Number one vacation spot in the U.S.A.: Detroit, Michigan. Welcome to the cultural & scenic Motor City. Come visit the birthplace of Motown, Faygo, Eminem, Kid Rock, Danny Brown, The White Stripes, & Techno. The city is a vast & overwhelming landscape of overgrown fields, broken down buildings, strange neighborhoods and weird people. I know this because I lived there for three years trying to completely immerse myself within Detroit’s cultural scene. I went to and helped throw shows, worked with musicians like Jamaican Queens, Coyote Clean Up and Dakota Bones, and generally lived a pretty chill and fun life out there. The city is like a crazy ex who I’ll probably never get over. Just can’t stop comin’ back. Even though I’ve done all this supposedly fun stuff, there’s one thing I’ve never really given myself to: DEMF, a.k.a. the Detroit Electronic Music Festival.
DEMF is this special time of year every insane techno head and 16-year-old candy raver flocks to the city to be surrounded by like-minded freaks and push the limits of drug intake and sleep deprivation. The usual deserted and quiet streets of downtown are flooded with European ravers, hippie dubstep freaks, costumed aliens and an unnecessary amount of coked up teenagers. As my friend, dressed as the Virgin Mary hanging out in front of a port-a-potty, would put it later this weekend, “DEMF is Detroit’s Christmas… We are ever faithful all year round, but we celebrate the most this weekend.” People will not sleep from that Friday to the following monday, instead raving themselves to the grave. Needing a vacation from New York, I went back my hometown, ready to dedicate my body and mind to DEMF.
I flew in Wednesday with a whole week ahead of me. I stopped by my friend Travis’s pre-DEMF yard sale to get a nice wardrobe for the weekend. My homie Juan picked me out some pretty nice overalls that would go nicely with my dollar store Kangol. Got some coffee at Astro Coffee in Corktown with Ryan of Jamaican Queens and ran into Derrick May, who basically invented techno. Even though I’ve met him maybe 5 times he never remembers me. I was wearing those corduroy overall’s as he says “hi” to Ryan then looks at me. He introduces himself and says, “I like your jeans.” I look down and he goes, “No girl, I like your genes. You got good genes.” I laugh and he tells Ryan he should “hold on to this one.” Ryan agrees, deciding it’s better he doesn’t let Derrick know we aren’t dating. I regret not asking for a VIP pass.
It’s pretty necessary in Detroit to either have a car, a friend with a car, or a bike. There’s a pretty shady bus system you can utilize, but most people I know don’t bother. The Red Bull House of Art hasn’t been open for that long, but it's now a very popular spot to drink for free under very intense fluorescent lights while staring at funny local art. I ran in to about 20 friends there who were all slamming Red Bull vodka’s and bottles of Miller Light. The three day event that was going on was titled ‘Synthesia’. After getting a nice buzz going all of our friends filtered out of the gallery trying to find people who still owned working cars. With an early morning and long weekend ahead, I convinced friends to drive me home. Riding down Mt. Eliot, I felt like I was in some weird post-apocalyptic film. The roads were completely abandoned with no street lights as we drove past fields and dilapidated houses. My friend was in the truck bed screaming “Millions in the celin’, Millions – Millions in the ceilin” to an empty street. What a good Pusha T song. Around three p.m. the next day I got two messages from Ryan and Max, a.k.a. Dong Fang, that personally welcomed DEMF weekend for me. From Ryan:
dude. i’m stranded in hamtrack. took what i thought was molly, but wasn’t. some sort of weird research chemical. been up all night. r u around? i’ll pay u for a ride, and some xanax. my phone is dead. adam has my comp and charger. Group text from Dong Fang sent to Ryan and me:
Just want to thank you guys for leaving me stranded with a dead phone last night. It was a very pleasant 4.5 mile walk.
