Richie Hawtin revisits Plastikman
The techno superstar's iconic alter ego gets the retrospective treatment.
Mon Nov 15 2010
The pulsating red and white lights on the massive LCD screen, approximating the acid-freakout climax of 2001: A Space Odyssey, were blowing minds; synths swelled with orchestral majesty. The anticipation among the revelers at this past spring's Movement in Detroit was palpable. But nobody could have really been prepared for the gut-punching bass that erupted from the subwoofer a minute and a half into Plastikman's opening number, "Ask Yourself"—the throbbing low-frequency assault, literally knocking the wind out of those close to the stage, was probably the most visceral manifestation of music that most attendees would ever experience. And, in case you're wondering, it felt like heaven.
Plastikman, of course, is the long-running nom de musique that techno vet Richie Hawtin reserves for his ultra-minimal, stripped-down-to-abstraction output. The alias, birthed in 1993, lay semidormant for years; the last official release under that name was 2007's Nostalgik.3 EP. But 2010 has seen something of a Plastikman revival. Hawtin—who was born in England, raised just outside of Detroit in Windsor, Canada, and, after a brief stint in NYC, has lived in Berlin for the past seven years—not only brought his Plastikman show out on the road for a limited festival run, but is now overseeing the sprawling new Arkives compilation on his Minus label, with four different versions—Reference, Digital, Analog and Komplete—brimming with all things Plastikman-connected.
"When my friends and I were doing our first parties in Detroit," Hawtin says, speaking about his music's brute force, "we were always trying to create a physical experience. We did it by just getting the biggest, baddest sound possible. We used to bring trucks filled with bass bins from Toronto. We could have gotten it in Detroit, sure, but there were these old Jamaican guys in Toronto who would drive all this great stuff down. There was lots of paperwork involved—it was a major pain in the ass—but we knew that when we put that in the room and started playing records through it, it was going to be a physical, undeniable presence. All the big names right now—Deadmau5, Boyz Noise, whoever—they all have flashing lights and a big sound and everything, just like Plastikman. But when you hear them, your balls aren't shaking. And it's that ball-shaking whomp that creates that Plastikman sound. It's a round, warm and sensual feeling, really."
Other than the music's gonad-rattling factor, another aspect of the Plastikman sound is its rootlessness; his most known track, the nine-minute drumroll known as "Spastik," could have sprung out of pretty much any point in techno history. "One thing that's always been an underlying inspiration," Hawtin explains, "was to create music that sounds like it's from the future. Or, perhaps more to the point, music that comes from a possible future, but one that we might never get to. In that way, I think it does have a timeless quality."
Timeless, perhaps—but does this sudden emphasis on Hawtin's alias signify that Plastikman's grand finale is upon us? According to the producer, there's no need for worry. "This is definitely not the end," he says. "I think Plastikman needed to happen right now. But to go where I want to go next—to do two-and-a-half-hour sets, to take over an entire venue for the night—I need to first reintroduce it to a new generation. And, probably, I need to grab some of the people who have stopped going out and make them think, Hey, time to get back out there! Playing live, Arkives—I'm just trying to get everybody up to date. And then we can take the next step together."
Arkives (Minus) is out now. Go to www.plastikman.com/arkives for more info.