: Everybody was wearing those buttons. I wore one too.
Rob Theakston: The only thing I remember at the time was being so angry, not knowing what was next. Not knowing if we were even going to be allowed on the grounds after we had booked the festival.
Carl Craig: I ended up going to each day of the festival. There were issues where I didn't want to come, and I wasn't wanted. But it became a reality that I needed to be there in order to a) make sure that everything went correctly with the artists that I booked and b) that it didn't look right to the people that I asked to come that I wouldn't be there.
Kirk Degiorgio: Carl invited me over for the second year. It was a strange time, because I landed and immediately there was all this politics going on in the background that I wasn't aware of.
Brian McCollum: That was the start of four or five years of backstage drama, something that sadly came to define the festival.
Dan Sicko: It was a pretty great festival though. Carl's influence was there the whole time.
Dan Sordyl: Carl has such a deep understanding of music. He'd always pull in a couple of things that you weren't aware of.
Walter Wasacz: What I loved about the first few festivals was stuff that was brought in to represent "techno" or electronic music the way people think of it. I remember seeing Tortoise live. That was Carl just having a sense of how to program things.
Carl Craig: I thought about the line-up as a three year plan, instead of as a one year thing. We have so many interesting and talented artists in Detroit that it wasn't something that I felt I could do in just one year line-up-wise, both for my idea of the festival, and in terms of getting people to come out to see it. I wanted to spread it out.
Brendan Gillen: I was shocked that nobody got that. The Wire should have been writing a feature on this. It's not often you see those kind of ideas represented on a stage in America.
Derek Plaslaiko: Autechre, the second year, was a highlight. I was working at the Record Time booth, and I told my boss that I would work a lot of the weekend but I will not work when Autechre is playing. But when Autechre went on, he wasn't in the booth, and Diane Himes didn't know about the deal, so she said, "You can't leave now. If you go, you're going to lose your job." So I essentially quit at that moment, and went down to see Autechre. I came back afterwards, and I think she cooled off by that point.
Carl Craig: I purposely put big DJs like Terrence Parker and John Acquaviva on in the afternoon in the second year because I wanted to see if we could get people to come out earlier on in the day to see great DJs.
Recloose: Jeremy Ellis, AKA Ayro, was doing a live set and he brought out his MPC, but they put him on a stage that didn't have any covering. We set it all up, and right as he started the rain started to come down. We found a tarp, and lifted it up over his stuff during his entire set so that he could perform.
Carl Craig: It was important to me to present this music in a way that it wasn't pigeonholed as only Detroit or only techno. If you do something like that, then the hip-hop guys say, "Oh, that's some techno shit." And other people will say it's this or that. I wanted to sustain a vision over time.
Brendan Gillen: Nobody gave him the license to be artistic. They only want to hear "Throw." They wanted the same people to play that had played the year before.
Carl Craig: My thought was that if you want to play every year, you have to bring something new to the table every year. So Kevin Saunderson played again, but he did with Inner City live. That was the first time they'd played together in a long time.
Rainy ravers before the hailstorm.
Juan Atkins: There was a controversy about who was going to close between me and Derrick. I was booked to close, but Derrick said he wouldn't play unless he closed. So I played after Kevin, and the funny thing is that it rained during the middle of my set, and I actually couldn't finish the whole set.
Kevin Reynolds: People were standing in the rain, but they didn't give a shit. They wanted to see Juan and Derrick, but it got so bad, they had to shut it down for electrical reasons.
Walter Wasacz: It was scary. It was such a big burst of rain, lightning and thunder, very dramatic. They stopped the stages, literally unplugged everything. I remember people huddled down in the Underground Stage area. They were waiting and waiting for Derrick to come on and play, and eventually he came on the PA and announced that he could not play, he might get electrocuted. Everybody was crestfallen.
Josh Glazer: I remember I was downstairs watching Slam, because it was like "Wow, Slam's finally playing in Detroit! No one would ever bring Slam to Detroit otherwise." And the music stopped. We were like, "Why did the music stop?" "Well, the entire festival shut down because it's hailing upstairs."
Kevin Reynolds: It was rough, Ium sure, on Derrick but he would never admit it. He keeps his cards close when it comes to shit like that, but it was an act of God and there was nothing you could do.
