Detroit’s annual Movement Electronic Music Festival is the pinnacle for those who eat, sleep and breathe techno. Taking place in Hart Plaza over Memorial Day weekend in the city that birthed the futuristic genre in the ’80s — thank you Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson — the event’s three days of performances are always memorable. The Motor City holds a special place in Rotterdam DJ/producer Jochem Paap’s heart. Having pushed the envelope to become one of the genre’s most respected and trailblazing artists, connecting with two kindred spirits from Windsor, Canada, Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva, two decades ago through a cassette demo he mailed them allowed him to take another step in establishing his Speedy J moniker as a force to be reckoned with.
Paap and artists from his mighty Electric Deluxe label/event series — DVS1, Lucy, Mike Dehnert, Jeff Derringer, Subjected and Mike Gervais — will host Movement’s opening party on May 23 at The Works. He will also perform a live set on Sunday at Movement with Zeitgeber, a collaboration he casually began with the Stroboscopic Artefacts label boss Lucy. All of this comes during a year that has seen his imprint celebrate its sixth year of championing the next wave of techno talent.
“The best part about having your own platform is that it’s another thing you can put your creativity into,” says Paap, talking from his home in Rotterdam. “Being able to direct the look and feel and curate events is very satisfying. It’s more interesting than just going from gig to gig and not being able to predict what you end up with and having no say in the lineup or sound. To be able to have your hand in there is just another way of being creative with music.”
Here Paap speaks about the significance Detroit holds for him and how his visit all those years ago played a role in putting the wheels of his grand musical vision into motion.
Americans are going to get a rare visit from you at Movement in Detroit over Memorial Day weekend. You don’t come to the states too often. You’re touring mostly in Europe, right?
Jochem Paap: Well, yeah. I make it [to the U.S.] once, maybe twice a year. I’m pretty much all over the place. Last year, I did Australia and Japan so I pretty much have the whole planet to cover ever year. [Laughs.] Detroit is always on my schedule every year. Sometimes I [tour] the West Coast or East Coast. I don’t like to be away from home for weeks in a row, and I prefer traveling during a weekend and coming home.
Why didn’t you play Movement last year?
No particular reason. The policy for Movement is that they don’t want to invite guests twice — they want to alternate people so if you play one year, then you’ll skip the next one. That’s kind of like their policy. I played the main stage four years ago. It was the last set with Scott Pagano; we did an audio-visual thing and obviously it’s too much to do it again the next year. The year after I did the CLR after party. I did it once and another time together with Chris [Liebing].
It must have been amazing to play with Chris.
Yeah. So this year we got the opportunity to do our own event. We’re doing the opening party on Friday with my label, Electric Deluxe. I play with Lucy together on Sunday as Zeitgeber, a project we do together. So I’m actually playing Movement twice this year.
What has Detroit meant to you, and what does it continue to mean for you?
Well, obviously it’s legendary for me because I was lucky to be there quite early on. In ’91 I hooked up with John Acquaviva and Richie Hawtin when they had just started their Plus 8 label. I remember I sent them a cassette tape full of tracks and when it arrived John called me back instantly and said it was really good stuff and that we should do some releases. He wanted to meet me, so they flew me over to Windsor. I visited Richie and John, and they were just starting out. They only had maybe three releases out on Plus 8 at the time.
“They took me to Detroit and I met all of the guys: Kevin Saunderson, Carl Craig, Kenny Larkin and the 430 West guys. And Daniel Bell, obviously. I got the whole tour. It was a really good time. We were all in our early twenties and it was great to be introduced to the Detroit scene like that.”
What happened during your visit?
They took me to Detroit and I met all of the guys: Kevin Saunderson, Carl Craig, Kenny Larkin and the 430 West guys. And Daniel Bell, obviously. I got the whole tour. It was a really good time. We were all in our early twenties and it was great to be introduced to the Detroit scene like that.
It seems like yesterday, right?
[Laughs.] Not quite! I still remember it like yesterday but we are talking two decades.
Tell me more about the project you’re doing with Lucy. The appearance in Detroit is going to be the U.S. debut?
We’ve done a few select performances, and we have a few planned. We both have our own careers and are quite busy by ourselves but there are some quite good opportunities to do this project and one is obviously to do it at Movement. We have no plan. We want to keep the vibe alive back when we produced the album. It’s a very spontaneous thing. We met for the first time at one of my events. Sometimes I ask one of the guests to stay for a few extra days and maybe do some work in the studio. So that’s what I did with Lucy. Before that time we knew of each other but we hadn’t met before. After the event we headed to the studio the next day and that was the first time we met in-person properly. We started working straight away. There was no plan or reference or discussion. We made our introduction through music. In a few days we had so many tracks that it was obvious we should do some more music and make an album out of it.
How does it work live?
So basically when we play live we have the same approach. We get together and talk through music, not discussing too much beforehand because we want to keep that spontaneous vibe. So we’ll see what happens in Detroit.
It’s a pretty atypical situation to artistically connect with someone who you don’t really know and have it click.
I wouldn’t say it’s atypical but it also isn’t common. Every collaboration is different, you know. It all comes down to whatever connection is there from the start. If you look at certain combinations of names on paper they might look really good and the perfect recipe for an amazing result. That’s not how it works in real life — you have to have this chemistry going on and you can never tell in advance how well it’ll happen. The best thing to do is that if you do meet up with this person in the studio just let it go with the flow and let it happen.
And let nature take its course.
Exactly. The cool thing about this collaboration is that there’s no history or legacy. But if you do something together there is nothing to live up to. You basically have a blank canvas and go wherever the hell you want. If it goes wrong, then you blame the other guy. [Laughs.] But it does give you a sense of freedom when you create something.
“Generally purism and art are opposites that don’t go together. Purism is the death of any original art.”
How do you stay inspired? What keeps you going artistically?
I pretty much approach everything with an open mind. I hear a lot of people my age saying that everything has been done before and you can’t reinvent the wheel. I don’t think so. I think if you go in there with an open mind and have a fresh approach towards it… And let’s be honest: the people who were there in the beginning had no idea that this was going to be such a big thing and would explode and still be around two decades later. At the time whenever something is started it’s fresh and new because you haven’t heard it before and you permitted yourself to do anything you like. That’s the same approach I take now. Everything is worth exploring, and I just dive in and look for things that inspire me.
Purists can be dangerous because they approach everything with preconceived notions. I get turned onto new music everyday because I’m open to hearing new ideas.
Me too. Generally purism and art are opposites that don’t go together. Purism is the death of any original art.
Electric Deluxe hosts Movement’s opening party at The Works on May 23. The Electric Deluxe crew play Verboten in Brooklyn, NY on May 24. Speedy J and Lucy will perform their first U.S. show as Zeitgeber at Movement on May 25.