Plastikman: Richie Hawtin

Posted on August 1st, by Brad Owen in 20, Interviews, Techno. 1 Comment

The first time I heard a Richie Hawtin record is a moment which stands with me to this day.  Flipping through the record bins of a decidedly non-techno shop in 1992, I grabbed every record within reach that looked like reputable techno and headed to the counter.  Amongst such amazing tunes as The Seawolf, Red Planet, and the Acid Masters was a record named Technarchy by Cybersonik.  After popping it on and hearing the punishing rhythms and shredding synths, I was hooked.  Since that moment, I’ve tried to keep up with Richie’s material across the board… the ambient material with Namlook, the remixes, the Fuse records, Circuit Breaker and the old Cybersonik stuff, Plastikman, the Concept series… it goes on and on.  1998 has brought a new Plastikman project.  An album which took myself and most of the music world by surprise- minimalism in it’s most extreme- dark textures you would probably never dance to.  Does Richie have his creative head up his ass or is this techno master making music most of the dance buying public won’t understand for years to come?

Let’s talk about the new album a bit.  It’s quite different from your other stuff.
Well, it is definitely a follow up to the other Plastikman records… it is Plastikman.  But you can’t forget that it’s been four years since the last one.  I knew when I finished the last one that it was going to take me a while to do the next one.  I just wanted to take some time off and I knew that when it was finished it would be quite different.  I didn’t really set out to make it as different as it is now but at the same time I wanted to make a record which was more challenging for people.  I don’t necessarily think that there are that many artists out there that are challenging their own sound and the whole electronic sound right now.  I think a lot of artists are making good tracks but they are treading somewhat familiar ground.

I kind of think it has similar themes to some of my other music… I think the earlier Plastikman stuff was always kind of head music but was definitely also more danceable than this album.  I guess I wanted to go to the extreme with this.  The kind of thing I wanted to show with this album couldn’t really be shown if it was jumbled up with too many beats.  I really wanted people to have an album that contained a lot more space than my previous work- enough room to breathe.  People are so into the rhythm and it nearly overshadows everything else on the track… it was purposely left out throughout most of the album.  I just wanted people to kind of zero in and just kind explore this album on more levels than the 303 and 909.
Having said that, this album is built on similar sounds as my last ones.  The whole bed of this album is built on 303s.  I thought it would be interesting to continue on with that but make it sound unlike the other ones.

Let’s talk about your equipment modifications… do they allow you to achieve different sounds than other people with the same kit?
That’s a common misconception.  A lot of people thought a lot of the weird sounds on my previous albums were made with the Devil Fish.  There were only 2 tracks on the Muzik album that used the Devil Fish… the rest were normal 303s.  The Devil Fish wasn’t even used on this album.  I think that the most Devil Fish-ish track I’ve ever done was the track I did before I had the Devil Fish, which was Krakpot.

You have a Serge Modular System, correct?
I do.  It’s my main baby.

How is the new album being received?
A lot better than I thought.  I didn’t know what to expect.   Most of the people I’ve talked to who haven’t enjoyed it have been one-time listeners.  The people who have listened to it four or five times are the ones who’ve really been getting it.  But then again, you never know with the Press; they could just be blowing smoke up your ass.

I certainly think it’s something you need to listen to more than once.  You don’t notice the subtleties just when you sit down and listen to it over dinner.
It’s a record that is challenging and demands attention.  If you don’t give it time, then don’t expect much back from it.  I think my music from the past is more literal and instant.  That was my music in the past… I’ve done that before.  I didn’t want to come back with Spastik, Sheet One, Muzik.  I didn’t want to belittle those projects by trying to recreate them.  And I think there’s going to be people out there who listen to this and think ‘this isn’t Plastikman – this isn’t like it used to be.’  That’s fucking four years ago and I’m sure that if I’d given people exactly that, they would have said, ‘yeah, this is great!  This is just what I wanted,’ and then two months later be saying ‘I kind of like Sheet One or Muzik better anyway – maybe he should have tried something different.’  So, I’ve done Sheet One and I’ve done Muzik. This is me four years later.

So what are your plans for the upcoming months?
My plans are to concentrate back on the Midwest again now that I have some time and I’m able to come back into the States.  I want really get back to supporting the Midwest as much as we used to.  It was a really special night when I played for Kurt (Drop Bass Network) months back… it felt great to be back in the Midwest.    I’ve heard good things and bad things about the Midwest.  I think it’s had it’s ups and downs over the last couple years… I don’t want to be talking about how good it is or how bad it is, I just want to get back to work on it.