I think Max forgot that I wasn’t with him last night. They both were fine. I went to Ryan’s after work to cheer him up and we ended up riding to Mexican Town for tacos at one of my favorite restaurants Lupita’s. Ryan was pretty depressed still but I convinced him to stop by a popular dive bar called Donovan’s for a quick drink. When we walked in there was a party being thrown by WT Records from New York that we didn’t know about, so we convinced the door guy to let us in for free. The only people there were the deejays, 4 random people and Kyle Hall, a young house musician from Detroit who plays around the world at insane shows and parties.
When I got dropped off at DEMF the next day I immediately went to the Red Bull stage to check out Moodymann. He looked so chill and uninterested with some bandana over his face. The music he was DJ’ing was a lot more unique and danceable then a lot of other performances I saw during the weekend. I watched Carl Craig, who also pretty much invented techno, for 10 minutes then bounced. I can only have so much fun bobbing to techno music at six p.m. when nobody is dancing. I ran into Jeff Risk who deejayed at the festival in 2010. He’s a very serious guy, and I like the vibes he gives off. I feel very calm when I’m with him. I made him go to the Electric Forest stage to dance to really trashy dubstep with rolling 16-year olds. I think he secretly liked it but I’m not sure. I ran into Max and he was very excited because he snuck into the festival with a wristband from a shitty local festival that happens in March. Ran into Thor from Deastro during The Bug set and he sold me a tall boy of Budweiser for two bucks. I spent the rest of the evening at the Detroit Stage watching Terrence Parker and hitting on some cute Texan while I was dressed in overalls. Side note: Do not expect to get laid during DEMF weekend. It’s just impossible. This is probably the only weekend where people prefer to rave then get laid, and even if you do manage to end up at somebody's house, you’re both probably too fucked up to sleep together anyways. I still enjoy hitting on people though.
Once DEMF ended, some friends and I hopped in a car and headed to one of the few liquor stores still open; bought some Cheddar Pringles and some Vodka and Cranberry and headed to North End Studios. It’s a pretty standard Detroit DIY Venue. Up the stairs there’s a space like some old gutted office building with shitty bathrooms and some eclectic art covering the walls. I was pretty worn out so I just spent most of the time chilling on the couch watching Tunde Olaniran’s set. I have no idea who his back up dancers are but watching them was hypnotizing (not enough to wake me up though).
After one very generous friend came up to me and saw how tired I was, he handed me an Adderall. Once that kicked in I was ready to leave and rave on once more. We headed to the CAID, this DIY venue and art gallery located in this woodsy area of Woodbridge. When I showed up around three a.m. the place was popping. Nick George was throwing a party there entitled Direct Contact. Wolf Eyes headlined the show but I showed up too late to catch them. Normally after three a.m. I tend to not really care who is playing music but whoever was was getting a lot of shit from that guy Omar S — another pretty famous Detroit house musician. I was dancing and just watching Omar be a brat to him. Eventually he took over deejay responsibilities because the other guy was inadequate. That was pretty funny, but I still got bored and decided to hit on this pretty blond boy. He let me braid his hair on some bleachers in the backyard that were surrounded by a bunch of tall weeds and trees. After he left I danced with Dakota Bones and Ice Cold Chrissy, a.k.a. Coyote Clean Up until the party ended around five or six am.
Bones and Chrissy both write some of the most original electronic music to be coming out of Detroit right now. Bones ended up driving me to TV Bar for a party that was going on with a $40 cover. At that time though I did not give a fuck. Nothing could stop me. I was on top of my game, man. Braiding dudes hair, lookin’ hot, dancing to cool techno music, chillin’ with homies… I was living the DEMF dream. Chrissy, Ryan, and two other friends run up to Bone’s car as I’m trying to finish a cranberry vodka. Bone’s tells me he’s going to Missouri to chill with his family instead of hanging out at DEMF. I tell him he’s an idiot. TV Bar lets us all in for $20 because we live in Detroit, so that made us feel pretty good. The party was some weird Arthur Russell dedication that is going on for an unknown amount of time. Chrissy said he heard a couple seconds of a sample from one of his tracks, but I was oblivious. They were miraculously serving beer and drinks even though it was after two a.m. so I ball out and order Budweisers. The space between six a.m. and nine a.m. are somewhat of a blur. I have a lot of selfies in front of port-a-potties with a friend and I kept tweeting Shigeto and Black Noi$e about how they were missing out. One would presume I was enjoying myself.
