This year will be me 6th straight year attending Movement festival in Detroit. Compared to some of you, I'm still a relative rookie, but I have learned some things in my years there that I believe will be helpful for people going for the first time and veterans alike. I am not here to tell you which DJs to go see or which afterparties to attend (although I will make one recommendation for each: Claude Young at the festival at 9 PM Saturday and the Tresor 25 Year Party Saturday night), you can find that on most any website that covers the festival.
This guide is more about how to have a good experience (in my opinion at least) in Detroit over the festival weekend. It wasn't until my third visit in 2013 that I felt I really did it right. Not that I didn't have an incredible time my first two years, it's kind of impossible not to, but I felt I made all the right decisions my third year and as a result I had the best experience I could have had. Each year is a learning experience, I learned some of the things I posted about below in the past year or two, and some I learned my first time.
Get Your Wristband Early
It seems like a lot of people got their wristbands in the mail this year so it might not be an issue, but last year's wristband situation was the biggest clusterfuck I've ever seen. Some people waited upwards of 5 hours to get their wristband. I was shocked to see the same ticketing company (Flavorus) was still doing wristbands this year. When it came out that they would be handling tickets again this year they posted this whole list of things they were going to do differently this year but I'm still wary as hell.
Like I said it seems like most people are getting their wrist bands in the mail, but if you don't have yours by the time you get to Detroit I would recommend going down to Hart Plaza as early as you possibly can. They have people down there Friday and early Saturday. If you don't have your wristband yet, do not expect to just show up and walk right in. Better to take care of it in the morning or the day before instead of missing a DJ you want to see while you are waiting to get in.
Explore The City Beyond Hart Plaza
I didn't do this one until my fourth year. By then I had come to the conclusion that I didn't need to care as much about missing a particular party, after I had a few years under my belt I had seen most every DJ I wanted to and been to some great after parties. If this is your first year, you may still prefer to pick the parties and I couldn't blame you, but you really ought to make an effort to explore the city beyond Hart Plaza and some night clubs.
The primary way I have done this the past two years is on my friend Andrew "Grimace" Virden's techno tour. Each year we boarded a bus outside Hart Plaza and over the next few hours we stopped at places that are an important part of Detroit's history - like Motown and United Sound, where P-Funk recorded most of their albums - and places that are not as well known - like some outdoor art parks - that are crucial to the state of Detroit in 2016. The tour will be going for it's 5th year this year, on Sunday. If you would like info on how to be a part of the tour, let me know! I will send you the info you need.
Even if you can't find it in you to trade in some party time to go on this tour, I would highly recommend that you at least check out the techno museum AKA Exhibit 3000 at Submerge, the home of Underground Resistance. From the outside, it looks like a nondescript brick building with a union sign, so you have to know what's inside or you'd never suspect it. They have all kinds of artifacts from techno's early days, including the drum machines used to record some of the classic Detroit techno songs in the 80s. I can't really do it justice by just explaining it, you really need to see it for yourself. There's also a great record shop in the basement, with a good selection of records and Detroit techno apparel. This year they are doing an event with DJs playing over the weekend. I am taking a year off from the tour this year but I will still be stopping at the techno museum without question.
Don't Be Shy
One reason I've always felt so comfortable in Detroit for the festival is that there are familiar faces every where. If you recognize someone, whether it be someone from your city who you don't know or someone who you happen to be dancing next to at a few different parties, introduce yourself! The Minneapolis crew rolls deep every year and I first met a good chunk of the Minneapolis techno scene in Detroit. It's not just about your own town though, I've also met people from other cities.
Whether it was someone who I ended up dancing next to at a few different places over the weekend, waited in line for an afterparty with, or just someone who happened to be next to me at the right time, I've made a lot of connections at the Festival. I met a guy from Detroit my first year, dancing up front at the CLR after party. We had a blast taking turns showing off our dance moves, and I've seen him at least once every year I've been there. I also have a little network of techno people all over the country, I feel like I could go to most cities for a show and know someone there.
There's no reason to be shy. You'll be happy to have more familiar faces in the crowd.
When In Doubt, Do Detroit
The festival is technically "about" techno and other similar styles of electronic music. It's also about the city of Detroit itself. I learned very quickly my first year that if I was ever uncertain on where to go at the festival, I should go to the Made In Detroit stage. Each year I have spent more and more time at the Detroit stage, and I don't see that trend reversing any time soon.
