The wind outside could freeze a limb. But in the halls of the Detroit Historical Museum, techno-music glitterati, city patricians, politicians and media create heat through proximity and wine consumption. The mood is anxious, like calm before a storm.
Some in the crowd paid $150 to celebrate the museum’s new techno exhibit — designed to usher life and ticket sales into the stodgy establishment where a beaver hat display accompanies replicas of ancient Detroit before it became a convolution of 20th century conflict.
In the foyer stands Derrick May, a world-famous DJ and the freshly announced producer of this year’s Detroit Electronic Music Festival, second only to the North American International Auto Show for attracting global tourists to Detroit. The anointed DEMF king is beaming, shaking hands, hugging and kissing.
Though the exhibit is tonight’s attraction, it’s the changing of the DEMF guard that is the stuff of whispered conversations.
“I’m geeked,” says Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick of the DEMF and his administration’s decision to oust former producer Carol Marvin, a Plymouth resident, in favor of May and his team of local artists, including DJs Kevin Saunderson and Carl Craig.
“Claiming our own is how we become globally acknowledged,” Kilpatrick says. With that, he climbs into a shiny black SUV and rides away.
Enter Marvin, the ousted DEMF producer, a woman who says God created the free music event and chose her to run it. She’s with an entourage — spokesman Greg Bowens, lawyer Michael Smith and Detroit boxing legend Tommy “the Hitman” Hearns.
They hand out press releases. Marvin is calm, smiling, looking at the exhibit. Asked how she feels about losing the DEMF, the festival she co-founded and produced for three years, she answers, simply, “Read my press release.”
It says she and Hearns joined forces to create DEMF Inc., an organization that will produce the festival and create a downtown club to serve as DEMF world headquarters. Marvin and Hearns will launch a techno foundation, a weekly techno radio show and a quarterly DEMF newsletter, the release says.
But what of the mayor’s DEMF announcement?
“I think the mayor is confused right now,” says the affable Hearns, adding he suspects Kilpatrick is operating without “true facts.”
“How can you give away something you don’t own?” muses Bowens.
Marvin says her company, Pop Culture Media, owns the rights to the DEMF. Bowens produces a document from the city Recreation Department showing that Marvin reserved Hart Plaza for the show’s time slot, Memorial Day weekend.
“We’ll be producing our festival,” says Hearns. “The founder is still here, available to do her job. The people who have been doing it and know how to do it have the right to do it.
“That’s the facts, Jack.”
Will Marvin sue to keep the festival? She and her lawyer say that depends on the city.
“We can only assume the mayor will do the right thing,” says Bowens.
As the party moves to the Roostertail for a night of thumping techno, the mayor’s crew chuckles about Marvin’s attempt to keep the festival. Kilpatrick’s chief administrative officer, Derrick Miller, says Hearns, though a great guy, suggested the DEMF needs some classic R&B acts.
And what about Hearns’ claim that the mayor is confused?
“It’s not worthy of a response,” says Jamaine Dickens, the mayor’s spokesman. “She [Marvin] doesn’t own the right to produce an electronic music festival in Detroit.”
If necessary, Dickens says, the name will change to the Detroit International Electronic Music Festival, or some such variation.
The city checked out the legality of granting the festival to May and his crew before moving ahead, and “nobody” has reserved Hart Plaza for Memorial Day weekend, says Dickens.
“The bottom line is, someone’s going to be unhappy. That person is Carol. … It would be a disservice to this city, to the artists connected to techno music across the globe, to the festival, and to the fans of this music not to go with the best. How would you justify it?”
For three years, the DEMF under Marvin’s leadership ran a deficit. In addition to the $340,000 the city paid Pop Culture Media annually to produce the show, taxpayers forked out more than $600,000 during the three years for overdue bills.
“The festival never made a dollar,” says Dickens.
The question now is whether May and his band of artists can pull together needed sponsorship dollars — this year, the city isn’t putting up a dime.
“I have the corporate and business savvy,” says May. “We will get sponsors that stand behind our artistic intent.
“Tonight is the beginning,” he adds. “We’re going to set the record straight. We’re going to open a window and let the fresh air in. This festival will be a vehicle for Detroit artists, and Windsor artists, to get the recognition at home that is sorely deserved.”Lisa M. Collins is a staff writer for Metro Times. E-mail comments to [email protected]