King Richard I

A conversation with DJ/Producer Richie Hawtin

Richie Hawtin's career played out a lot like Moby's. Besides the fact that they at one point had shiny bald noggins in common, both were figureheads of electronic music in the ravetastic '90s and, having committed the sin of popularity, were accused of selling out. After the dirty smoke-machine fog settled, Moby dodged Eminem disses and looked like a complete doof in his duet with Gwen Stefani, while Hawtin (a.k.a. Plastikman) dumped his trademark Buddy Holly specs, grew a blond flip, and escaped to Berlin. As the party wound down, though, through his own stylistic evolution, Hawtin has stuck by his cause. Gearing up for what's become an annual Twin Cities stop, the English-born, Canadian-bred, Detroit-associated DJ/producer spoke via telephone from New York about art, politics, drugs, his Midwestern past, and his German present.

 

In Berlin, this haircut gets compliments: Richie Hawtin
Courtesy of Mute Records
In Berlin, this haircut gets compliments: Richie Hawtin

City Pages:Do you remember anything special from when you were in Minneapolis last year?

Richie Hawtin: It was really amazing. The after party at the Dinkytowner was cool because I got to really enjoy myself. That's harder at the main event, because there's all this anticipation and emotion and sometimes people are so excited to see you, you can't relax.

CP:The minimal techno scene here has really taken on a life of its own.

Hawtin: That's what I heard!

CP:People associate you with Detroit, but you don't live even remotely near the Midwest anymore.

Hawtin: No, I'm in Berlin now, and although there's been more history in the Midwest for really good techno and house than anywhere [else], I don't really have any plans to move anytime soon. I have a great fan base there but I found people losing touch with what I love so much. I was looking for a place that had the energy I felt in the early days.

CP:Where do you think that spirit went?

Hawtin: I spent a number of years driving around the Midwest in my little green Toyota, playing crazy gigs and meeting people who were putting their hearts and souls into techno before anyone in America knew what it was. But it has gotten harder to do parties or anything that is outside the norm, especially since 9/11 happened and even more freedoms were taken away from us.

CP:Progressive house music has been moving into the realm of minimal techno in recent years. Some naysayers have said you've turned into a progressive house DJ yourself. What say you to that?

Hawtin: I think you're right--the progressive scene [has] taken on some of the ideas of the minimal genre. Music has gone from the harder edge of techno to a more minimalistic and sometimes even house-ish sound. Although I've gone left and right a little bit, the path I'm on now has complete continuity. If people think I play differently now or the music has changed, and for those who want to hear the tracks of the '90s or any of my sets from the '90s, find a mix tape! That's what I did then. It was special then, and it wouldn't be special now.

CP:What do you think about guitar-centered music taking over places where electronic music used to be the predominant genre showcased?

Hawtin: Traditional music has again come back into dominance. Rock music, even when it's totally cutting edge and crazy, is still very conservative. When you start saying that music can only be played from this time to this time, and you can't dance past this time, and electronic music is all about drugs, club owners and the general population look to find what can fit in its place.

CP:Is the connection between drugs and techno inherent?

Hawtin: I think the connection between drugs and music is inherent. People do drugs to all kinds of music. In the '60s when everyone was freaking out on drugs, a whole new generation of music came forth. Perhaps electronic music's continuing push into the unknown welcomes and generates a continuing experimentation into further unknowns.

CP:So is it safe to say you'll never start a Just Say No campaign?

Hawtin: I'd just like everyone to have a personal preference as to how they want to experiment. [Drugs] do lots of good and bad things for us, but it's better to understand that for yourself.

 
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