Techno coup d’etat

Just when Carl Craig lost creative control of the DEMF is hard to say. But by festival’s end whatever semblance of his vision that remained had survived through the rough benevolence of others.

Reaction to the dismissal was swift and creative. A Web site,, sponsored by a concerned cadre of nameless Craig fans, was put up before the festival in order to catalog the growing evidence and concern over the “real story” of Pop Culture Media and Carol Marvin, as well as to circulate a petition to put Craig back in charge. (Marvin did not respond to e-mail queries from the Metro Times.)

Contacted via e-mail, the Mole, as the collective likes to be called, was hesitant to blame Craig for utilizing a company with “pop culture” in its name, but affirmed that significant blame should be put squarely on Marvin’s shoulders. Yet the vision of what the DEMF was and is keeps the Mole’s perspective from rotting out of malice.

“This festival is one of the greatest symbols of freedom in the world. No one has given up on anything; our hope lies within the petition. If it passes and the city listens to the people, this will be a monumentally positive feat, and the celebration and pride will be felt across the globe.”

Knowing that economics are intimately connected to any future festival, the Mole was pragmatic. “This is a business to the city and that has been taken into consideration when approaching them with an alternative solution. [But] without a representative working with the city [like Craig], it is a facade, simply a corporate business venture.”

To many, the DEMF already smacks of such a feeling. Rita Sayegh and her sister Riva put together the large red banner (“CARL CRAIG = DEMF”) that on Monday turned the festival stage into a backdrop for a visceral protest against the DEMF takeover. Rita Sayegh, who along with Scott Stephanoff and Tim Aten, is responsible for the film documentary of the first DEMF, feels that there has been a change in the festival, beyond the upswing in Bacardi videos and booze-interested revelers: “The first festival happened against all odds. The whole community came together and all the integral people turned out. By this year, people, labels and artists started working against each other.”

Rita Sayegh was not interested in the gossip that has been swirling around the festival for the last few weeks, rumors that include hostile takeovers by techno legends and future festivals chosen via committee.

“Nothing works by committee. Last year’s festival was mind-blowing. I don’t want to give up on the big festival. So much of its integrity is linked to Carl. I think if you take people out of it, the people that had so much to do with it, then you lose a big part of it. You lose a vision.”

To many, this is the center of the story: open-minded cultural integrity vs. shortsighted festival egos. But if anything in this muddy landscape is clear, it’s that the struggle between Marvin and Craig is not the only story of lost innocence. In many ways, Marvin’s power may have already been usurped.

Producing or profiteering?

Greg Brier seems a perfectly nice guy: male, white, tanned, in his late 30s or early 40s, and wearing an “I Support Carl Craig” sticker on his backstage pass. Brier was the director of this year’s visual images which featured huge screens on both the Main and CPOP stages. Hailing from New York, his company, Groovejet — a record label, club promoter and visual producer — has built a reputation in America’s budding dance industry, supplying images for the Winter Music Conference in Miami and bringing trance DJs Sasha & Digweed to America for the first time.

Apparently called upon by Ford when it was brought on as lead sponsor, Groovejet was charged with translating Ford to the DEMF audience while simultaneously interpreting the culture as well. The resulting images featured a collection of vaguely psychedelic colors, digitized advertising for Ford and nebulous-at-best sexual content (belly dancers, pornographic anime and topless girls dancing in front of bonfires, juxtaposed with machine gun-barreling scenes from Robocop).

When asked about the nature of the content at a supposed family event (and Pop Culture, the City or even Ford’s lack of oversight of it), Brier shrugged: “Well Mixmaster Mike [DJ for the Beastie Boys] was on. The Beastie Boys are all about that, aren’t they? At the end of the day, if you go to a Beastie Boys concert, that’s really street-level type stuff, and it worked with the set and that’s why they did it.”

Brier then described his take on Ford’s relationship to a cutting-edge event like the DEMF. “Ford was a true innovator at one point. In 1908, when Henry Ford came up with the Model T, there is some kind of connection that makes sense there.”

Asked if he had seen that Model T factory, now abandoned and rotting near McNichols and Woodward, he said that he had never been to Detroit until the festival. But his lack of experience with Detroit and its troubles did not seem to bother Brier, who wants to be involved in the DEMF next year and beyond. “You know you hear about how desolate it is, the high crime rate. But once I got here, all I see is incredible potential. If [the city] has somebody strong in office this place could be a little Chicago.”

Beats, love and Bacardi

On the last night, along with techno’s Big Three (Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Juan Atkins), Craig got an award from the City of Detroit endorsing, at least on the surface, what the city saw as his significance to the festival and henceforth to the city’s bottom line.

But the presentation, coming just before Rita Sayegh’s banner was hoisted above the crowd, has not paved over the hurt or fear. Rita Sayegh calls it, “That weird hopeless feeling.”

At Detroit’s gray worst, with hail pouring down and the future of the festival far from clear, that feeling was a little too much like the twist in the stomach after seeing a fight break out in the plaza.

But it didn’t start that way

Early on the first day, notice was served by Detroit house veteran Terrence Parker that the festival would be a success. In his closing moments, after working the crowd with a testimonial Detroit dance set, peppered with DJ tricks and Michael Jackson records, Parker took the mic and told the crowd to, “Support Carl Craig and keep this whole thing with the festival alive.”

After his set, he filled in his thoughts: “Carl’s vision was the catalyst to all of this, regardless of who does what and where it goes from here. I just want people to realize that I want to keep that in people’s minds.”

Craig’s vision, an attempt at balancing new and old local talent against inspired international acts, is a testament to the current festival’s power to inspire on all levels. It included Binary Star’s upstart hip hop, hours of Laurent Garnier, Autechre bringing out capacity crowds, Tortoise’s dueling marimbas, the richness of Delano Smith’s mixing, Todd Sines, Anthony Shakir’s electronic rumblings, Jeremy Ellis’ soulful singing at the Omoa Music afterparty at detroit contemporary and Craig’s own Monday-5:30 a.m. drop of Prince’s “A Love Bizarre” at Planet E’s “All-Access” afterparty, to a crowd of gorgeously exhausted revelers.

“It would be so hard to take Carl’s position over, with everything that has happened,” a hopeful but weary Rita Sayegh informed me. That morning, after the Labyrinth staff led us out the door of “All-Access” at 6 a.m., the sky still gray but pleasant and still, we could imagine no one else handling the reins.

Carleton S. Gholz writes about sounds and visions for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]
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