For the past seven years Andrew Virden has helped to host the Corktown Tavern pre-festival BBQ for eager DEMF attendees looking to get warmed up for the weekend. This experience, coupled with previous involvement as the festival’s marketing events manager and his overall enthusiasm for the music and artists of Detroit, convinced me that Andrew would have just the perspective I was seeking in my efforts to dive deeper into the history and significance of this annual extravaganza.
I asked Virden to recall for me the early years of the festival, when admission was free and, while the talent featured was no less potent, it had yet to attract the international renown it has today.
“I simply did not believe it would actually happen that first year; it seemed too far fetched to imagine such a gathering being held in the heart of the city. Even as I was driving there, I was convinced it was just too good to be true. I had not even made proper arrangements to take time off; I never thought I would be there until the end because I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be a beginning…”
Nonetheless, that first year in 2000 proved to be “absolutely magic; the best it could possibly be. I mean, the final eight hours on the main stage saw Kevin Saunderson, Rolando, Derrick May, and Richie Hawtin…it was ridiculous!”
From there, I was curious as to how DEMF has changed since the transition away from being a strictly artist organized event, and one focused on music originating from Detroit, into the current scenario of creative control being handled by a large scale promotions group booking global talent.
“Paxahau took over in 2006 and continues to do a very good job; I think if it were not for them there would not be a Detroit Electronic Music Festival right now. They were able to get sponsors to come in and help make the festival financially viable. Particularly in light of the fact that Paxahau is now in the unenviable position of having to keep it feeling fresh and relevant despite the fact that so many of the top international artists have already performed in years past. I applaud their efforts…and I think Detroit is probably the only city that could pull this off in North America. It is really special to experience techno in the city in which it was born… “
Virden continued, “The question now remains: where should we be going from here? Should it still be a Detroit Music Festival or simply a fest that happens to be in Detroit? What is the direction? No matter what, you will get some folks who are critical of the line up, but maybe it takes booking a more mainstream act or two to keep things viable as the size and scope continue to grow? In 2001 I covered the festival as a correspondent and attended a briefing at the Mayor’s office to announce the line up for that year. The Mayor’s spokesman estimated that the festival that year would bring in a comparable amount of revenue to the city as hosting the Super Bowl would, with the difference of course being that DEMF is an annual occurrence rather than a one time event.”
One factor which bodes well for those hoping DEMF stays true to it’s original ideals is the recent announcement that techno music legend Carl Craig has been named Creative director for Movement 2010. “Movement is already a great festival and a successful brand,” said Craig, “it is an honor to be involved with Movement in this new capacity. I look forward to working with the team from Paxahau to take the artistic vision for the festival to a new level.”
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After attending this year, I certainly concur that DEMF is in good hands. The details of operation such as security and vending were handled smoothly, and the talent on display was truly inspirational. So, no matter the direction forward, enthusiasts such as Andrew and myself will most definitely be along for the ride. See you there next year!