Meet Movement Festival’s Grandma Techno
Patricia Lay-Dorsey is a Detroit-based photographer and award-winning artist who has been featured on Time Magazine’s website representing Michigan in their article on “Instagram Photographers to Follow in All 50 States” and on Humans of New York in 2015. However, you may best recognize her cruising Hart Plaza in her scooter as her given persona of Grandma Techno. She will turn 76 next month and has not missed Movement Festival since her first appearance in 2005. We had the chance to chat with the raving senior and about her story.
Featured Photo Courtesy of Stephen Bondio
MFN: Can you tell us how you were coined as “Grandma Techno”?
GT: It was 2007, my third festival, and I was at one of the stages; generally the young people would always let me get in front, because I’m in the scooter, and to stand up and dance I must hold on to the barricade. So, they were great about letting me get up to the front. It was a very crowded stage, and I can’t remember who was playing, but the next performance was starting, and there was someone else I wanted to see on another stage. I wanted to try to make my way through this incredible crowd. I was by myself, and there happened to be a security guard beside me. I said, “Would you please help me get through this crowd so that I can get to another stage?” So, he did! He just started trying to make way for me, and when people had the ability to actually see me, they would move aside, but it was taking a bit of time. All of a sudden toward the back of the crowd I heard a very loud voice that said, “It’s Grandma Techno; let her through!” and everybody started yelling “Grandma Techno, Grandma Techno,” and that was it. From then on, it went viral, and I’ve been Grandma Techno ever since.
MFN: What’s it like to be known as a persona?
GT: That’s a very interesting question, because I think a lot of people imagine that being famous, known or recognized is the greatest thing in the world, and they would love it. I’m deeply moved by the love that’s been showered on me from all these young people. When I say young people, I really mean anyone under the age of 60, because that is pretty much everyone at Movement Festival. They’re all younger than I am, and I love them back, whether I know them by name or not. At the same time, the reality of it is being so well known makes it hard to get around. I’m a photographer, and in the ‘olden days,’ if you look at my website, you’ll see all of my photos, and I could be right in the middle of it… the dancing, the whole she-bang, and no one would notice me, which was fabulous, because I could get these great candid shots. Those days are gone. If I’m someplace, I’m noticed, and the kids are coming up asking for selfies. They’re so sweet, and they always say that they want to be like me when they grow old, and I just say “So, be like me when you’re older. You don’t ever have to give up music, and it has nothing to do with age.”
MFN: When did everything change for you, and in what ways has it changed your life?
GT: There was an 18-minute video “They Call Me Grandma Techno” by a wonderful Detroit videographer named Clarence Johnson, who followed me around during Movement in 2012. In 2014, the organizers, Paxahau, asked me if they could put the video up on their Facebook page. They said to me, “If you say yes, are you aware this will change your life.” I said I really was not aware, but I said that they could. It changed everything. A month later, when I got to Movement, I could not move because I was so mobbed by people. I had trouble even getting onto the plaza around the fountain. The year prior, there was a young man named Patrick from Austin TX, who in some ways adopted me. He acted like my body guard to help me get between place. In that year, though, even with Patrick’s help, it wasn’t a lot of fun, because it was so overwhelming. I got to a point where I was trying to hide. Moving forward each year it has gotten better. I think people have just become used to me and isn’t as “viral.” People from all over the world — Australia, New Zealand, Asia and wherever — will come up to me to “meet” me. I feel for the DJs, because I know what it’s like now. I was on the media team for Paxahau for a few years, and I would be backstage. I used to wonder why all the DJs would stay backstage instead of going near the music. Now, I understand why.
MFN: You haven’t missed a Movement since you started going in 2005 What keeps brining you back?
