It was a powerful display by the 35-year-old techno star, whose army of fans appears to multiply whenever he’s in the city. C’mon, we knew Hawtin’s Minus label was on fire in Europe, but the way he brought the heat to town this time was ridiculous. And we’re not just talking about the weather, which was still in the 80s when the final digitally compressed note melted in the humid air around midnight. His opening trajectory — characteristic industrial clang now softened with sexy bass lines and riding the back of jet-propelled backbeats — was the perfect follow-up to the menacing grey noise of Nitzer Ebb. The UK band that inspired dozens of growling young men in black to toss aside their guitars and replace them with synths and drum pads in the 1980s and ’90s gave a full-on live electronic body music performance just ahead of Hawtin’s finale.
This has been quite a year for Minus, which brought most of its growing stable of Midwestern-reared artists now living in Berlin to Detroit for festival and party appearances. Magda, Marc Houle, Troy Pierce and Heartthrob — who was the talk of the weekend after a searing live set at the label’s Saturday night-Sunday morning after party at Masonic Temple — performed in and out of the fest. The best after-parties even had their own after-parties: Hawtin’s went over to the Works, which rocked Eurostyle until well into Sunday afternoon.
Another label showcase held off festival grounds was Ghostly International/Spectral Sounds party at the Bankel Building. Lawrence (real name Peter Kersten) and Carsten Jost, both from Hamburg, brought northern German techno soul to the Sunday night event, which also featured Bodycode (South African native Alan Abrahams), Ryan Elliot and Matthew Dear. The party never really ended: It merging with another bash up the street at Agave that began at 7 a.m. and kept going throughout the day on Monday.
There were numerous highlights during the weekend, depending on what you were looking for. (The attendance numbers for the fest aren’t in yet, but the turnout appeared be down from previous years. Daytime crowds were slim, slim, but the nights were slammed.)
On Saturday afternoon, Mike (Agent X) Clark and Ron Trent beat down the Main Stage with hard house power; minimal pioneer Daniel Bell made a scorching afternoon seem cool at the riverfront Pyramid stage while fellow Berliners Pantytec and Dandy Jack and the Junction SM stayed crispy and tight on the Main Stage. There was also positive buzz for New Yorker Ezekiel Honig’s live set on the Underground Stage.
On Sunday, burly blond bomber Rob Acid (real name Rob Babicz of Cologne, Germany) destroyed a hard-dancing crowd at the Underground Stage with weird twists on techno at speeds approaching 150 beats per minute; at the Pyramid Stage, a tribute to the late James Yancey (aka J. Dilla) featured a wide range of Detroit hip-hop talent, including up-and-coming star emcees Invincible and Guilty Simpson. DJ Houseshoes selected records. Dabrye, who was scheduled to play live, was ill and did not perform; and on the Main Stage, seven hours of music that included scorching performances by Tortured Soul, Kevin Saunderson, Le Petite Orb — featuring original member Dr. Alex Paterson and longtime sidekick Thomas Fehlmann — and Speedy J/Chris Liebing raised the temp on an already sticky hot day.
Monday began in beautiful style at the Beatport Stage with a two-and-a-half hour ambient set by Regensburg, Germany’s Markus Guentner, followed by equally strong live music by Klimek, Mikkel Metal and Donacho Costello. Detroit’s Clark Warner followed with a two-hour DJ set that bounced and soared. Jeremy Caulfield played live, then gave way to Cologne’s Frank Martiniq, who DJ’d old and new tracks that all had one thing in common: they were way badass. Couples kissed as they danced, women sandwiched men dancing nearby, love and the promise of sex hung in the wet air. It was that good.
Also on Monday, Carl Craig (three-hour set). Louie Vega, Blaze and Michael Geiger held down the Pyramid Stage with bass and grace; and Derrick May, Adam Beyer, Neil Landstrumm held their own on the Main Stage until Nitzer Ebb and Hawtin took it over for the last three-and-a-half hours.
Meet and greet
The party scene, as we said before, was beyond the pale (or was it that everyone simply began to look pale as the sun was coming up during the post-midnight to afternoon parties?)
An opening night festival launch event at Bleu put on by Movement ’06 promoters Paxahau featured performances by Canadians Mathew Jonson and Konrad Black, and a surprise guest DJ appearance by Cologne-based Superpitcher (real name: Aksel Schaufler). The next day, Schaufler and the Orb’s Fehlmann went record shopping at Hamtramck’s Record Graveyard and Detroit Threads. What did Superpitcher buy? “A Glen Campbell record, one by Diana Ross and one by [Saunderson’s group] Inner City.”
Superpitcher said the record shopping was fun — up to a point. “I was sweating a lot in the store … but this is too much hard work for me. ….”
Fehlmann spent some time touring parts of downtown, much of it rehabbed since he first came to stay in 1991.
“I don’t recognize it so much anymore,” said Fehlmann, who at 48 is one of techno’s elders. “What I recognize is the purity of Detroit and its music. That’s something that doesn’t appear to change.”
Another artist for whom Detroit made an instant impression is Martiniq, who flew directly here following a club appearance in Berlin on Saturday night. He got off the plane and was brought to the Ghostly party, where he hung around backstage with Superpitcher, Deadbeat, Lawrence, Jost, Dear, Elliot and others in the extended Ghostly party family.
“I have been interested in the music of Detroit since the 1990s,” said Martiniq, who is 30 and was in the U.S. for the first time. “Some woman on the plane told me I should visit New York because there is nothing in Detroit. I told her I disagree. There is no place I’d rather come first than here.” Walter Wasacz is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.