What Detroit Cabbies Say It's Really Like to Drive During Movement Festival

The highest highs and lowest lows of the city's annual techno-blowout—from the people who've seen it all.

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Jun 6 2016, 11:42pm

If you're a cab driver in Detroit, Memorial day weekend is one of the busiest weekends of the year. Between Saturday and Monday, over one hundred thousand locals and techno-loving visitors descend on city's Hart Plaza for Movement Festival, the city's annual techno blowout. After the headliners wrap up for the night, they pour back out of the festival gates in droves, gearing up for the city's rich offering of official and unofficial after-parties, some of which don't even start until the sun's been up for a couple hours. From our giddiest moments of musical anticipation to our lowest late-night lows, Detroit's taxi, Uber, and Lyft drivers see it all. That's why, as we party-hopped through Motor City this year, we decided to ask as many of them as we could about their experiences behind the wheel.

1) Hasan

Hometown: Detroit

Time driving: Two months

What do you think about techno?
I like it. It can loosen you up—open you up more to other people, other cultures, dancing.

What's the best thing about driving during Movement?
Meeting new people.

What's the worst thing about driving during Movement?
Everything's been great. Great personality, great energy—everybody's having a good time.

2) Abe

Hometown: Lebanon.

Time driving: 15 years.

What do you think about techno?

It's cool—like, lounge music type stuff, right?

What's the best thing about driving during Movement?

We get tipped pretty well.

What's the worst thing about driving during Movement?

Obnoxious people that drink too much. I used to drive a limousine. They'd walk into the limo classy, then walk out assy.

3) Percy

Hometown: Springfield, Illinois.

Time driving: Six months.

What do you think about techno music?
I think it's great! I was here when Detroit techno started—I've been here 30 years. I listen to some of the [electronic] music on Sirius XM's "chill" station. I can't take it all day, but I'll listen to it.

What's the best thing about driving during Movement?
Interesting conversations. Have you ever heard the term "Naked City"? It's the name of a TV program, and Naked City is, of course, New York. The slogan is: "There are [eight] million stories in the Naked City; you've just seen one." That's always how they ended the program. And it's like that here: everybody's got a different story.

What's the worst thing?
I picked up a woman, and she wanted me to take her to the bank. It was a little chilly that night, and she wanted to do the transaction from the inside of the cab, so I pulled up next to the machine, but the windows in the back don't go all the way down. I didn't want her leaning on the window because she could've broken the glass, so I told her she had to get out of the car. She wanted to argue, but I just got quiet. Afterwards, she was talking to someone on the phone about how rude I was. I'm acting like I don't hear it, but she didn't appreciate that I don't have to do this. She just had this prima donna attitude, talking down to me like I'm "the help."


4) Darius

Hometown: Detroit.

Time driving: One year.

What do you think about techno music?
I don't really know about it.

Did you know that techno started in Detroit?
Really? I never knew that.

Do you know Derrick May or Juan Atkins?
I think I know one of those.

Do you know about Movement?
Movement techno festival, right? Not really.

When I get out of the car, you should turn on "Strings of Life." I'm coming back next year and am going to quiz you.
Ok, I'm on it.

5) Kim

Hometown: Clinton Township, Michigan.

Time driving: Three months.

What do you think about techno music?
I personally don't care for it, but I'm 50. I have a 23-year-old son who is absolutely crazy for it, so he's been camping down here. I think he just likes the atmosphere. It's kinda crazy, because I would have never pegged him for a kid that likes this kind of stuff, but he's totally engulfed in it. He lives it and breathes it. I had no idea that Detroit was such a techno hub—I'm finding out that Detroit was the originator.

What's the best thing about driving during Movement?
Oh my gosh: totally meeting people from all over. I mean, I have met people from LA and Miami and Boston and it's just been... everybody is in such a good mood. If they're in a bad mood, it's their own dang blasted fault. And if they're not having fun, they'd better go home.

What's the worst thing?
The traffic. The tie-ups—especially at midnight, when all of you are trying to get out of the festival at the same time. So we have a lot of one-way roads, plus we have a lot of construction, and now adding the gridlock—it's a little hairy, but it's all good.


6) Tony

Hometown: Dearborn, Michigan.

Time driving: Five years.

What do you think about techno?
The music is beautiful; I didn't know about it until five years ago, when I started working in a cab. Movement a beautiful festival for the city of Detroit. It's a holiday weekend and I'm still working, because I enjoy driving during the festival. It's fun, nice people, and you get to meet people from different countries. And they can see the positive things about Detroit, not just the bad things in the news.

What's the best thing about driving during Movement?
You see some crazy things and some good things. When I see people having fun, it means a lot. Some people go out of control; it's sad, but we keep them safe and drop them off somewhere nice.

What's the worst thing?
When I see someone who doesn't know where they are. They're here, but they lose it—they're blacked out on drugs and alcohol. They don't know where they are. Sometimes, if I don't know where they're going or anything, I gotta take them to the police department. I know he's probably angry or something, but I feel good because I'm saving his life. That's the best thing I can do.


7) Marlon

Hometown: Detroit.

Time driving: One year.

What do you think about techno?
I love techno music, though I like the traditional classic stuff; the contemporary EDM shit I don't like. I'm into the classic Detroit and Chicago—like Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Paul Ritch, Richie Hawtin. The legends.

