In this preview to the daytime festival and its inevitable afterparties, RA showcases some of the most notable acts performing—but we couldn’t fit all of them in, so be sure to click over to the DEMF mini-site and check out everything going on in the Motor City throughout the weekend. A lot is happening.
But don’t just take it from us. Along with our usual preview of the festival, we also asked a few of Detroit’s favourite producers and DJs to talk about their favourite year for DEMF—and what the festival means to the city. We hope it helps give you a fuller picture of the scope of one of the largest electronic music festivals in America.
”The first year of the DEMF was surreal. Nobody expected to see as many people as they did for electronic music in downtown Detroit. For some of the artists that performed, we had seen these types of festivals in Europe but we were stoked to be home. I closed the main stage on the first night of DEMF, which included the MLK speech "I Have a Dream". All I can say is that it was a moment where time stood still: I saw young people, old people and people of all races come together to celebrate our music.”
Anthony 'Shake' Shakir
“Sade summed it up best for me: never as good as the first time. As soon as I saw the size of the crowd, I was a believer. I didn't think it could happen. And I wasn't in any loop to know of what was being set up. [Carl Craig's wife] Hannah Sawtell told me it in effect, and when I would be playing. When my father saw my set, I was surprised and happy, because he never heard any of my music, even though he knew I played records. It was a beautiful experience.”
“For me, no year compares to the first year! I can't describe in words the magic that was in the air during that weekend. To me, what took place was what I consider to be the Mecca for Techno. People made their pilgrimage from around the globe to the birthplace of Techno, and it moved me to tears.
Yep, the last day I cried, and cried onstage! All of my buddies (Carl, Kevin, Derrick, Stacey, and myself) were onstage, and we looked at the sea of heads bobbing up and down, in our own backyard and it moved me like nothing ever did. But, what made me lose it, and start slobbering and crying, like a six year-old, was looking to the left of the stage, and seeing all of our respective families (mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, friends) FINALLY getting to witness the affect our music has on people around the globe!”
“Although I will always remember 2000 because nobody knew what to expect, I have to say the second year of the festival in 2001 was just as special. That year everyone was thinking, "OK, will there be a next year?" And then it happened. And the people who didn't get a chance the first year, played the second and represented very well. A lot of my close friends played and it was very, very special.”
“The first festival was good, but it was also a bunch of the usual no-brainer Detroit names, along with some NYC names. 2001, though, was when it became apparent that they were looking to take a couple of risks, so you had a whole lot of people that didn't have a lot of exposure. As a result, you had a wider array of Detroit talent—which meant all of the allies of the up-and-comers were there in support, and it ended up being an amazing party. Everyone who played put their best foot forward that year. Plus the sound was right, and it was free. Howard Thomas, in particular, was great. So was Piranha's live set... But I didn't catch many. And I've been catching fewer and fewer as time goes on.”
“DEMF 2002 was one of the best for me. George Clinton and Parliament performed that year. (It was packed as far as you could see when Parliament was on.) Plus, it was Steve Rachmad's first time DJing in America, as well. George Clinton and Parliament at the DEMF? Unforgettable. Enough said.”
“The festival has been a great experience in many ways for the city of Detroit, to artists, for the arts community. I've been playing it since it started, there was only one year that I didn't play it. I remember in 2002 when I did Inner City live. That day it was raining and very overcast, but when we played 'Good Life', there is a part that says "the sun will make the clouds go away" and when Paris sang those lines, the sun appeared. It was a pretty magical moment. ”
“For me, the most memorable festival was in 2002. It was the first time I had performed at DEMF, and it was the first event of that scale that I had ever played at. I remember that I was booked to play the Underground Stage at 3:00pm on the Saturday of that weekend, and it started pouring rain just minutes before my timeslot. As the crowds of people huddled into the sheltered area, I felt butterflies in my stomach for the first time. It was the first and only time I had ever been nervous before a performance. That set was definitely a career highlight for me.”
