Mornings in Michigan: Dancing into the wee hours with techno icon Carl Craig
This story is part of Mornings in Michigan, our series about morning rituals from across our state.
If you were in downtown Detroit over Memorial Day weekend, odds are you heard the pulsating sounds of Movement Electronic Music festival at Hart Plaza. Though the festival normally ends by midnight every day, there’s a late night — or shall I say early morning — dance music scene that makes Movement a 24-hour affair.
I stayed up into the wee hours of Sunday morning to attend the Detroit Love party, one of Movement's official afterparties. The line-up was star studded, and one person on the bill was Detroit native and techno icon, Carl Craig. Craig is a DJ, composer, and producer, and he's one of the founders of the original Movement, then known as Detroit Electronic Music Festival.
I sat down with him ahead of the festival and asked what it’s like to feed off the energy of the crowd, especially when you’ve been DJing for hours.
Hear my full interview with Carl Craig on the Stateside Podcast below (the interview begins at minute 8:15):
“Crowds move like waves in the ocean,” he said. “And with that, you get like a kind of ebb and flow. So you can tell when there's a low point with DJs playing where he might be losing some energy or something because the people, the wave would go out. And then when the next DJ comes on and then he's at a higher level, then a wave comes back in and it goes out and it goes in and it goes on and it goes in.”
Folks come to Detroit every year, in droves, from all over the world to see him and all their favorite DJs, and dance, all day and all night. I ran into another Detroit DJ, LostBoy, at the afterparty, and he said he'd drank three Red Bulls in order to stay up through the night.
Carl Craig's first set was Saturday night at 9:30 on the Stargate Stage, where he started off with some festival history.
“Back when we started this thing [in] 2000 when it was the DEMF, it was our dream to be here to do a festival at Hart Plaza,” he told the audience. “Traveled all over the world. But this is where we wanted to be. So, it's my pleasure to be here with my brothers and sisters, right in the thick of things.”
He finished up around 11:45 p.m. right around the time Movement ended and the after parties began all over Detroit. I left Hart Plaza and went to the Detroit Love afterparty at a newer venue called Spot Lite Detroit. It started at 11 p.m. and went until about 7 a.m. I got there around 1 a.m.
Blocks from Spot Lite, you could already hear the music inside. And just before I turned onto Beaufait — the street Spot Lite is on — I could already see that it was crowded. Craig went on around 3 a.m. and did a back-to-back set with another DJ, Seth Troxler, for three straight hours.
I got inside and immediately ran into a high school friend, Desmond Perry. He reminded me that in addition to Craig, the line-up was star studded.
“Stacy Hotwaxx, the godmother of house — muva, that’s m-u-v-a, muva — of house [...] DJ Holographic. Everybody that is Detroit, all the blackness, all the things that is great. That's what I'm here for,” he said.
"It's been super magical and I can't even put into words. I've been having the time of my life.”
Looking at the crowd around 4 a.m., I could see the height of the waves Craig talked about. This was the most crowded I'd ever seen Spot Lite, with a whole separate crowd in their outdoor space, vibing to another DJ out there and viewing art by Detroit muralist Sheefy McFly.
Even for those of us who call ourselves night owls, planning to stay up until 7 a.m. feels very daunting. But this is the life of a DJ. And Carl Craig said he’s always been a “nighttime cat.”
“Ever since I was a kid, I was always nighttime and I still am,” he said. “You know I love seeing the sunrise. More after a long night, than after sleeping all night. Sleeping all night, I feel that I missed a lot of stuff.”
Talking to people at 3, 4, 5 a.m., it became clear to me that that FOMO (fear of missing out) was warranted. People were there to see their favorite DJs, to dance, to get free, but they were also here to see other people. They were excited to be with their friends, and make new connections.
Akin Oluwadare, another person I talked to, was excited about the chance to bond with likeminded people.
“One really dope thing is meeting folks you normally wouldn't talk to and having, like, honestly real conversations,” Oluwadare said.
At events like Movement, you sometimes hear of incidents happening, like fights and violence. But if any of that happened last weekend, I didn't hear about it. Mostly I just saw people dancing, talking, and just happy to be out and not in isolation.
"It's been super magical and I can't even put into words. I've been having the time of my life,” a festival-goer named Tiponya said.
And last weekend I had the time of my life, too. As a dance music lover and native of Detroit Techno City, I was just really happy to be with my people again. The dance-‘til-you-drop-and-get-up-just-to-drop-again people. The fanny pack and ferocious footwear people. COVID is still with us. We know this. But maybe isolation doesn't have to be.
Craig and Troxler finished up their set a bit early, around 6 a.m. This was definitely a low point in the wave, as about two thirds of the crowd had left. As I walked outside, I could hear the birds chirping and see the sun rising up over Charlevoix Street. And I had to agree with Carl Craig — it was a pretty nice finale.
This story was produced by Rachel Ishikawa, with help from Erin Allen, Sarah Hulett and Doug Tribou.