May 25, 2014 at 1:30 am

Review: Day 1 of Movement stellar despite lackluster Riff Raff

Rapper and living cartoon Riff Raff is best taken in very small doses. So given a chance to stretch out in an hour-long set at Movement on Saturday, the results were iffy at best.

Riff's set came midway through the festival's first day, which saw steady crowds and picture perfect weather at Hart Plaza. There were several changes on the festival grounds: The fest's VIP footprint has increased, with some crowd routes blocked to accommodate VIP staging, and the food options have gotten much better, with food trucks taking the place of the carny food stands that typically dot the fest grounds. The festival is now 15 years old, and with the average age of attendees not far from that, it shows Movement is doing a good job of keeping itself relevant with its audience.

If only Riff Raff could do the same. Hitting the Moog Stage 38 minutes late at a festival that has always been steadfast in keeping its schedules, Riff certainly had an eye-popping look: Zig-zag beard, grills fashioned into what looked like shark teeth, expensive-looking shades, sleeveless Bart Simpson T-shirt, long shorts (that may have been a bathing suit) with a banana design on them, fitted Charlotte Hornets hat and the pinkest high-top sneakers one can imagine.

But his presence is all look with nothing behind it. When he took the microphone it quickly became clear he has almost no charisma as a performer, and his set quickly became a wash of forgettable, interchangeable songs that were instantly forgotten. He barely engaged with the audience, and was more interested in pouring himself drinks at the back of the stage than performing. At one point he ceded the stage to Bay Area rapper Lil Debbie who performed three songs and barely kept the crowd's pulse beating.

Riff returned and things got lively during a headbanging track from his upcoming "Neon Icon" album, the Diplo-produced "Kokayne," which had a hard rock edge and a memorably ridiculous chorus. But for the most part, Riff's set was a joke without a punchline. Watching him on stage for close to an hour, you see why he's best tolerated in six-second Vine videos.

Action Bronson, who took the stage immediately following Riff Raff, was the opposite of Riff in every way. He had almost no look, wearing shorts and a T-shirt that he looked like he had just taken a nap in, but engaged the crowd from the very first second of his show and never let up. He is also an incredible rapper, with the voice and storytelling ability of Ghostface Killah, and he can rap over just about any beat imaginable, which he proved by rhyming over tracks by Tracy Chapman ("Give Me One Reason"), Peter Gabriel ("Sledgehammer"), Phil Collins (both "Sussudio" and "Another Day in Paradise") and other pieces of '80s cheese. And when Riff Raff, who was watching from side stage and looked as though he was having the time of his life, joined him briefly on stage, Action made even Riff sound great. Bronson's set was a highlight of Movement's first day, and one of the better hip-hop performances in recent years at the festival.

Following Riff Raff and Action Bronson on the Moog Stage, the hardest-partying of the fest's six stages, hip-hop super-producer Just Blaze threw down a hard-hitting set of his own classics (he opened with Jay Z's "P.S.A." and "U Don't Know") and segued into other hip-hop classics (Cam'ron's "Hey Ma" and Kanye West's "Power" and "Touch the Sky," among others) before turning into an all-out dance frenzy. Just Blaze is chiefly known for his heavyweight production work, but his Movement set showed he's plenty proficient at turning parties out as well.

As night fell at the festival, Saturday closed out with three stellar sets on three stages: Underground Resistance mixed jazz with techno beats on the main stage, Stacey Pullen turned in a reliable set of pulsating techno at the Made in Detroit stage, and Claude VonStroke kept feet moving and hands waving with a stellar set at the Beatport Stage, tucked away in Hart Plaza's back corner. VonStroke, who draped himself in a Detroit Tigers flag, threw ODB's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" into a set that lived up to the high water mark he's set for himself during his previous appearances at Movement festivals past.

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May Na, of Washington, D.C. grooves at the Made In Detroit stage on Saturday during the first day of Movement Electronic Festival in Hart Plaza. / Steve Perez / The Detroit News