DEMF 2003

Saturday

If you’ve actually read all of this, you must be starting to get an idea of what it felt like to finally reach this Saturday morning. I was *so* ready for this festival to start. It turned out that the Omni was further away than the Lycos mapquest thingy led me to believe (yes Jambi, you were right – I was thinking it was that brick parking lot, which is apparently connected to nothing), but it was still just a 25-30 minute walk, and the rooms were even nicer than the RenCen or Ponchartrain at ½ the price. I also got to see some more of Detroit that I wouldn’t usually get to explore. This is a vacant lot on the way, with an east-of-Woodward view of the downtown area:

When I arrived at the festival I immediately wandered to the High Tech Soul Stage, not even knowing that’s where I was at first. They flipped it over the top of the concrete mountain and placed the stage at the bottom of the bowl, rather than beside the river where the old Motor stage used to be.

To my excitement, Recloose was playing much earlier than expected. I watched him for about an hour and a half, starting out seeing Greg Earle and his friend Andy (who put these really nice pics online), then saw a constant influx of people come and go until it was time to wander over to see Ayro. Unfortunately, Recloose did not have a monitor, and it really showed. As always, his track selection was superb, but the mixing was rather impaired. However, the tracks were nice enough to keep me locked to that stage ‘til he was done, so that says something.

Ayro was not fucking around. He started out performing by himself, saying a few words, then jumping into a pounding live MPC-2000 percussion solo. This was damn-near dumbfounding. That segued seamlessly into a sequenced beat, at which point he started playing live chords on his Moog. At some point those chords fell into the sequence, and he switched to another keyboard, adding more layers, always doing something live.

Over the course of the next couple of songs he was joined by John Arnold on guitar, his girlfriend and he shared the vocal duties, there was a slew of dancers that worked their way on stage for about ½ the songs, and there was one other guy who helped with percussion duties.

Ayro is so impressive, wearing all of these hats at once – singing masterfully, running across stage to join in the drumming, playing thick keys and orchestrating it all. This was a really stunning performance, only slightly tainted by the overwhelming sub-bass that muffled the other frequencies.

By 5:00 I tried to make it over to see Niko Marks, but meeting people along the way and a gnawing hunger superceded. When Dave and I arrived at the Loco Bar & Grill we were amazed to find the entire DC contingent chewing up a long expanse of tables. There were at least 15 people there. Insane! I had fully intended to make it back in time to see Peven Everett, but opted to spend some quality time with LK and her Boston peepz back at their hotel. One thing that was absolutely non-negotiable for me was Amp Fiddler Live, so by 9:00 Dave and I were well on our way back to the High Tech Soul Stage.

Amp Fiddler was one of my two favorite shows of the festival. I’ve only got the Bassmentality 12″, his Mahogani record produced by Moodymann, and I’ve heard Love and War but don’t own it yet. I’m not sure which songs most of them were, but these songs all soothed with soul and belted with funk. These two (dark) pictures may reveal that there were four keyboards, three keyboardists, a bassist and a drummer on stage.

Amp Fiddler was singing and switching between two different keyboards. It’s hard to articulate what kind of musical dynamic three keyboardists and no guitar brings to live funk. It softens things up, while simultaneously drawing in the percussion of the keys. It’s a really amazing feel. The set was relatively short, at less than an hour, but totally fulfilling. I expect amazing things going forward.

By this point the festival had started to fill up. We headed to the Movement stage for a Kenny Larkin and Kevin Saunderson tag team, but unfortunately, my memory fades a bit at this point. However, you can witness the swarms below:

As this ended, we headed back to the hotel to meet Casey and Alexis, and let them into the room. On the way we passed a Hoopdie (sp) convention at the Speedway, one of which had this bizarre right-front wheel about three feet in the air while most of the rest of the car was relatively low. I almost grabbed a picture of it, but the dude got in his car just as I found a safe place to conceal that I was taking a picture (walking around Detroit at midnight taking pictures is fairly ill-advised). Anyway, we did the hotel crap and headed up to Portal, the old Submerge building I mentioned earlier, where Felton Howard, Rob Hood and the Suburban Knight were playing.