Josh Glazer: I remember Kevin was doing an afterparty at The Works. Somewhere around 4 or 5 in the morning Derrick May showed up and played easily one of the best techno sets I've ever heard. It had all the drama. This is the set that God [had] stopped with the hail. It was so dramatic. Looking back it's like, "Wow, we were way too self-involved." At the time, it was the most important thing in the world.
Tim Price: In 2002, they had an artistic board that helped with the booking of the festival. The Magnificent Seven.
Brian Gillespie: Huck, K-Hand, Oldham, Mike Grant, DJ Bone, Juan, Eddie Fowlkes.
Adriel Thornton: We thought it was really important to engage with a lot of different people with different ideas.
Rob Theakston: There were two or three people on that committee who had an axe to grind with Carl. A personal axe to grind. Carol saw that, capitalized on it and said we're going to have a real Detroit voice on this one, a real Detroit party.
Mike Grant: Carol said more or less, "We'd like you to be a part of this." Unfortunately, it created a strain on my relationship with Carl. I wish that it hadn't. But looking at it, I didn't want to see the festival fail. Because that means we here in the city were failing.
Kelli Hand: I was on the board for the DEMF with six other members. The only female, of course I had to be on the board to make sure for the girls that we had everything going correctly. And I'm the first lady of techno, so why not be there?!
Brian Gillespie: I'm glad Huckaby was on there. Huck paid his way a million times over. He's an amazing producer, a great house DJ.
Mike Huckaby: To be honest, I didn't know what I had gotten myself into. I was completely unaware of a lot of the stuff around it.
Eddie Fowlkes: I was still living in Vegas at the time, and was coming in for the meetings. I really wanted Devo, personally, but I got outvoted. I just wanted to see something different. All of the cats that we grew up seeing were playing Devo, along with Eurythmics and Run DMC. I knew that would've brought all the old heads.
Mike Grant: I remember when I contacted Dave Clarke about playing, he said something along the lines of, "Sure, I've stolen enough of the music. It'll be great to give something back." Art Payne and Keith Martin also were two guys that we wanted to get in. To pay tribute to what they had done.
Robert Gorell: I remember Alan Oldham asked me what I thought of the line-up, and I told him, "It looked like you went down the addresses in your cell phones." I don't think we've talked since then. I wasn't saying that as a diss. Carl Craig is just a different type of musician. He looks at things in a different way.
Rob Theakston: Carl was just one guy, his vision was too Eurocentric, bla bla bla. And it ended up being the absolute opposite of that. It was just a kick drum rave, that third year. That's how I remember it.
Robert Gorell: Just compare the line-up in 2001 and the 2002 line-up. Nothing against those people, but their taste turned the Detroit Electronic Music Festival into a rave. It was all techno and house music. I'm a fan of techno and house music, but it was too much.
The Detroit media covers the controversy of the festival.
Richard Maher (Co-producer, Movement 2003/2004): The festival in 2002 seemed to be lacking something. I couldn't really put my finger on it. That said, George Clinton was a highlight.
Mike Huckaby: We met everyday around a table right around January, and discussed who we thought should play that year. The first day we all said: "George Clinton."
Juan Atkins: George is an icon for me, he's one of the reasons I got into making music.
Adriel Thornton: It makes all the sense in the world because the definition of techno has always been George Clinton and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator together.
Mike Grant: George Clinton's performance seemed like the most significant of all the performances in the festival's history. It wasn't just for the young kids. It was for all ages. It was three generations coming together.
Dan Sicko: I'm pretty sure that was the biggest crowd I have seen at the Main Stage. That name and Detroit. I mean, God bless techno and everything, but that name and Detroit is gigantic. I couldn't get anywhere close enough to see what was going on, or even hear it well. The crowd was so thick that I couldn't even navigate to where I could enjoy it.
Walter Wasacz: How do you justify asking the city of Detroit to pay a festival when it can't turn on the lights of the streets in all its neighborhoods?
Barbara Deyo: Carol Marvin's company, Pop Culture Media, had a contract for three years. When it ended, they did not renew it immediately, so there were several companies who submitted their proposal to produce it.
Phil Talbert: The city had the option to sign a new contract, but given the resources of the city... They decided to let the event walk on its own like all of the other festivals going on in Detroit.
