This past weekend, over 1 million people celebrated the motor city's status as the capital city of dance music
The ground was shaking, but the guy in the cow costume and the red-and-white-striped Dr. Seuss hat seemed to be having a good time nonetheless. Dancing with a girl wearing a pacifier necklace, he was all smiles. And he was not alone nor particularly extravagant as disc jockeys on four stages spun records accompanied by images on giant video screens.
Colorful characters have been a fixture in a large downtown park on the riverfront over the past three days. They're part of a sea of piercings, tattoos, dance steps, and pounding bass beats that constituted the third Detroit Electronic Music Festival (DEMF), billed as the largest free music event in the world. The festival, a celebration of beat-driven "techno music," drew people as far away as the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan.
For Detroit, being the focus of a music scene is nothing new. Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent hail from here. The motor city introduced the world to the sound of Motown. And the city's traditions of classic rock, garage rock, and rap continues to produce stars such as Kid Rock, The White Stripes, and Eminem. But the techno scene is different. Its prevalence in dance clubs has moved the music and the city on to a more global stage, spreading its influence into Europe and beyond and creating a kind of gritty mythology about the city in those places.
"It just gets bigger. And we hope it continues to grow," says Greg Bowens, spokesman for Pop Culture Media, who put on the event.
For many fans abroad, a pilgrimage to Detroit is considered something close to a religious experience. Techno tourists wander through grungy streets looking in awe at seemingly unexceptional buildings that are known only for their role in the creation of the music. And true techno insiders seek out t-shirts and hats that are stamped with a "313," Detroit's area code.
Shawn Santo, owner of Pure Detroit, a store that specializes in city memorabilia, says her stand at the festival was doing a brisk business in selling anything bearing the logo. "It's the insiders' code for techno," she said. "We generally get a lot of Germans, some from the UK, and we had a guy from Spain in the store the other day."