Richie Hawtin Interview

by Emily Tan 

Richie Hawtin is known for his razor-sharp musical instinct and keen intellect. This genuinely cerebral artist, producer and champion-techno-DJ has laid himself bare in his long-awaited album, Closer (Novamute). Created under his Plastikman pseudonym and exposing raw vulnerabilities, Hawtin has shown us that even at our most isolated and disconcertingly introspective moments, we are far from alone. In one of the most shockingly meaningful and self-reflective electronic music albums to hit stores in a long time, Richie Hawtin shatters some of the prevailing preconceptions that dominate modern life. ďI am more technologically savvy than 99% of the DJs out there,Ē Hawtin says -- matter-of-factly stating the obvious -- and he is one of the pre-eminent poster-boys for cutting-edge technology in clubland.

 Able to shake a packed dancefloor of sweaty clubbers to its very core while behind the decks at any thumping nightclub, Hawtin succeeds also in forcing his listeners to turn inward and examine themselves, with his latest album. The deeply personal emotions that gradually shaped themselves within Richie Hawtinís mind over the last few years dictated the darkly pensive mood of this minimalist techno album. The surprise lies not only in the scope of Closerís startling audio treatments, but rather in the final revelation that even in the most private, solitary confines of our own minds, we are in fact...not alone

EMILY TAN: The last time I saw you perform live was at the South Street Seaport [in New York City] shortly after September 11th [2001], after Carl Coxís set. Your hair is blonde, now...and well, you have hair! [laughs] And youíre sun-tanned. No eyeglasses. If you wanted to go incognito, this would be the perfect disguise.

RICHIE HAWTIN: Yeah, I was already playing in clubs and people were saying, ďHey, the guy who played instead of Richie [Hawtin] was cool, but what happened to Richie?Ē Seriously, itís ridiculous.

TAN: Nobody recognised you?

HAWTIN: Yeah, unbelievable. [pause] [The South Street Seaport show] was really cool. It was cool to do a different venue in New York.

TAN: You played with the sun coming up after a long night of a driving thunderstorm. The energy in the room as the clouds cleared and the sun came up was amazing.

HAWTIN: Yeah, it was a really cool show...thanks.

TAN: I listened to Closer in its entirety and uninterrupted, in the middle of the night. I felt as though I was slowing slipping into insanity...

HAWTIN: [laughs] Oh...thatís great!

TAN: Was that your intention?

HAWTIN: Yeah. [laughs] Thatís good, I like that! Someone else said that, too.

TAN: What is the story behind Closer?

HAWTIN: Last year was a really crazy year, for me. I went through a lot of changes, like leaving my girlfriend of eight years, who was with me from the beginning of [my career under the pseudonym] Plastikman until now. Then, I moved to New York City...age doesnít really affect me, but I saw my friends getting older, getting married, having families and thinking about where I fit into all this. It was really a time of self-reflection. I think about how I got to where I was, what I sacrificed, if I was happy. Where I was going. The more I thought about this, the crazier I got. I was talking to myself, really thinking. Iím also a Gemini, so I always have this split-personality thing going on. It all came together. In the past, [recording an album] was always about capturing a certain mood, it was always more external. It started to make sense, instead of creating an external atmosphere, to try to grasp the ideas that were really inside my own head, this time. And, in the past, some of the things inside my own head were atmospheric, more about sound. More blips and blops. Now, itís more vocal and more verbal, and there are a lot of ideas floating around. Can I get this idea of insomnia, this being on the edge of insanity, out of my own head and do something which will give people that sense of where I was coming from?

TAN: Well, you hit it right on the nose with Closer. I had no idea what to expect from the album and there was nothing written about it that Iíd read...but my notes to myself were, ďNow that Iím insane...Ē

HAWTIN: [laughs loudly]

TAN: ď...Iím really starting to enjoy this album.Ē

HAWTIN: Funny. [laughs]

TAN: Plastikman is your alter-ego, right?

HAWTIN: Yeah, Plastikmanís always been my alter-ego. Itís dark and moody, and this one comes out and itís my alter-ego talking to myself. The idea of Ďme, myself and Ií, all that craziness. The idea that in the most difficult situations in life, I really started to think that everybodyís much closer to being insane a lot more of the time than we actually realise. Itís really a struggle of things going on in everybodyís head. Then, I started to look around and thought, ďWell, what is really going on in everyoneís head?Ē Everyone always has this facade up. Everyoneís always happy. You never takes a long time to get to know people. Whatís that person really thinking when theyíre listening to this, or when theyíre talking to you? That started to gel together into this album.