Richard Maher: At Transmat, we were pretty worried whether the festival would even happen in 2003. So myself, Derrick and a couple of other guys put together a proposal in 2002, and we presented it to the city. The general consensus was that [because of the contract running out] it was fairly up in the air. There seemed to be a general discontent about whether the festival would go ahead or not. There were a lot of people that were making claims about money that hadn't been paid, some people were saying that Carol Marvin was insolvent. I can't comment on whether that was valid or not, but it was definitely something that was in the papers on a regular basis. The contract was up for renewal, and the big question was, "If they're not going to give it to her, where's it going to go?"
Adriel Thornton: We had already secured the date and the venue for the fourth year, and we were at the opening of the Detroit techno exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum, which we had helped curate. We went there with Derrick and that's when he made the announcement [that he was doing the festival]. We were stunned.
Mike Huckaby: I remember asking Carol, "Are you sure you've got the festival?" And she was like, "Why would you ask that?" "Because Derrick's saying he's got it." And then at that press conference, they announced that Derrick had it. We had a line-up all ready to go.
Adriel Thornton: This is the way I see it: Kwame Kilpatrick, who was the new Mayor, gave our dates and our venue to Derrick. He didn't hand over the DEMF, it wasn't his festival, he couldn't hand over the DEMF, what he did was give our dates and our venue to another event producer who wanted to produce an electronic music festival.
Barbara Deyo: Of course the city didn't make a decision until two or three months beforehand, again not giving anyone time to do anything. You couldn't find a sponsorship deal, you couldn't work on stuff, you couldn't book people until you knew you had it. They gave it to Derrick at the 11th hour.
Richard Maher: The contract was given to us in February or March, at which point it was too late to really get any sponsorship money. The budgets had been set for all the major companies. If Derrick hadn't agreed to back it financially that year, I don't think it would still be running today.
Brian McCollum: The unofficial title of the new mayor [Kwame Kilpatrick] was the hip-hop mayor, whereas the previous mayor [Dennis Archer] was at least a little bit receptive to the idea of a techno festival. The city provided Carol with some funds to put on the festival, but that wasn't part of any deal in subsequent years.
Carl Craig: I really didn't know if it was going to continue after that third year. Derrick really came to the plate and made it happen, but because he didn't have the funding from the city and the sponsorship wasn't there, it was definitely questionable as to how it would happen.
Richard Maher: After we got the contract, it was an absolute run to the line to get the doors open.
you scratch a couple of pennies together."
Barbara Deyo: The first Movement was like the first DEMF, because everyone rallied together and wanted to see it survive.
Kevin Reynolds: We just wanted to make it happen because we knew how important it was.
Robert Gorell: I remember those guys working their asses off. But you need so much lead time to plan something like the festival.
Kevin Reynolds: It was pretty much all volunteers, everybody was busting their ass, working sunup to sundown, trying to make it happen. I think it burnt a lot of people out, but it also shows how much can be done when you scratch a couple of pennies together.
Robert Gorell: The line-ups were announced just a few weeks before the festival. If you're trying to plan a trip from Europe, it was kind of hard.
Robert Gorell: Sharif Zawideh did a bunch of the booking for the festivals that Derrick had. He was huge in making sure that it was an eclectic event in those years.
Richard Maher: Booking-wise, 2003 had a very Hi-Tek Soul flavor to it. Carl Craig and the Detroit Experiment, Amp Fiddler.
Robert Gorell: Wolf Eyes played at the festival.
Carl Craig: I played as The Detroit Experiment in 2003. We had Al Turner, Ron Otis, Amp Fiddler, Marcus Belgrave and Al Barnes all up on stage.
Delano Smith: You could tell that a lot of the accessories were missing. There weren't as many stages, the stages weren't as elaborate as they are now. Things didn't look as polished. No disrespect to Derrick, it was just a bad situation.
Anthony 'Shake' Shakir: I remember Derrick riding around in a go-kart with a girl, asking for donations.
Walter Wasacz: Derrick was on the main stage with a microphone and a bucket. Derrick May, one of the lions of this movement, onstage begging for money in his hometown. I found it very poignant and sad. It shouldn't be like that. It was around that time that we started advocating for it to become a paid festival.
Recloose: Derrick sunk a lot of his personal money into the festival.
Stacey Pullen: He probably still owes a lot of money now.
Dan Sicko: It's pretty obvious that you can't have a festival on that magnitude and have it be artist-run and managed. It's pretty much an impossibility. There's too many other types of skills and expertise you need to make it happen.
