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Movement festival in tune with electronic music's mainstream appeal

for Journal Register Newspapers

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The Movement Electronic Music Festival is the genre's annual moment in the spotlight.

This year, however, it comes at a time when that moment has spread to the rest of the country.

During the Memorial Day weekend festival's 13-year run, the form -- known as Electronic Dance Music (EDM), electronica or just electronic -- has occasionally popped its head out of the underground. Disco co-opted progressive European dance club grooves and instrumentation during the 70s. There were pop hits by the likes of Fat Boy Slim and the Prodigy in the 90s. The film and ad world embraced it for soundtracks and musical beds. But it never quite broke through to a level of sustained mainstream success.

Until now.

When the first neon-festooned dancers hit Hart Plaza on Saturday, May 26, they'll be celebrating EDM's new position as an acknowledged youth music movement and culture. French DJ/producer David Guetta helped steer Black Eyed Peas" "I Got a Feeling" to the top of the charts and a Grammy Award and has also scored hits with Akon ("Sexy B****"), Usher ("Without You") and Nicki Minaj ("Turn Me On"). Sweden's Avicci went gold with "Levels," Skrillex and Deadmau5 have become large-venue and festival concert headliners. This year`s Grammy Awards even included an EDM segment featuring Guetta and Deadmau5.

No pop or hip-hop single is complete without at least one and usually more remixes accompanying the regular release, and fans are becoming versed in the distinguishing sonic characteristics of sub-genres such as dubstep, ambient, progressive house and more. And it's pervasive enough that even a grizzled classic rocker like the Eagles' Joe Walsh employs electronic elements on his new album, "Analog Man," and declares that, "I love house music, remix, trance, all of that electronica. I've got a satellite (radio) channel that plays nothing but that, and I listen to it a lot."

"There have been little moments before where everyone thought this is it, but this IS it," notes Kerri Mason, who covers electronic music for Billboard. "This is mass. It's youth culture. When you see it happening at events, at the large-scale festivals...100,000 people under 25 in a field losing their (minds), that's when you realize it's happening."

Of course, that's old news in Europe, where EDM has been a mainstream music force for a couple of decades. And it's potency is something the tens of thousands who have attended the Detroit festival -- as well as Paxahau, which has produced the event since 2006 -- recognized well before the pop world.

"This revolution has been going on for 20 years," says Paxahau's Sam Fotias, who serves as Movement's operations director. "I think it's important to remember this is not a new music. There's a deep-rooted history and there are a lot of people who have been working their butts off for the past couple of decades producing amazing music.

"We see what's going on obviously as a positive thing. When a music gains momentum and popularity and interest and more people appreciate it, it's a great thing all around. But there's also 25 years of amazing music that people who are just getting into electronic music can be exposed to, so...hopefully the (artists) who have been doing it for a long time and their work will get to bubble to the top."

Because EDM has been more of live scene, it can be hard to quantify the genre's success -- save for noting that Movement's attendance has jumped steadily since it became a ticketed event in 2005, drawing more than 99,000 during its three days in 2011. But it's clear that more people are listening to EDM as well as dancing to it; digital track sales comprised 3.1 percent of the market during 2011 according to Nielsen SoundScan, while digital album sales were up 42.3 percent from 2010 and total EDM album sales were up 15 percent.

"I think it's something that, over time, has just grown and grown an audience with it," says Avicii (real name Tim Bergling), who postponed a planned show at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena and is returning to play Sept. 13 at Compuware Arena in Plymouth. "There are a lot of kids out there who feel this is their music, just like pop or rock or hip-hop was for their parents or older brothers and sisters."

Billboard's Mason adds that "there's no unplugged to this audience. They've been raised thinking synthetic sounds are perfectly genuine. It doesn't sound strange to their ears." And with the proliferation of the Internet and personal digital devices, she says, "they're completely empowered to make their own hits now. They don't have to convince a radio programmer anymore. It's up to them, and apparently when left to their own devices, this is what young people like to listen to."

Fotias says that in Detroit -- which gave birth to the techno movement via artists such as Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins and Derrick May -- Paxahau has the benefit of a "pretty cool" and knowledgeable EDM crowd. But the company has still seen audiences at its events grow and diversify during the past couple of years.

That makes Movement's mission as much about education as entertainment.

"This year I think a little more than in years past we've taken a stronger position of trying to represent the history of where the music comes from," Fotias explains, "primarily because so many of the other festivals are booking all of the same (big-name acts). Because of where we're at geographically and the history of the city and the region...we have a wonderful vehicle here to expose tens of thousands of people to music that will be new to them."

Noting that Movement hosted early career stops by Skrillex, DeadMau5, Girl Talk, Pretty Lights and other now-major names, talent buyer/artist liaison Chuck Flask says this year's lineup is filled with historical touchstones, including Lil' Louis, Detroit's Jeff Mills recreating his early 80s Wizard persona, Photek and more. Saunderson and rap group Public Enemy are celebrating 25-year career anniversaries.

"There will be all types of cool stuff," Flask promises. "There are a lot of different, cool genres of music, things from actual Chicago-Detroit house music to drum-and-bass to dubstep, electro. I want to say we've pretty much touched on every kind of music in the electronic music scale except for trance this year.

"This is like a true (aficionados) festival. If they're really, really into the music, they're gonna get exactly what they want to hear. They're not gonna hear crazy, trendy club music."

Flask adds that Movement is also about exposing new talent and finding the future Skrillexes and DeadMau5s. And Paxahau takes some pride in the fact that support is usually rewarded in artist loyalty if they do blow up big.

"They can stay really, really cool or go the other way," Flask says. "It just really depends on the person, and their management is really important, too. A lot of agencies are turning these artists into rock stars. But we're really lucky all the artists work with us with their fees. Our brand is really strong, and people still want to be part of this."

The Movement takes place noon-midnight Saturday-Monday, May 26-28, at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit. Admission is $80 for a weekend pass, $45 for day tickets and $200 for a weekend VIP pass. Festival and afterparty schedules and other information can be found at www.movement.us.

Web Site: www.movement.us

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