Classic Detroit sounds fill first day at Movement fest

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Richie Hawtin, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins and Carl Craig are staples of the Movement festival, familiar faces you can count on to appear most years at the Memorial Day weekend techno celebration.

On Saturday night, all five performed within two hours of each other, a pile up of Detroit techno legends unmatched since Hart Plaza began hosting electronic music get-togethers 18 years ago.

It was a sign of strength for the festival, which long ago weathered change and packed away all management drama, that these figures combined forces on the fest’s first night. It was also a testament to the health of the community, which has been able to celebrate its legacy year in and year out in the center of the city that made it happen.

Hawtin closed the festival’s first night with his latest tweak on his classic formula. His presentation, entitled “Close,” sought to strip away the mystery that often obscures the artistry of what electronic musicians do, physically, while performing.

Rather than perform behind a long, lengthwise table, Hawtin placed himself in the center of two decks, his full body in plain view of the crowd (look, he has legs!). He shifted between the two set-ups, hitting buttons and manipulating knobs, creating a pounding sound that washed over the thousands of fans packed into Hart Plaza’s main bowl.

All around him, minimalist lighting cues flashed, bathing him in a warm glow and handsome silhouetting. It was a lovely low-key presentation and an innovative twist, reinforcing Hawtin’s well-established standing as an innovator and a leader.

The 75-minute performance – it got started 15 minutes late, as crews scurried to set everything up while dark, whirring sounds and a mix of sounds from the fest’s other five stages filled the air – followed a masterful set from Atkins, May and Saunderson, performing together as the Belleville Three. These three originators, all dressed in black, entertained the main stage crowd with a pulsating 90-minute mix of vintage techno sounds, working together in unison while also putting their individual stamps on the act.

Their sounds weaved together decades of techno history, and there were knowing glances between the three musicians as they busily bobbed and weaved from behind their decks. The familiar sounds of Atkins’ “Clear” were mixed in late in the set, as a nod of appreciation came in from the crowd.

While the Belleville Three took over the big bowl, Carl Craig was on the nearby Thump stage, performing in the shadow of the 120 foot Pylon sculpture at the entranceway to Hart Plaza. Craig’s performance followed a 90-minute set by Stacey Pullen, another festival staple with a long Detroit legacy, adding to Saturday’s stacked lineup of heritage talent.

Pan-Pot performs on the pyramid stage.

Crowds filled Hart Plaza on a day where weather cooperated with festival organizers, providing temps in the low 70s that dipped into the 60s as the night drew to a close. Forecasts call for similar temperatures as the fest continues Sunday and on Memorial Day. Top acts to come include Testpilot, the techno-minded alter ego of electronic music superstar deadmau5, house and techno master Carl Cox, Detroit rapper Danny Brown, Memphis rap legend Juicy J, and scores of other electronic music standouts.

Late Saturday, Los Angeles rapper Earl Sweatshirt brought a hypnotizing stoned energy to the Red Bull Music Academy stage with his closing set. Where other artists on adjacent stages looked to get crowds moving, Sweatshirt’s M.O. seemed to be to get fans to sink deeply into a trance with his compound wordplay over low-wattage, looping beats. While his energy differed from others booked across the day, he showed that there’s plenty of room underneath Movement’s umbrella, and it takes all types to build the fest.

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