Sam Fotias (Operations Director, Paxahau): In order to conceptualize and execute a festival, you're basically magnifying a regular event by 100,000. Sound, staging, lighting, security, things of that nature. And because it's a festival environment, you have a huge pile of other things, like Porta Johns, VIP bathrooms, decor for the VIP, permitting and licensing through the city, dealing with the fire department, the police department, a huge security board, liquor licenses, meeting the artists riders, dealing with what they want regarding production levels.
Buzz Goree: Derrick said he couldn't do the festival anymore. A lot of people were criticizing Derrick, but I'd check them. This is a guy who busted his behind to put this thing on for you, me and the city of Detroit.
Buzz Goree: Kevin wasn't going to do it, but the city was like, "Please, you need to do this!" They realized how much revenue the festival was bringing in to the city.
Kevin Saunderson: The city approached me in February 2005 and asked me again. I was like, "I've told you my guidelines, there's no way I can make this happen in this short amount of time." They kind of pleaded with me, told me they were going to support it, bring in some funding which was needed, which was a bunch of bull, so I said OK, I'll talk to a team of people.
Ade' M.H. Mainor (CEO, Submerge): Me and Mike Banks were on a plane on our way to Japan. He had mentioned before that Kevin wanted me to be festival director. I didn't really want to get involved, given the history of the event. He said, "No man, Kevin is talking about paying you a good piece of coin. Because they have a good chance to make it a ticketed, gated event." I still didn't want to do it, but Mike pushed me. So I told Kevin to send me everything while I was on the plane, and I'd look at it when I was in Japan. [Kevin] actually had some of Derrick May's financial information, so I took it from there. I looked at some of the things being done, and I thought, "OK, maybe this is something I could do."
Buzz Goree: I worked with Ade' that year, he was the director of the festival. But we weren't experienced in putting together a festival of this magnitude. I mean, people go to school to learn how to do that. We'd played at them before, so we knew how it should be set up, but we didn't have the behind-the-scenes experience. Insurance, city ordinances.
Ade' M.H. Mainor: I didn't realize how fragmented the administration was. A lot of the city departments all had their fiefdoms. The mayor's office was one thing, the city council was something else, you had to talk to this guy, but you need to talk to that guy.
"We got to do the festival."
They weren't asking,
"Should we do the festival?"
Kevin Saunderson: I told the city "I'm going to have to charge, because there's not enough time to deal with sponsorship and I'm not going to be asking investors to just put out their money at this last minute, it's just not fair."
Ade' M.H. Mainor: Nobody really understood how much it cost to produce that event in the fashion they were used to it being produced. And have it compete with other world class festivals.
Buzz Goree: People thought because we were charging money to come in that we were going to make millions of dollars.
Barbara Deyo: They absolutely had to charge, no question. And it was five dollars. Only five bucks each day! It was literally to try and cover the costs.
Brian McCollum: There was grumbling, but I think everyone understood it had to be done.
Carleton Gholz: It was an unsustainable model.
Dan Sicko: You get a very specific crowd when you start charging money. It's people who are more inclined or pre-selected to be interested in electronic music. It was a little sad, because that was what was so wonderful about the first two years especially. It was both a celebration of Detroit music, and an introduction of the music to new audiences.
Carl Craig: I didn't agree with it. I was concerned with the amount of people that would come from Detroit to see the festival. But wherever I'm needed, whenever I feel like I can help my brothers, I'm there. He asked me to perform, so I performed.
Walter Wasacz: Attendance went down because people couldn't pay. It's still a good deal, it's great value if you're into this music. You can see a lot of things for a reasonable amount. I never had a problem with it. I'll still stand up for that. We were some of the first advocates in print to say it needs to be paid. It's worth paying for.
Brendan Gillen: I understand, but I still hope that they make it free on Mondays for people with Detroit on their driver's licenses if they show up before a certain time.
Walter Wasacz: When it was a free festival, people drifted in and out of it out of curiosity. They came, hung out for a while and left. How do you measure that? It's very hard to gauge how many people are at a festival. I think those numbers at the beginning were just guesses.
Brian McCollum: From the eyeball point-of-view, the festival wasn't too much smaller in 2005. It just proved that the previous estimates had been way off.
Kevin Saunderson: [Because of the previous estimates] I think the city had a better idea about how many people actually came to the festival than I did. I really didn't have a clue. I told myself that if we can get 75,000 at the festival, then we should be able to break even. We didn't want to charge crazy money, we wanted to make it reasonable. We tried to estimate how many people we could pull. I found out later that you couldn't get more than 30,000 in that whole place at capacity. We fell short by about $150,000 or $200,000.
