Growing up in the ’80s in southeast Michigan was absolutely bizarre. The contrasts then were remarkable. There were the mind-expanding radio shows of the Electrifying Mojo and his Midnight Funk Association, playing everything from Cameo to the Talking Heads. Add the jaw-dropping radio shows from the Wizard (the early days of Jeff Mills, the world’s top techno DJ), who at one point I remember mixing Adonis with Public Enemy with Renegade Soundwave. And the universal appeal of Prince — so popular that he had straight-up thugs wearing lace over their faces. For many, including myself, this was an inspiring time, feeding the imaginations of those who would become techno’s continuing generations.
Until the DEMF last year, I wondered where new generations would get their inspiration, considering the distinct lack of vision in Detroit broadcasting (save for public radio). Seeing so many generations come together in Hart Plaza last year with such amazing music, it felt like finally there was hope for the future of the artistic side of the music. With this in mind, this year Carl Craig crafted a lineup similar to the inspirational days of Detroit radio, with the best of the local talent (initially those that hadn’t played last year) and the best imports, with a mix of outstanding performers from big names to the underappreciated to the brand-new.
The initial idea of the DEMF was to bridge the amazing and pure sounds of Detroit techno (most people in this music use techno as an umbrella term, much like the term “electronica”), starting with a massive free celebration in the heart of Detroit. Perhaps last year marked the halcyon days, the first time something of this size worked in a city whose usual nature is to destroy every flower that comes up through the cracks of the sidewalk. From this first successful celebration came so many things: from Model 500 being used in a Ford Focus ad to Ford Focus sponsoring the festival, now with print ads in numerous national publications and DEMF ads being grafted to the end of those “No UFOs” commercials. So many things have changed, from the one-time Underground Stage being renamed the Bacardi Real Detroit Weekly Stage and the DEMF Riverfront Stage being renamed the Miller Genuine Draft and Motor Stage. Drinking and driving.
When the news came out that festival face and creative director Carl Craig was being fired, the typically nasty, behind-the-scenes workings were turned into public Jerry Springer-esque politics. Some form of bureaucratic excuse was cited, but the reality was clear to all. “This dispute is unfortunate, but the festival is about much more than the actions of any one person,” festival producer Carol Marvin (perhaps self-reflectively) states. The timing of this high-profile ousting is perhaps the worst it could be, giving an embarrassing public image of Detroit to the world.
Sometimes I feel like Detroit techno is like the Looney Tunes character Michigan J. Frog, the frog who could sing and dance spectacularly in private, but would only “ribbit” when the public paid attention.
The festival is indeed bigger than any of this — it’s a grand celebration of one of today’s most innovative musical forms, in the city that helped create it. With the sheer volume of after-parties (five or six each night) and the expected influx of techno’s global citizens — not to mention the brilliant list of performers, from the recently added Prefuse 73 to the unique shows from Mute’s founder Daniel Miller as DJXDJ, as well as the return of A Number of Names performing Detroit techno’s first tune, “Sharivari,” during Keith Tucker’s Optic Nerve set — this promises to be quite a special weekend. And, you’re on the guest list.
Be sure to check www.electronicmusicfest.com/schedule/ for the latest in the ever-changing schedule and music.hyperreal.org/demf/demf.rtf for a well-rounded guide to the DEMF, including the majority of the after-parties.
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