When elite members of the dance music community converge to party, it’s a safe bet that the drug culture’s most enthusiastic denizens will be there front and center. This symbiosis was vibrantly on display over the weekend at the annual Movement Electronic Music Festival in Hart Plaza.
Detroit’s integral place in the narrative of techno has made the city a sacred ground for ravers to convene. And now that Michigan is home to some of the world’s finest marijuana growers, their experience seemed groovier than ever.
I got to the festival around 4 in the afternoon, a late start following a taxing night of raving at the Tangent Gallery. I found the nearest Portapotty, took off my shoe and removed a slim container with six pre-rolled joints. I’d taken extra precaution smuggling in my dope after receiving a text that morning saying that security was checking people thoroughly at the point of entry. This had gotten much more relaxed by the time I arrived, and I was allowed into the plaza with no more than a cursory once-over. I came out of the Portapotty feeling kind of silly, but also exhilarated as I surveyed the electric field of neon-garbed ravers amassed before me.
I wandered from stage to stage, bouncing along to the throbs of base and stormy synths, and everywhere I went I detected the pungent aroma of chronic weed. At the apex of the Pyramid theater, a hippie named Mike from Illinois, wearing a tank top that read “KEEP ONE ROLLED” puffed on a formidable cone of Blue Dawn while shimmying righteously to the DJ stylings of Justin Martin. I showed him my Marijuana in the Mitten press pass, freshly laminated at Kinkos that morning, and he offered me a drag.
“I’ve been coming to this party for years; my usual hookup is MIA right now so I had to buy this from a guy on the street.”
“Not bad,” I replied, taking another pull from the incinerating, finger-length cylinder. “Kinda fruity.”
“Man, I remember buying a bag from a guy out here a few years ago, it was bullshit. Now even the random dudes on the street got fire! No more Reggie Jackson.”
“Reggie Jackson retired.”
“Hell yeah! Do you know where I can find any Girl Scout Cookies?”
My chief interest for the afternoon aside from, well, “chiefing” properly was checking out my rapper colleagues Riff Raff and Action Bronson, who were performing back to back at the Moog stage. I made my way through the growing crowd, noting a group of lads at the base of Dodge Fountain passing a mini-vaporizor fifteen feet from a circle of Detroit Police Officers, who stood around indifferently.
I arrived at the Moog stage as DJ Godfather was finishing up his kinetic set, driving the crowd wild with his fast-paced, licentious ‘booty’ mix. I lit up a pre-roll of a fine blueberry sativa, the aroma of which drew the interest of a group of nearby Canadians. They introduced themselves and a gentleman named “Flip” deployed a pre-roll of his own, a massively potent hybrid he called “Pink BC Kush.”
“Ten years ago I’d be bringing five pounds of this shit over for this week. Now I gotta compete over there with the stuff you guys grow over here.” He passed the joint to his chartreuse-hot-pants-clad companion. “I used to get $4,200 a pound! Now I’m lucky if I can get half that, but on a sunny day like today who’s complaining?”
This evening hip hop block seemed to accumulate the weed-heads in attendance, and when Riff Raff finally took the stage after a lengthy delay, he noted the aroma of ganja almost immediately.
“Detroit, I smell you out there. Keep lighting them up, I smell you.”
He then launched into a disinterested and lackadaisical performance that included ample over-dubs and constant reminders to buy his album when it drops next month. He’d frequently stop rapping to autograph a t-shirt or pose for a picture or go to the back of the stage to pour himself a drink while his track continued to play. His apathetic approach was in stark contrast to the more virtuoso rapping display put on by his peer Action Bronson. The heavyweight Serbian, who earlier this year tackled a security guard who tried to stop him from smoking a joint onstage, put on a dynamic performance that some called the best hip hop set at Movement in years. He even styled out on a brief, sweat-drenched cover of Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’ to close things out.
Still in possession of a few ‘p-rrahs’ after the hip-hop block I decided to check out some techno proper at the Beatport stage, where pioneering DJ Green Velvet had the riverfront ‘turned up’ with a blistering mix of House beats. Darkness had fallen over the Plaza and more people than ever felt comfortable pulling out their assorted pipes, Blunts, and Vape pens, the Pyramid becoming a hive of stoner activity. I passed a spliff with Christopher Jarvis, a fast-rising producer of off-beat electronica who was performing at the Festival for the second year in a row.
“Last year they had me playing at one, this year I’m playing at two. So I figure in ten years I’m going to have that Richie Hawtin time slot.”
The vibe of the event continued to build positively throughout the evening. As the beats got deeper, more ravers poured into the Plaza and people settled into assorted states of pharmacological rapture. While alcohol is present at Movement, it is rare you see the kind of dark, drunken buffoonery you encounter at other large scale music events. The primary elixirs for Movement are marijuana and psychedelic drugs like Molly and LSD. Even for those who don’t take these substances, it’s impossible not to feel their effect on the event’s collective consciousness. A sense of love and optimism is ubiquitously conveyed, one that may seem naive under scrutiny, but that is very real and tangible when you see it on the face of a young dude with a headful of mushrooms tearing off his “LET’S GET WEIRD” tank top and shouting, “This is the greatest day of my life” to no one in particular. It’s a milieu that is easy to poke fun of, but whose utopianism is both infectious and quirkily endearing.
I concluded the night at the Movement Detroit stage, lighting up my final pre-roll of the night, a spicy indica called Africanistan, at the base of the Michigan Labor Legacy Landmark. Local legend Stacy Pullen performed an effervescent, crowd-pleasing set as the light show tracers reflected on sides of skyscrapers along Jefferson Ave. A pair of young ladies put down their hula hoops and approached me, asking if they could take a puff. They said they were from Toronto and that it was their first time at Movement. I asked them how they liked partying in Detroit.
“You know it’s different, everything where we come from is so clean and orderly. Here everything is so random and dirty…but we love it. It gives the music a different kind of power. And the weed you smoke here is the best! Do you know where we can find any Girl Scout Cookies?”