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Paxahau celebrates 10 years of triumph with Movement festival
When Paxahau took over Detroit's annual Memorial Day weekend electronic music festival -- now known as Movement -- 10 years ago, it wasn't exactly a plum proposition.
"There was a lot of damaged goods," recalls Paxahau President and festival director Jason Huvaere. "From a business perspective, it was a total disaster -- no history of on-time bill payments, no history of satisfied sponsors. Everyone was disappointed -- the artists, the city, the contractors, the vendors, the sponsors.
"That's what we walked into. The entire event was very unstable. It was a very difficult situation to unwrangle."
Paxahau did, however, and quickly -- which makes this year's 16th edition of the festival, and 10th under the direction of the Detroit electronic music promotion firm, a reason to celebrate.
Regaining the momentum of the first years in the early 2000 and picking up the Movement name Detroit techno pioneer Derrick May came up with when he ran the event during 2003-04, Paxahau -- which began producing parties, shows and other events in 1998 -- has stabilized the festival and turned it into a smooth-running operation that's became a highlight of the international electronic music festival calendar, drawing about 100,000 fans a year according to Huvaere.
"Those guys just know what they're doing," says Kevin Saunderson, another Detroit techno luminary who took it over from May in 2005 and operated it as Fuse-In Detroit before Paxahau took over. "They understand the music and the scene and they have relationships with artists all around the world. They're the right guys for the job."
Richie Hawtin, the Windsor native who used the Detroit scene as a springboard to his own international success, adds that, "Paxahau is really known around the world as one of the best in the business. They have a lot of credibility with all sides of the business. People have a lot of confidence in the festival now."
That confidence had eroded after great initial success. The first three Detroit Electronic Music Festivals from 200-2002, held as free events, drew an estimated five million people to Detroit's Hart Plaza -- although the attendance figures have subsequently been questioned. After that, however, things deteriorated under changing leadership, diminished funding, legal battles and an erratic relationship with the city government. May's first Movement was made possible by a donation from a Philadelphia-based laser company after the city withdrew its $350,000 contribution, and though Saunderson tried to right the ship by making his Fuse-In the first ticketed edition of the festival, it too ran up huge financial losses.
Paxahau, which was for a time headquartered in Ferndale, sponsored and curated one of the stages at Fuse-In, which gave the company a look "from the inside at what the festival was structured like and how a larger event worked," according to Huvaere. When Saunderson bowed out, Paxahau decided it was up for the challenge.
"We had been a driven group for a long time," Huvaere explains. "We had been producing a lot of parties in Detroit, and we always knew what we wanted, which was to promote this movie as wide and far as we possibly could. When Kevin resigned there was simply nobody else to work for, so we took it over."
That was just eight weeks before the 2006 edition of Movement, which featured the likes of Photek, Nitzer Ebb, Josh Wink, the Orb and more. Paxahau made it through that one and then, with more planning time, set out to build the brand. "I think one of the things that was in our advantage was we were new -- new faces, new stories and our track record was good," Huvaere recalls.
"It was a very difficult first year; What we accomplished in the time we did was incredible. There was no blueprint for festivals back then. Now there are hundreds. Back then there were two."
During the subsequent years Paxahau built a strong sponsorship base for Movement as well as partnerships with stage overseers such as the Red Bull Music Academy -- which used Movement to present its first U.S. festival stage -- Kid Rock's Made In Detroit, Opportunity Detroit and the international electronic music promotion firm Beatport. It also developed a strong network of official late-night afterparties, with some of the world's biggest artists and companies curating events of their own, but under the festival umbrella.
"We're really proud that we've stayed true to our course, promoting a music that for many years was considered udnerground or too edgy," Huvaere says. "We've stayed true to what Detroit is all about, what the music is all about, and now it's getting recognition that's on par with every other genre of music."
This year's Movement is, of course, designed to celebrate that success with another potent lineup that mixes international stars with locally produced luminaries -- including a day-long Origins: Elevation program by Saunderson and a three-and-a-half hour set by Hawtin, both on May 30 -- and plenty of fresh talent. This year's coup, meanwhile is the German group Kraftwerk, a bona fide giant in the genre which will be bringing its 3D show -- which dazzled the crowd last October at Detroit's Masonic Temple -- to close the Movement Main Stage on the festival's opening night.
"They called us," Huvaere says. "We had kind of put the feelers out there for a number of years. It was clearly a booking we had desired for a long time. We thought it would be great for them to play in Detroit, at Hart Plaza. This was the year they felt they could work it with their schedule."
Once Movement 2016 is in the books, Huvaere and company -- largely intact for the past decade -- will look towards the next 10 years. But with the fast-changing nature of the music business in general, and electronic music in particular, Huvaere says he knows better than to put too much planning in stone at any given time.
"It's a pretty exciting time to be part of electronic music because it's constantly changing, and doing what we do we get to see what's happening and where the music goes and what the artists do," he says. "We get to work with all these artists whoa re coming up wtih new ideas all the time, because they can.
"There's no (record company) industry that's driving the creativity and telling these guys what they have to do in order to sell records. So there are people constantly coming up with new ideas and new performances, and working with (Movement) is really a front-row seat to that. That's always what I look forward to the most."
Movement Music Festival
Noon-midnight, May 28-30.
Hart Plaza, downtown Detroit.
Tickets are $85 per day, $175 for a three-day pass and $300 for VIP packages.
Visit movement.us for lineups, schedules and afterparty details.
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