BlackBook Interview: Richie Hawtin on Technology, Art Basel + The Future of Electronic Music
Still impressively youthful, energetic and excitable, Richie Hawtin has been making groundbreaking music since 1993, mostly under the Plastikman nom de guerre. Indeed, his austere, minimalist, but unfailingly visceral compositions helped to define a new generation of electronic music experimentalists – his visionary sonics often inspired by the works of notable contemporary artists…including Anish Kapoor and Andreas Gursky.
He also soundtracked Raf Simons’ first runway show for Calvin Klein in 2017.
25 years on, the British-born, Canadian Renaissance Man now epitomizes the ideological opposition to all that awful, mercenary EDM dreck being churned out for maximum festival profit making. To wit, he’s spent the last 18 months taking his mind-bending spectacle, CLOSE, on the road, from Coachella to Buenos Aires, London to Madrid, Tokyo to, finally, Brooklyn – where he will take over the prodigious Avant Gardner space this Saturday night, December 8.
Leading up to that, he’ll be also be electrifying the Art Basel crowd, sharing a bill with Chris Liebing Friday night at Miami’s Club Space. And perhaps most thrillingly, a new Plastikman album is said to be on the way in 2019.
Despite it all, we managed to actually catch up with the peripatetic maestro for an enlightening chat.
You haven’t released an album since 2015’s From My Mind to Yours – are you working on new material?
To be honest, these days I’m getting a lot of creative satisfaction with my special live performance CLOSE. Although the show is based upon DJ’ing, it has a lot of live elements, including drum machines and synthesizers, that I program and control, creating spontaneous melodic and rhythmic ideas to go along with the records I’m playing. The intensity and creativity that evolves during every one of these shows is like creating a new album each night – intense, challenging and incredibly exhilarating. That’s mostly why there hasn’t been any traditional new release since the FMMTY release. However, I’ve learned a lot during the CLOSE shows of the past three years and I do hope to bring some of that inspired energy back into the studio in 2019. Fingers crossed!
In that time you launched your technology company PLAYdifferently – can you tells us about it?
There can only be new studio music if there’s time to be in the studio; and the past few years have been full of incredible new projects, all somehow interconnected. MODEL 1, the mixer that I helped design with Andy Rigby-Jones, was released by our own PLAYdifferently technology imprint just over two years ago, and is a project that satisfies my geek technology side. What I love about it is the mixer is unlike anything else out there on the market, and gives all DJs and producers the opportunity to play in new ways not possible with other mixers. The mixer has a unique setup of EQs and filters that allow the performer to cut, blend and twist frequencies in a new way. The collaborative components allow two mixers to be joined into one and offers two individual headphone cue systems, to allow B2B DJs the chance to listen to their own sources while they perform together. Lots of bells and whistles to help performances move to another level.
Is Plastikman still an active concern?
Plastikman is my alter-ego who is ever present, albeit sometimes more in the background than foreground. However, he does seem to be pushing through the shadows and I expect he’ll once again be in the foreground in the very near future. I oscillate between music, technology and sake projects, which helps to keep me inspired and happy – and when it comes to all of these projects, you can only follow your intuition, your feeling, your heart, and navigate where your journey takes you. The future looks dark, mysterious and strange. [But] Plastikman is coming!
Close image by Jordi Cervera
What are you doing at Art Basel this week?
Meeting my brother, Matthew Hawtin, who’s a visual artist, and who’ll be exhibiting at one of the fairs in Miami this week. Matthew introduced me to many artists over the past twenty years, and many of them have helped inspire new musical ideas and directions in my production. Having a few days to find new visual inspiration, meeting like-minded artists – both musically and visually – sounds like a great idea; and we nearly always meet down at Art Basel for a few days of creative discussion. To tie it all together, I’ll also be playing at SPACE, hoping to suck some of the art world into our dark club world and hopefully re-inspire them in a musical way.
You’re doing a big show at Avant Gardner in Brooklyn this weekend. What can we expect?
Avant Gardner is a huge warehouse type venue that is well suited for larger scale productions. The event is co-promoted by our friends at Output, which is where I usually play when I’m in town for a regular DJ show. This weekend’s show is the last CLOSE live performance of the year, a full A/V concert type show where I take everything I’ve learned behind the decks and in the studio and fuse it into a spontaneous mixture of frequencies, melodies and pummeling beats.
How come you’re stopping the CLOSE performances?
The setup is very complicated and is quite an intensive undertaking. Instead of doing a series of shows where the setup might have been compromised, we decided to focus on one key event and drive all our friends and fans to come and experience the show in the best possible conditions!
What do you think is left for electronic music?
What do you think is left for any type of music? Electronic music lives and breathes through technology, technology that is continuing to evolve and offer new, exciting possibilities in sound creation, performance methods and interactivity. As we push forward into a future based on and assisted by more and more technology, techno will be the only soundtrack that makes sense.
Finally, you have your own sake brand, ENTER.Sake – are you a Japanophile?
I fell in love with Japan during my first trip over 25 years ago, and have since found any excuse to go back to learn more about the country and its history. Along the way I discovered sake, and found a rich culture that fascinated me, and a community that was filled with independent artisans that reminded me very much of our electronic community. Young driven artists pushing forward with a balance of tradition and technology, creating a beautifully crafted drink that is completely hypnotic. For me personally, sake and electronic music go hand-in-hand, in spirit and in the feeling and taste.