Plastikman 2010 tour - Richie Hawtin interview - full transcript
Canadian Richie Hawtin was one of the second wave of Detroit techno pioneers, famed for his minimal take on techno and exalted club nights such as Cocoon and record labels Plus 8 and Minus. Now Hawtin is resurrecting his Plastikman alter ego for a series of live festival dates this summer (including T in the Park).
Are you based in Berlin permanently these days?
I'm in Berlin looking at a beautiful blue sky, which isn’t as common as it should be, I go between here and Canada. I would say I'm travelling more than I'm anywhere.
There's such a good music scene there. Do you think that helps inspire you?
You know what? If I'm totally honest, I came to Berlin because of that scene, but I don't remain here because of that scene. I remain here because it's a beautiful vibrant city. I have a lot of friends here, and its just a great place to live. I don't have a car, I have my bicycle and I can walk anywhere. If I do want to go to a club or go out to see someone playing, or have a three-day or five-day weekend, I can do that here.
What drew you to techno and electronica in the beginning over more conventional guitar music?
I was into guitar music I guess, because I was into people like Echo & the Bunnymen and New Order and things like that, but I was always drawn to what we would of called back then 'alternative music' as my friends were into the typical, I guess, hard rock at the time, of the 80s. I was into those new wave bands, I was into early electro music. As I said, I kind of got drawn into alternative music, which was a little more guitar-based I guess, in the beginning, and the more I got into alternative music, the more I heard alternative electronic music, and then I found Chicago music like Ministry and things from England like Erasure and Depeche Mode. It just drew me in deeper and deeper and deeper and it got me to a point where suddenly I found this other strange type of super-alternative electronic music which was called Detroit techno. Actually, I didn’t even know it was called Detroit techno, I just knew it was called techno and then I heard it was called Detroit techno, and then I figured out that half of my favourite records were being made just across the border from my house. It was kind of like a siphon. You put a coin in and it goes around it and it just gathers up speed and speed and speed and then it goes whoosh, and it's down. And that’s kind of what happened to me with alternative electronic music - and finally techno just sucked me.
And what made you move from being a fan of that music into production?
I went from fan to DJing to production. I was one of the kids on the block who was so into it that I became the record collector of that music. And because I was the record collector, I became the one who had to play and introduce my other friends to that music, which turned me into the DJ. And as you started to DJ, especially in Detroit and in the late 80s the early 90s, it wasn’t a big step to start to get into production, just because everyone else around you was doing that also, and you started to hear things, and understand that I like this record, but I would do it slightly different, and I know that the machines that made this record are available at the pawn shop for $100-$200, so why don’t I just play around and see what I can come up with. So it was very very natural
Do you think that’s one of the things about electronic music that makes it democratic? That an individual can create a track on their own?
When this started to happen in the 80s - where technology enabled the individual to be creative - it changed the whole way of creative thinking, and that’s what I stumbled upon. I never liked being in a band. I liked being in control of what I was doing. Suddenly, at the same time as being into music, I was also going to school and being on the computer team and writing my own programmes. So instead of just writing programmes when I'm sitting in front of this computer the whole day, I can actually create music the whole day, and then make people dance to it, and I can do this all by myself, I can stay up as late as I want, I can make it as weird or as cool as I want. And that just totally appealed to me.
What's made you revive the Plastikman name this summer?
In my mind right now, it's not maybe just for this summer, I'm gonna see where it takes me. I just sat back and I listened to all the records coming out, I watched live shows that were happening and I just really honestly thought that I had something to add. I don’t hear people making music like the Plastikman records, but I still hear many people playing those Plastikman records. So I know that there's something that’s missing and something that’s still valid and works today and so I thought "Well nobody else is doing it, so I can't sit around and complain about it, I should do it myself." And not only see if I can bring that sound back, but continue, and take it to its logical, or illogical, next step.
And what to you is the main difference between Plastikman productions or ones under your own name or any of your other pseudonyms?