Around eight or nine a.m. Carl Craig did a set and I was dancing with maybe 20 people. His wife was popping bottles of champagne and Ryan said this funny quote about how they were celebrating inventing techno because now they’re rich as fuck. Ice Cold Chrissy got to hang out with Skream and make funny faces at him. My friend tried to meet Richie Hawtin but Richie threw a water bottle at him. By the time it hit 10:30 a.m. I was starting to feel pretty beat. Around 11 am my homie ordered a Bud Light and I was still trying to dance, but I am going to presume that it looked like I was about to pass out. By 11:30 am I was asleep at Ryan’s.
We woke up around two p.m. and headed to the festival. Chrissy didn’t have a wrist band but nobody even checked for one as we were walking in. I was exhausted when we arrived, so I wasn’t excited to run around and dance. I watched Audion’s dark and mesmerizing deejay set and imagined me kissing Matthew Dear. My friend Matty texted me and asked to sneak him in, so I slid off my wrist band and gave it to a friend to walk out and deliver it to him. I had friends who split wristbands 3 ways to save money. That’s one of the beautiful things about DEMF. There really aren’t that many rules. Drugs are basically legal, sneaking in is incredibly easy, and you can basically do whatever you want once you’re inside. I told Matty to sneak me in booze, but he bought me a shitty bottle of whiskey. I said, “Dog, I hate whiskey. Especially shitty whiskey.” He made me give him $5 anyways. I pushed through a few crowds to check out Gesaffelstein and Squarepusher, but both were boring to me. I ended up laying against a tree inbetween the Red Bull stage and Detroit stage and just swore at ravers who tried to give me high fives because they thought I was coming down from hard drugs.
Sunday night was the number one show I was excited for… Dj Assault. I’ve had this strange obsession with him ever since my friend Brad gave me this ghetto-tech mix he made called Straight Up Detroit Shit. For the longest time i’d just walk around singing lyrics like ‘If you ride in my truck/Bitch you gonna fuck’ and ‘There’s some hoe’s in this house/If you see ‘em point ‘em out.’ Dj Assault’s music taste is just so relatable to my life as a 20 something in 2013. My friend Vaughn, a.k.a. Count Mack was playing with him, as was Coyote Clean Up. I met Vaughn upstairs as he was working on his set. After I was able to relax for a minute I went downstairs to watch DJ Kozee, Coyote Clean Up and Count Mack perform. I would have left at that point but if I didn’t catch DJ Assault I would have been really depressed. I saw him walk in with his crew around two a.m. maybe. At this point I was so apathetic to everything but I tried to stay awake. He came on around 2:30 and made some cheesy jokes and played all the ghetto-tech hits like my personal favorite, “If You Ride N My Truck” by Eric Martin and DJ Assault’s all time classic ‘Ass ‘n’ Titties’. I tried to dance for a while but I had to stop. I started texting everyone I knew who might possibly be awake for a place to stay. My friend who lived down the street answered and let me come over.
Walking there was very terrifying. Eastern Market at night is almost completely abandoned. As you walk through tiny streets surrounded by slaughterhouses and nameless warehouses, you can’t help but think about wild packs of dogs attacking you and homeless people hopping out of dumpsters. I thought I was gonna end up like that girl in Robocop who almost gets raped by those two dudes in old Detroit after walking alone. Once I got there I found out I’d have to share the living room with a bunch of raving Canadians. I told him I’d pass, presuming I’d find greener pastures at the DJ Assault show. I walked the scary trek back to Division Street and eventually found a place to stay. When we got there, I slept on a twin-size mattress on the edge of a lofted bedroom with no walls. Some pretty dark thoughts entered my mind as I tried to fall asleep. I thought, “this must be how techno music is written.” I woke up in a haze on monday around noon. My friend’s roommate posted a photo of me in a deep sleep with a cat on my head. I ignored it and slowly got out of bed, searching for any old coffee that someone might have made.