Ade' M.H. Mainor: Everybody was in a trance. "We got to do the festival." They weren't asking, "should we do the festival?"
Brian McCollum: The whole backlash against Carol Marvin was very personal. She was very demonized. But if you talk to people now, people have come around a little bit. I think that largely comes from people seeing what happened when she left. A lot of those problems continued on with the finances. It's just intrinsic to this event, and any kind of thing of this size.
Delano Smith: When the festival was free, they had a lot of different vendors that would set up their sound systems. When you first walked into Hart Plaza, there's this aisle that you walk through to get to the main area. We call it the "Aisle of Hell."
Brian Gillespie: I had a record store that I was running. We had our own little area with a small stage. There was a time when you could have little DJ booths all over the festival, nobody cared about that.
Delano Smith: There was all different types of DJs in all different styles of music. They all brought their sound systems in and their generators, and they'd all set up. It was about an eighth of a mile long. It was cool in a way, but in a way it was messy, you'd hear booty over here, drum & bass over there, all on crappy sound systems. Everybody would try and make their sound system louder than the other guy.
Brendan Gillen: It was terrible when they allowed those booths to have soundsystems. They might have been selling electronic music, but it wasn't on the level of what the festival was putting on. You'd have a massive soundsystem in a booth playing trance.
Kevin Reynolds: Every other booth would have a sound system and it was kind of nuts. It was funny in the beginning but after a while you want to hear the music that is playing on the actual stage instead of some guy promoting his latest shitmix or bootymix or whatever. It was hilarious in the beginning, but I donut like that idea a whole lot.
Brendan Gillen: It was like what you hear in the headphones before you correct the beat.
Kevin Saunderson: I really should have stuck to my guns, I should have just waited till the next year. The festival probably wouldn't have happened at all then, though, and that's the reason I did do it. If I'd waited, it would have allowed time for planning. The city was so unpredictable, though. If you want to call them corrupt, selfish, unfair... I can think of a lot of names to say, but it really boils down to politics. They didn't care how it happened. They just wanted it to happen.
Ade' M.H. Mainor: One of the things I remember saying in the programming meetings was "Who hasn't played the festival that needs to play it?" Those were the people who got to the top of the list. Of course I wanted to highlight our artists, groups like Galaxy 2 Galaxy had never played the festival, Model 500 had never played the festival.
Buzz Goree: Red Planet played live that year, which was a first. We also brought in Mos Def to make sure that an inner-city person had a reason to come down. Those who might not be familiar with electronic music.
Ade' M.H. Mainor: After it became a gated event, Kevin decided we needed some headliners. So I went and got him a big headliner: Mos Def.
Santiago Salazar: When we walked off the stage after the Galaxy 2 Galaxy show, we passed by Mos Def and he said, "How in the hell am I going to follow that?"
DJ 3000: The first year that I played officially was in 2005. Ade from Electrofunk, from Submerge took over. That's the only reason I got to play, because I was working there. And I'd just started getting a little bit of a name, my stuff was coming out. I remember playing during the day, it was sunny, I was playing by the riverfront. All my friends were there, we were drinking, having a nice time. I turned the record player off, let the record wind down. And I went to turn the record player back on, and the dial kept spinning, it wasn't catching. The on-off button was broken, the pin had fallen down. They didn't have another turntable, so I ended up playing a one-turntable set for thirty minutes.
Ade' M.H. Mainor: We also contracted Paxahau to do a stage. I wasn't really familiar with their work, and I wasn't into the rave thing that much so I didn't know them. I didn't have any idea of what they did. Jason [Huvaere] had to explain it to me.
Jason Huvaere: We were not invited to do anything on a very serious level until 2005, which is when we did our first stage.
Buzz Goree: Paxahau didn't need much assistance from us. They'd been doing parties for years.
Kevin Saunderson: I think I played a couple of their events, I knew they were doing stuff in Detroit, and that was what was more important. We were traveling and coming back to try to do a festival. It's better to try to do a party where you have somebody who's just focusing on that. It was somebody who understood and came from our music world, compared to your typical production team who might come in, bring some speakers and not promote.
The "well-oiled machine" gears up for their biggest event yet.
Walter Wasacz: They programmed it right, they promoted it right, the trains ran on time.
Josh Glazer: Like a well-oiled machine.
Brian McCollum: That crisp, Paxahau feel.
