Carl Craig fired from DEMF
WHEN LAST YEAR'S first Detroit Electronic Music Festival (DEMF) turned out to be the nation's largest and most-successful free electronic music festival to date, it seemed that recognition for American dance music had finally arrived on home soil. Cofounded by techno producer and Planet E label owner Carl Craig, the event attracted more than one million visitors and boasted an array of artists including Derrick May, Stacey Pullen, and Richie Hawtin.
But only two weeks before the second festival – which takes place May 26-28 – the festival's producer, Carol Marvin of Pop Media Culture, unexpectedly fired Craig from his role as creative director. By doing this, Marvin has placed the future and credibility of the event in serious jeopardy. All of the major players in the Detroit music community spoke out against her actions in the Detroit press and have made one thing clear: the DEMF without Craig is no festival at all; without his work as creative director, securing a high-quality lineup would never have been possible.
On Monday a Pop Media Culture secretary told me that Marvin is no longer taking press calls. Odd, considering that on the same afternoon that she fired Craig, the story was leaked to the Detroit Free Press, which published an unflattering article on Craig and the crisis the following day. What were Marvin's motives for stirring chaos before the event? To say she's shot herself in the foot is an understatement. Until now Marvin had no reputation, good or bad, in the dance music community, and who will respect her now? And most important, what Detroit and international artists will sign contracts with her next year?
In the Detroit Free Press, Marvin says that she fired Craig because he did not turn artists contracts in on time. "That's totally false," Craig told me Friday evening from his home. "First of all I was never given any city deadlines, and maybe about every couple days she'd ask for something. We had all the [outstanding] contracts come in the day that the first article came out last Friday."
Craig is now suing Pop Culture Media for breach of contract and defamation of character.
"This was all done recklessly on her part to destroy my reputation," Craig said. "I feel as though this was a character assassination that was done as quickly as could be. There was no thought given to how the festival would be represented in this. Basically when she put out that press statement, she should have thought about the city of Detroit, the sponsors, the people who will be coming, and the artists who are going to play. There was definitely a diplomatic way of pursuing this, and she didn't do what she was supposed to do as a producer to save a festival."
Some Craig supporters suspect that Marvin reacted to corporate sponsorship pressure. "There seems to be some power struggles at play, namely pressure on Pop Culture Media by the city of Detroit and Ford," said Tomas Palermo, editor of XLR8R magazine.
"A lot of people have that same view," Craig said. "I'm not totally sure what the deal is, but in order for the festival to run, we need sponsors. I don't want to blame anyone except who's directly at fault, Carol Marvin and Pop Culture Media."
Still, the corporate element is glaringly evident this time around. Instead of the Detroit Electronic Festival, the festival is now the (Ford) Focus Detroit Electronic Music Festival, and the stages have been named Ford Focus, Miller Genuine Draft, and Bacardi. What's next – charging admission for the festival and bringing on the Chemical Brothers as the headlining act?
Jonah Sharp, who performed at the festival last year, expressed sadness at Craig's dismissal. "Without him what would it be?" he asked. "It's so much him. Where he's at with his label Planet E and his music – he's the only sort of person who could make it entertaining and make it work with a very eclectic array of underground and global talent."
Monty Luke, a local DJ and co-owner of the Justice League Sound System, is equally upset. "The whole thing smacks of a political ploy to internationally discredit him," Luke said. "If Carol Marvin thinks she can do a better job, she's naive."
And if the Ford Motor Company thinks it can profit from the Detroit techno tag and allow blatant disrespect of the artists on which its current Ford Focus ad campaign is built, it has another think coming. Craig requests that no one boycott the festival this weekend, something that all supporters seem to respect. But it's hard to imagine that the underground will just sit still.
To voice protests about Craig's firing call Carol Marvin of Pop Culture Media at (313) 392-9200 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.