At the Detroit stage, you will see the biggest smiles, the best dancers, and the REAL Detroit people. It also has the lowest ratio of douchebags to non-douchebags that you will find at any stage. It's a bunch of DJs performing for their friends and family, the whole weekend is like one big victory lap over there. Without question the best break dancing I've ever seen at the festival was right in front of the big ring at the Detroit stage. It's not always popping at the ring, but if you see a dance circle going you probably want to park yourself over there for at least a little while.
In the past few years they have added curators who do their own showcases on a certain day, Carl Craig will be taking over Saturday for the second straight year and Kevin Saunderson has Monday for the third year. This has been a great development in my eyes, if for no other reason than seeing DJs who by all rights should be playing the main stage at the smaller, more intimate Detroit stage. Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May with a bongo player named Bruce to close out the stage last year is a good example of that. I'd never seen the Detroit stage so packed, but that's the way it should be. We are there for Detroit as much as we are there for the music.
Don't Get Married To A DJ
With a few exceptions (Claude Young being one of them), most of the DJs are at the festival itself or an after party at least every other year. There have been plenty of times where there was a DJ I really wanted to see but I just couldn't bring myself to leave the stage I was at, and other times where I followed my friends instead of going off to see a DJ I really wanted to see own my own. The whole weekend is a series of decisions and trade offs that have to be made, you can't do it all. So my advice is don't be too set on any one DJ, you will very likely have another chance to see them next year, or the year after.
Also in a literal sense don't get married to a DJ. It seems like it would be a lot of waiting around and constantly worrying about what they are getting in to on the road.
Be Wary Of Afterparties
The afterparties are cool. They are fun. I would even go as far as to say they are neat. They are not all created equally, though, and I would say some are straight up rip offs. Every venue across the board sells more tickets than they are legally allowed to. Got a ticket? Who cares! Get in line with the rest of the slobs. Plenty of times I have waited in line for 45 minutes, ticket in hand, to get in to a party where you could barely move inside because there were so many people. It takes a lot to make me feel claustrophobic, but just about every afterparty will make me feel that way.
That's part of the game, unfortunately. It's worth it, at least! The key is knowing the venue you are going to. Some places it might be easiest to just go get your wristband early and then head back to your hotel and chill for a bit before going back to go in. Some places, like Bleu, should be avoided all together. The Works is a god damn institution but it gets super packed, especially for Interface/Scene. It's their fifth year doing the party and they consistently book a great line up. It's understandable that it has a huge following, But it's one of those parties where you will wait in line just to get in to a room where you will barely be able to move.
I went to Populux a couple times last year, which was only a few months old at the time. It is a re-purposed rock club and honestly I think it's my favorite venue for an after. It's spacious so you'll never feel too crowded, there are several bars and a nice big patio. I also went to Tangent Gallery for the first time last year and it was also a favorite, if for no other reason than it is way different than any of the other venues I've been to for an after party.
You Didn't Go To Detroit If You Didn't Set Foot In The Works At Least Once
I'll say it again: The Works is a god damn institution! It's a gross, smelly institution that is often full of about twice as many people as there ought to be inside, but if you don't go there at least once over the weekend you didn't actually go to Detroit. It's kind of hard to explain the charm of the place, I know I'm making it sound bad, but you really need to go at least once and see for yourself.
You WILL Find God (or something close) on Monday
Someone who is going for the first time this year asked me if I thought it was necessary to stay for Monday. I told him of course it was. Monday is one big victory lap. You'll be tired, you'll be sore, you'll feel like shit. Then all the sudden you find your groove, and you forget about all of that and get taken away by the music. This is the reason all of us are there. For that beat on the third day that can get you moving around like it's still your first day.
When I was asked about Monday, I also took stock and realized that 3 of the 5 coolest moments I've experienced in Detroit took place in the very last hour of the festival on Monday. This is not a coincidence.
The Best Advice I Can Offer
That's about it, but I am going to leave you with the best piece of advice I can offer: Don't listen to anything I said. Except the part about Claude Young. I do think if you follow my suggestions you will have a better time, but the only way to do Detroit is your own way. Do what feels right to you, follow your heart and your ears. You might make mistakes and want to do something differently the next year. Or it might be just right. You have a lot of decisions to make on what to see and what to pass up, but make them with confidence and no regrets.
See you soon Detroit!