Detroit is the birthplace of techno, and each Memorial Day weekend fans from around the world flock to Detroit's Movement Festival, or Detroit Electronic Music Festival. This year, Dallas music was on display.
Crowds of well over 100,000 congregated in Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit for six stages of music from noon to midnight, and then bounced around afterparties each night. The more commercial EDM sounds are in short supply during the weekend, in favor of a more purist house and techno vibe. For any true-blue dance music fan, Movement is America's annual musical mecca.
Texas was all over the place in Detroit this year. JT Donaldson dropped a set at the Cosmic Disco party, Austin’s Bill Converse made an appearance at the infamous bunker party hot on the heels of his own debut album from this past spring on the boutique electronic label Dark Entries. '90s Texas techno legend Andrei Morant made his debut at the festival's underground stage after turning heads (and blowing minds) at top-tier afterparties the past few years.
But in and amongst the headliners, there was an artist who hails from right here in Dallas. Those headliners were some big names, too, including Borderlands — a new project by Detroit techno founder Juan Atkins and the godfather of German techno Moritz Von Oswald — and German dance music pioneers Kraftwerk. Right alongside them was Maceo Plex.
About seven years ago, Eric Estornel was playing a going away party on Lower Greenville to a room for maybe 50 or 60 friends from the scene. Estornel and his then-girlfriend and business partner (now wife), Christine, were about to move to Spain. Estornel already had well over 20 releases on various labels under his Maetrik and Mariel Ito aliases and had been traveling to play gigs all over the world. He'd always come back to Dallas to play to a small or non existent crowd, and usually made up mostly of friends.
It made sense to move to Europe where he could simply be closer to the work. A year later Estornel started releasing tunes under a new, house-friendly moniker, Maceo Plex. The Maceo Plex tunes made a huge splash and he quickly became one of the most charted producers for Resident Advisor, the Pitchfork equivalent of the dance world.
Fast forward seven years and Maceo Plex has been a regular on the international touring circuit, headlining the biggest and most renowned clubs in the world. He was voted No. 2 DJ in the world in Resident Advisor's year-end list of 2015. Maceo Plex has been a regular face on Movement festival lineups for years, but this year he had one of the most crowded sets of the festival — second only to the legends themselves, Kraftwerk. That's what happens when you go from playing Expo Park on a Sunday night to launching your own residency in Ibiza.
There is a tenuous connection between Detroit and Dallas techno, which started with the Detroit label Metroplex being named after DFW. That was due to the regional popularity of electro pioneers Cybotron in the '80s and followed in the mid '90s with the release of Dallas producer Convextion on the Detroit-based Matrix records. Convextion is somewhat unknown in his hometown, but his album was ranked high in best album of the decade lists by Factmag and Resident Advisor. To this day you are more likely to see him perform in top clubs around Europe than on his home turf. Bringing it all full circle, Maceo Plex invited Convextion to play his Deep Ellum afterparty.
This was my seventh year in a row going to Detroit for the festival. Every year I run into more Texans that make the trek to Michigan for techno enlightenment. This year there seemed to be more Dallas people in the audience than ever before, which is remarkable or music that most folks in the city barely know exists. Techno is often referred to as a catch all adjective to describe a lot of electronic music that often has very little to do with actual techno.
Like many dance genres there is a dizzying amount of sub-genres within Techno. Tech house, minimal, post-industrial techno, dub techno, Detroit techno, electro; the list could go on for awhile. It's rare to catch any of it in Dallas, which is more known for its long and storied house scene, but tends to overlook a somewhat hidden techno scene that is respected by many in other parts of the world. That is changing as each new group of Dallas techno fans come back each year wanting to hit the decks and lock themselves away in their studio,s inspired by the cream of the crop that they are exposed to in Detroit.
The influence of Detroit is being felt in the Lone Star State. Techno is coming to town and like many other scenes around the world, we have Detroit to thank. Hopefully producers and DJ's will not have to go elsewhere to find an audience for their homegrown talent. But it's a good start to see artists like Maceo Plex getting a chance to shine on the genre's biggest domestic stage.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.