|Richie Hawtin's Transitions Part 1
For over 15 years Richie Hawtin has been an integral figure in the techno world. From setting up Plus 8 records in 1990 and putting out early releases by Speedy J, Dan Bell, and Kenny Larkin, to throwing warehouse parties in the Detroit area in the '90s, his own F.U.S.E., Plastikman and DE9 mix projects, the creation of the M_nus label, his recent transition from Windsor to Berlin and his connections with new producers such as Matthew Jonson, Hawtin has continually sought to both immerse himself in and draw inspiration from the minimal scene, yet also remain on the cutting edge of electronic music.
Hawtin’s projects, particularly his DE9 mix series, constantly push the latest technological developments to their utmost levels while also being vital and exciting dance pieces. The latest entry in the DE9 series, the just released DE9: Transitions, sees Hawtin pushing forward yet again, posing questions as to the nature of DJing, producing, the role of technology in electronic music, and the very nature of creative composition itself.
In Part 1 of a two-part interview, RA talks to Richie Hawtin about DE9: Transitions and the philosophy behind it, transitions between DJing and producing, and transitions in his own life.
RA: You recently played at Fabric in London, right? How did that go?
R: Fabric has always been a really really great place to play. You know, I’ve played in London for the last 15 years and the last 2 or 3 years, there seems to be a resurgence of interest in really interesting electronic music. And Fabric has been one of the clubs along with the club The End and a couple of other ones that have really been spearheading that resurgence. You know, bringing really interesting music back to London and getting away from the more commercial house side, and really delivering the goods.
RA: I’ve noticed that at the moment Minimal Techno seems to be getting tipped at the moment as the new “it” sound. For example the August 19 issue of “DJ Magazine” ran an article pretty much saying exactly that. You’ve definitely championed Minimal Techno for many years. How do you feel about that? Is it a good thing, or possibly a dangerous thing?
R: Well, you always have to take the British press with a grain of salt. They’re always trying to hype something which is the next big thing, and whatever they decide is the next big thing is also the next thing that they’re gonna bastardize and call shit, or say that it’s all over. So with the English press it’s always up and down and you kind of have to prepare yourself for that and just go with the flow. You know the thing about it is, Minimal Techno and the kind of music that I’ve been playing and other friends of mine have been playing, like Ricardo Villalobos, Magda, Josh Wink, and Laurent Garnier, these people are playing and have always played really quality electronic music, and it’s what we’ll continue to do. So if someone wants to hype what we’re doing, so be it. We’ll continue what we’re doing before the hype, and we’ll continue doing it after the hype.
RA: You’re currently on a tour at the moment for the upcoming mix CD "DE9: Transitions". Are you doing anything special on the tour that captures the theme or philosophy of DE9, such as using Ableton Live in the DJ sets?
R: Yeah, well, sure, using Ableton and Final Scratch and technologies like that. The use of Ableton in my sets has been going on now for probably 2 years, and it was the way I was able to test my ideas for the album on the dancefloor before actually I recorded it. So, there’s always elements from the performances and from the albums that go back and forth; there’s definitely a relationship there and I think the tour right now shows that relationship.
RA: Often when it comes to dance music, people often somewhat dismissively feel a DJ is just someone who plays somebody else’s music. But projects such as the DE9 series actively challenge that notion.
R: I think the idea of a DJ just playing records is at least 10 or 15 years outdated these days. And I’ve always been interested in where a DJ becomes a performer, and the performer becomes an artist, and how those interrelate to each other. So for me to use turntables and computers and other technology is always the way I was looking to be able to perform. And I think with technology today people are further challenged as an audience, and also the performers are challenged to look into the best way to entertain and push music and the experience to a new level.
RA: Yeah, I was going to say that technology such as Ableton Live and ProTools allows people such as yourself to manipulate and layer tracks into virtually new compositions. In fact on the Transitions mix you’ve given the mixed tracks your own names, right?
R: Yeah, exactly. To further drive the message home, or the idea home, that a DJ is someone who uses other people’s material and manipulates it into something new, and to challenge the idea of where a song begins and where a song ends, or where creation or something new comes out of the whole performance and experience. I think 20 years ago DJs started by mixing 2 records together, overlapping them, and trying to create something which was better than the sum of its parts. Now with Abelton and other technologies you can take that to such an extreme, that although you can hear some of the elements it really becomes something completely different and totally new, and that’s where I think things are going. So it’s a little bit cheeky that I gave things titles, but I wanted to, whether people appreciate it or agree with it, and it kinda poses the question and opens that idea into discussion.
RA: Keeping that question in mind, would it even be accurate to call "Transitions" a DJ mix CD at all, or does it mark a transition in what DJs will be doing in the future?
R: Well, you know, the name and idea of Transitions goes into all those ideas. Not only from the idea of 5.1 or mixing things together, but the idea that we’re living in a transitional time when finally people understand that a DJ is more than someone who mixes two records together, that DJing is a very creative type of profession, and that there’s people out there who are really creating art in a way that is like any other artist. Whether an artist is sampling or they’re whether like an Andy Warhol who re-appropriates Marilyn Monroe’s image and creates something new, we’re at that point in music, we’re at the point where it’s really blurring the lines between when creation begins and ends. Or does it ever end? It seems to be in my opinion that it’s a constant continuum of people re-appropriating, re-thinking and re-working the material that is presented to them. And that type of material, that type of information, could be samples, could be drum sounds, could be synthesizer sounds, or it could be a restructuring of a whole composition that’s already been made. So the lines have blurred and we’re definitely moving into a new era of music, and how music is created, and what could be called a new composition.