Walter Wasacz: The events Paxahau had been putting on leading up to this were the best in Detroit. There was nothing that came close.
Jason Huvaere: We had the underground stage, which is the one we wanted. We did the production right, we had the signs up so everybody knew who was playing. We had a little green room at the back of the DJ booth where the DJs had a place to decompress and have something to drink. We really tried to make it our own little universe down there because we knew it was our first and only opportunity. We wanted it to be perfect. We had Mutek, Tronic Treatment and on the last day we had Luciano, Daniel Bell and Richie. [On that last day,] by 4 PM it was getting crazy, by 6 PM it was getting almost too crazy, by 8 PM we had to hold on and get everybody to manage the thing. But by the time Rich went on, it was absolute controlled chaos for 90 straight minutes.
Walter Wasacz: People were packed like sardines. I feared that somebody was going to get crushed. I thought that it could end up being one of those The Who in Cincinnati things. Too many people in a small space, hypnotized by the great Richie Hawtin.
Jason Huvaere: You couldn't move, people were standing on each other's shoulders just to see it. Security guards were literally going arm in arm, holding people back because the pressure of people trying to get to that area was so strong, they had to make a human wall to hold them back.
Richie Hawtin: The core Paxahau team was made up of guys that were either dancing in front of the speakers at Plastikman shows or were partners in putting them up. Anything I built, was built with them as well. It was like a Plastikman party at the festival, half-underground, half-Fuse-In.
Tim Price: I remember Rich played a couple of minutes long, and the city charged the festival $100 for every minute. So here I am in charge of cutting the power, and Rich was saying, "I don't care, I'll pay it!" The crowd was going crazy.
Jason Huvaere: Kevin needed some time to think about doing the festival after 2005. I offered him in December the opportunity to have us come on as director-producer, and he opted out in February of the next year, he just wanted to resign. He'd had enough, he'd tried as hard as he could. He just wanted to concentrate on his career. So we ended up entering into heavy negotiations with the city of Detroit; it was about eight weeks of negotiations. And after the negotiations, we reached our critical point, where we told them our deadline was right before Miami, because we needed to be able to go to WMC and tell people one thing or the other. At 1 AM the night before we flew, we got the call that we had been selected to be that year's producers. We opened up a bottle of wine, and from that point forward, the work never stopped.
Delano Smith: A lot of people said the first couple of years that the Paxahau guys didn't represent Detroit DJs. But they're trying to bring a more international flavour to it. And I respect that. Just like the WMC in Miami. A lot of the focus there is on New York still. I appreciate what they're trying to do in making it an international event.
Dan Sicko: They booked a very specific kind of music in their events prior. So I was a little bit concerned that it was going to be that on a larger scale, and that it would miss some of the diversity. On the other hand, the quality of their productions were unmatched in the city.
Jason Huvaere: We had a lot of names in the chute that first year.
Chuck Flask: 2006 was the first year that I ever booked any talent for Paxahau. I knew that we needed to book Rob Hood. And we booked Collabs with Speedy J and Chris Liebing because that was super new at the time. We had Richie, Nitzer Ebb, Derrick May, Neil Landstrumm who was a huge inspiration of mine in the techno scene. Basically, we booked a lot of our friends, and people that we knew. We also did the J Dilla tribute, which had over ten rappers and hip-hop artists and DJs and MCs. We donated $5000 to the J Dilla Foundation in that year. It was a big deal. We really wanted to pay our respects.
Jason Huvaere: In the background of our negotiations with the city of Detroit in 2006, we were reaching out to all of the artists, the agents, the production guys, sound, lighting, staging. We were talking to people who were involved with the festival's history, people who knew every single thing about the previous five years. We built a foundation that could basically be activated or not activated when we got the news. So when we got the green light, all we really did was pull the trigger on something that we had been loading up for a number of weeks.
Top: RJD2 on the Red Bull stage. Bottom: Punisher on the Underground stage.
Chuck Flask: We try to touch every genre of electronic music. Some aren't met, but some are. In 2009, we only had one drum & bass act. But we did a little bit more hip-hop stuff with Flying Lotus, Glitch Mob. We had a little bit of the Ed Banger, like Krazy Baldhead and Busy P last year. We do try to touch every genre, yes, but it's always kind of techno-heavy.
Delano Smith: A lot of different types of genres, they've tried to include everybody. With the focus still being on the big techno guys. But they do their best at representing everybody. I'm proud of the festival in Detroit now.