GT: This will be my 14th year attending Movement. I’ve never been to another electronic music festival, nor do I have the interest to. This is home, and I adore Detroit. I love my city, the people, downtown, Hart Plaza, and I really love young people. Especially since I’ve gotten older. I’m crazy about the energy of these particular people. I go to most of the Detroit music festivals. I love all music, but I must admit there are some festivals that I will avoid. One I remember is the Hoe Down, which is country music. I’ve never seen so many fights in my life, and they’re drunk, fist-fighting. I’ve been to 13 Movement Festivals, and I’ve never even seen an argument, and it’s 100,000 people. The energy is so sweet. To me, it’s like the 1960s again with all peace and love. Maybe they’re all zoned out on ecstasy, and I don’t use any of that stuff, but I know some of the kids do. Whatever it is, there is a very sweet and gentle energy there, and I like that so much. I feel at home there, and I wouldn’t want to miss it. I’ve had some health issues this year unlike any that I’ve ever had before. I’ve been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis for over 30 years, and I’ve never had problems like I have these past few months. Yet, my goal and all I wanted or cared about in relation to my healing was to be well enough to attend Movement. I will be. I’m fine, and that was my goal, because I can’t imagine missing it. I just cannot; I love it so much. I’ve read and seen enough interviews and articles, and I’ve gathered that Movement is now considered “one of the best electronic music festivals in the world.”
MFN: What do you think of this year’s lineup?
GT: I love it, but I have to say that it does not hurt my feelings at all that Claude VonStroke is the “featured artist.” I have always adored him, and he’s always been my favorite. I just love his sound and that he is always pushing the envelope. He is always going someplace new. He’s going back to his birth name, Barclay Crenshaw, and I saw him last year, and I though it was just fabulous. It’s quite a different sound and persona than Claude. It was interesting to see that he can do that, too. There are others, and I think I’m kind of old school when it comes to my favorites. I love John Digweed, and he’s going to be playing this year. There is a marvelous woman DJ from Detroit whom I adore, Stacey ‘hot wax’ Hale, who’s going to be playing. I love Stacey, and I’m so glad she’s going to be on. Like I said, I’m kind of old school when it comes to my favorites. I wasn’t real fond of it when it got to be very “EDM.” I know it brought in a lot of people, and that’s good. I just found the energy to be a lot different. There was an element of aggression that I hadn’t seen at Movement before, but I think we’re getting back to the peace and love sort of thing.
MFN: In the techno community, there is a growing consensus that Movement is shifting away from its roots. Do you feel that’s true?
GT: I think maybe for a couple of years, when EDM became mainstream, that they brought in some folks like Snoop Dogg and others. When I first started going, it was more fringe and a bunch of electronic music lovers. You weren’t reading about us in the NY Times or anything like that. Then EDM came in, and it was plastered every place. I appreciate that the producers were trying to bring them in and make them a part of the community, and they still, are and it’s good. It’s just that, my feeling, the last few years it’s as though pretty much have gone back to our roots in terms of the focus. They bring in some other things like Hip Hop, which I love, but I do want the focus to remain electronic in its pure form.
MFN: Are there any Movement performances or acts that you’d consider your favorite?
GT: That is one of the hardest questions to answer because I am usually present and just really adoring what is going on in that moment. I believe it was year before last, Claude VonStroke had one of the last acts, but it wasn’t on the main stage. That particular set he was playing with Green Velvet, and there was this incredible energy between the two of them. It was pure magic. There are moments that happen like there. Where you’ll have someone you really love, and they will hook up with someone else, and it’ll just be this magical energy between them, and it turns it into something else, and that is one that was quite memorable for me. It was really special. I was also enthralled with Kraftwerk. I thought that was it was so amazing. Not just their performance, but the whole history of it. The whole scene was absolutely amazing. The organizers, Paxahau, really take care of Grandma Techno, and in the VIP section there is a sign that they put up that says “Grandma Techno sits here but you can sit here until she gets here” or something like that. So, I have this special place that’s for me, and Dana from Paxahau and Patrick carry me and my scooter all the way up there, and for the first time I was able to see Richie Hawtin. I never was able to see Richie Hawtin because the main stage at night is just impossible for me and the scooter, and now I am always able to see the stage at night, and that is so much fun. That was very special. There are others I remember like John Digweed. When I heard John Digweed for the first time, he really brought me back to why I had loved electronic music in the first place. It was so old school, and it was just so pure that I found myself saying “This is why I love it.” DJ Minx is another that I love and adore anytime she is on. She was playing on the Made in Detroit stage, and she just brings together home for all of us.
