Paxahau’s Jason Huvaere talks techno in advance of Movement festival
“I felt like I had found what I was searching for without even knowing I was searching for it,” Huvaere says of discovering Detroit’s underground techno scene in the early 90s. “There was something about the transparency, the randomness, the frequency range, the math, the lack of language, the futuristic feeling, and the kind of no end in sight. You kind of knew right away, there’s no end in sight. This could just grow and grow and grow. I was just sucked in like a tractor beam. It just changed my life.”
Born the son of a Chrysler dealer in a satellite city of Detroit, Huvaere couldn’t have been better cast as the hometown hero who would help revitalize Motor City’s signature techno festival. As a budding event producer and promoter, Huvaere befriended such seminal techno stars as Richie Hawtin and Derrick May, quickly becoming an integral part of a 23-person rave commune that threw regular parties in their Capital Park home.
“We had up to 600 people over every weekend for awhile,” Huvaere reminisces. “We were producing different themes on different floors. It was a really special time in life… that was like the next wave of gravity for me. Once I heard the music was the first wave, once I was able to work with the music was the second wave. I’ve never looked back since.”
However, those heady days were numbered. Starting in late 1995, the Detroit law enforcement began cracking down on the city’s underground techno scene, shutting down warehouse parties and introducing a number of shady elements into the scene that Huvaere describes as “opposite to those that we were originally inspired.”
“We moved into nightclubs. We moved onto the internet, and we found a way to continue to let the music survive and grow,” says Huvaere. “But that original feeling that used to exist in Detroit of not being just special, but almost being protected, that had gone away for a few years.”
Movement began in 2000 as Detroit Electronic Music Festival, a collaboration between the city of Detroit, the Parks and Recreations Department, and the techno artist community, which was largely represented by Carl Craig. Huvaere describes the first three years as a “springboard” for the festival in which tens of thousands of new fans were turned on to a genre that had previously only occupied the underground.
“When the festival emerged in Hart Plaza for the first time, we went from being shut down to protected by law enforcement,” recalls Huvaere. “And it was in goodwill, it wasn’t a muscle move. It created that understanding that we once had but now on a massive scale.”
While the festival was transformative for the city’s scene, it was no stranger to instability. Following a controversial split with Craig, festival management passed through the hands of fellow techno luminaries Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, respectively, between 2003 and 2006. While the festival was hailed critically for its all-star artist lineup, it was floundering commercially and cracks were beginning to show.
“Those were some very good years for music fans, but very challenging years managing the event,” says Huvaere. “These guys are world travelers, and they’re artists. This event is really just a monster that requires day to day attention all year round. It was also at a point before the festival craze in this country, so there weren’t a lot of blueprints and roadmaps as to how to wrangle this thing.”
Paxahau was selected by the city to take over management of the festival in 2006, marking Movement’s final transition from public to private stewardship. Huvaere credits this forward thinking management model and the cooperation of city partners with contributing to the festival’s successful turnaround.
“Our proposal to come out and manage this festival privately was new, because a lot of these large city events were city hybrid events,” Huvaere explains. “This was the first time anyone ever asked ‘can we rent Hart Plaza?’ That was a huge thing that a lot of people couldn’t get their heads around. Now it’s been proven hundreds of times in this country and dozens of times in this city that this is a better model… music concerts are run mostly independently and that’s how the music industry’s survived and sustained.”
Now in its eighth year under Paxahau’s management, Movement has emerged as one of the largest and most revered electronic music festivals in the world. The festival has managed to strike a difficult balance by sustaining continuous growth while retaining its sense of authenticity. This year’s incarnation sports a veritable dream team lineup that features scene stalwarts and edgy new arrivals alike. Huvaere can barely contain his excitement as he discusses his good friend Richie Hawtin’s headline set on Saturday, a complicated performance whose production he has been working closely on.
“We still have a music first mentality,” Huvaere says. “Every year we go through those lineup questions…should we comply? Should we compromise? Staying as hard nosed as we have, we are definitely not in the category of some of our wealthier festival producer friends, but the experience that people have in Detroit is completely unique.”
After decades of persecution, Huvaere welcomes the increased awareness of electronic music that the current EDM wave has brought to America. He is confident that new electronic music adherents will eventually do their homework and be drawn to Detroit’s importance within dance music’s historical trajectory, as well as its current scene’s resilience in the face of economic decline.
“Detroit has maintained its very hard shell authenticity that has never and will never break,” Huvaere says. “It’s just one of those characteristics of this city that isn’t about arrogance or confidence, it’s just how this city was created, it’s how this city exists. This is great for electronic music enthusiasts because it gives a sense of integrity and seriousness to a scene that could easily become very plagiarized, recycled and about the Hollywood side of it. Detroit’s never had a Hollywood side.”
Huvaere maintains that Paxahau is not a goal-oriented organization, deriving its approach from the unwavering nature of the genre it champions. But he recognizes that Movement’s ever-increasing fan base may soon outstrip its host site in Hart Plaza. He also welcomes the opportunity to expand Movement-sponsored events beyond Detroit’s city limits to a few of the many cities he has received invitations from. But amid the rising waters of dance music, Huvaere is confident that techno will continue to march to its own relentless beat.
“I think techno is one of those steady courses, sometimes it speeds up a little, sometimes it slows down. But as techno is going down its track, I see a lot of noise flanking it all the time, some stuff rushes 100 miles ahead of it and then it falls back a few years later… I think it’s going to stay consistent, I do not have any prediction that it’s going to explode in size and numbers, but I’d invite anyone who’s experienced a proper techno party anywhere in the world to compare it to any tent, field, or LED lights… when you’re in a proper techno environment with Richie, Marco Carola, or Chris Liebing, there’s nothing else quite like it. I think it’s always gonna be that way.”