Defining who someone is as an artist, understanding the mediums they choose to translate what exists in their imagination, is an almost impossible task. The best artists, authors, and musicians, I believe, feel that they are never done with the work that the universe hired them to do. They spend the time given them in life searching for a way to communicate, share, express the sound, vision, feeling that is planted in their soul.
Richie Hawtin is such an artist.
Rich continues to explore ways to leave his mark on this world with his music, art, and vision. The environments that he creates with his performances go beyond the auditory, often incorporating ingenious uses of new technologies. He has expanded his career into interesting areas as well with the creation of his own brand of sake, custom equipment, and more.
I have had the honor of watching Rich from the beginning and have always been amazed by the uniqueness of his ideas and the precision of execution. I look forward to seeing what is next for him and am grateful for having known this exceptional artist.
You were a pioneer in creating and refining a new minimal techno genre. What importance does innovation play in the survival of electronic music?
Electronic music has always been based more on synthetic sounds rather than organic or acoustic, and I think this continually opens up the genre to explore new frequencies and new possibilities. In “regular” music there is always an expectation of what an instruments should or can sound like. A flute, for example, has a specific sound due to it’s physical construction, but keyboards, synthesizers, computers and other sound creation technology do not have this type of physical limitation and therefore can really be anything you can dream up. Dreaming, exploring and imagining the unknown have been inherent to electronic music since the beginning and I think this continued experimentation is the lifeblood of the genre. Techno is imagination.
What responsibility do you feel the foundational generations of electronic music artists such as yours have to educate and influence up-and-coming music talent?
The electronic music scene has grown and changed dramatically over the past thirty years. I remember a time when we were the outcasts of the music scene. We tinkered around making bleeps with discarded synths and re-purposed drum machines. Using the availability of this technology allowed our internal creativity to flourish and take us further than we ever imagined. The intensions were simple: to communicate and bring people together through frequencies and to imagine the future through the tones and feeling we created. The music, parties, relationships and collaborations created a social network that helped many of us slightly lost, awkward introverts come out of our shells and experience something all together.
With the scene and “industry” being so large now, dominated by larger players, companies and even corporations, it’s important to remind people how music (and not economics) allowed people from different backgrounds, races and cultures to be united by techno. Those creative relationships, artistic collaborations and like-minded partnerships are what built the foundations of what we all stand upon today.
Your shows/parties are known for creating an entire environment and design language — from the artwork to the decor. Will you elaborate on the importance of this, the opportunity it gives you in presenting your work, and the importance in balancing all of these elements?
From the beginning the music was the key component that excited me, but there was also a belief that by thinking about the entire experience there was an opportunity to really take people to a much deeper level. Whether it was taking all the design and artwork elements into consideration for an upcoming PLUS 8 records release, or the thinking about the entire narrative of an event (starting with flyer design, the entrance to the party, the decorations, lighting or lack of decorations and lighting), or the length of the party booked ended by the first record and the last, the more you joined these dots together, the greater the impact.
This idea is still very much part of my work as I continue exploring how far we can combine different elements into new types of experience like my current CLOSE show. At it’s heart CLOSE is a DJ show, playing and manipulating pre-recorded music (records) and combining with on-the-fly percussion and sounds to create a deep sonic landscape. However, with the addition of strategically placed cameras and real-time image manipulation, the performance elevates to a show bringing together all the synchronous elements to a cohesive artistic presentation. The music is the power of the performance, but the show is a perfect balance between all the elements involved, sucking people’s ears, eyes and bodies deeper into the rabbit hole.
What effect do you think the elevation of the DJ performance to a concert has had on the kind of electronic music that is being produced?
There is a danger with DJ performances only becoming concert or festival like and shortened to 90+ minutes where the impact and energy level is maintained throughout. Many producers then focus on creating music only for these peak “Instagram ready” moments. As much as electronic music has now found its place in this type of situation, it’s important to have a strong club culture where DJs and producers can flex their creative muscles and remember the dynamics and story telling that are an important part of the scene’s original core values.
The original group of DJs, promoters, and producers that were coming up with you in Detroit had a big influence on what the genre/scene evolved into. What was the importance of that early community to the evolution of your career?
Detroit’s geographical and economic isolation from other larger more prosperous cities and countries really forced the early techno community to experiment and find their own individuality. The scene was introverted and supported by the locals, producers, DJs, and promoters. There always was a receptive, enthusiastic audience and was a tightly knit community which allowed no imposters. Detroit was (is) always a place where cheers would erupt when a local DJ took the controls or a Detroit record was played. This resulted in an incredible level of quality and originality in all aspects of the scene. It inspired me to spend every waking moment to find my own DJ and artistic personality within the framework of techno and bring my own unique visions to reality. The energy of those times is unparalleled and the purity of the sound and ideas that came from those times still reverberate within the global scene today.