In what was possibly one of the easiest interviews to set up with an international artist, Hawtin’s assistant, Thomas, casually came back to me with a simple email; “I pencilled the interview into Rich’s diary for tomorrow, 5 pm CET. You can call him on his mobile:_______.”
The voice on the other side of the phone is very relaxed, I sense he is at home although I don’t think to ask and after pleasantries and introductions my opening remark is exactly about how more personable the EDM scene [there’s that word again] is, as opposed to the mainstream. This strikes an immediate chord with Hawtin as we embark on an holistic discussion on all things electronic.
A History Lesson
Richie grew up in Windsor, Ontario, Canada which is just across the border from Detroit ‘Techno’ city. When prompted with who his biggest inspiration has been over the years he doesn’t hesitate to cite the Detroit scene and specifically the greats, Jeff Mills and Derrick May as being two legends who influenced his approach to his art, “I’ve always looked at ways to use technology to ‘fuck things up’ like those guys used to with turntables back in the day.”
Indeed Richie’s legacy is as much about the music he creates, the DJ sets he plays as it is about the technology he has helped develop and continues to. In fact his 2001 release, DE9 – Closer to the Edit – is regarded by some as the tipping point for what was to become minimal techno. He agrees but adds, “I think even more so Transitions [his 2005 release’]. But yeah Closer to the Edit was an interesting concept and a new one. I didn’t know specifically what I was creating except that this whole process of cutting up tracks and segueing them together seamlessly, augmented me as an artist. I was on a wave of popularity and had so much music being sent to me that I just felt a need to introduce a lot of these producers to the global scene by creating this tapestry of sound.”
Using snippets of tracks must have been a difficult concept for some of the producers to digest; “Luckily most were friends of mine, so they kinda trusted my vision.”
Hawtin was and still is a visionary, not only in the art of producing some genre defining moments in his career, sought after DJ sets and concept based events and tours, but also in the world of music technology, something he takes very seriously. I, like many others assumed that Richie has been central to all of Native Instrument’s DJ range of products from the Traktor software – which he uses – to their hardware interfaces.
He laughs, “No, no, the association comes mainly from the fact that I was involved with the company N2IT who actually developed the Timecode technology to interface turntables with computer software. This is where Final Scratch came from and still forms the basis for Native Instruments’ Traktor Scratch Pro. In fact they [NI] still licence this technology from N2IT.” But he does acknowledge his massive influence on the development of computer based DJ technology, “I’m always looking for more ways to develop the art of DJing through the technology we have at our disposal, so yes if I envision something new that will forward this thinking, I certainly do speak to them, but it’s the same for other products like Ableton which I also use.”
A curious question put forward by one of our local DJs proves quite apt and seems to strike a nerve with Richie. It’s to do with ‘Laptop DJs’ staring at their screens too much [something Richie has mastered the art of not doing.] “Actually I’ve told my label DJs to practice at not doing this and be mindful of not getting sucked into the screen. I’ve also insisted they put a sticker over the Apple logo as this is also a distraction.” He pauses, then adds thoughtfully, “it’s still better than watching the back of a DJ while he digs in his crate of records!” True that!
I add that if you know your tunes, you won’t have to stare at the waveforms much on your laptop. He just laughs, “most of the time I don’t know the stuff I’m playing or how I’m going to play it. That’s the magic right there. Cutting up bits of music on the fly, bringing stuff in and out, effecting, looping… remixing. I actually like it when it becomes totally fucked up sometimes, go’s out of time.”
Going out of time prompts me to broach the ongoing debate of the sync button. “Do you and your compatriots ever discuss this”, I ask. “Not really. I think some are just a bit unsure about embracing this way of playing. In fact I’ve also had one of my label DJs express concern that he won’t be taken seriously enough if he migrates to laptop DJing.” Richie of course does not have these reservations and loves that “technology makes us more connected to the dancefloor.”
His final words on technology [a subject I sense we could spend all night talking about] are inspiring; “Technology has created ways for many of us to express creativity we may never have known we had. I used to sit in my basement as a kid tapping into sounds and ideas and through computers and all the other technological advancements at our disposal today, amazing creativity can be created.”
This is indeed the driving force behind Hawtin’s important leadership in advancing the art of DJing.
Richie and South Africa
Through the Bridges for Music initiative Hawtin will be visiting South Africa for the first time in February 2013.
“Friends of mine have holidayed there. I believe it’s an amazing country and I’m really excited to be finally making it over. I’m also particularly excited about the township tours we’ll be doing and the chance to spread our love for electronic music.” [You can read all about the Bridges for Music concept on Pg. 7]. He adds, “I believe music can play a crucial role in raising awareness of social issues and artists should have a responsibility to give something back. This is why I was inspired to be a part of the Bridges for Music concept from the minute it was presented to me.”
Richie is no stranger to embarking on meaningful expeditions to further the cause of underground dance music having just recently completed an ambitious college campus tour of Canada and USA alongside Loco Dice and Ean Golden. With the sudden tsunami of interest in EDM in the USA, a subject Richie also has an insightful perspective on, the CNTRL tour championed what Hawtin and [Loco] Dice term the ‘futuristic and underground side of the genre.’
Despite the massive commercial side of dance music today with pop artists jumping on the bandwagon he is both excited and philosophical about the future. “I love that the new breed of party people have grown up with this music so they are often genre-less in their appreciation.”
We both agree that the new generation will indeed get down to a good Dubstep set as easily as say, a techno one. Richie adds thoughtfully that despite the mainstream side to dance music, he is confident that it’s not going to blow out too soon and those genuine advocators of the underground will keep on producing the cutting edge he is so well known for.
Bridges for Music: A non profit tour which will include workshops and a party in Soweto and Gugulethu.
When and where:
February 2013 [join the IDM MAG Facebook fan page for further details]
When & Where:
15-17 February, V& A Waterfront, Cape Town
When & Where:
16 February, Midrand, JHB
Citations: Thanks to Valentino Barrioseta [Bridges for Music] for arranging the interview.
Thanks to the following SA DJS for their input; Richard Marshall, Dave Skinz, Thiago Kanan and Brendon Geary.
Watch Richie Hawtin’s 70 minute Amsterdam DJ set at the Boiler Room