Buzz Goree: People don't want to fly over from London to see someone they can see in London. And someone from the States is going to want to see someone from Europe because they can't easily fly over there. So it's kind of a no-win situation.
Walter Wasacz: I guess my chief criticism of the festival now is that a lot of the stages sound the same, some of the artists sound the same. I remember in 2009 we went from stage to stage to stage, and it really sounded the same. There were a couple of things that stood out and didn't sound exactly the same, but a lot of stuff really did.
The inglorious bastards
Mike Huckaby: Electro-tech.
Brian Gillespie: My crew: Godfather, DJ Dick, the Twilight 76 Databass crew. We were always looked upon as the dirty bastards, the inglorious bastards of techno.
Brendan Gillen: The thing is, when Godfather plays two copies of "Hoes take off your clothes"... it happens.
Brian Gillespie: We sold more techno records in Detroit than these guys combined. You can quote me on that, I know it for sure. We weren't techno, we did street music. We combined techno and electro, and made our own form of music. We were killing it. But no one noticed.
Mike Huckaby: A lot of those DJs have never gotten the chance to play.
Brian Gillespie: I didn't play until the third year, and I had a horrible timespot, but I have to thank Mike Huckaby for getting me in there at all.
Brendan Gillen: Paxahau, I think, will only have Godfather play in the afternoon nowadays because of crowd control issues.
Brian Gillespie: One year, Godfather had so many people downstairs on the Underground Stage that police had to stop letting people in. It was out of control. We don't make PG-rated music. Our music was very sexual, very street-oriented and a lot of people were worried that the cameras or the news people were there.
Brendan Gillen: The festival's take on electronic music is the Detroit electronic continuum minus a third because electro is not considered. Model 500, Aux 88 and that's pretty much it. Otherwise, it's largely ignored.
Brian Gillespie: We make music for the blue-collar worker, factory worker, who works 80 hours a week, who wants to get drunk, wants to go to a cabaret and have fun and shake his ass. That's the honest truth.
Brian McCollum: Jason Huvaere and his crew made a conscious decision to keep all the soap operas at bay. They realized what had been troubling this thing, and focused their attention on keeping the festival going. I'm kind of relieved that I don't have to spend May of each year writing about things falling apart behind-the-scenes at the techno fest.
Rob Theakston: They've kept it alive. They've rejuvenated it, they've sustained it. They've been able to figure out what's commercially successful, and they've been able to become profitable in a city that has such miserable unemployment and financial hardship right now. They're still attracting people, and that speaks to Jason Huavere's business acumen. He has that business discipline that no one before had. He's done a hell of a job with the stewardship. He's been there in one aspect or another since day one. Looking back on it, it should have been him and Carl all along.
DJ 3000: Even the small parties they did, they were on top of it. So it didn't surprise me when those guys took over and it ran smoothly. It was no surprise to me, or to anybody else really.
Mike Huckaby: The credentials, the check-in, saying thank you for playing, paying you up front. Paxahau is really professional.
Robert Gorell: With Paxahau, what you have is predictability. Which is what makes any city government happier.
Carl Craig: You learn a few things as you get older, and I've learned that you always do better when you work with a team that knows what they're doing.
Richie Hawtin: Every single year that I've gone, I've said, "Wow, this sound is amazing," or "This light is amazing." And then, the next year, I'm like, "This is even better." They're always thinking about how to improve.
Dan Sicko: The attention to sound is something you notice now the minute you walk in to one of the little amphitheaters. They brought the sound quality of the festival up significantly. What kills me about them is they try to top themselves each year. It's not just louder. They keep tweaking, trying to make some of the more difficult places sound better.
Mike Huckaby: The [sound in the] Underground stage last year sucked.
Delano Smith: There's a lot of cement, and the sound system was just horrible. In an environment like that it's even hard to hear the record because of the echo in the place.
Dan Sicko: The sound in there is notoriously bad. They keep trying different ways to solve that problem every year. I think that's what they bring, they're not giving up on that. They're going to make it work eventually.
Tim Price: The Underground Stage had never been used for a festival, and we really had logistical problems in that first year. It was a concrete square, high ceilings, it was a living nightmare. So I think in 2000 I went and just grabbed a bunch of fabric and tried to put it on the walls to deaden the sound. The next year, when we had the money, we hired a guy for the big sound proofing velvet curtain and covered the full room. It has such a great feeling down there; it was the only real club feel that we had of all the four stages. So it was really important; we really wanted to have one stage or one room to do that.
