Questlove Remembers That Time Dilla Inspired Him To Play DEMF While Bleeding Profusely
Music festivals are strange beasts. A knotted maze of soundchecks, setups, set changes and surprise guests, the time and planning it takes to host a successful multi-day fest is daunting to say the least. Still, those that persevere are rewarded with the sight of thousands of people moving in unison to artists lost in the creative flow of performance. That moment, loud and harried and joyful in every way, is what kept Detroit record label legend Carl Craig motivated as he strove to produce the first-ever Detroit Electronic Music Festival in 2000. Known today as Movement, the festival began as a hip-hop DJ-heavy affair that saw hundreds of thousands of people crowding into Detroit’s Hart Plaza, filling its open space with swaying bodies as the likes of J Dilla, Delano Smith and Derrick May took to the stage.
Also in attendance was, of course, The Roots. Now, in Michaelangelo Matos new book, The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America, Questlove has recalled the story of just how wild (and dangerous) that original DEMF was. “Carl was adamant of the Roots playing there,” Quest told Matos, “I was a little thrown off because I was a little worried that we would be the oddball out. I knew it wasn’t a hip-hop crowd.”
The Roots did make it to the show after all, but Queslove himself almost lost the ability to drum:
Most of the weekend’s hip-hop was on day two, with Mayor Archer introducing Slum Village on the main stage. J Dilla – then known as Jay Dee – hung with dance as well as hip-hop producers, and remixed acts for Planet E. He also hipped Questlove to the Thomas Bangalter twelve-inches on Roulé he was sampling, turning Quest into a Daft Punk fan.
“The stage was set up weird – not a place that was ready for a band,” says Questlove. Instead of a staircase, he had to step on a plastic milk crate to get onstage. “At the time, I was dangerously obese – about 420 pounds. I took one step on the milk crate and my foot went right through it. It went three inches into [my leg]. When you get stabbed you don’t try to yank it out” – but he did. Then he got on the riser and played a two-hour set with blood pouring from his right leg. “Because of the adrenaline, it was painless. And of course, being mortified in front of thousands of people – and my idol, Dilla – I played it off like I wasn’t hurt.” When they finished, Questlove forewent a hospital visit because Dilla wanted to play him a new remix. “He said, ‘What about your leg?’” That summer, the drummer began a diet, eventually shedding 150 pounds.
Given the circumstances, it’s really no surprise that The Roots’ bandleader chose to play through the pain. The above excerpt from The Underground Is Massive appears on Red Bull Music Academy, and we strongly encourage giving their entire piece a full read-through. Those in and around Detroit should get to Movement, which takes place this weekend, and fans of beat-driven music everywhere should pick up a copy of The Underground is Massive here.