Marcellus Pittman (3 Chairs)
“2003 was the year that 3 Chairs played in "The Tent". It was the best gig I've done so far. People were crowd surfing, yelling out the cities they were from, Detroiters yelling East Side, West Side. All that in my own backyard. Only in the D.”
Rick Wilhite (3 Chairs)
“2004 was one of my favorite years, although I can’t quite remember specifics on who played and all that. The thing about the DEMF, though, is that it’s a great thing for the city. It hasn't been well attended lately, but at the same time the numbers are still worthwhile. It's a great avenue for electronic music in America, because most festivals of these types are overseas. The only one that we really have that is even close is the Chosen Few Picnic in Chicago. Where else are you going to get that magnitude of people that are coming together for one thing?”
“At the 2005 DEMF I performed on the Main Stage at 5pm. It was a very special time for me because it was my very first DEMF performance. I remember being more proud than nervous. Since I didn't have any backup dancers or a band, I brought my children on stage with me. My youngest son, Jevon, nearly drowned in his Aaron-Carl T-shirt, it was so big... My mother also joined me on stage, cheerleading the entire time. As much as I'd traveled the world then, I'd never played an audience that big at home... I'm grateful that my mother got to experience it—even more so because a few short months later, she died. The crowd was so diverse—race, age, sex, nationality. We were all there to share our common bond—the love for the music...and it showed. From the breakdancing circles, to the different music blaring from every booth. I wished Detroit was this harmonious all year round. Foreigners and locals alike—joined together in peace. We couldn't ask for a better atmosphere.”
“For me, so far, 2006 was my favorite year. I thought that this was the first year that the festival really had an international presence from an attendance standpoint, much like WMC or Sonar. I met people from all over the world that came to Hart Plaza to get down. Highlights for me were playing the Waterfront Stage at sunset, the Spectral party where the DJ booth was actually set on top of a hot tub and the very first "Need I Say More" Monday morning party.”
“As a DJ/producer, I've traveled the world and had the privilege to see clubs and festivals at their best (and at their worst), but for some reason the festival in Hart Plaza always holds something special and sacred for me. 2007 was definitely my most memorable year. I think mostly for the reason that I remember going to my first DEMF five years ago and being in absolute awe at the massive crowds getting down to music that I thought obscure but held very dear. Four years later, after a few records, countless live sets and a few tours, I was asked to play in 2007. It was a big achievement for me musically and a personal goal I had set out to accomplish.”
”The other part, of course, is the afterparties. Two of my buddies (Ryan Crosson and Seth Troxler) have a ritual party on Sunday morning until Sunday afternoon. It's outdoors, comfortable and reminiscent of Club Der Visionaere in Berlin. It goes down in the back yard of a VFW hall, Detroit style, complete with an old US Army missile on a knoll, real veterans and a coy pond. It's happening again this year and if you haven't been yet, it's pure magic. I'm looking forward to getting into more trouble this year.”
“2007 was good, but it was also limited in terms of how much local talent was playing. Of course, that tends to be the gripe, especially since the promotion company tends to look over some of the local underexposed talent. One of the things that made DEMF great in the past, though, was that it was something you could tell was a Detroit thing. Nowadays with all of the international people, it's a festival that could happen anywhere. And there is definitely a disparity in fees for the local people. Also the sound in 2007 left a bit to be desired, and that becomes less of a bargain since they charged an entrance fee. Either way, I heard Tikiman & the Burial Mix cats were really good, but unfortunately what I was able to catch didn’t do a whole lot for me except to confirm how important it is to get soundchecks, especially for live, or semi-live acts.”
