The Legendary Richie Hawtin Tells Us About His Latest Tour, CLOSE

We'll be brief here: Richie Hawtin is a legend. A living legend, who continues to write his epic story. More than 30 years after his first sets in Detroit, when he was just 17 years old, the man who helped to launch second-wave techno in the Motor City alongside Jeff Mills and Carl Craig continues to innovate. Over and over again.

(© Skinny)

Not content with forging and branding electronic music, bringing a more industrial feel to the techno sound along with a minimalist touch, particularly in his Plastikman incarnation, Hawtin now prefers to focus on stage performances, and on ways to shake things up. 

For years, the musician has been trying to offer audiences something truly innovative — and his latest tours are proof of this. The high point of his new tour, CLOSE, is precisely its novel aspect, built around the musician's live performance, live VJing and proximity to the audience. 

As he continues on his tour of Europe and the US, we took the opportunity to ask him more about his concerts, about live music in general, and about what he thinks of electronic music concerts today. 

Konbini | What was the starting point for CLOSE? I read that you got the idea back in 2009... 

Richie Hawtin | I think as an artist you have a series of concepts and ideas that are bouncing around your mind and they often just percolate until the timing is right, or, in my case, the technology is there to make the idea really come into reality. When I look back at the late 1990s and early 2000s when I was doing my DE9 ("Decks, Effects & 909") releases, I was already trying to figure out how to bring it to the stage. We even did one test show with three cameras presenting the basic concept behind me on stage, Decks, Effects and the Roland 909 drum machine, but back then the type of cameras were too big and the resolution and projection technology was also limited.

Each of my projects also usually builds to the next, the one before often being a test bed for ideas (and technologies) that will follow, so through the 2008 CONTAKT shows and the 2010 and 2011 Plastikman Live shows there were many things that came up that started to point in the direction of CLOSE.

Another big inspirational push was the development of the electronic music festival and club scene and how I could feel there was more of a platform for larger scale shows which could take the audience on new audiovisual experiences. However, it still took a few more years of tinkering, and even a year of doing a few “test” shows which weren’t advertised as CLOSE or anything new, that gave us further time to play with the concept and how to bring it successfully into a real and repeatable show.

What is the main spirit of the show?

The main spirit of CLOSE is to experiment with ways of bringing the audience closer to what's happening on stage and create a playful audiovisual experience of me interacting with my machines that is both entertaining and exciting.

The art of DJing is still quite misunderstood, and I want to bring more awareness to the spontaneity and improvisation that goes into creating this crazy tapestry of sound that's rushing out of the speakers.  There are plenty of artists and DJs who get up there and have quite a lot of their set and records pre-programmed, but to me this loses part of the magic of what a great DJ performance can be.

A great performance is as much of a surprise to me as it is to the audience, it’s like traveling down a dirt road hanging on and hoping that the next turn doesn’t end in a ravine. Its extremely exciting and sometimes even nerve-wracking and I hope to bring the audience closer to that feeling with these shows.

How would you describe the show itself?

The show in very basic terms is a performance made up of layers of records and loops (coming from a computer, not a turntable) and various other layers of drum machines, synthesizers and effects which all combine together to create a sound especially for that specific moment.

Visually we have a number of cameras locked into positions around the various different pieces of equipment that I use and these capture my interactions with the machines and result in the visuals you see behind me. With real-time visual effects and rendering, we are able to then play with the various camera streams and move between the reality of what is happening on stage and the abstraction of our own custom-created visual filters, giving the audience a truly syncopated audiovisual experience!

You first played the set at Coachella last year; was it important to you to test it out at a big gig?

Coachella is an incredible platform as it’s a complete crossover festival which brings all types of artists and genres together to perform. This brings an incredibly diverse audience together who are open and inquisitive and ready for new experiences.

Another important factor for me was that Coachella is spread over two weekends so it allowed my team and I to test ideas out on Week 1 and then use the week in-between to fix and/or develop new ideas for the following week.

Electronic concerts have evolved significantly over the years, from Daft Punk to Nicolas Jaar. What do you think about these developments?

There are so many different types of venues that electronic music finds itself in these days and therefore it's important to understand what the expectations and opportunities are in each one.

At a dark immersive nightclub, perhaps a strobe light and a great musically-driven performance are perfect, but at many larger format festival shows where the crowds are 100 meters back from the artist and out of the sweet spot of the speakers, it does sometimes make sense to create a show that focuses more on the interplay of music, lights and visuals.

Every show type is unique and I find it exciting that electronic music has evolved into having the opportunity to exist and creatively expand in all types of venues.

By Arthur Cios, published on 09/10/2018