Humongous crowd gets hip to Detroit's underground sound over three days of peace and music

May 30, 2000

Free Press Pop Music Critic

Historians will tell you Detroit techno arrived in the mid-1980s, the work of progressive black kids with an ear for electronics and funk.  But those of us with romantic notions will look back at a moment that's a bit more poetic: 8:50 Saturday night.

With a glorious pink-and-blue sunset serving as a backdrop, Hart Plaza was overtaken by bodies and more bodies. The Detroit Electronic Music Festival was nearly nine hours old. An event that just last week had been an iffy proposition was bursting with life.

Onstage, as a seemingly endless stream of people filtered into the plaza bowl, Detroit DJ Stacey Pullen lifted his fingertips from a record, and let it spin. That familiar brisk beat -- the spare pulse of classic Detroit techno -- swept across the park.  Pullen tweaked a knob. "Let there be light! And there was light " About 300,000 listeners heard the words of Martin Luther King Jr. mixed among the rhythm. "I have a dream today " The crowd whooped and hollered.

Suddenly, the sound quietly nurtured in basements, lofts and clubs had its prime venue. In one sublime instant, a tight web of myths came unraveled: Detroit techno is doomed to obscurity. The city is stuck with an insurmountable racial divide. Nobody cares about this music.  But they came -- hundreds of thousands more on Sunday and Monday. They came with bald heads, frizzy Afros, green hair, purple hair, and everything in between. They were candy ravers, with their pacifiers, pigtails and "Teletubbies" backpacks. They were grizzled rock fans, with their Quiet Riot T-shirts and jeans. They danced like athletic acrobats, like maimed chickens, like street-savvy B-boys.

It didn't matter that many of them arrived with curious accents -- Swedish? Belgian? Dutch? When darkness fell, they were -- all of them -- simply Detroit.  This was the moment when the Detroit Electronic Music Festival went transcendent. This was the moment when Detroit techno arrived.

Contact BRIAN MCCOLLUM at 313-223-4450 or