Held in 2000, the first DEMF was modeled on similar dance festivals in Europe. Its initial goal was to celebrate the city of Detroit as the birthplace of techno, opening up its doors to city residents free of cost. It attracted all-comers, young and old, in a city often starved of large-scale civic events, and over the next three years attendance swelled to a reported 1.7 million (a figure which was later acknowledged to be grossly over-estimated).
Yet from the beginning, the festival has been mired in controversy and politics. The baton of artistic director has been carried from Carl Craig to Derrick May to Kevin Saunderson over the years, but it’s been a position that has been somewhat jinxed: Carl Craig was sacked in 2002 over a management dispute, and techno pioneer Derrick May never quite managed to get the festival into the black in 2003 and 2004, despite its artistic success, casting doubt over its future.
Kevin Saunderson stepped in in 2005, changing its name to ‘Fuse-In’ and charging an entrance fee as a step towards making the festival profitable. It might have cleared the dancefloors of curious locals, but it didn’t quite manage to make the event break even, and so the baton changed hands once more in 2006 – this time, despite grumblings from some quarters, to suburban promoters Paxahau, who secured the heavy sponsorship of Motor City locals Chrysler/Jeep, and a happy ending.
This year the festival features eighty-one acts across four stages in Hart Plaza from noon to midnight on May 26-28. Besides a who's who list of Detroit techno pioneers, once more this year there’s a big focus on the best of European house and techno with artists from labels such as Cadenza, Kompakt, Perlon, Get Physical, Poker Flat and Playhouse in attendance. There’s also a special focus on live acts in 2007, with thirty-four laptoppers and machinists booked to play. Musically, the festival's programme is wider than ever with more time given to drum n bass and IDM/ambient acts amid the staple techno and house.
DEMF 2007 HIGHLIGHTS
Saturday - Day 1
Dub techno pioneers Rhythm & Sound perform a gobsmacking six-hour live set of Basic Channel goodness. Deep house also takes centerstage in the main arena with live sets from Kerri Chandler and the always titillating Moodymann as well as DJ sets from Charles Webster and King Britt. Goofy San Fran man Claude VonStroke makes his first splash at the DEMF on the Beatport stage alongside laptop jams from Pier Bucci, Losoul and Butane. On the Detroit stage look out for big live sets from locals Aux88 and Octave One.
Event details: DEMF Day 1
Sunday - Day 2
Ghostly/Spectral is dominant early on with DJ sets from Seth Troxler and Spectral's formidable double act of Audion & Ryan Elliott, while the ladies of techno Misstress Barbara and Motor City debutantes Heidi and Kate Simko strut their stuff on the Beatport stage. Later Juan Atkins performs live as Model500 on the main stage alongside Monolake and the 303s of Hardfloor. Elsewhere there's Mathew Jonson live and DJ sets by Bad Boy Bill and Steve Bug. RA's tip? Plant yourself near near the Waterfront Stage for the experimental minimal techno of Baby Ford & Zip, a live set from Kompakt's latest pop tart Gui Boratto and a closing set from the Kompakt honcho himself, Michael Mayer. Whew! And there's still one more day to go...
Event details: DEMF Day 2
Monday - Day 3
Best to get up early because good things are happening early on. Luomo performs as Vladislav Delay on the main stage while Lazy Fat People, Gaiser, Loco Dice and Digitaline spin enough techno on the Beatport stage to make you lose your lunch. In a good way. And then comes Luciano and Richie Hawtin. Local lads Stacey Pullen and Kevin Saunderson spin the Detroit stage at night while Booka Shade and Jeff Mills close out the festival.
Event details: DEMF Day 3
Once the music stops at midnight, it's time to hit the clubs. Many of the artists playing the festival are also booked to play at the numerous after-parties taking place across the city, meaning fans can catch artists in more intimate settings. From rollerskating rinks and art museums to some of Detroit best bars and nightclubs, here's ten RA recommends checking out:
Friday, May 25
World Domination: If you’re ready to throw down before the fest begins, check the World Domination party at The Works. Indispensable old-hand A Guy Called Gerald headlines, but make sure to catch James Pennington (aka Suburban Knight) on warm up.
Event details: World Domination @ The Works
Saturday, May 26
Detroit Is Nothing to Fear: Ghostly International’s after party features Dirty Bird impresario Claude VonStroke reprising the filthy funk for his Detroit debut. The city’s historic Masonic Temple is a unique setting to catch Audion, Ryan Elliott and TNT (James T. Cotton & Todd Osborne) getting all sweaty with it.
Event details: Detroit Is Nothing to Fear @ The Masonic Temple
Substance 4: Clubbers looking to get more bang for their buck should check out the Substance 4 official DEMF after party, which offers 22 acts at The Works. Brooklyn boys Tony Rohr and Tim Xavier spin separately and perform together as Afternoon Coffee Boys, while Frankie Vega, Drumcell and Mo Wax muse Andrea Parker also man the decks.
Event details: Substance 4 - Official DEMF After Party @ The Works
Soul Skate 07: Bust out your (or your parents’) roller skates for one of the strangest after parties this season, featuring Saturday DEMF night’s headliner Kenny Dixon Jr. If you tire of showing off your best roller disco moves, fill up on free soul food on the sidelines while watching one of Detroit’s greats belt it out. Miss at your own risk.
Event details: Soul Skate 07 @ Northland Rolling Skating Center
Elevator World Tour: If you can’t wait to see Kevin Saunderson on Monday, check him out at Detroit’s graffiti-clad Museum of Contemporary Art. Joining him in celebrating 21 years of music history are second wavers Kenny Larkin, D.Wynn and Patrick Russell.
Event details: Elevator World Tour @ MOCAD
Minus Showcase: The Art Museum again. The Minus crew has makes camp on Sunday night – pretty much a guaranteed roadblock. The showcase features Richie Hawtin with live visuals, Magda, Troy Pierce, JPLS and a live set by new signee Ambivalent of ‘R U OK?’ fame.
Sunday, May 27
Event details: Minus Showcase @ MOCAD
Reverse Edit: Detroit notable Claude Young scratches it up with Takashi Nakajima in the swanky trappings of Esko. The bar here is enormous. Support arrives from Archetype vs. X-trak, Aaron Bennett and FBK.
Event details: Reverse Edit @ Esko
Electronic Music Showcase: The EMS runs alongside the main festival at One Fifty Lounge from 2 p.m each day, but day two is our pick – those still hungry for Claude VonStroke can get another helping here, along with a side of the newly underground Misstress Barbara.
Electronic Music Showcase – Day 2 @ One Fifty Lounge
Beretta 5 Year Celebration Party: You’ll be friends with the bouncers at The Works by now, so you can skip the queue to check out Beretta’s five year anniversary. Crosstown Rebels import Damian Lazarus puts his stank on Detroit with the help of native hotshots Ryan Crosson, Lee Curtiss, Omar S and a host of others.
Beretta 5 Year Celebration Party @ The Works
Monday, May 28
Radio Skool: If you still have the energy (in whatever form) to stay mobile Monday night, get ye to Bleu to see famed Detroit second waver Stacey Pullen with support from Chicago’s Gene Farris.
Event details: Radio Skool @ Bleu
RA Events: Full list of afterparties
The festival might not be free anymore, but you'd be hard pressed find another festival where you can catch this many top acts for just over forty dollars. Discounted pre-sale tickets can be bought online up until the day of the festival with weekend passes valid for all three days just $41 and one day passes just $21. Prices go up on by five bucks on the day of the festival so be ambitious and get the weekend pass.