Despite the downer of a nasty internal battle, the second annual Detroit Electronic Music Festival is slated to move forward for three more days of throbbing techno this weekend in the city's downtown that organizers hope will surpass last year's reported attendance of 1 million — which established the young festival as the largest free electronic music event in the world.
This year's event features such mainstream names as Beastie Boys DJ Mix Master Mike and hip-hop outfit De La Soul, while electronic devotees are salivating over the likes of Laurent Garnier, Static Revenger, and the appearance of Detroit techno pioneers Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson, the latter of whom is reuniting his dance music collective Inner City.
"We're part of the history; we elevated the music scene," notes Saunderson, who will perform with vocalist Paris and a 10-piece band. "People still hear our records in clubs. They still take riffs from our songs, like 'Good Life,' and the kids might not know where it's from. When they hear that riff after [the festival], they'll know, man, that this is the group that made that record. This is the education part."
Churning underneath the festival's operation, however, is dissension stemming from the dismissal of artistic director Carl Craig earlier this month by Pop Culture Media, which produces the DEMF. The organization claims Craig didn't live up to his obligations, particularly in securing contracts with all of the 70-plus artists on the bill; Craig — who's firing doesn't take effect until after this year's festival — has responded with a lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court for defamation of character and breach of contract.
Some of the performers threatened to drop off the bill — LTJ Bukem did, but only due to visa problems — but Craig has taken the high road in encouraging them to play. Most have agreed. "My whole thing is I want to see the festival be a success," says Saunderson. "I'm definitely saddened Carl was released, and the timing of it couldn't be worse. Carl definitely has my support in many ways. Let's have a great festival. … Then I think things can be dealt with, afterwards. If it's not dealt with properly, you can guarantee there won't be anyone next year from Detroit that's important to the music."