Detroit grooves as electronic music festival returns for holiday weekend

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Speakers pumping bass from all corners of Hart Plaza thumped like a heartbeat as thousands of concert-goers returned Sunday for the second day of Detroit's Movement Electronic Music Festival.

For Amber Millard, a first-time attendee, Movement was not over-hyped. She said she bought her tickets in February and the sun shining on Hart Plaza this weekend was "perfection."

"It was completely packed (Saturday) with everyone out to see 2 Chainz. DJ Godfather was also sweet last night," said Millard, from Whitmore Lake who was one of the first attendees Sunday sitting beside the fountain.

"It gets super busy around 4 p.m. but the middle day of a festival is always slower. We're really looking forward to Griz on Monday."

People dance at the Stargate Stage to the music spun by Stacey Hotwaxx Hale at the 2022 Movement Electronic Music Festival at Hart Plaza in Detroit on Sunday, May 29, 2022.

Some attendees, like Millard, said attending Movement is preparation for Electric Forest, a similar weekend-long festival in Rothbury, Michigan, starting June 23.

Mickey Domiano and Thomas Bowers traveled together from Chicago to attend the event Sunday, buying their tickets on site and said they were excited to see Carl Craig perform.

"This is my first time attending but we came all the way here because we love techno and saw that this was infinitely larger than anything we have in Chicago," said Domiano, 38.

Ash Lauryn plays on the Main Stage at the 2022 Movement Electronic Music Festival at Hart Plaza in Detroit on Sunday, May 29, 2022.

The festival resonates deeply in Detroit, the birthplace of techno music. It's become an industry staple, starting in 2000 and held every year before the pandemic.

Movement has five stages, all with different sets playing simultaneously. At the Pyramid Stage, a sold-out VIP spot at the festival, a small crowd enjoyed watching Chuck Daniels, who had Canada's skyline as his backdrop.

About 40 artists perform each day with highlights including Adam Beyer, Blawan, Loco Dice on Sunday, and Ataxia, Flying Lotus, and hometown favorite, Griz, playing on Monday. A full schedule can be found here.

Festival reboot 'surreal'

Sam Fotias, director of operations, said Saturday was probably the smoothest opening day of the festival's 16-year-tenure in Detroit. Fotias said about 25,000 attendees are expected each day of the three-day Memorial weekend festival

"We've come out more efficient and I could not believe how many people are here. The vibe is amazing," Fotias said. "People were running up to each other so happy, hugging and excited to be back as if they waited for this moment."

Drummer B performs on the Stargate Stage at Detroit's annual Electronic Music Festival at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit.

But Fotias said rebooting Movement after a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic was not easy.

"It's surreal to be honest," said Fotias, who has worked on the team since 2006.

Kelly Gorz, left, of Chicago and Ismail Walton dance at the Stargate Stage to the music spun by Stacey Hotwaxx Hale at the 2022 Movement Electronic Music Festival at Hart Plaza in Detroit on Sunday, May 29, 2022.

"The planning facet over the last few months was normal and then the reality of starting load-in a week ago took it to another realization of 'this is happening' after postponing so many times," Fotias said.

"Loading week was incredibly difficult with the supply chain shortages, profound increase of goods and services. Then it was a week of every season Michigan has to offer," he said.

"It was really challenging. We dealt with crews of people who haven't necessary gotten their sea legs back of working on an event of this scale."

Over the first two days, no incidents or arrests have occurred aside from a few twisted ankles reported at the medic tent, he said.

Chuck Daniels performs on the Pyramid Stage at the Movement Electronic Music Festival at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit.

Weed sponsors dominate

Walking through Hart Plaza, art fills common spaces including replicas of the "Spirit of Detroit" sitting beside the circular fountain, a large old-English D and a plethora of flags along the Riverfront to take photos with.

And the color green was featured prominently in the signs and booths of cannabis sponsors.

Troy-based JARS cannabis was the main event sponsor that also presented the local artists stage. The dispensary brand has 14 locations in Metro Detroit and four in Arizona. Their space included adult coloring under a canopy, temporary tattoos and an "Instagram-able" space designed by artist Kylie Hight.

"No one is coming up to us upset. If anything, it's more curiosity, excitement that we're seeing as the main sponsor, which speaks to the progressiveness of what happened during the pandemic. Three years ago, I don't believe this would have been the case," said Ally Galanty, spokeswoman for JARS. She added they'll also be sponsoring the Breakaway festival at the end of August in Grand Rapids.

Jessika Palmasano, left, 23, and Anthony Meyer, 24, both of New York, dance near the Stargate Stage to the music spun by Stacey Hotwaxx Hale at the 2022 Movement Electronic Music Festival at Hart Plaza in Detroit on Sunday, May 29, 2022.

Weedmaps, Breeze Dispensary, and Ooze were the other prominent cannabis brands marketing at the event. Overall, 25% of sponsorship came from cannabis, Fotias said.

"I think this is a prime example of what has happened in that industry over the last two years while events weren't happening," Fotias said. "We were approached by a multitude of brands and we were fortunate enough to have the time to vet all of them and see who was the right fit for us and how easy their teams were to work with."

Tristan  Blackett, 47, marketing director for Ooze, talks about the Ooze products on display at the Movement Electonic Music Festival at Hart Plaza in Detroit.

Tristan Blackett, marketing director of Ooze, a hardware cannabis company founded in Oak Park, said cannabis can't do traditional marketing on social media or television which led to a focus on events, until the pandemic struck in March 2020.

"We realized we have to spend our marketing dollars wisely with a focus on experiences," said Blackett, 46. "A lot has changed on the national, state, and local level because weed is no longer the big, bad thing it once was and people are finally coming out of the green closet."

James  Sesi, 36, a partner with Ooze, talks about the Detroit Electronic Music Festival at Hart Plaza in Detroit.

James Sesi, now 36, remembers attending Movement in his 20s when the event was just a few stages looking towards the river.

"Last night seemed nuts with thousands of people here to see 2 Chainz. It's pretty much the same as it always has been but the main difference is you're seeing these weed brands take hold and be confident in their product marketing," said Sesi, one of the five partners of Ooze. "We did 46 trade shows in 2019 before the pandemic hit and now we're trying to make a comeback. It's crazy to think about where we started.

"I used to sneak weed into this festival and now we're basically walking in with a joint in our mouths," he said.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_