Festival of the Year: Movement Detroit's After-Parties Were Even Trippier Than the Real Thing
The annual weekender is always a wild time—but what happens when the sun goes down is impossible to forget.
All photos by Lyndon French.
As I get older, my memories of parties have begun congealing into a gelatinous whole, one long night filled with an interminable parade of faces, songs, and clubs. What emerges from the murk are the shards of difference, when mundane nights out veer into the sublime and impossible. This year, I experienced an inordinate number of those halcyon moments at Detroit's Movement Festival, and, more importantly, its wild litany of after-parties.
Movement Festival itself is massive three-day gathering featuring over 100 artists; it takes place over Memorial Day Weekend, drawing over 100,000 techno fanatics to Detroit's Hart Plaza. The 2016 lineup tactfully mixed hometown legends like Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson, and Juan Atkins with bold-faced Europeans like Kraftwerk, Four Tet, and Scuba. As far as major festivals go, it's the best this continent has to offer for serious electronic music fans. But the day's programming ends at the stroke of midnight, and that's just not going to cut it for the ravenous ravers who descend annually on Motor City. In response, local promoters and out-of-towners pull out all the stops when it comes to satiating the demand for after-hours revelry.
Detroit's deep electronic music history has yielded its fair share of idiosyncratic and beautiful traditions. These include the Soul Skate party, a biennial roller skating event started by techno luminary Kenny Dixon Jr., aka Moodymann, in 2007. More than just a chance for skaters to show off their skills, it's a community reunion of sorts—shortly after I arrived at the packed rink around 1 AM, the DJ cleared everybody away in order for a couple to skate on to the floor. The man promptly fell to one knee and proposed; she said "yes," and the crowd roared. Then skaters flooded back o to the rink, and flew around for hours as the DJ spun everything from 80s freestyle to Too $hort. When we left after 4AM, the party showed no signs of slowing down.
Later that night, we ended up at a party called Club Toilet. It's a collaboration between some local promoters and out-of-town crews like WreckedNYC and Pittsburgh's Honcho, coming together for a no-holds-barred celebration of the gay clubbing experience. Think: leather, poppers, and sleazy disco on smash well into the morning. And with people lining up to pee in a corner of the club's backyard, with hilarious running commentary from a group of guys sitting a few feet away, the party certainly lived up to its name. "Look, he's nervous!" exclaimed one guy, as I willed myself to get on with it. "Oh, there he goes now. Great job, kid!"
Elsewhere on the fringes of the city's musical scene, noise rock trio Wolf Eyes threw a weekender called Trip Metal Fest on the same days as Movement. The event featured high-brow experimental practitioners like Morton Subotnick and Joseph Hammer alongside a host of psychedelically inclined noisenicks and pranksters, including Baltimore's Nautical Almanac, and New York's MV Carbon and DJ Dog Dick—enigmatically publicized via a single billboard downtown that read, "TRIP METAL IS FREE." That punk spirit pervaded the scene when I rolled through Mexicantown venue El Club around midnight on Saturday, as Wolf Eyes took the stage, following a hotly anticipated collaboration between that band's Nate Young, Nautical Almanac's Twig Harper, and none other than Andrew W.K. Wolf Eyes ripped through an hour of squalid noise and fetid guitar abstraction, a blast of irreverence that made for an invigorating antidote to the more commercial fare downtown.
But the true apex of the Movement after-hours scene is an annual party called No Way Back. It's thrown by the Interdimensional Transmissions crew, a group of Detroit stalwarts who have been throwing parties since the mid-90s. This year, the party took place at a labyrinthine art gallery, with a dancefloor covered in netting and lasers cutting through the sweaty dark. There, at 5 AM, I received an electrifying techno benediction from a DJ named Carlos Souffront. He's a DJ's DJ, known for his mindblowing collection of acid techno deep cuts—and that's just what he unleashed on the packed room. I've never heard anything like what he played, before or since, and the cumulative effect all the shrieking riffs and brain-warping grooves was that of an angry choir of synthetic poltergeists out for blood. When Souffront finished, the DJs flanked behind him bowed, acolytes awed by their master's sorcery.Still, what makes the after-parties surrounding Movement so special isn't just the parties, or the music; it's the people. As the long nights wore on, I noticed the out-of-towners begin to fade away and be replaced by true smokers from the local scene, many of whom have probably been listening to techno since before I was born. Even amid its well-documented social and economic strife, Detroit's magic persists. Meet me there after midnight next Memorial Day.