Ultimate Guide to Movement Festival Detroit

Hart Plaza during Movement Festival at night.
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Saturday 25 May – Monday 27 May (Memorial Day Weekend)
Hart Plaza, Downtown Detroit USA
Official Website

For those who don’t know, Detroit proudly boasts the title of the birthplace of techno.

While Berlin may get a lot of the techno credit these days, Detroit is where my favourite genre of electronic music actually originated from. To celebrate this, artists and fans from all over the world gather together for Movement Festival, an annual gathering of techno and house music in the city it all originated in.

Movement festival originated as Detroit Electronic Music Festival twenty years ago (this year is the 20th anniversary version!). While the festival itself is fairly lowkey in comparison to the likes of EDC or Ultra, it stays true to its roots of house and techno, with a strong history and dedicated fans that make the vibe very worthwhile. The city of Detroit absolutely comes alive during Movement. Locals and visitors alike will be strolling the streets, trying the abundance of amazing restaurants, and of course dancing the day and night away.

Almost as famous as the festival itself (perhaps even more so) are the legendary parties that happen from as early as the Wednesday before. Detroit has some pretty incredible venue spaces, and the DJs definitely bring their a-game this weekend. A lot of the parties aren’t officially tied to Movement Festival itself. Don’t be surprised if you see some lineups with artists that aren’t even playing at the festival.

This will be my fifth year in a row attending Movement Festival, so hopefully this guide will give you some insight on what to expect and how to prepare. I promise you are going to love it!

Where to Stay

Since Hart Plaza is central downtown Detroit, any hotel in the downtown area will be accessible to the festival, either by a short walk or Uber ride. While there are quite a lot of hotels to choose from, I would suggest booking early. Waiting until later will on inflate prices and risk hotels selling out.

I’ve personally stayed at four different hotels in all my years attending, and have a quick guide below:

2015: Corktown Hotel
My Rating: 2 / 5
Pros: Cheap price, no longer exists!
Cons: Too many to list… see below.
Notes:
Attending Movement for the first time in 2015 was a very last minute decision. Therefore most of the decent hotels were either sold out or completely out of our price range. We had a couple friends staying here, and it was in our budget so we decided we would too. I won’t go into too many details, but anything you can imagine about a seedy 2-star hotel in downtown Detroit was true for this place. A musty smell in the room, used condoms in the parking lot, decor from the 70s, and so on. I made sure to do an intense bed bug inspection as soon as we arrived (luckily we were in the clear), hardly took my shoes off in the room, and made sure to double lock the door when we went to bed. Since we spent most of the time at the festival or at after parties, we tried to make the best of our time in this sketchy hotel, and definitely had some interesting stories afterwards.

The Corktown Hotel has since been sold to new owners and completely renovated. It is now the Trumbull and Porter Hotel, which looks a lot more chic and less scary. Perhaps worth a stay, though the location is a little bit outside of the main city core.

 

2016: Motor City Casino
My Rating: 3 / 5
Pros: Upscale hotel, very clean with a bunch of amenities. Location is close to some good after party venues, 24 hour diner inside. Parking was free as well!
Cons: Further from Hart Plaza, security checks key cards on they into your rooms via the elevators if you are planning on having guests. Walking through the casino was torture for a non-smoker like myself.
Notes:
The Motor City Casino is just that: a hotel attached to a large casino. This hotel was definitely giving me some Vegas resort vibes, and there was always something going on. The rooms were super well kept and comfy, and it was nice to have food options directly in the hotel. Overall the hotel felt a bit impersonal, and was quite out of the way from Hart Plaza, though it is closer to some of the after party venues like Leland City Club.

