That much sort of goes without saying; every new musical offering from Hawtin is always step up from the last, forever pushing those boundaries. Richie too has changed. The kid from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, weaned on a diet of techno from nearby Detroit, developed his own iconic image as Plastikman, releasing his futuristic musical manifesto on his own M_nus label.
Two years ago, Richie moved to Berlin, inarguably ground zero for today’s techno scene, and fertile ground for the technological advances being realized for music production and performance in general.
From icon to iconoclast, the DJ debate between choosing vinyl or CDs has long since been over for Hawtin, now opting for a two-laptop all-digital setup for his gigs.
“Now I have enough room to put the ideas together the way they are in my head. Over the last couple years, my musical ideas in stereo have tried to experiment with the depth of sound, space and structure and the idea of minimization. At that point, you really start to work in architectural terms. There’s only so much you can do in those terms in stereo.”
Even Hawtin admits he may be pushing things faster than most people might be able to keep up with, not the least of which are clubs supporting his tour dates for Transitions. Some clubs are outfitted perfectly for sound, with him citing places like the CocoonClub in Frankfurt and Womb in Tokyo. Other clubs sadly aren’t. “You know you’re going to go some places and not be able to do what you set out to do, but you want to try and do something as close as possible to it. You want to at least give people an opportunity to hear you and hopefully become interested enough to check out what you’ve done on a recording and experience what it’s really all about. The club experience generally is not pristine.”
Hawtin’s heralded the arrival of computer programs that dispense with the necessity of him having to beat match records. Foregoing technical mixing allows him to concentrate more on effects, looping, layering and the musicality of the mix. Still, watching him play live these days might look an awful lot like a guy checking his e-mail or chatting with a buddy through instant messaging.
In a club, as a DJ, Hawtin comments he still has a responsibility to perform, because that’s what people expect. “That’s the problem with technology right now. The computers and the software are now so powerful they allow us to do really amazing things as a performer. The problem is the way we control that technology isn’t so interesting to watch. Maybe we’re adopting the technology too fast, and I’m usually the one right at the bleeding edge. DJs may be losing something they’ve been known for as entertainers.”
Richie says he’s watched some of his contemporaries in Speedy J & Chris Liebing, Sasha and Paul Van Dyk play with their own Ableton configurations. The result... “I’ve stood behind Chris and Speedy J when they were playing, but it was kind of boring. They sounded amazing; you’re going out there to make things sound great. But as a performer you’re also going out there to entertain. You have to find a balance and I think some of the balance is getting lost right now.”
Hawtin loooooves his machines, but he’s looking for more control that doesn’t forget the crowd. The human element, he says, that bond between the DJs and the crowds, is still essential. It’s what makes seeing DJs live so special.
“Conveying what I’m doing is a little more difficult than it was before, because people don’t necessarily understand exactly all the little things that I’m doing. Some people will come up and watch and get an idea – all that is great. I want people to ask questions. If they don’t, that’s fine; I just want them to have a really fucking good time.”
For several years, Richie has maintained partnerships with equipment manufacturers Allen & Heath as well as Stanton, who are responsible for the revolutionary Final Scratch system which allows digital media files to be manipulated like vinyl through a turntable setup. Both brands now have serious competition. Once more expensive, the price point on Allen & Heath products has dropped considerably to much more competitive levels and Final Scratch is now seeing competition from Rane’s Serato system as well as a new vinyl-less system from Vestax.
Recognizing how difficult it is for a dance consumer to know where to turn, the Voice asked Hawtin about his thoughts on the growing market for DJ and music production equipment;
“We have information overload and product overload. There’s a new version, a new patch, a new download. In our everyday lives it’s nearly overwhelming what we have to think about let alone our creative lives. You really have to spend some time and ask some questions to figure out what they want to be able to do now and be able to do later. Stanton’s Final Scratch vs. Rane’s Serato is a great example. If you’re just a DJ that wants to go out and play records, Serato may be for you. If you want to go out on and do effects, looping with turntables or without them, then perhaps Traktor is for you. If you’re only out to play loops and want to play remixes on the fly, then maybe it’s Ableton. People just really need to take the time to sit down and figure out what it is they want.”