Everything under my own name is kinda DJ-related. Plastikman has always been directly at the heart of who or what Richie Hawtin is. It’s a darker deeper sound, and it’s a little bit more, I don’t know, flanged and fucked up. I've felt that this sound that I have, this metallic delayed clanky flange-driven hypnotic groove, just wasn’t there, and I just thought "I know people like it." and again, I've seen people dance to tracks that are a little bit like it, or when I play my own tracks when I'm DJing, and I just thought "This could go so much further, so much deeper, if I stepped back into that Plastikman guise." Start to bring together the other technologies that I had learnt while I was DJing over the last five or ten years - with visuals and LEDs and lighting - and it was time to take a new step. I honestly think at this point, with the technology, you can do a hell of a lot playing other people's music, more than you've ever been able to do before, but I got to a point where I was like, “This is great playing other people's music, but what would it be like again to just get up on a stage and do only my own original stuff?”
Do you find that more satisfying as well?
Right now I'm loving it because I haven't done it for so long, so I'm liking it much more than just DJing. I think as that wears off I'll continue to do both. That's my plan right now because they do feed off of each other, because other people's groove - and layering it different ways, in a way you would - it ends up becoming part of you anyway. Then going out there and just starting with a clean slate and playing and building something brand new for the people is also something kind of unique. What I found that was that the one thing that held some of the shows back in the past couple of years was that we were always reliant on other people's material. When you move away from that and you’re reliant on your own material then really anything is possible. You can just go into the studio. Before every Plastikman show I take the three or four days beforehand to load up the files, to listen to everything and to start adding and changing. It’s a progression. It's organically morphing and changing and that’s exciting
What can people expect from the live shows?
It’s a full bodied experience. It's intense, and in some ways it's over the top. What I hope it is, is a great Plastikman experience. When you put [the albums] Sheet One on, or Consumed, these albums take you somewhere and spit you out at the other end, and you're like “Oh fuck, what was that?” And we hope that, and I say we because there's a big team coming to each of the shows to make this happen, that that happens at the first note of the show and the curtains open that people are sucked in and walk away an hour later, and maybe they don’t know if they liked it or didn’t like it, they're just like “Well, what the fuck was that?” - and then I'm happy.
What have your highlights been as an artist from playing T in The Park in the past?
T in the Park is always a really great crazy experience. One of the hardest T in the Parks I ever had was the last one I played. I played after Justice. They give so much energy. What they do is really amazing, but they really suck everybody dry. It was really hard. I had to wait for the people to regain their energy, but also for some new crowd to bring in some new energy, but after that it was really great. And the people. I've been coming to Scotland since the Pure days in Edinburgh and the old Sub Club. I love going to these places where I know there's kids in the audience who are like '”Who the fuck’s this Richie Hawtin? Someone told me I should see him blah blah blah.” and there's other kids next to him saying “I saw him in 1991.” It's such a weird mix of energy and anticipation and it’s a wonderful thing. It's what makes what I do enjoyable, and what creates, hopefully, part of the whole experience.
People often say that electronic music can be quite cold, but do you think there's actually quite a lot of emotion in how people react to dance music?
I can see where people are saying its cold and robotic, but part of that is what's beautiful about the music. But no matter how cold music is, if it's done right, and you connect to the people on the danc floor or the concert arena, something happens to those people together as individuals - they have some kind of human emotional reaction. That emotion is there that drives that excitement again, that anticipation. All this is like a big melting pot as you’re cooking - like a witches brew - and something wonderful comes out of it at the end.
Do you think that there's an energy at the Slam Tent that perhaps you don’t get at some of the other festivals?
It’s a tent full of lunatics - it's great.
What can people expect on the night? Is it an added pressure being the headline act?
Right now, there's an added pressure every time we do Plastikman. We’re only doing 15 shows so there's a lot of hype on it. It’s a huge production for us. It’s a technical nightmare. But once all the machines are running, it’s totally exhilarating. We could be opening the tent and we’d still be feeling the same way. We're really proud of what we're doing - we think it's really unique and special - and it takes a lot of energy and power to bring to the stage every time we do it
What have you got planned next?
There's some DJ ideas for next year we're thinking about, but we also have Plastikman shows into next year now. We're gonna do an Australian tour. The Plastikman show already has a Version Two that is on the books if these continue to go well. I want to continue pushing my creative use of technology, looking forward and looking back a little bit sometimes, and seeing where all that takes us. At the end of the year, we'll take a look back and see what Plastikman has become, because it keeps morphing every show, and decide what's next. But my hope is that Plastikman is back, whether it’s a live show or whether it’s a new album or whether - it’s another weird type of event.