Steve Hitchell (Echospace)
“Detroit is a special place for me as I spent a lot of time there when I was younger and finally seeing the city embrace DEMF the way it has over the years is heartwarming. A magical moment for me was last year's festival where I was blessed to see Rhythm & Sound for an extended 6 hour set. Not only did they mix together a wide array of lover's rock, dancehall, reggae and dub, they also brought the Wackie's crew with them lending some rasta motifs and vocal stylings, it was truly a breathtaking experience despite the constant drizzle and gloomy vibe. A special moment I recall was the sweet and haunting vocals of Milton Henry over an almost 2-step rhythm. It still plays on repeat in my head today and it's something I'll likely never forget.”
Itinerary not set in stone yet? Here are some highlights of what's happening during Memorial Day Weekend.
If you’ve been keeping tabs on the best underground music coming out of Detroit recently, you’ll know you’ll have to be at this party. Keith Worthy from Aesthetic Audio, Omar-S from FXHE, and Patrice Scott from Sistrum headline at Trenchtown in what promises to be the deepest party on offer during DEMF. Essential.
One of the official afterparties during DEMF, Start the Feedback is two rooms of electronics at Bleu, with Dial favourite Efdemin and Ryan Elliott from Spectral Sound top of the bill. Expect gliding house and techno, and expect it to be rammed. $5 entry.
The DEMF has a habit of not booking artists two years in a row, which means plenty of legends at the afterparties. So, if you were planning on coming to the fest this year and seeing Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Eddie Fowlkes or Theo Parrish tearing it up, this might be your best bet. All proceeds go to the Detroit Science Center, Detroit Public Schools and the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project.
The first day of the DEMF kicks off in style with dub techno from Deepchord presents Echospace, live minimal from Half Hawaii (aka Bruno Pronsato, one microphone, and Sammy Dee), Zip from Perlon, local legend DBX and (surprisingly) Moby holding up things at the Vitamin Water Tent, while Alex Smoke and Alex Under close the night over at the Beatport area. If you need your Detroit fix, though, you might be best served by hitting up the aptly named Real Detroit area for a set that will undoubtedly bridge the house/techno divide from Stacey Pullen. Not into all that electronic stuff? Slide on to the Red Bull Music Academy tent. They’ve got you covered: Peanut Butter Wolf and Pete Rock will offer hip-hop beats well into the night, following on from live sets from electro legends Newcleus and Egyptian Lover.
Don’t Miss: Stacey Pullen
Hardest Choice: Zip vs. Joris Voorn
Underrated: Brian Kage & Luke Hess (aka live duo Reference)
The infamous cube will finally be unveiled at M_nus's Contakt party.
Need we say more?
Is there anything more Detroit than a Hi-Tek Soul party? How about one at the former Music Institute space? Derrick May will be chasing after that old-school vibe, along with Quentin Harris who will be performing for the first time in Detroit in more than a decade, at what promises to be a night of classics all around.
If you’re not able to stomach the inevitable enormous line to get into Minus’ party, The Other 9 to 5 is a good alternate. Brooklyn’s Adultnapper headlines, but Germany is well represented with Camea and Miss Fitz promising deep and minimal sets of their own. Not to be missed, though, is Kate Simko, who tore up Spectral’s boat party at the WMC this year with her well-composed live set.
Records, records, records. Friendly Integration’s tenth party on US soil will be all about celebrating records. New releases from Detroit Underground, Drumcode and new imprint Blank Code will be feted from the likes of Agaric, Drum Cell and Acid Circus. Old-school IDM folks Phoenecia and Richard Devine will feature as well.
A little bit tired of this whole minimal thing? We expect nothing of the sort to be playing at Northland Roller Skating Center, where Moodymann will be behind the decks helping skaters around the rink. Expect some of the best dancing of the weekend—and free soul food. While it lasts.
DEMF day two’s big draw may be the M_nus-heavy Beatport stage, which features Paco Osuna, Magda and Richie Hawtin, but there are plenty of other acts spread across four stages that are well worth checking out. Vitamin Water will host a live set from Carl Craig to close out the evening, while Kenny Larkin will be helming the Real Detroit stage, along with Submerge prez Mr. De’, T. Linder, Aaron-Carl and Punisher. Red Bull will continue their slightly off-center programming with hip-hoppers the Cool Kids and mash-up king Girl Talk, and the Pioneer Pro DJ stage will feature James Zabiela and Benny Benassi. Count on a fistfight if Benassi brings his Best Remix Grammy and waves it in Craig’s face during his set.