2017: Doubletree By Hilton
My Rating: 3 / 5
Pros: Big, spacious rooms that are all suites with a separate living area, and a small kitchenette. Rooms can fit six people if need be which can help keep costs down. 15 minute walk to Hart Plaza.
Cons: A little outside of the city core, with limited food options in the direct vicinity. There is also no self-parking available, only an expensive valet option.
Notes:
This hotel is a good option if you are planning to stay with a larger group, as the rooms are spacious and can accomodate more people. Besides the in-hotel dining options, there isn’t too much around unless you head a little further into the downtown core. Overall we had a nice stay here, and the extra living space was ideal for pre and post festival parties. Also, although there is no parking at the hotel, we managed to find free parking for the weekend in a casino parking lot nearby.

2018: Marriott at the Renaissance Centre
My Rating: 4 / 5
Pros: Very close to Hart Plaza with upscale and well kept rooms. Lots of dining options directly inside the Renaissance Centre, with a convenience store / drinks too.
Cons: Rooms are a little on the small side. The Renaissance Centre is massive and easy to get lost in. The elevators can take a while too sometimes, and there is no free parking.
Notes:
The Renaissance Centre has been my favourite hotel to stay in so far. The proximity to Hart Plaza is super convenient, and being able to go back and forth to have a few drinks and cool off in the air conditioning was essential during the heatwave last year. A lot of people complain about the elevators, but honestly I didn’t find them too bad. Also, there is no free parking and we paid around $25.00USD to park per day.

Other Considerations:

Downtown Hotels

Although these have been my personal experiences with hotels in downtown Detroit, there are many other options to consider. The Crowne Plaza is the closest to Hart Plaza, and there is the Greektown Casino, Hilton, Westin, etc all within a short walk as well.

Airbnb

While there are some nice Airbnb options around, I would advise against them. I have heard on various occasions of people having their reservations cancelled on them, sometimes just days before the festival is set to begin. They then have to scramble to find an accommodation at the last minute. I would suggest avoiding this potential hassle by securing a hotel room instead.

Dearborn

While the lower hotel rates may be tempting, you must also factor in the cost of Ubers and taxis to get you to and from this suburb into downtown Detroit. For some people, the savings are worth it. Also consider the convenience of having a hotel within walking distance to the festival: you can leave to take a break, change shoes if your feet are hurting, have some more drinks, grab a sweater – the convenience of this alone makes staying downtown much more worthwhile in my opinion.

Windsor

Windsor boasts the cheapest hotel rates for the weekend by far – but trust me it is not worth the hassle! Having to cross the border twice per day sounds like a nightmare, especially coming into Detroit from the Canadian side. In fact, we don’t even take the Detroit tunnel anymore and instead drive to Sarnia and cross from there – the Detroit tunnel border is notorious for pulling your vehicle over and questioning you, all for mentioning you are going to the festival. Save yourself the massive headaches and stay on the American side – it will be so much more worth it.

What to Wear

If you aren’t from around the Great Lakes area, the completely unpredictable weather may be surprising to you. With close proximity to the water comes a lot of different weather patterns. This makes it hard to know early in advance what the weather may be like. Last year, for example, was a massive heatwave with extremely high humidity. Other years, I’ve had to wear sweaters as it got a little chilly, especially after the sun went down. In any case, bring a variety of clothing options and be prepared for any weather.

As previously mentioned, Movement is more of a lowkey festival. You’ll see some people decked out it full rave gear, however for the most part people are dressed in more trendy, stylish outfits in muted colours (read: black). I actually quite like the style displayed at Movement  and I’m always excited to put my own outfits together too! Don’t let the laid back nature of this festival deter you – rock the style you like and don’t be afraid to show some flair.

As for footwear, I cannot stress this enough, comfortable shoes are a must! Hart Plaza is a complete concrete jungle. Every stage (except for one) is on concrete, which will wreak havoc on your knees and lower back. There are some grassy areas scattered about, including a nice beer garden, which are good to sit down and relax in. However, for the most part, expect to be pounding some serious pavement. Make sure whichever pair of shoes you wear are broken into and provide support. I also find doing little stretches every few hours, like bending and touching my toes, helps to ease the stress caused from the concrete in my lower back.