RA: And these are the tools that you’re working with.
R: For me whether it’s learning clarinet or the drums or a synthesizer or learning how to take the right samples from someone else’s work and re-appropriate in a way that it becomes something new, it’s not really where the information is coming from, it’s whether you as an artist and a human being can learn how to use the technology to create something and put yourself though that technology to create something new or something that someone else wouldn’t create themselves. That personal interaction and that personal exploration and what comes out at the end is what we refer to as music or art or any type of creative output.
RA: That’s a really good point actually, because I wanted to ask with your own production work such as Plastikman, I’ve often felt that it’s quite personal. In fact, the most recent album Closer felt intensely personal.
R: [Laughs] Totally!
RA: But I was going to ask, with the DE9 series, is this also a personal expression of yourself?
R: I think it’s still a personal representation of myself, but in a different way than say Closer was; Closer was definitely tied to personal emotions and experiences. This album [DE9: Transitions] is tied to my history of music and exploration as a DJ. You know, we are who we are by what we consume, what we read, what we listen to, and what inspires us. And I don’t know if you’ve seen the final album cover yet, but the album cover is a picture of my face, but it’s actually made up of all the track names and artist names of who’s involved on the album. So the idea that as a DJ you’re only as good as the sum of the music or the parts that you use. And that can be said for any artist who samples or re-appropriates, again like Warhol, or some of the artists of the 60s or 70s who would take everyday objects and present them in a way that you looked at them in a slightly different way than in typical everyday life. So, it’s that reappropriation and the way that you change someone’s viewpoint, or the way that they interact with it, that creates a different experience.
RA: Viewing something through a different lens, so to speak.
R: Exactly. I think it’s very interesting to create something from scratch, like Consumed or Closer, but it’s also really interesting to use information and music and things that people already know and understand, but allow them to hear it in a completely different way. The analogy I used on something like Closer to the Edit, was everyday walking into the same room, through one door, and understanding explicitly where everything in that room was and understanding that viewpoint. And one day after many years someone saying ‘okay, now walk through the opposite door’, and you know everything that’s in the room hasn’t changed, everything is completely exactly the same, but your viewpoint has changed, so in that way, although the information hasn’t changed, the experience has changed completely.
RA: It’s maybe going to sound a little strange, but I’m oddly reminded of the traditional stone gardens that I’ve seen in Japan which operate on a similar principle, that from wherever you sit something will be obscured, yet when you change position something is revealed.
R: This is true. From that viewpoint if you take into consideration the different viewpoints of the listener or the observer, then you can create different experiences depending on where that person chooses to sit or how that person chooses to listen.
RA: Do you see much of a difference between your work as a producer and DJ?
R: In the beginning, for sure, there was definitely “DJ Hawtin” and then “producer Hawtin”. I think as the timeline has progressed and as the technology that we use in the studio and the performance arena has come closer together, if not exactly the same, those two types of careers or situations have also come closer. So, to me, now, practicing or playing with ideas on the dancefloor for the album, and working in the studio on the album and taking those ideas to the dancefloor, it’s all synonymous, it’s really one and the same.
RA: So, another transition perhaps?
R: Exactly, many many many transitions right now! [Laughs]
RA: I wanted to ask about some other transitions. When did you move from Canada to Berlin?
R: I moved basically 2 years ago right now. So this is the first project that I’ve finished recording in my new home in Berlin. So, throughout the recording process of Closer and moving to New York for one year and then also finishing the album in Windsor and then over to Berlin for the new album, it’s been a number of years of transitional experiences and moving to a new level or a new place in my life.
RA: Why did you choose to make that transition from Canada to New York and then Berlin?
R: You know, I’ve lived so many years in the Detroit area, looking, being inspired, and hopefully inspiring, and being part of that scene, that I was looking to reconnect to some of the original ideas that had sparked my career in the first place in Detroit. And once you’ve lived in a place for so long, you “max out”, you come to a point where you’ve experienced enough and you need new input, new people, a new environment, and that was one of the main reasons. Of course, the other reason is to be closer to my gigs in Europe and having so many friends there. But to throw yourself into something new I think is always good, especially as you get older, into your 30s, it becomes very easy to sit back and enjoy the success you’ve found and the situation you’ve found. And for me that wasn’t so interesting. I didn’t want to settle down or slow down, I wanted to continue experiencing and continue to hopefully open up my horizons.
RA: And innovate.
R: I think if you want to continue to innovate and re-define and question yourself, you have to sometimes take yourself out of a situation which you find comfortable or understand. When things aren’t posing questions to you then it becomes just a situation where you start to revisit the areas that you’ve already visited.
RA: Time to walk through that opposite door, perhaps?
R: Yeah, exactly! [Laughs] And hopefully there’s many open doors into your same situation, so there’s always an opportunity to look at yourself from a different angle.
- End of Part 1 -
In Part 2 Hawtin talks about the current transitional nature of minimal techno, the new breed of minimal artists, future plans for M_nus, and the importance of pushing forward.
Richie Hawtin's Transitions Part 2