When we arriveds DJ Finger was playing a pretty nice GhettoTek set. Given that the last time I heard GhettoTek it was at the end of ATP, this seemed almost calm by comparison. He only played for a short time before Felton Howard came on. He started out with some house, then suddenly started to pound out the techno. It was a really tight set, and an excellent warm-up for Hood – from what I’m told, much harder than Felton Howard normally spins. This guy is definitely one of Detroit’s best kept secrets. I’m really looking forward to seeing him spin a house set sometime.

From my perspective, Hood was the most anticipated show of the festival. I knew how much my DC friends would love him, there were tons of Detroit, European and DC people all around me, and they were all there to see Hood. I knew to expect a beating, and the first 20 minutes were severe – nary a synth-line in sight, but then there was one, and then a Basic Channel track, and then a tribal techno number with a female house diva, and then he was thoroughly in-stride. I’d had about 10-20 minutes of this satisfaction when he turned down the music, a promoter appeared on stage and asked everyone to leave the building, as the cops would be there in 10 minutes. Grrr… Most dissapointing moment of the festival, but as you can see below, everyone had fun until then, and I doubt I’ll have another opportunity to see Felton Howard any time soon.

Once outside, there were a swarm of people around Hood all telling him how much his music meant to them, asking for autographs, and it wasn’t like the normal fanboy stuff. These guys seriously meant it – you could hear it in the tremble in their voices. I would be hard-pressed to think of another techno artist who is able to singularly top people’s list. He captivates people in a special way. I don’t think I will miss him again as lightly as I did in April.

After that we wandered down Grand towards the Audiomatrix party. Turned out that both parties in the building scrapped both guestlists. I really wanted to check this out, but funds were already down to less than $30 for the rest of the festival, so we hopped in a cab and called it an early (4 or 5 a.m.) night.

Sunday

I woke up around 11:30, but like an idiot I went back to bed. I woke up again around 12:30, rushed into the shower, got out of the hotel around 1:15, tried to scrounge up some food from a convenience store (now down to less than $20) and did all I could to make it to the Thinkbox Collective in time. Unfortunately I only caught the last 10 minutes. I feel like a complete ass about missing most of this. I hope they can forgive me. What I heard was really good though. Reviews of CDs forthcoming.

From there, the other David and I wandered over to the High Tech Soul Stage again for Dabrye and Dwele back-to-back. Dabrye played mostly stuff from his latest album, but also included a couple of his earlier Tadd Mullinix tracks. Nothing that different than the last time I saw him, but really enjoyable (if deafening) on that sound system.

Dwele was a treat. I still haven’t heard more than five of his songs, but everything he played was brilliant. Again, the multiple-keyboard approach worked wonders. The live band replicated all of the brilliant production on the recordings to a tee (no easy task). Beyond that there was an intense joy in this performance. Dwele seemed so unbelievably happy, and the feeling in his music seemed absolutely genuine in an almost tangible way. Add a great sense of humor and stage presence to that, and you have one helluva performance. What an amazing way to start a beautiful day!

From Dwele I wandered back over to the Movement stage for John Beltran. As we arrived Genesis was finishing what sounded like a storming set. I really hope to see her more often, because the two times so far have been excellent. John Beltran’s band took a while to set up. I started out saying hey to the Europeans, then tried to just say a quick hello to the DC peepz, which turned into a big techno reunion of sorts, Stewart Walker came to chat for a while, my Iowa City friends came by, and before I knew it, Beltran was done. Interestingly, his performers included Ayro, John Arnold and that percussion dude from Ayro’s set. This would not be the last instance of their cross-pollination. At any rate, I wound up hanging with Greg and his peepz while acquiring a press pass for us in the process. This press pass entitled us to free Bacardi and Red Bull. This would be my salvation and destruction for the rest of the festival.

After filling up on a few complimentary beverages, we braved the bursting seems of the High Tech Soul Stage, trying to find elbow room for the Detroit Experiment.