MFN: Do you attend the after-parties?
GT: I don’t do that. I tried once to go to a club afterward. I’ll be honest: things change dramatically in the after parties. I am generally at Movement from noon – midnight at the Plaza. I’ve learned that in the scooter — and I don’t drink, and I don’t drug — the kids get out of control, the later it gets, and they weren’t looking out for me the same as they always do in Hart Plaza. Once I was in a club, it’s just so closed in people can’t see who’s what, and I can’t have a lot of drinks spilled on my scooter and what not. I don’t do the after parties, as much as a lot of them look like a lot of fun.
MFN: You’ve become a staple in Detroit as well as the techno community. How does that feel and what does that mean to you?
GT: I consider it an incredible honor. When I was younger I never knew what I would become famous for, and this would not have been something I would have imagined. I’m not kidding; it is just an honor. I remember going to upstate New York where I had an exhibit in a gallery. I was staying in a motel, and I went downstairs to pay my bill. This young man, whom I didn’t know, said “You’re Grandma Techno.” Turns out he was the manager, and he gave me the “Grandma Techno rate.” Then there were people in the streets of NYC yelling my name. It was so bizarre how recognized I was. To me, it is an absolute privilege, and so when I go to Movement, I go with the intention to be kind to everyone and make sure no one feels ignored or that I am too busy for them. When I go to the festival, it’s more about being there for the young people.
MFN: We’ve learned that Movement is near and dear to your heart. It speaks volumes that you’ve been going for a consecutive 13, going on 14 years. Are there any other annual events or festivals that you cannot miss?
GT: Well, I cannot miss the International Jazz Festival. It is the largest free Jazz festival in the world, and it is amazing. It’s also in Hart Plaza. I also absolutely adore the Concert of Colors, which is world music. It is held at Orchestra Hall, which is offered to them free of charge by the Detroit Symphony. I love that festival, and it’s like old home week. I see so many people I know. I also never miss the African World Festival. It’s down near the cultural center in front of the African American Museum.
MFN: Prior to our chat, we put up a simple post on the ‘Movement Detroit 2018’ Facebook group page. We asked attendees if they had any questions for Grandma Techno. Within minutes, the post blew up with interactions. From there, we picked a few of our favorite questions.
MFN: What’s your favorite color of glitter?
GT: What a riot! I’ve had my toenails painted purple or aqua with silver glitter on top of them for the last 6 years. So, I’d say silver glitter.
MFN: What year is your favorite Movement Festival so far?
GT: That’s impossible. They’re all so different. However, I am particularly loving the most recent ones, because I am now able to enjoy the main stage thanks to Paxahau.
MFN: Do you have a favorite stage?
GT: I have adored the Made in Detroit stage. They recently changed the name, but it is my favorite. The most difficult for me to get in and out of at night is the Pyramid stage. Earlier in the day it’s fun, but at night it is just too difficult. I’d like to spend more time in the Underground. Since Resident Advisor took it over it is a cool place to be.
MFN: What do you want us to not do when greeting you or seeing you?
GT: How thoughtful! Oh my god, that is so sweet. The only thing I would ask is if I am trying to eat or really into the music, maybe hold off on asking for a selfie. Sometimes I’ve got my eyes closed, dancing in my scooter, really into it. If you see that, please hold off and try to catch me at another time.
MFN: Okay, last one for tonight and it’s a real doozy. Longtime techno fans are reaching retirement age; can you handle the competition, or are you prepared to battle it out?
GT: I would love to have more Grandma and Grandpa Technos!
MFN: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Your story is definitely one for the books, and I look forward to crossing paths again.
GT: Thank you so much for your interest and your time! Please, if you are able to make it out to Movement, come up and say hello!