Richie Hawtin resurrects iconic Plastikman persona for world tour

DJ and producer on the makings of his audio-visual spectacular

Richie Hawtin resurrects iconic Plastikman persona for world tour

Richie Hawtin has resurrected his Plastikman persona to form the basis for a complex and immersive audio visual spectacle. He talks with Hamish Brown about the past, the future and avoiding the easy option

Richie Hawtin is one of the most high profile DJs and producers working today, with activities incorporating several record labels, software and hardware products and a globe-spanning tour schedule. Known for distinctive and intense DJ sets, it might initially seem difficult to reconcile this aspect of his work with his most well-known production persona of Plastikman, whose Detroit-influenced minimal techno, rich in subtle detail and often aimed at headphones rather than dancefloors, has been a touchstone for electronic music since its release in the 1990s. Playing these two facets against one another is something he’s always done, as he recently described. ‘Plastikman is the introverted side who’s quite happy to be alone playing with technology and creating things for myself. Hawtin is the extroverted side, entertaining and performing to and with the people around me.’

Spanning countless 12” and four albums between 1993 and 1998, with a comeback in 2003 with Closer, it’s easy to forget how innovative and different Plastikman productions were. Against an environment in the early 1990s where many were in blind pursuit of the faster, harder and heavier, the sound of Plastikman, alongside other minimal producers such as Basic Channel and Robert Hood, was different. Delicate but intense, it had a kind of funkiness that many producers had forgotten about. The recent wave of minimal techno exploding from Germany during the late 2000s on labels such as Kompakt, BPitch Control and Traum Schallplatten has brought about a fresh wave of appreciation for these earlier releases.

Whilst this rise of minimal and 2011 deluxe compilation Arkives might go some way to explain the Plastikman resurrection, it’s also down to Hawtin’s career-long eagerness to explore technology and new ideas. Plastikman Live might take the recordings as a starting point, but it runs with it to create a huge, immersive audio visual spectacle that pushes the boundaries of what live performance is. To call it ‘live music’ is to undersell it a bit, as Hawtin explains. ‘Well, live music exists somewhere between music, theatre and circus right? I think what many DJs have learned over the last 20 years is that we are also entertainers. Plastikman Live enables me to jump much further from that and bring lighting, visuals and sound together and have them interact. It’s the liveness and spontaneity of a concert with the pre-planning and design of a theatrical show.’

Electronic music has consistently been at the forefront of live performance technology, with Daft Punk’s pyramid, Fatboy Slim’s Palookavision and Amon Tobin’s vector-mapping stage set being recent examples of how artists have scaled up their live show to meet the rise in audience numbers – and their expectations. Where Plastikman Live differs is in the live element, as Hawtin explains. ‘There are a lot of audio visual experiences out there, but what we’re trying to do is add a new language to that. For example, by linking the sound of claps to the strobe lights, or the size of the circle on the screen to the frequency of the modulation, people see something moving in correlation to the sound they’re hearing. To me, that’s what a great concert is, and that’s what we’re trying to play with.’

The behind the scenes work required for this massive production is understandably pretty significant. ‘It’s like a fucking nine piece band! We have dedicated people looking after lighting, video and animation. We’re using wi-fi, ethernet, fibreoptics and DMX protocol and all these thing have to be working 100%. It’s like being the caption of a 747. There’s no way you know all the systems, so you have to really have a belief that everyone has put it together right. And then you fly it. And that’s what I do each show.’

The inclusion of the version number in the show title seems indicative of the Plastikman team’s plan to continue exploring the limits of performance. ‘We’re stress testing the manufacturer’s technology and they are helping us test our stress! It’s what I’ve been doing for 20 years. It’s a wonder I don’t have grey hair already.’

Plastikman 1.5. Barrowland, Glasgow, Sat 3 Dec 8pm-12am

Plastikman Live @ Time Warp 2010 - official footage

Richie Hawtin presents Plastikman Live 1.5


Live techno as Richie Hawtin presents Plastikman 1.5.

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