Movement Festival 2016: No Way Back, An Interview With Brendan M. Gillen

by jcooke

We made our way out to Detroit for this year’s 10th Anniversary of Movement Festival at Hart Plaza. Movement is a celebration of electronic music’s roots and future in the birthplace of Techno, but what’s an electronic music festival without the afterparties? We caught up with Brendan M. Gillen aka BMG, part of Electro outfit Ectomorph, and co-founder of Interdimensional Transmissions to find out what makes the infamous No Way Back parties such a widely celebrated part of Detroit’s electronic music culture.

The No Way Back parties have become highlights during Movement weekend dating back to 2007. How did the first one come about?
“It was conceived of in an era where it felt like the original flame of this music might be going out, that we might be losing the spark. We had moved from undergrounds and warehouse parties into clubs, I mean what beats air conditioning and indoor plumbing? But after Motor closed and the media hysteria about ecstasy had ruined so much, the music started to move into other clubs that barely fit this, and into restaurants that didn’t really make sense. Of course the exception of Oslo, an amazing sushi spot and amazingly designed tiny night club that really fit the artistic sound. But so many of the places were centered around the consumption of alcohol and the schedule that puts you on, with enforced party ending around 2, or then you were at the Works and they are still trying to find another turntable or they have Ryan Elliott playing in front of a pool table. Fuck that.

We wanted to return to the source, to share this flame, the spark of inspiration with today’s generation. To remind them, or to inspire them, and to help ourselves find a new direction forward. So we returned to the dirty roots, mentally free and exciting warehouse type spaces, lofts, old buildings, former factories and the likes. Tomb raiding a civilization that died while we were alive. A space we could transform and create a special environment that you could lose yourself in. And for the sound to envelop you. And for the music to not stop until we wanted it to stop. I booked 4 total DJs for the first one, it was supposed to go for 12 hours. It lasted over 17 hours.”

The party seems to embody the Midwest rave scene from years past. Were there any events or experiences that directly inspired you to start No Way Back? 
“Like experience, it’s a bunch of shards of feelings and moments from so many different events. The Syst3m Hardware parties are a major inspiration. The Syst3m parties were hands down the best parties of the rave era, our halcyon days. I remember this strange moment where Carl Craig played an aggressive 69 set on his MPC at a Poor Boy party and it was like my mind had been split open. The Plastik Product parties, haha the final komatose lodge party. Seeing D Wynn destroy so many parties and the way he did it in the early 90s. He was the hometown champion of this era.

It’s DJs like D Wynn, Claude Young, young Derrick Carter, the live editing mastery feeling from Mayday, that we’re the heart of this scene. Or when Voom or the Big 3 had Mayday and Dimitri from Amsterdam play at the Bankle, and it was an evolution of the Music Institute, Dimitri was in full incredible form, like he is on the Static Tracks mix on Spiritual. Musical revelations, exploring social scenes beyond race, class, sexuality. It was all about the music. And then our scene started to create really magic DJs, like Eric Haupt and then more started to appear like Mike Servito, Derek Plaslaiko, Carlos Souffront, Patrick Russell, Magda and the list actually goes on and on.

It was a time when music was open, it felt free and beyond boundaries, like we were exploring and finding so much, then meeting the direct descendants of who created this, so learning second hand / third hand about Ron Hardy and young Frankie Knuckles and by the time you ended up seeing Ken Collier at Heaven, it was like you had been baptized into the life. After you witness the power that music has to change lives it becomes part of you. And you have to spread that message.”

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The party has gained in popularity over the years, but you stay true to your roots with traditionally the same line up of DJs each year. What are some other aspects that ensure the party maintains the underground Detroit vibe?
“No Way Back is specific concept and we have never strayed from it’s vision or ethos, but we do expand upon it’s original vision, like the addition of the Outer Space room. For years we thought of No Way Back as a one room party, but now with the space we have, we use the second room as place to really let the mind go, to expand, unfurl, and explore. This year we had a surprise ambient live show from Mark Verbos and surprise ambient / experimental set from Moritz von Oswald, as well as John Elliott and the sleaze disco sunrise set from Scott Zacharias which completes that room’s magic.

