Review | Movement 2012
(an ode to the Wizard)
by Joshua P. Ferguson
This past weekend marked the third consecutive year that I've traveled north to Detroit to navigate the sea of ravers and soak up the myriad dance beats that comprise Movement, Motor City's premier electronic music festival. This year, I had two fellow music journalists in tow and at some point we had a discussion about how best to angle our coverage. The first year I was quite diligent, waking each morning to pound out a blog post and upload a few of my own amateur photographs. The second year I think I managed one mid-fest post and a full post-fest recap. This year, as we each threw around ideas, I was still clueless.
I've written about the spectacle that is the people, all blast-from-the-mid-90s candy kids with rainbow-colored dreads, bare mid-riffs, ripped fishnets and Pikachu backpacks (believe it or not, I'm describing guys and gals). I've done the DJ play-by-play, trainspotting tunes and tipping readers off to the scene stealers who can back up their hit records with live sets as worthy of praise. I just didn't feel either approach, or a combination, was going to bring anything new to the blogosphere at large.
So I said fuck it. I drank too much the first day, was hung over the second (but manage to rally) and drank too much again the third day. Each night, save the last, I was up with the sun. I talked a lot of shop with a lot of old friends and made a few new ones in the process. I danced more than I have in ages.
And I saw Jeff Mills for the first time.
Here is a man with the ability to alter people's perceptions of this culture and what it can be, and also teach you most of what you need to know about its past. For those who don't know Jeff Mills as the Wizard—when I say Mills, do you think Wizard? Or do you think Axis, or just techno?—it was his radio guise back in the '80s, when he would actually cut, sctratch and juggle tracks into the mix on the air live. That's what he was doing here and it was as amazing as it was informative. His set was history lesson on the roots of Detroit music for the last 30 years, it made you understand why it is the way it is and how it came to be that way—from Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force to Kraftwerk and from Steve "Silk" Hurley to Cybotron. It was an early timeline of essentials that brought both A Number of Names' "Sharevari" and Mills's own "The Bells" to new light.
That would have been enough. But then he came down from his perch to the very front of the main stage and gave us sweat-soaked mind-numbed masses a live 909 freestyle that sent Detroit's Hart Plaza into an absolute frenzy—that is, if you weren't standing dumbfounded at the sheer spectacle of it all.
More than one person that night told me they were swearing off deejaying after seeing Mills at work. Unfortunately, these protectors of the art aren't the ones we should be worried about. Electronic music is going in a lot of directions these days—bass heavy, ravey, druggy, progressive, deep—but are the artists behind the music doing so with the open-minded, passionate craving that this musical magician has displayed for his enviable career? Who knows. Some yes, some sorta, a lot no. Jeff Mills in his hometown, retracing the steps that gave us him and many other acts—and their hits—made me realize that now, more than ever, we need more yeses.