Don’t Miss: Mr. De’
Hardest Choice: Carl Craig vs. Richie Hawtin
Underrated: Konrad Black
Low-cost party favors seem to be the name of the game for the Blk|Market crew: at WMC it was Cheap Sunglasses, now it’s Temporary Tattoos. Frequent Poker Flatter Martin Landsky, Freak ‘n’ Chic’s Jamie Jones and Hello? Repeat’s Bruno Pronsato headline.
It may technically be a Sunday afterparty, but count it as a Sunday beforeparty, as Resolute 08 starts at 3 AM Sunday and goes until 2 PM—i.e. right about the time you’ll want to head back to Hart Plaza for DEMF. RA podcaster Miss Fitz, Ryan Crosson, Maetrik, Camea and Pheek will all be there, so expect a night of lots and lots of minimal.
Celebrate Detroit’s new school with Beretta Music at this afterparty while grooving to the sounds of Lee Curtiss, Ryan Crosson and young’un Seth Troxler. M_nus man Troy Pierce headlines and, if you’re a vinyl lover, you can pick up a limited edition version of Reference’s Beretta Grey EP.
One of Detroit’s best regular parties, Stacey Pullen’s Radio Skool, brings in a curious but welcome choice for DEMF: New York’s Dennis Ferrer. We’re not sure how Dennis’s brand of soulful tech is going to fly with the DEMF folks, but we’re going to go and find out. Mr. V and Mike Brown support.
W.A.R.M.T.H is put together by honey-voiced favourite Aaron-Carl, and features house, techno and drum n bass from plenty of locals including Alton Miller, DJ Bone, Aaron-Carl and half a dozen more. Expect real Detroit flavours and lots of warmth.
The final day of DEMF may present the hardest choices of the weekend. Cobblestone Jazz vs. Josh Wink? Cassy vs. Lee Burridge? Dubfire vs. Kevin Saunderson? Of course, the great thing about DEMF, as opposed to WMC, is that you don’t have to drive miles to find out whether it was worth tearing yourself away from a set. Our recommendation? See who’s killing it and don’t worry about the rest. On the Vitamin Water stage, Cassy will be holding it down in a rare North American appearance. She’ll be followed by Par Grindvik and the night will end up with a Speedy J live performance. Over at the Beatport stage, the hits just keep coming: Guillaume & the Coutu Dumonts will be performing live, then Lee Buridge, Josh Wink and Dubfire close it out. Real Detroit features recent RA podcasters Derek Plaslaiko and Kevin Saunderson, as well as Rich Korach. And per usual, the Red Bull Music Academy and Pioneer Pro DJ offer excellent non-house/techno picks: Monday is drum ‘n’ bass-heavy with the ragga drum ‘n’ bass cut-ups of Soundmurderer, Dieselboy and Bristol’s Tech Itch each featuring.
Don’t Miss: Lee Buridge
Hardest Choice: Cobblestone Jazz vs. Josh Wink
Underrated: Par Grindvik
Perlon have always been known for their outstanding quality control, so it makes sense that Zip and Sammy Dee would choose to play Daniel Bell’s Accelerate afterparty, allowing each to play extended sets. With a special guest or two promised, this is one that’ll make you want to miss work on Tuesday morning.
In just a few years, Ryan Crosson and Seth Troxler have crafted one of the most beloved parties around DEMF. Need I Say More 2008 features the duo, Hello? Repeat’s Jan Krueger, Troy Pierce and many, many others. Don’t sleep. (Literally.)
More on RA's guide to Movement DEMF 2008
Top photo credit: Matt Cohen