Detroit Electronic Music Festival Plans Life After Carl Craig

Increasingly popular electronic-music event reorganizes after ousting co-founder/artistic director.

A flag raised over a sea of dancers on the final day of last month's Detroit Electronic Music Festival read "DEMF = Carl Craig."

DEMF producers Pop Culture Media and the City of Detroit will test the strength of that equation next year when they stage the increasingly popular festival's third edition without co-founder and artistic director Craig. A noted electronic-music producer and label owner in his own right, Craig was fired two weeks before this year's event for failing to secure several artist contracts on deadline (see "Clouds Settle Over Detroit Electronic Music Festival").

An advisory board of local dance-music experts — artists, label executives and club owners — will replace Craig, PCM president Carol Marvin said Wednesday.

An executive committee, which Marvin plans to introduce in September, will oversee the board.

"I don't care if people say we can't do this without Carl — but wait until after next year's festival to say it," Marvin said. "Give us a chance. I think this is positive. There will be some changes, but every festival changes every year. They all have a different feel."

Change is exactly what many electronic-music enthusiasts fear. For two years the DEMF has peacefully celebrated underground dance music, particularly the historically unrecognized techno sounds of Detroit.

Some argue that the festival is likely to lose its focus without Craig.

"With PCM selecting DJs for DEMF 2002, we're likely to see names like Paul Oakenfold and Moby on the lineup, and that is not what underground electronic music is about," said DJ Legal Alien, who performed at this year's DEMF. "Such big-name DJs don't have anything to do with Detroit and would be booked solely because of their mainstream popularity, which Carl Craig tried to avoid. Part of what has made the festival so special was that the public was exposed to DJs who have true respect in the electronic-music community."

Rob Theakston, a Detroit DJ who has worked behind the scenes at the festival, expressed the "big fear that next year's lineup will manifest itself as one giant corporate booger, rather than expose the diversity of electronic music and its influence in all genres."

Marvin said the board, not Pop Culture Media, would assemble next year's lineup. "I'm sure the board will have a lot to say about mainstream music," she added. "All I know is that we are always going to keep this festival fresh. Some people will like it. Some people won't. That's how it is."

Without Craig, Legal Alien and Theakston said, the DEMF could lose its credibility and ability to attract the caliber of national and international artists it has in the past, such as the Roots or De La Soul.

Craig's firing may also have alienated artists who sympathized with him in his dispute. Several DJs wore "I Support Carl Craig" stickers this year, and some acknowledged him during their sets.

Marvin believes Craig's reputation didn't build the DEMF, the audience did. "I always say it's the people that make the party," she said.

An estimated 900,000 fans gathered at Hart Plaza in 2000 and more than 2.3 million did the same in 2001, according to the Detroit Recreation Department (see "Rain, Controversy Couldn't Stop Beats At Detroit Electronic Fest"). Those numbers — "especially when they are well-behaved loyalists to the music," according to Marvin — will draw artists no matter who extends the invitation to perform.

Before his festival-stealing Sunday-night performance at this year's festival, Beastie Boys DJ Mix Master Mike said he wasn't the least bit influenced by Detroit techno. "I came because I want a million people to hear my music," he said.

"I had artists send me flowers," Marvin said. "We take good care of them from the moment they get here. We make sure they have a good time." The packed and enthusiastic VIP area for most of this year's DEMF weekend supported Marvin's claim.

Still, has the conflict between Marvin and Craig tarnished the DEMF?

"Leaving Carl out of this festival is like gathering all the animals on the ark and shutting the door on Noah right before it starts to rain," Theakston said. "It just doesn't seem right."

Marvin said she regretted not having a group of people select the lineup from the beginning, and added that she will suggest the executive committee discuss inviting Craig onboard.

"I am a fan of electronic music, but I didn't understand how emotionally attached to it the artists are," Marvin explained. "It must be because techno has been so underrepresented in the past. I understand their emotions now and feel bad that they are upset. But one thing people don't realize is how many artists work on this festival. Carl just had the most visible role."

Craig vacillated as to whether he would join the board if invited. "I'm happy to do whatever is necessary to make the festival be what I wanted it to be," he said. "The festival is really important. It's an inspirational thing. It's where we all wanted to perform."

He later noted, "It's easy to book the hottest people out there, but hopefully whoever takes my position will realize it's a free event and we need to make sure people understand where it comes from and how diverse it is."

After firing Craig, Marvin accused him of using the festival to promote the 10th anniversary of his Planet E record label. Several labels took advantage of the weekend traffic to host parties, but Planet E had the most acts on the festival bill, including long sets by newcomers such as Recloose.

Marvin said a major goal next year would be to showcase other labels. "We will definitely focus more on labels," she said. "There are 40 labels here and I would like to highlight them somehow."

Craig took a wait-and-see approach regarding the future of the DEMF. He wouldn't discuss his breach-of-contract and defamation-of-character lawsuit against Marvin and PCM. He admitted, however, that he was happy about the show of support he received from artists and fans alike.

"Unfortunately, Detroit is used to not getting the best and having to take what we get," Craig said. "It's great to see a revolution happen. I hope it gives people energy they can translate into the music."

"I wish people had spoken out like this when George W. Bush was elected," he quipped.