Sam Fotias: For a lot of people, it's their favourite stage because it exemplifies on an atmospheric level an environment that is most similar to how we all got introduced to the music. It's in a cement cavern, a dark musty place. The problem is, it's hundreds of thousands of square feet of reflective surfaces. Every year of the festival there has been a lot of ideas of how to actually design the presence in there to make it work. And it all comes down to the technology that's available, the budget that's available to tackle the problem. We feel that we have a strong solution this year, we've been working very closely with our sound provider.
John Arnold: Ultimately, I have to raise my hat to all the people who took on the task of running and keeping this festival alive. It takes a lot of balls and if I hear people or myself bitch, I am quick to raise the question: "Do you have the power to be that person?" In most situations, the answer is "no."
Rob Theakston: They're committed to the city, they truly are. At a time when shit's real rough right now, Detroit needs all the heroes it can get.
Top: Theo Parrish joking around. Bottom: Daniel Bell performing as DBX, Movement 2008.
Dan Sicko: Detroit needs more things that can be celebrated without any drama. This thing had its own drama, but a lot of that has fallen away now. Yes, it is a paid thing now, but it's something Detroit can count on celebrating, I think that's probably the single best thing about it. Now it's a known quantity. People aren't wondering if it's going to happen from year to year.
Kevin Saunderson: Everybody had an impact and played a role to help it get to where it's at today. We had to go through growing pains to be where we are today with the festival, but that's OK.
Delano Smith: I thought it was going to be a fluke. A one, two time thing. I'm glad that people in the electronic community in Detroit have the vision to keep it going.
Kirk Degiorgio: There was a guy there with his whole family, and he literally was in shock. He was saying, "I never thought I'd see the day when people in Detroit would gather in such numbers to an event like this. For my family to experience this celebration of their city is overwhelming." I still remember that conversation, and it really struck me how important the festival is to that city. That might get lost now in that there are so many festivals all over the world. It means a whole lot more to a city like Detroit than just a regular festival.
Aaron-Carl: In spite of all the drama surrounding it, the festival is the time that the city is most alive. It feels like another city almost, like this is what Detroit is supposed to be.
Rob Theakston: Every day I read something like, Detroit's a ghost town, it's Baghdad, hell on earth whatever. But every time I go back home it's like God, there's so many great things going on. There's the UFO Factory, there's a noise scene that is envied around the world, there is young, energetic, optimistic business men and women starting up shit every day saying, "Hey, NBC can run all the expose pieces they want on how fucked this is, but we know better." And nothing's going to take anything away from people in that town. Bryan Bickel, he was a record buyer just like Huckaby. And he said something, he's since passed on, he said: "I'll always believe Detroit is the coolest city in the world." And it really is. Once you immerse yourself in it, I don't know if it's something in the water, or in the air, or in the spirit of the people. There's nothing like it anywhere else. I'm getting choked up thinking about it. I want to go home so badly.
Thanks to all the people that we spoke to in putting together this piece: Aaron-Carl, Ade Mainor, Adriel Thornton, Anthony Shake Shakir, Barbara Deyo, Brendan Gillen, Brian Gillespie, Brian McCollum, Buzz Goree, Carl Craig, Carleton Gholz, Carol Marvin, Chuck Flask, Dan Sicko, Dan Sordyl, Daniel Bell, Delano Smith, Dennis Archer, Derek Plaslaiko, DJ 3000, Eddie Fowlkes, Ernest Burkeen, Gamall Awad, Jason Clark, Jason Huavere, John Arnold, Josh Glazer, Juan Atkins, Kai Alce, Keith Worthy, Kelli Hand, Kevin Reynolds, Kevin Saunderson, Kirk Degiorgio, Kyle Hall, Matthew Dear, Mike Clark, Mike Grant, Mike Himes, Mike Huckaby, Norm Talley, Phil Talbert, Recloose, Richard Maher, Richie Hawtin, Rita Sayegh, Rob Theakston, Robert Gorell, Sam Fotias, Stephen Hitchell, Sam Valenti IV, Stacey Pullen, Tim Price and Walter Wasacz.
And to those that helped in transcribing interviews: Anja Womso, Christine Kakaire, Lucas Negroni, Mark Hann, Ryan Keeling, Tommy Tannock.