Can’t stop the music
As an up-and-coming DJ and electronic musician in Metro Detroit, Rebecca Goldberg has been privy to an incredible legacy of local talent. But that fact never really hit home until she started performing in Europe, where she found audiences had ravenous curiosity and deep respect for her home turf.
“They hear so much about (Detroit) and maybe I take for granted sometimes that I’m right inside of it,” Goldberg says. “I’ve seen Juan Atkins at the coffee shop before and I’ve learned techniques or gotten opportunities from people who have been doing this for 20 or 30 years. It’s awesome. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if I were in the middle of nowhere and didn’t have the people or the history around me.”
The Bloomfield Township-bred Goldberg will be one of numerous local talents performing alongside stars like Kraftwerk, RZA and Caribou at this year’s Movement electronic music festival, running Saturday through Monday in Hart Plaza. Goldberg will play the Opportunity Detroit stage at 2 p.m. Sunday.
One of the youngest Detroit artists in the lineup, Goldberg began DJing in 2010. But other 2016 Movement performers’ careers stretch back to the roots of Detroit techno. DJ Art Payne, who will play the festival’s Thump Stage at noon Monday, recalls learning his craft from local techno originators like Juan Atkins and Derrick May in the early ’80s.
“I was the guy that used to kind of set myself by the speakers and watch what the DJs were doing,” Payne says.
Kevin Saunderson will showcase Payne and other local talents in his third annual Origins: Elevation showcase Monday at the Thump Stage. Alongside May and Atkins, Saunderson is considered one of the “Belleville Three” who invented Detroit techno in the early ’80s. Saunderson’s showcase will feature his contemporaries, alongside younger artists like Saunderson’s own sons Dantiez and DaMarii, who perform as the Saunderson Brothers.
“The torch is still lit and it will continue to be lit,” says Saunderson, who will play the showcase at 10:30 p.m. Monday. “But I think innovation and also regeneration is important for our sound not to get lost. If we’re home here in Detroit, this is one place where people should know they can experience that.”
Saunderson originally conceived the Origins showcase largely because he says Detroit’s electronic music legacy is “still vague and it’s still being known” in its home country. Outside the United States, particularly in Europe, Detroit techno was big even in the early days. But Saunderson notes the music never really caught on in a mainstream way at home. Today, electronic music has been rebranded “EDM” and is a commercially viable staple for young Americans. But Saunderson says today’s EDM fans have little knowledge of the music’s debt to Detroit techno.
“It’s almost like opening up a book and you’re picking up the book in the middle and you’re trying to figure out what’s going on,” he says. “A lot of the people who are getting into the music are kind of lost.”
Local artists’ feelings on that phenomenon vary. DJ Bruce Bailey, who will play the Origins showcase at 2:45 p.m. Monday, got his start in the mid-’80s but says younger EDM fans know him only for his appearances at Movement or his regular sets at Detroit’s TV Lounge. He says fans are only aware of “25 percent” of Detroit’s electronic music legacy and their knowledge is ironically limited mostly to names who made it overseas.
Ann Arbor-based DJ and electronic musician Matthew Dear, who will play the Thump Stage at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, takes a more forgiving approach to the younger crowd.
“We all start off a little bleary-eyed, or blind-eyed, and there for other reasons,” Dear says. “If they just use it as kind of like a holding place for their 20s, to go out and party and get drunk and dance around and be silly, then no big deal. But I think you will get a percentage — a very small percentage, at least — that dig a bit deeper and get into Detroit techno. And for that you can’t knock it.”
Local artists are unreserved in their enthusiasm for Movement itself, however. Saunderson says he’s enjoyed seeing the festival’s growth since its debut in 2000 as the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, a free event. The festival has since seen leadership shakeups and financial problems, including during Saunderson’s own brief stint as festival coproducer in 2004 and producer in 2005.
Saunderson praises the way the event has taken off since production company Paxahau took over the event in 2006.
“It’s alive and people are coming still from all around the world, from all over the United States,” Saunderson says. “That’s how it should be.”
Playing the festival still holds major significance for first-timers like Goldberg.
“I’m not nervous, but there’s a lot weighing on this gig because it’s at home and everyone I know and everyone that traveled here for this event is going to be there,” she says. “What story do I want to tell on Sunday afternoon in an hour and 15 minutes about myself as a DJ, and how can I do that through music? That’s kind of the approach I’m taking for this.”
Even for Movement veterans, the festival holds a certain thrill. Dear played his first Movement in 2006, but he says each new year he plays feels just like the first.
“To remember that you were this young, suburban Detroit kid, just dreaming of getting booked at any rave at some point ... to then all of a sudden be playing right on the main stage in front of the Renaissance Center with thousands of people walking around downtown Detroit and the river right beside you, it’s magical,” he says. “I always kind of get the chills when that happens.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
1 Nelson Mandela Drive, Detroit
Single-day tickets $85; three-day pass $175