Things had fallen behind schedule by this point, and Vikter Duplaix was banging out a furious house set, with extremely tight mixing (to my surprise). Well done to Duplaix for getting his skills up to par for this performance. It was evident he was really excited about it, so I’m glad his DJ skills proved worthy of the honor. The crowd was in a real frenzy by the time he finished. When he was done, it was evident the Detroit Experiment was not ready yet, so we hauled-ass to get more drink and made it back just in time.

By this point, I had already witnessed four excellent funk-esque bands in Ayro, Amp Fiddler, Dwele and John Beltran, so it was no shock to the system when the first track they dropped was one of their jazzier tunes. They were even better than the album. The only complaint is that they only played four or five songs, but this was still a solid 45 minutes when factoring in the amount of jamming in each song. ‘Think Twice’ (which is predictably my favorite track on the album) was soooo nice. This was all I could’ve expected and more, but just not long enough. Lots of peepz in the place too:

When they brought out the MC’s everyone was loving it:

At this point the Raspberry Bacardi and Red Bull started to taste really good, and I met up with the rest of the Iowa Press for a whole bunch ‘o drinks:

At some point I wound up in the underground stage and snapped this shot of the [313] elders:

And then things descended into oblivion:

Somehow I managed to miss John Arnold Live (yet another incarnation of the incestuous bunch), and I’m fairly sure I missed Pole, Akufen, Mike Clark and Francois K, but I did catch the first and last of the 3 (5) Chairs, both of whom were excellent. This was the 5th:

I also ran into Cali and her fiancé Steve (or is it husband now???) briefly (assuming I would see them again – doh!) And finally met Minto (he doesn’t usually look this blurry):

I’m not quite sure how I got to the Tangent Gallery for Cannonball Run. I very nearly recollect it. I’m fairly certain I was in a cab with LK, and someone who was at the Cannonball party the year before (pretty sure it was her friend John), and Dave, and pretty sure I wandered over to the Ponchartrain in order to find them in order to bum the ride. Yep. That must be it.

This party was sick:

It was not as crazy as last year, but just as good, if only because I made it until Traxx this year. When we arrived Jordan Zawideh was playing – I remember enjoying it, but can’t recall what it was. The one lo-light of this party was Tamion 12″ (sorry Rob, if you’re reading this). I just checked out the audio for their latest 12″ and it didn’t sound nearly as bad as they did live. The songs went on for so long (how un-punk) and were so much more tedious than on the record. It was all I could do to sit on a couch and try to block it out. It gave LK a headache. :/ However, they were followed by Carlos Souffront, who played an amazing set as always. I don’t think he pushed it above 110 bpm, and given the dancefloor disarray following Tamion 12″, it was incredibly impressive that there wasn’t a mutiny (or rather, that the mutiny was contained). His collection of ‘80s synth mayhem is so impressive. He dropped New Order, as every other time I’ve seen him. You would be hard pressed to find anyone this side of Bernard Sumner who could play it any better.

BMG of Ectomorph was up next. He played an Ableton DJ set. I don’t know if it was sequenced in advance or not, and I really don’t care, because the track selection was so astounding it couldn’t possibly matter. He went through Chicago jack trax to acid to electro, booty, disco, synth pop and everything in between. It was a truly epic set, covering at least two and a half hours, the last hour of which featured DJ Godfather scratching over the top of it. As you can see, he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand, even when there was a sort-of DJ pow-wow behind the decks for ages before Derek came on:

Derek’s set was short – too short, but with Traxx up thereafter, I wasn’t going to complain. He was unbelievable. I’ve never seen a set like it. It’s probably in my top 5 now. He played all EBM and Acid. Chicago meets central Europe in 1986. But he didn’t just pull out an impressive selection of rare dance classics, he pummeled them, and his mixing of those tracks proved to me more than ever that DJing creates something greater than the sum of its parts. He gained so much from his interaction with the mixer.

I’ve seen very few DJ’s who muster half what he put into this set, and the output was storming.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around what he did to me. Somehow at 7:30 in the morning, after 6 hours of hardcore debauchery, then 7 hours of sobriety, then cracking open a new keg around 6:30 (puctuated by my Doris-purchased kegstand), I was still dancing. The 30-40 people left in that room were sharing something so compelling that only a handful left during his two hours, and most stayed for quite a while after he was done.