What's the best thing about driving during Movement?
The best experience I've had has a driver during the festival was with this DJ who was so unassuming. I could tell he didn't have the ordinary level of knowledge about music. Who was it again? Fuck. Let me think. Ah! It was Tiga! I had no idea who he was—he was just Mr. Regular. He ended up staying in my car for like an hour just talking about music—we were just driving around and I got to show him some different stuff around the city. That was way unexpected.

What's the worst thing?
The worse experience I've had during the festival is fairly common. Believe it or not, some people tend to get a little high at the festival and will get in the car and not really have a destination. So I'll try to sit there and ask them where they're going and they can't talk—they just sit there. I'm like, 'What trip are you on?'

8) Marcus

Hometown: Detroit.

Time driving: One year.

What do you think about techno?
The music itself is pretty good—it's the type of music that will get you to move your body. It doesn't matter if you don't want to dance—even if you're a GANGSTER, if you're going to the Movement festival, you're going to dance. And when you move, your spirits lift up, and it makes you happy and perfect. If you go to the opera—the music is great, but people walk out still depressed. You go to Movement, the music is awesome, and you come out and you still want to party. It's the ultimate adrenaline rush.

What's the best thing about driving during Movement?
Meeting people from all around the world. My last customers were from England—two were from Nottingham, one from Manchester. And I met people from Oakland tonight. I think Movement is wonderful. What it has grown from—it used to be free. One time it was 10 dollars, then it was 20, now—70 a day. That just helps me understand the significance of it and how it attracts people from all around the world. I was telling those people from England: if it was still free, there would be no room for the people that come in from out of town. People from here would swell it up.

What's the worst thing about driving during Movement?
The worst part is I don't get a chance to attend; I don't get a free wristband or nothing. Just picking people up and hearing their stories, and you're just looking at everyone, like, "Damn. I either got to work, or I could be one of them." I mean, if I wanted to go I could go. It's a choice that I chose to make.


9) Cody

Hometown: Flint, Michigan.

Time driving: One week.

What do you think about techno?
I'm not a fan of today's music or technology. I listen to classic country.

Waylon Jennings or Willie Nelson?
Both. You can't choose.

What's the best experience you've had driving during Movement?
Don't really have one yet.

What's the worst thing?
Can't think of any.

10) Scotty

Hometown: Detroit.

Time driving: Two months.

What do you think abut techno?

I appreciate it, but I'm not the biggest fan. I'm into indie rock and 60s and 70s rock. Motown. I like electronic music as far as like Radiohead goes, or some of the electronica type bands from the 90s. But this modern EDM music has kind of passed me by. I'm aware of [the history of techno in Detroit], but I have more of a connection with the history of rock & roll. For 50 years, Detroit was the music mecca.

We just went to check out the Third Man records store.

Oh yeah, where is that? I forgot that Jack White built one in Detroit.

It's pretty small.

So it's not like the main one in Nashville. I'd like to go. It was weird: when Jack White left Detroit 10 years ago it was kind of acrimoniously. I think his friends and his fans in Detroit just thought that he got too big for his britches. But I guess he's made up with the city. You know he plays a track on Beyoncé's new album?

What's the best thing about driving during Movement?

The best part is the stories—hearing where people are from.

What's the worst thing?

I've had people ask me for various drugs—that's about as crazy as it gets, really. I haven't had anybody throw up or anything. Nothing terrible. I can't think of any negative experience. Everyone's been real cool. Then again, I can't think of one negative driving experience period. I've been pretty lucky.


11) Jess, aka Basel

Hometown: Kuwait.

Time driving: Two months.

What do you think about techno?
I was a part of it like 15 years ago. I moved here to make techno music. When I was mixing I was called DJ OX. One of the friends that I had was Derrick May, and I also know Carl Craig, Jeff Mills, Kevin Saunderson...

How did you meet all of them?
In Switzerland, that's where I was living.

Did you play parties with these people in Switzerland?
I played in the Montreux area. That's where I first met Derrick May. Many times DJs lose their records or have them delayed on planes, so he arrived at a party without any records. I knew he was there so I said, "You could play with my records"—and so did some other DJs, like [Swiss underground techno and house legend] Eric Borgo. He played with our three bags of records, and the set he created was just unbelievable. He didn't know the records, he didn't know the tracks; he just played them on the fly. But once he started, he just shifted the room into an explosion.

Do you still DJ?
Unfortunately, from Switzerland, I shifted gears to Kuwait. That's where I originally come from. The plan was to try to promote electronic music in Kuwait. I only gave myself six months. I couldn't stay any longer, because I need to live in an environment where I could feel comfortable. So then when I moved here 15 years ago. I was just married and blessed with a girl, who's now 15. Then life kinda got on me with the day-to-day, paycheck-to-paycheck need to make ends meet. [Driving] is just a means to support myself financially. But I still have artistic ambitions and hobbies and passions to pursue.

Do you go out to shows much here?
I've been to some shows—a really long time ago. I haven't seen any venues of the same scale or quality of what I've seen in Switzerland. When there's a festival in Switzerland like this it's not an enclosed chicken feed farm like the Hart Plaza. Over there, the whole city would be shut down. I wish techno had more of a presence in Detroit—more than just Movement. That's not big enough for the size of what techno has done to the world.