The city of Detroit has gained much national exposure of late as case study for the potential revival of declining Rust Belt cities. And from the establishing of an Emergency Financial Manager to Dan Gilbert’s master plan to create a shiny new downtown, the city has been showing early signs of a commercial and financial comeback. But flying low under this progress is Detroit’s exciting musical resurgence.
It’s no big secret that Detroit’s Motown Records and the “Funk Brothers” shaped the American sound of the 1960s. But far fewer people are aware that the city is also the birthplace of techno. Born from a resistance to traditional pop formulas and with debts to European synthpop and various African American styles such as Chicago house and funk, Detroit’s techno movement remains vibrant to this day.
This past weekend’s Movement Electronic Music Festival, the city’s signature musical event, is the ideal representative of this phenomenon. The 2013 Movement Festival, now in its eight year under the Movement moniker, was host to over one hundred acts on five stages, including some of electronic music’s great innovators such as Squarepusher and Moby, and rising stars like Nicolas Jaar and Audion.
The Movement Festival attracted 107,000 fans last year, a number that has risen dramatically every year since its 2006 rebranding. What is rare about this festival among those of such size and scope is its incredible downtown location in Hart Plaza, right in the shadow of GM’s iconic Renaissance Center. Only Chicago’s Lollapalooza can stake a claim to a similarly prime location for showing off its host city’s stunning architecture.
Last week, a mysterious poster campaign swept through Detroit, leading to a cryptic countdown on the site DaftDet.com and suggesting the possibility of a surprise Daft Punk set. Given the overarching spirit of their new record, an homage to the duo’s predecessors, an appearance in the home of techno made perfect sense. But alas, Daft Punk was reportedly in Monaco on Sunday, and it’s clear now that the countdown was simply a cruel hoax.
Regardless, the 2013 Movement Festival was another rousing success, bigger and more thrilling than the year before. A secret show from an act as prodigious as Daft Punk would have been staggering, no doubt, but a bit out of place, both for the Movement Festival and for the city. As believers in the cyclical nature of American cities, we’re positive that Detroit’s slow, steady comeback has begun. And the Movement Festival acts as a perfect metaphor for its city, gaining more momentum and national attention every year. We like to say that another Detroit is happening. Keep an ear out for it.
Get in touch with the author @underfang.