I pledged not to go to DEMF that day. It was raining and cold and I was tired. I got dropped off at this veteran’s bar in the Cass Corridor called the Old Miami. It was maybe three or four p.m. but it started at seven a.m. Despite the rain, the backyard was completely packed with zombie head bobbers and hyped up euros. Ben UFO was playing and his set was probably one of the best I saw all weekend. If you wanna come to DEMF, maybe invest in a one day wristband and then just go to after parties. Way cooler deejays play them and they’re longer, intimate and usually much more affordable. After wandering around alone for ten minutes I hear this high-pitched scream, “ABBY!!!!”. I turn around and see Ryan wide-eyed staring at me. He tells me that he’s been hanging out with a dominatrix all day who’s been making him meow like a kittycat. “You want a beer? What does a kitty cat say when he wants a beer?” Of course he meowed for her, but it sounded like some mangey feral cat. I then run into two other friends who tell me they’ve slept maybe 3 hours the entire weekend. Everyone around me’s jaws are shaking and pupils are big as quarters. I vibe off them and dance for a while. I ran in to Count Mack who was sitting in a dentist chair dressed in a full Cartier sweat suit. He looked like he was dosed with laughing gas from the Joker. He definitely had not slept since the DJ Assault show he played. I held his hand for a moment and continued partying.
We left at six p.m. when the party ended. Chrissy drove me back to Ryan’s house for all of us to rest. I had a music video I was supposed to be in for the Jamaican Queen’s track that I sing on at nine p.m. so I decided to take a nap before getting picked up. I woke up almost three hours later to a dark and empty house and angry texts from the director and Adam who is also in the band. I could hear techno music pulsing in the distance. Post DEMF depression finally sank in. I walked to Slows Barbecue for some food in the rain. It was a dark and stormy evening, a perfect parallel to my emotions. After a week of binge partying, hardly eating, and lack of sleep, I finally hit rock bottom. It’s a moment you know that’s going to happen, but some shred of personal optimism convinced myself that I was gonna be OK. I’d have some serotonin left, a couple extra bucks and maybe even a nice lay. Being optimistic is a nice quality to have but it often leaves you feeling betrayed and depressed. My friends hate me. I’m a failure. Why did I party so hard? What’s the point? All is hopeless.
The owner of Supino pitied me and bought me dinner and dropped me off at this Scrummage house party. Scrummage is an art collective that’s been in Detroit for over 5 years now. I stood in the living room feeling empty and hopeless yet again. I small talked with old friends and watched performances with a blank expression. Breezee One, a rapper, had some interesting new beats that I really enjoyed, but did not have the energy to express that enjoyment. My little brother and his 18-year-old raver friends picked me up and drove me to my parent’s house. They chain smoked in their car that was heated to 80 degrees with the windows almost all the way up. I thought my lungs were going to shrivel up. Once the miserable 40 minute car ride was over, I showered to some calming folk music, promising to never listen to techno again.
The DEMF was a strange drugged out fantasy that I was lucky enough to be a part of. Maybe in a year I’ll be ready to rave that hard again, but probably not. It’s kind of scary how many drugs people do during the festival. I spent a lot of time worrying about close friends who didn’t sleep for days and just kept doing molly and coke on empty stomachs. Dong Fang wrote a really inspiring message on twitter about his intake:
As much as I love swallowing handfuls of pills an washing it down with a 5th of whisky, I doubt thats the way I'll go out.
Dong Fang survived as did the rest of my friends, and for that I’m thankful. If you decide to try out DEMF next year, be somewhat safe and have fun.