Whatever your opinion of Richie Hawtin, he is undeniably a star. After twenty-plus years of alternately exhilarating and head-scratching musical experiments, as well as recent forays into "authentic sake experiences" and underwater interviews with Carl Craig, the man still packs venues and inspires cacophonous shrieks from fans. CNTRL: Beyond EDM is Hawtin's latest brainchild, a bus tour of United States college towns intended, in Hawtin's own words, "to open up the definition of EDM" through a series of educational lectures and accompanying club nights.
The lecture portion of the CNTRL tour stop in New York City last Saturday was cancelled due to complications from Hurricane Sandy, but the show went on as planned at Webster Hall. It was a curiously commercial venue choice for a venture that, despite its best intentions, felt like it was preaching to the converted—or, at the very least, the blissfully ignorant and intoxicated.
Webster Hall is a historic New York venue, with a marquee that bathes the chaotic line outside in red. If Hawtin's futurism could speed up the coat-check line, it would be a welcome advancement: would-be revelers were stuck waiting as long as forty minutes, exposed to piledriver frequencies shuddering out of the downstairs dubstep dungeon while tINI chugged along playing house two floors up. tINI blitzed through grubby stacks of hiccuping percussion upended by whistling melodic accents, but the crowd was a swaying thrum of indifference, sweaty and impenetrable, many men shirtless and exuding aggression. The changeover to Loco Dice incited a rhythmic chant of "Loco, Loco," the Desolat head quickly washed away the comparatively dainty sounds of tINI. Switching between Ableton and Traktor, Dice slapped together brittle grooves with the irregular rhythms of disintegrating grandfather clocks, a trippy accompaniment as Daylight Savings Time sent the crowd time-traveling backwards
Playing from a laptop covered in Plastikman acid tab decals, Hawtin's set rode a wave of adulation through transitions that belched and crackled, with harrowing SETI signals and rollercoasters of bass. He moved through the springy loops and scattered thump of Daniel Avery's "One in the Wave" en route to choppier vocal incantations like Nitzer Ebb's "Join in the Chant," all while toying with a rubber chicken planted next to his computer. The pummeling was far removed from the subtractive techniques he's emphasized in the past, but perhaps the shortened set and atmosphere had him reformatting the expansive palette of European minimal to a more typically American dance floor attention span.
While the CNTRL tour on the whole attempts to penetrate the growing American college market for dance music, you have to think Hawtin recognizes the inherent limitations of his aesthetic for such an audience. (CNTRL has only a single location overlap with Tiësto's own behemoth college tour, an ostensible competitor for college ears.) For all the fanfare of presenting an alternate definition of "EDM," for many the night at Webster Hall seemed like just a welcome opportunity to party after a week of hurricane fallout. Walking downstairs to exit the venue, I passed more of the aforementioned shirtless hordes eager to join the swarm. One was saying to the other, "This guy named Richie Hawtin is playing upstairs. It's okay."