WHAT TO PACK (snapshot section)
-Ear plugs - especially for the underground stage
-Sunscreen
-Sweater
-Comfortable shoes
-Fan
-Poncho (otherwise pay $10+ for one in the festival)
-Fruit
-Electroyltes

Navigating the Festival

One thing I especially like about Movement being in Hart Plaza is that the venue is not gigantic. It won’t take you too long from hop from stage to stage, which is extra helpful when you have a set conflict and want to catch parts of different sets at the same time. That said, the festival doesn’t feel overly cramped either. While there are five stages to explore, they use of space is quite logical, and there is minimal sound bleeding between the stages. Let’s break them down:

Main Stage

The name says it all – this is the biggest stage of the festival, where the most popular names are scheduled to play. The main stage is situated in an amphitheatre built into Hart Plaza, with the physical stage at the lower level. There is ample dancing room on the same level as the stage that creeps into the underground area, as well as bleacher-like standing room that goes up quite a few levels to bring you on the same plane as the rest of the festival. There is also a lot of standing room along the railings around the circular shape of the amphitheater, with trees to shade you as you move further back. The Main Stage gets quite full as the day goes on. If you have a must-see act later in the day, prepare to get here early otherwise you will need to fight your way through the crowd.

Insider secret: if you can make your way through the crowded standing room in the back and down the packed staircases, there is almost always a ton of open space to the bottom left of the stage, even during the headliners.

Stargate Stage

This is the stage you will find to your right as you first enter the festival, beside the giant almost-circle sculpture. The layout of this stage is pretty self-explanatory. There is a main dancing area laid out directly in front of the stage, and onto the grassy side areas. Since this is the stage closest to the main entrance, as well as merch and info booths , there can sometimes be a bit of a bottle neck.

Insider secret: Make sure to make your way onto the grassy areas on the sides of this stage to give your knees and back a break from the concrete. These grassy areas are usually less busy and nice place to dance or lay down for a break as well.

Pyramid Stage

I have a very love / hate relationship with this stage. While the pyramid structure is great for helping create different levels within the audience and more dancing space, it can be a danger to climb up and down after having a few drinks. This is especially true if you like to wear platform boots like me (yeah, I may have fell and sliced my knee open in 2017…). If you can safely navigate the pyramid, this stage provides the best daytime vibes in my opinion, as it’s right on the riverfront and provides the best view of the water.

Insider secret: With caution, make your way up the pyramid as the day goes on and the stage gets busier. It can be pretty packed on ground level, but we always manage to find a good place to dance a little ways up the pyramid.

 

Overlooking the Detroit River from the Pyramid Stage

RedBull Presents Stage

This stage is sponsored by RedBull, as you may have guessed. This is the only stage in the festival that is on a full grassed area, which can be a very welcome break for your body. This stage usually hosts more experimental or different genre artists, which can be a welcome break for your ears too! This stage never gets overly packed either, especially if you make your way to the side closest to the river.  There’s always ample room to boogie.

Insider secret: Bring a blanket and lay out next to the river beside this stage. You will have shade from the trees and a gorgeous view of the water when you need to take a break.

Underground Stage

As you make your way through Hart Plaza, you may notice open entrances with stairs leading underground. Follow them and you will find yourself at my personal favourite stage, the Underground Stage. While this stage may be small, it is mighty and packs a strong techno punch. Make your way down into the dance floor, or find a spot on the ramp or railing and prepare to dance hard. Having a fan and water are essential since the Underground Stage can get quite hot and claustrophobic. Also essential down here: a pair of good quality earplugs. The entire stage is in a concrete enclosure, so take care of your hearing and wear earplugs while at the Underground (and really everywhere else in the festival).

Insider tip: There is a small bathroom down here, with sinks to refill your water bottles with cold water for free. Note that the line to actually use the bathrooms will be quite long, but you can always bypass to just use the sinks.

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