TAN: So, you isolated yourself for three months to record this album?

HAWTIN: Yeah, first I moved to New York for a while. I was meeting people and really started thinking about a lot of this, but then the main recording process was from December [2002] to April [2003]; thatís when I isolated myself. I was spending most of my time alone, and further, the more time I spent alone, the crazier I became.

TAN: Thereís nothing else out there thatís quite like this album.

HAWTIN: Right. Thatís the one thing that, itís like a blessing and a curse. The Plastikman name is, I never thought it would go this long. I created a sound and Iíve been able to continue this sound. It usually takes me three years between albums to get something with enough of a connection to the past, and that has enough of a disconnection to the future. It is saying something new, but it is relevant to the whole Plastikman idea.

TAN: Youíre touring in support of Closer?

HAWTIN: I was thinking about it. Right now, it will be a weird hybrid of DJíing and Plastikman tour. Hopefully, next year will be a whole live tour. I was thinking of doing it for this year, but my whole scheduleís too busy to put time into planning what I want to do if I do a live tour. It was, like you said, it doesnít sound like anything else out there. If Iím going to do a tour and a live performance, it has to be also not like anything else out there, and thereís a lot of weight on that. And also, there hasnít been a live Plastikman tour since 1995. The longer I wait, the more weight there is on my shoulders to do something special. Itís an interesting challenge.

TAN: Your Plastikman shows are different from your live Richie Hawtin techno DJíing sets...

HAWTIN: Thatís always one of my favourite parts. When youíve been able to push people to the edge. The longer people stay, the more free they become in allowing themselves to be taken somewhere, from the DJ or from the performer. Thatís something I always found interesting, and with all of the productions Iím doing, Iím always hoping thereís a core audience that comes everywhere with me. To me, electronic musicís great about capturing different moods, and thereís so many different moods that I hope everybody can experience.

TAN: Does using the Plastikman moniker make it easier for people to understand you?

HAWTIN: Yeah, I think people need certain labels for certain things. Plastikman is one label that I use for certain things; itís definitely a certain mood. All the [Plastikman] albums have been somewhat moody and dark, maybe a little bit weird or scary at different points. Plastikman has always been on the edge of being friendly and uncomfortable at the same time. This [album] really goes down that line even better than any of them.

TAN: Itís one thing, as an artist, to say that you hope to achieve something; itís entirely another when you actually achieve what you set-out to convey with your art. The effects on the listener are exactly what you intended. Thatís not an easy thing to accomplish.

HAWTIN: Thank you. It was great, and this is only the beginning of me talking to people about it. Iíve been couped-up in my own head for the past six months, and now itís finally seeing if it works. It seems to be having an interesting effect on people who are getting into it.

TAN: I think itís what we need, right now. Weíre all living such a hurried existence in this age of MTV, CNN and high-speed everything.

HAWTIN: Yeah, itís always been in my recordings that I have a backlash to, I have a super fast-paced life, but at the same time, my stuff is against the fast-paced. I want people to take time to listen and to get into things. With this album, I really get into that. I really wanted to do stuff with voices, use normal vocals. Not using normal vocals like making a pop record or anything like that, but using vocals for something which was different. I think itís working out that way.

TAN: Plus 8 and M-nus [pronounced ďminusĒ] are your record labels, right?

HAWTIN: Yes, and Clark is the label manager. He keeps everything running while Iím off scooting around the world. [laughs]

TAN: Your labels are still independent?

HAWTIN: Yeah, weíre totally independent. Plus 8 was started in 1990 with my partner at that time, John Acquaviva. It was really kind of a home to experimenting with all different sounds and finding my own identity. One name that I used to record under was Plastikman, and another name I used was Fuse, also my normal name [Richie Hawtin]. But, it was really intense for me and a bunch of friends. As I honed-in on specific sounds, so did a bunch of our other artists who were with us since 1998, who started to work within the confines of a little bit more of a specific sound. A more minimal Plastikman sound.

TAN: Are you still signing new artists to your labels?

HAWTIN: Weíre still signing new artists, yes. Weíre not out to rule the world, though. [laughs] One year, weíll have four releases, and the next year, weíll have ten. Thereís no plan; we just really see how things go. If I have a certain feeling about a record or if someone sends me something and it feels like itís the right time, we [release] it. If not, we donít.

TAN: No marketing pressures to release an album every six months or so...