Nearly 100,000 people attended the Movement Electronic Music Festival last year at Detroit's Hart Plaza. And there is a good chance 99 percent of them had no idea that this enormous international music festival was planned in a little, nondescript building at the corner of Hilton and Camden in Ferndale.
This building is the headquarters of Paxahau Promotions, the promotions and production company that organizes and promotes the Movement festival. This Ferndale-based company took over Detroit's annual Memorial Day weekend electronic music festival in 2006, putting on the 2007 festival. Prior to that, the festival, which started in 2000 and originally was called the Detroit Electronic Music Festival (DEMF), had been under different promotion managers for varying durations of time.
Detroit Police and city officials have reported that more than 1 million people showed up for the first few years of the DEMF. Attendance numbers dwindled, however, from 2003 on – dipping to around 40,000 in 2006 – until the boys and girls on Hilton took over.
Since then, the festival's attendance has more than doubled. This year, Movement is expected to draw more than 100,000 people.
For 2011, the festival is putting 105 acts on the stage, including names such as Fat Boy Slim and 69 (Carl Craig) and Richie Hawtin. (Check out the schedule here.)
But enough about the giant, successful, international electronic music festival in Detroit. Let's talk about Ferndale.
The Ferndale landlord
"If it wasn't for this Ferndale landlord, not only myself, but all of the people close to us, might not have come together," said Jason Huvaere of Ferndale, the main man at Paxahau, aka its president and director of operations.
It was the early '90s, before Paxahau; Huvaere was living in a loft in Detroit's Capitol Park with more roommates than were desired. They were working on various projects under different names, promoting parties, working on "technology and technology music," Huvaere said.
But the loft, with that many roommates, couldn't last forever. "It was OK for a year or so – we were all kids then, doing parties," said Huvaere, who grew up in Birmingham. "But that couldn't last."
Huvaere said he knew a guy who knew a guy who owned dozens of houses in Ferndale. "The guy owned, like, 35 houses in Ferndale – a whole bunch in this neighborhood here, right off Woodward, between Eight and Nine Mile," Huvaere said.
The landlord was Phil Heinrich.
However, Huvaere's first stint in Ferndale lasted only a few years. He took a job opportunity in New York City and then headed to New Hampshire.
"I moved out there (New Hampshire) with no set time frame," Huvaere said. "I was living in the woods. The street had seven neighbors. If there was ever a place to get some focus, this was the place to do it."
Huvaere later extended an invitation to his friend Jason Clark (who eventually would become brand manager at Paxahau). The two built a studio, a business strategy for what would become Paxahau, did some homework – and that's when it happened.
"That's when Paxahau brand presented itself," Huvaere said. He recalled sitting at the desk, writing on a legal pad when, across the bind at the top, he wrote "Pax" and "ahau."
"It fit," he said.
Homecoming, back to Ferndale
Clark and Huvaere decided it was time to come home. Huvaere called Heinrich, the Ferndale landlord.
"I hadn't spoken to him in two years. I called him up; we met at this house on Chesterfield," Huvaere said.
Heinrich recognized him right away and, like the first time, rented Huvaere a house.
Huvaere said that whenever someone needed a house in the Paxahau family, Heinrich was the guy. And he's still renting to them.
"He saw us go from kids with shaved heads and baggy pants to adults," Huvaere said. "We were a lot thinner then, had more hair."
The space on Hilton – in much the same way that Huvaere found Heinrich and scrawled "Pax ahau" on his notebook – just seemed to present itself. "It was a good location, affordable. We couldn't afford this in Birmingham or downtown Detroit," Huvaere said. "Six years later, it's been totally great."
Ferndale is a perfect outpost
"Ferndale represents the proper outpost for what we are doing," Huvaere said. "There's no reason to go anywhere else. Detroit is 10 minutes away, we can get anywhere in 20. It's an incredible, perfect place, logistically."
Paxahau has six full-time employees and four part-timers (250, however, are brought on to work the Movement). Huvaere said nearly all of them live in Ferndale (and some still in Heinrich houses), which makes having the Paxahau HQ in Ferndale even more of a draw for them.
"We work 15-hour days. We're like zombies when we leave here, so it's nice to be able to walk or ride a bike to the office," Huvaere said.
Besides the location for businesses, Huvaere said Ferndale's quality of life is easy. "Everything is a bike ride away, I enjoy the neighborhood. I'm loud, I've been loud my whole life, but I've had no neighbor issues," Huvaere said.
"Maybe the stars have been aligned, or maybe it's Ferndale."
Paxahau isn't just the Movement
Paxahau works on Movement the entire year, Huvaere said. Immediately following the event, employees start planning and booking talent almost right away. However, in between the long hours working on the Movement, Paxahau fits in a few other jobs.
From Detroit Restaurant Week, which attracted about 36,578 diners, to Bravo! Bravo!, which Huvaere said is one of the biggest social events of the year, Paxahau promotes and produces several high-profile gatherings for Metro Detroit.
During the latest installment of DRW, which took place April 1-10, diners patronized 18 restaurants throughout Detroit, enjoying three-course meals for just $28. DRW started in 2009, and more than 120,000 people have participated in the four installments of the event.
Paxahau also has produced and promoted events for the opening of the MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit) and the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel, and it promotes 15-20 electronic music shows a year at places like the Fillmore Detroit (formerly the State Theatre), Huvaere said.
For the future, Huvaere said the idea is for Paxahau to move forward on larger projects and to continue to promote the Metro Detroit region to areas outside the Metro Detroit region.
"We want to talk about Detroit, outside of Detroit," Huvaere said.
And Paxahau will be doing it all from that nondescript building on the corner of Hilton and Camden, in Ferndale.