Tell me a little bit about your approach to DJing now in comparison to 1992.
If I can remember back then!  I think my DJing has become a lot more subtle, much like my music.  I think as I have developed, so has the crowd.  Back then the music was slightly different – it may have been a bit more harder, trancier, and instantaneous.  What I think I’m trying to do now is create something that has a lot more levels… going even deeper and more places.  It’s very easy to have a crowd dancing to music which they enjoy or at least feel somewhat familiar with.  I’ve done that… that’s more like the set-up or the first hour or two.  What interests me is beyond that, when you get beyond the threshold- when you get to a point where not only am I not really thinking about what record to play next but when it starts to become a natural flow.  Also, the people out there dancing are getting to that point where it doesn’t really matter who they are, where they are, how they’re dancing…  All they are thinking about is the dance.  When it gets to that point you can start to twist and turn people even more.  Then you start to get to the point where you can give people rhythms, records, tracks and sounds which five hours before they would have never danced to.  You get to this point where there is a sense of freedom of movement and freedom of thought between the crowd and me.  That is why I need time to develop…  It’s not about making people dance for two hours – that’s no challenge.   I need to play for two hours just to get to the point where I want to start doing what I really want to do.  It’s all about that set-up; doing what I really need to do.  I think the crowd out there, especially a Midwest crowd, want to dance but also want some type of journey.  I’ve got to feel like I’m not just putting records together.  It’s a total creative process for me.  That’s why I’ve added more on to that now – there’s turntables, effects and a drum machine.  It gives me more options, spontaneity, and interaction between myself, the machines, and the people.

The last time I interviewed you, we talked about who you thought was hot in Detroit and you said Carl Craig & Dan Bell.  Four years later, who’s on top in Detroit?
Kind of a political question, isn’t it?  No matter what I say I’m fucked!  Labelwise, I think Planet E is on top in Detroit right now.  They are the ones who are really pushing & releasing a lot of stuff while trying to support some Detroit people.  I’m not saying that the other labels aren’t, I just find there’s a really good energy at Planet E…  Probably because I know Carl and Hannah.  I know Dan Bell is back in the studio working on some really cool stuff.  I just heard a new Rob Hood record which was amazing.  The same people on that level, but there are also a lot of cool and interesting people coming up.  I’m more interested in the people just coming up who are just starting to make sounds.  I think that’s interesting throughout the whole Midwest.  You guys got Stewart Walker in Madison… that guy’s slammin’ and he’s doing some crazy shit.  There are little pockets of people coming up doing interesting labels and I think the Midwest is becoming a hot spot for techno and electronic music.  I always thought the Midwest was rockin’ because it has always kept to its own.  For awhile it seemed a lot of cities would bring in more and more people from the west coast, east coast, and south Florida and shit like that.  I think that watered it down…  I’ll get flak for that.  Don’t fuck with the Midwest… we’ve got some hot producers, both old and established, new and upcoming, and people you’re not going to hear for two years time.  I think that’s the strength that we have here.

I know a couple years back you were remixing more often.  Are you doing that any longer or have you hung that up?
I’ve kind of hung it up.  I’m tired of giving people my good ideas!  In fact, I was getting to a point where I was doing tracks for people.  My best remixes were tracks that sounded way too much like me – like the Mo’ Wax thing and the System 7 mix.  They could have come out under Richie Hawtin and maybe they should have.  I’ve gotten to the point where it isn’t worth the money and it isn’t worth my time. I might as well just sit in my studio and work on my own projects.

The new album that you and Pete Namlook did…  How do you feel about the results and how was the experience?
Peter and I are really good friends.  Whenever I fly into Frankfurt I try to stop in and see him- have coffee or dinner with him and every once in a while put a couple of days aside and bang our heads together in the studio.  It’s really like a vacation, but also it’s getting music done.

What have been your highlights DJing in recent days?
The Omen in Frankfurt.  That place is unbelievable!  I’ve played with Sven Vath a couple of times.

Can he mix now?
Well… he’s got his shit together, I tell ya.  A lot of times I’m there by myself and at 9am I’m saying, “Maybe we should end now,” but the people still want more.  I’ve had people dancing to shit I never thought possible.  It’s unbelievable there.  Japan was good- I was over there and I did eight dates.  I was over there with turntables and a 909 and people were just fuckin’ eating it up.  I haven’t been doing as many gigs because I took time off during the last couple of months of the year just to finish this album.  There was enough material recorded for two albums, so there will probably be another one soon.

How do you approach your song writing?  Do you have a system or do you just sit down in front of your gear and start fuckin’ around?
It’s different…  I try to keep it as free as possible.  Sometimes I just go in to fuck around or work on some sounds and tracks come out.  Sometimes I go in with a specific mood or texture atmosphere that I want to create.  On the earlier albums, especially on the Plastikman stuff, I had a more defined idea and it was just a matter of time before they came out.  The process of creating those records was more of an additive process.  I created the album by adding a number of different elements together.  Once I got to the place I thought I wanted to get to, it was finished and I moved on to the next one.  This album was created in a different way.  I knew where I needed to get to by using a form of subtraction; taking parts of the sound away that I didn’t need until I was left with just what I wanted.  That was an important concept with this album because this album was more about the space between the sounds than it was just the sounds.

More of a way that the sounds interact with each other than just building and taking away?
Yeah… How do they interact and what would happen if I took that sound out.  What came before that sound and after that sound?