This set was so thrilling that Mark, Josh, Doris and I made our way to the Corktown Tavern at 8:30 to start DJing.

By the time I threw some records down around 10:30 I was completely useless. That was some truly appalling mixing. After a trip through a loft in Greektown, Mark and I headed back to his hotel at the Athenium, where I crashed on his sofa at around noon.

Monday

Woke up at 3:00, walked back to the Omni, saw Casey and Alexis who were happy I was alive. I showered, Alexis was leaving, and we caught a ride back down to Hart Plaza on her way to the airport. Let it be known that the Bacardi and Red Bull tent is still not out of alcohol!!!

Casey and I promptly bumped into Stewart and Max from Tresor.

We had drinks. It was nice. I was not in a hurry to see anything until Dan Bell came on at 8. Basically, Traxx had satisfied me, and anything after that was icing. We eventually disentangled ourselves from social ties…

…and wandered back over to the High Tech Soul stage for Aril Brikha as Time:Space live. Once again the incest was perpetuated, with Ayro on keys, Tony Drake on bass, and that percussion dude on the bongos again, while Aril Brikha was the master controller. This was really nice stuff. Departure in Time live was sick. It was really cool to hear the instrumentalist’s take on what starts out as such a synthetic project. The conversion to live instrumentation was executed very well.

By this point full-on delirium had set in, after three hours of sleep, constant Red Bull and Bacardi abuse, etc. Everything else is a blur. I am fairly certain I went to check out Juan Atkins, and I know I was watching D Wynn (who was superb). At some point along the line, I met a cute raver woman, Laurinda, with whom I plunged into naughty, obnoxious dancefloor romance. Obviously I thoroughly enjoyed this, but I fear for what it must’ve looked like to any who witnessed it. In fact, I think I was in some sort of music/dance/kissing/wrapped-around-each-other euphoria, and having witnessed a fair amount of this as an onlooker, I know it doesn’t look good, but I can definitely sympathize with the plight of these unfortunate souls who are completely oblivious to everything but music and mashing.

When the fog started to lift, I found myself among the DC, Detroit and European contingents, all in one central area of the Movement stage, watching Mills.

All I can recall is that it was very quiet. I think I was talking with Laurinda for a lot of the performance.

Shame I can’t remember Mills, but I have seen him three times in the last year as-is.

I was supposed to be on the guest list for the Works. On that assumption, Dave and John were kind enough to sport me a cab there with them. When we arrived and found out that not only had they cancelled the guestlist, but that the cover was $25, John and Dave kindly split my cover. Thanks guys!!! A few people bought me a couple of drinks as well before the 2:00 cut-off. The music was amazing, but I also got to hang with Mark one more time, Cheryl bought some much-needed fries, and by the time Ron Trent came on, I was running back and forth between he and KDJ in the front room. It’s hard to sum this up too precisely, but it was a pretty fantastic finale – not as intense as Ron Trent’s set to close out last year, but KDJ was almost as on as at the Sound Signature party two years earlier. He even played a bunch of Chicago jack and acid. I heard a lot of that this weekend. Sometime near 5 or 6 Mark and Pete drove me back to the Omni, once again saving my broke ass. These pics (most of them taken after 4am) ought to sum up the evening relatively well, since words and memories are failing:

Tuesday

When I woke up at 11:30 I found two people in bed with Casey. Turns out it was Petey and his friend who’s name I don’t think I ever caught. She was really nice though – as she drove me to the airport through nasty traffic when she just needed to get to the doctor. The Northwest check-in process was evil, the security at O’Hare was crazy (there was a third check on the ramp to the airplane where these dudes who looked like cops were interrogating anyone who looked slightly Muslim – which on Air India was quite a few people), and I refused to deal with long-term jet lag so after arriving in London at 10am (Wednesday) on almost no sleep (dude next to me was persistently coughing, snoring and elbowing), I stayed up until 11pm. I don’t think I’ve slept like I slept Wednesday night all year.

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