It is crucial that it is an immersive environment, that the space and the sound envelop you and allow you to both lose yourself and find yourself. So the venue feeling free and outlaw is crucial, the Tangent Gallery is the perfect blank slate for this party. The decorations and venue transformation by Amber is so crucial. The sound and constant attentive audio engineers make such a huge difference for the audience. I really feel like the audience and the belief they put into No Way Back is what makes it so special. You could not ask for a more informed dance floor.

For every DJ playing No Way Back, it is one of their personal highlight sets of the year. Everybody brings their A game. Nobody talks to each other about what they are going to play, but it flows so intuitively from one DJ to the next. If this were another music medium, like rock or jazz, we’d be a band.”

Brendan M Gillen

At a lot of festivals afterparties are where the magic happens. What are some of your favorite No Way Back memories?
“So many. The rain on the dance floor during the first No Way Back in December 2007. The Carlos “truth in advertising” extended moment was the best. The insanity that ensued, “this keg ain’t gonna drink itself” that ultimately led to a kool aid walking through the wall moment. Matt Abbott secretly “inspiring” the audience at the 2008 loft party incarnation of No Way Back. The 2010 Bo House No Way Back will always be burned into my memory, that is where so much changed, such a juggernaut.

The year before there was a strange moment towards the end of the party where Traxx showed up and he and Carlos did this “I will not be topped by you” tagged team set that melted what was remaining of anybodies brains. The time Carlos decided to play a new distorted sound at 1515 that blew everyones’s heads off. The time that Robert Williams, founder of the Warehouse and the Muzic Box, the man who brought Frankie Knuckles to Chicago, was losing it on the dance floor at No Way Back during my set. This year when Mike Servito went into a wormhole and played an extra 90 minutes at No Way Back, having the party end over 12 hours from when it started.

Your label Interdimensional Transmissions hosted a showcase on Movement’s Opportunity Detroit Stage this year and you’re project Ectomorph has performed previously at the festival. What’s it like performing at Movement? Is it different than playing other festivals?
“There’s nothing like playing in Detroit. And nothing beats playing in the open air at Movement. It’s a really amazing feeling. All your friends, all your peers, you don’t have to worry about if they will get it, they live for it, they understand it, they are it. So it becomes a whole other thing if you’re open to it. It’s a very special feeling to play for your hometown in such a way. Totally unique from other festivals, because of the many generations of Detroit music makers and party goers in the audience.”

Being a Discogs interview I have to ask, do you use the site? If so, what’s your experience been like?
“Of course. It is a very useful site. People treat it like the gospel, so misinformation has a huge effect. It has been fun to watch it grow, and people who aren’t deep in records can be quite shocked when you are talking about a record that isn’t listed on Discogs. It’s the first place people go when they are talking about records. I think it is has spawned a new and scary era of record collectors, record trading.

I wish all the label pages naturally opened in the order the records came out. The catalog numbers should go chronologically. I know I can click a few things to make that happen, but I wish it was standard and how the world experienced discographies.”

Interdimensional Transmissions has been releasing records since 1995 so you’ve witnessed the vinyl landscape change first hand over the last two decades. What are your thoughts on the recent “vinyl boom” and what challenges do you think it’s going to present labels in the years to come?
“The record business is perpetual shifting sands, like the maps Bedouin make of the Empty Quarter, it can be hard to follow. Physical manufacture of records takes much longer, and shipping prices are so much more expensive then when I started. It requires much more planning and now taking the idea from the studio to the record store takes that much longer. But without records, without vinyl, a release does not seem like a real release. It will be a test of patience and of ancient machines with young people struggling to learn how to use them.”

What’s next after movement? Got any releases or bookings that you’re excited for?
“Well, we’re really excited about this upcoming LP from Alpha 606 “Afro-Cuban Electronics”. And we’re recording a new Ectomorph album right now.

We’re touring No Way Back this summer, we have some really special shows that we are excited about. There is a mini festival one at the Power Plant in Toronto on July 30th. Then Interdimensional Transmissions has a No Way Back stage at Nachtdigital the first weekend of August, and we’re doing a No Way Back with Dekmantel as the official closing party of their festival that same weekend in Amsterdam.”