In it’s 7 year history, stretching back to ’99, this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of attending Detroit’s annual electronic music extravaganza. I haven’t been as active in the party scene as of late and was curious to see how electronic music was getting by with out me. While the scene migrated from empty buildings on the south side of chicago, $15 bucks to get in, dance till 5am, best music in the world to smoke-filled nightclubs, $25 cover, $10 drinks, 21 and over, get bumped into by a bunch of drunken idiots until bar close; I lost interest in the music. Well, not my interest in the music, just my desire to participate in the culture that accompanied it. I wonder if this is the normal course when underground music becomes more mainstream or is this just my transformation into becoming a boring adult. What ever it is, over the last few years I’ve found myself preferring the isolated comfort of my own home instead of the club scene. However, this weekend I decided to give my old scene another chance and see what the fair city of Detroit had to offer.
I’ve seen Richie Hawtin play everywhere from Even Further Festivals, Crowbar in Chicago, to a cramped afterset in riverwest Milwaukee. I’ve seen him pack a club wall to wall on a wednesday night and completely turn the place upside down. And when Richie played DEMF this year, he certainly brought his A-Game. No surprises there. What completely blew me away was the reception he received and the energy in the room. Halfway through Luciano’s set (who was on directly before Hawtin) you could feel the temperature of the tent rise as people crowded in to fill every available space. The backstage area and platform directly behind the turntables were filled with a mass of people made up of the shows promoters, other world renowned DJs that had played during the weekend, and too many cameras and HD video recorders to count. As Richie took his place behind the decks, the crowd erupted into cheers and applause and what followed was something I hadn’t seen in a long time. For almost three hours (a normally short set for Richie Hawtin) every head underneath the tent was locked into a rhythmic nod that progressed with the bass, people were swinging from the light trussing, and superstar DJs alike were getting down. It couldn’t have been better.
After two hours the event staff told Richie to wrap it up, for which he politely acknowledged yet kept on playing. When he finally stopped, the cheers from the crowd seemed like they wouldn’t end. The crowd was screaming for more and was not giving up. Within minutes he started up again and played another half-hour until he was finally shut down. If this were the only thing I saw the entire three days of the trip it would have been well worth it. The energy from the audience and Richie’s obvious enthusiasm and appreciation was alone worth the 7-8 hour drive to Detroit. More importantly, my faith in the electronic music had been restored. In truth, Richie played a killer set but what made his show so amazing were the people there listening to it and contributing to the collective vibe. When it was over most were drenched in sweat, completely exhausted, and left with a large grin spanning ear to ear.
I can’t speak for it’s past years but going by this years experience, D.E.M.F. is probably one of the best single events I’ve ever been to. Richie’s set was only one set in a sea of amazing performances. I’m usually only used to catching one or two headliners in a single sitting at most. The volume of high-quality talent was so large it was exhausting. On Saturday I saw Guido Schnieder followed by my personal favorite Claud Vonstroke. After little sleep on Saturday night, I got down to Misstress Barbara, Bad Boy Bill, Steve Bug and Hardfloor on Sunday during the day. Sunday night, I caught Misstress Barbara again and another earth-shattering set from Claud Vonstroke at an afterhours. I ended up falling asleep at 6 AM for a couple hours only to wake up on Monday to see John Aquaviva, Richie Hawtin, and finally Jeff Mills. It was really hard work enjoying that much good music. I’m never going to miss this festival again.