Now that the dust has settled, I felt it was time to write up some retrospective thoughts on Movement Electronic Music Festival Day 3, specifically the “Underground stage”. It’s only appropriate that I’m writing this on a rainy night in Ann Arbor, tucked away listening to techno like we all were that Monday.
Why only write about Monday at the Underground stage? Well, there are a couple of reasons. The first of these is simply that it’s impossible to write a coherent review of such a massive event. There’s no way you could even experience a quarter of the lovable monstrosity Movement weekend brings to the city. The second reason is that this day (at this stage) had the highest concentration of artists relevant to the interest of myself and Dub Monitor followers, and with the help of our friends at Blank Code, I was able to elicit the thoughts of some of the performing artists.
While you’re reading through, it couldn’t hurt to tune-in to be-at.tv for video recordings of five of the sets.
Before the festival, we were lucky enough to feature 7 Questions with Brendon, which was conducted via a Skype video call. During the interview, I remember Brendon pacing around his room, excitedly talking about his new live setup. It was clear that he had a deep emotional connection to the idea of being a musician, and that his vision of what it means to be a musician mandated that he perform live.
On the day of the festival, I was honestly surprised to see the Underground stage reach such high occupancy so early in the afternoon (I recall being shocked at an only moderately filled stage during an afternoon Echospace set only a couple of years back; maybe this is another signal of the growing momentum of techno in the US). Chad Parraghi, one of the stage’s organizers and co-founders of local label Blank Code, echoed this sentiment: “Seeing the enthusiasm of the crowd on Monday we quickly realized that we were having one of those days promoters like us usually only dream of.” I asked Brendon if he was surprised at the level of enthusiasm in the audience. He replied, “No, I know they’re out there. All it takes is events like this to bring ‘em out.”
But perhaps more interestingly, Brendon noted that it was “most excellent to meet many of [his] peers and heroes hanging out in the crowd rather than backstage.” This is something I noticed as well, and it’s something that seems unique to house and techno music. We joked all weekend about seeing Perc everywhere we went (partially because he’s so tall), but it really meant a lot to us to see that even the most prolific of artists in our genre immerse themselves in the experience of being part of that audience, and listening deeply to what others are playing.
The live set was a success. Amongst its fans was Mike Parker, who noted that “Brendon Moeller’s set was especially interesting to me, because he achieves a very powerful sound using mostly hardware. His improvisations and live manipulations of sound were very effective.”
Beginning in complete darkness, Mike Parker slowly revealed a set that repeatedly rose from stripped-down Italian-style deep techno into energetic driving peaks, only to lightly descend again into a sonic abyss. Although Mike himself admitted that the Underground stage provided “some technical challenges for an all-vinyl set”, any sort of issues that arose from this were largely overshadowed by his highly intellectual track selection. I can see why Brendon mentioned that Parker was one of the acts he was most excited to witness – this style of drone techno is rarely heard, especially in the US. It’s definitely the first time I can recall hearing Claudio PRC-sounding tracks played in Hart Plaza.
Although I don’t usually picture this style of techno being played in such large spaces (and for such large crowds), it worked surprisingly well. Parker’s style is similar to my own in many ways, and so I found this inspiring. But more importantly than my own musings was the crowd’s reaction to the deep music. I spent too much time at the festival dwelling on the fact that most of the crowds at techno stages seemed to only react to heavy bass drops. Parker’s set seemed to have a more hypnotizing effect on those around me, which was a very nice contrast to this.
The ever-enigmatic Rrose brought another performance that was…well…enigmatic. Dressed in elegant women’s clothing, the ever-ambiguous Rrose confidently delivered a third performance in Detroit that once again brought almost hallucinatory waves of euphoria to the crowd. Unfortunately, because of this obsession with elusiveness, you won’t find Rrose’s set (nor Silent Servant’s) on be-at.tv. To that same end, the live feed of the cameras that appeared on the video monitors around the stage avoided ever glancing at Rrose’s face – we can only assume that they were instructed accordingly. But despite the fact that most will never (clearly) see the face of this artist, everything about him exudes an unmistakeable uniqueness and relentless passion for his art. Although Rrose’s live PA was only an hour long, it contained enough thought and artistic expression to give it the same weight of marathon 5+ hour sets I’ve witnessed in the past.
Drumcell kicked it off heavy with a track that resonates with a few of members of our local scene: Project 313′s remix of Circle 2 by Mutate. His set maintained this extreme gravitational pull for its entirety, at times resonating the Underground stage with almost unbearable levels of bass. This was the first truly “hard” set of the day, and it noticeably increased the momentum on the dance floor after the hypnotic styles of the previous three sets. Staying true to Droid and CLR style, it was a consistent, loopy percussive workout for its duration.
Beginning with one of his own tracks, Truncate maintained the weight of Drumcell’s pounding set for another hour and a half – but did so with the more stripped-down raw edge that has made Truncate one of the most in-demand artists these past few years. Listening back to Truncate’s set on be-at.tv, I can hear a lot more detail than was evident in the ocean of bass caused by the acoustics of the space (although honestly, this was one of the better years, acoustically). I highly recommend taking another listen – there are some really excellent tracks where the devil is in the details. And it makes sense – Truncate’s style is so much about the texture of each sound.
On of the peak moments for me was when Truncate dropped some slightly jazzy, piano-house-infused techno that reminds me of Shed’s WK7/Headhigh project (you can find this at about 52 minutes into the recording). It just goes to show the diversity of music that Truncate can bring to the table (and does so four decks at a time).
Silent Servant’s set is another one which was not allowed to see the light of day on be-at.tv. This is definitely unfortunate, as it was one of my favorite sets of the festival. Much of it was the dark, raw, noisy, Sandwell District-y techno that we’ve come to associate with Silent Servant. The mix was elegantly executed, leaving some sections appropriately sparse while saturating others. At this point in the evening many of us had entered that sort of introspective/zombie-like groove that only comes from extended hours of dark techno and dancing.
It’s hard to write on a month-past set without any sort of auditory reminders, so I will leave the review of his set to that. You can hear the very end of it on be-at.tv while DVS1 is setting up.
Given the level of hypnotism we had entered by this time of night, DVS1′s starting off with a sort of Cathedral-reminiscent choral drone was simply mesmerizing. He later told us, “I only knew what my first track was going to be, from there on it was a free for all.” Dropping a beat in, DVS1 began his charismatic “Carl Cox dance” and worked through track-after-track at a fairly rapid pace. It’s these quick change-ups that really make DVS1 such a pleasure to watch. I’ve seen him in Detroit three times and at Berghain once, and each set has been one of the most memorable I’ve experienced. It becomes immediately clear that he is a life-long crate digger, ripping up unknown tracks from every era of techno. Truncate noted that DVS1′s set was his favorite of the day, “because he has so much energy in his sets, it’s fun to listen and watch him work his magic.”
The Underground stage finally closed for the weekend to the sounds of DVS1 playing Let Me Be Me by The Other People Place (Drexciya) – a classic from Detroit. “It felt perfect for that moment,” he commented.
First two images courtesy of Feed the Raver. Thank you!