Richie Hawtin Interview
2008 was a phenomenal year for Richie Hawtin and M-nus Records, who marked the label’s tenth anniversary with the audio-visual onslaught known as Contakt and released choice albums from Gaiser and Heartthrob. In Issue 25, we pay homage to Hawtin in the coveted Icon section. Here’s the rest of the interview where Hawtin discusses the amount of effort it took to stage the Contakt tour, his opinion on the so-called death of minimal and his plans for his Plastikman alias.
UMP3: So how has the Contakt tour been going for you?
Richie Hawtin: Amazing! It got off to a bit of a slow start, because originally we wanted to have one per month, so it would really ramp up nicely but we had the Detroit show. We had a test show in Vienna which was really cool, and the Detroit show which was little bit disappointing.
UMP3: I was actually there for that one.
Richie Hawtin: It’s a little bit hard to describe that. We worked with some really great people, some friends, but it came together like a party would have come together 15 years ago and the type of show it is now is nothing to do with that. It can’t be run that way. It has to be done like a concert. After that we had Sonar, which was absolutely amazing for us. I think we really hit the nail on the head. It was amazing.
UMP3: How long after the Detroit show was that?
Richie Hawtin: That was only like three weeks.
UMP3: Really? And did you have any shows in between there?
Richie Hawtin: No, no. It was just the, you know everything just came together. We have like a 25-page technical rider for the show, and if you follow that the show comes together. If everything comes together for the technical stuff, then we can do our job, because when you’re trying to get that many people working together on stage and coming back and forth, things like monitors and wiring and front of house and all this stuff becomes ultra-important.
UMP3: It sounds like a nightmare!
Richie Hawtin: It can very easily fall apart, so we actually—after Detroit and then after Sonar—then we canceled Montreal. We nearly were going to do one in Chicago, but we just pulled them because people couldn’t promise that they could do what we needed. So we thought, “Well, then it’s not worth it.” And then we really started again, full on, and this was the thing, when we put it together originally we were going to do one a month so it would really keep a momentum; but just because of scheduling and that type of thing it didn’t happen that way, so now we’re in the middle of a whole bunch of them. So we just had Berlin, which was really, really good.
UMP3: Where was that?
Richie Hawtin: It was in Columbiahalle, which is like a concert venue. The only complaint we can say about that, the show was spot on, but the only complaint we can have about that is that it’s quite hard to do an electronic show in a venue that Berliners aren’t used to. So that was a little bit hard, but we had a great, great crowd, nearly sold-out, and the next week we had London which was amazing. It was at SEOne, so we had 3,000 sold out there, the next week we had Amsterdam, which was 3,500 sold out, and then Friday we had Rome, which was 8,000 sold out. And all of those, they’ve all been amazing.
“I don’t think Contakt’s for everybody, and I wouldn’t want to have that much production every time, because it’s a lot of fucking work and stress!”
UMP3: So then would you say, after the initial bumps in the road, that the tour has lived up to your expectations?
Richie Hawtin: Now we’re doing exactly what we wanted to do and what we should be doing, and I think for me I can honestly say we’re hitting exactly the nail on the with what I think sometimes should be happening in electronic music right now. I don’t think Contakt’s for everybody, and I wouldn’t want to have that much production every time, because it’s a lot of fucking work and stress! But I believe there should be other people doing this type of thing in the electronic genre. Doing special events which are more than just a club experience. And I can see over the last couple years, myself and other friends who are touring, you’re at a certain level where you have packed shows, but I haven’t seen things like selling out two or three weeks before, with people outside selling tickets for stupid amounts of money, like really crazy shit, right? And then the people coming, and the anticipation and excitement, and that’s why we did it! For all those reasons!
UMP3: Everytime I’ve seen you it’s been a M-nus showcase up in Detroit for the Festival. And it’s always super crazy and kind of ridiculous…
Richie Hawtin: Yeah, well I guess that was kind of the idea for Contakt, but taking it to another level. We’d done so many M-nus showcases, and there was always so much excitement seeing all of us play at the same venue, one after the other. After doing that so long, we heard each other play so much, we said, “You know what, we’re so used to hearing what we’re doing, we could actually play together,” and we thought that would be exciting for us and that would be exciting for the people. And the way technology is going and advancing, I think there should be more collaboration and connectivity between the people on stage and the audience and this is what all the things that we’re testing right now are about. I like the idea that we can jump up and collaborate with someone and sit down…I guess in a way, the idea of Contakt is the idea of collaboration and the idea of connectivity, and using technology to heighten the whole experience, like even for us on stage and for the people as well, hopefully.
UMP3: How do you think your artists have responded to the experience, the idea of collaboration that it fosters?
Richie Hawtin: Everyone now is like ‘what’re we doing at the end of the year?! There are only three more Contakts left? What are we gonna do next year?!’
UMP3: Gotta have a plan!
Richie Hawtin: I think you’re gonna see a lot of the M-nus artists continuing to overlap their sets from now on. I think it’s going to be a little bit hard to just go out and say “Okay, Barem…play! Troy…play!” Especially when a lot of people are booking quite a lot of our acts together, so it’s nice to do your two hours by yourself and show them who you are, but i think it’s nice to blend and kind of make the journey even more complete together.
UMP3: What do you think that’ll mean for M-nus’ future release schedule? Will there be more tag-team releases and stuff like that?
Richie Hawtin: I’m hoping both ways. On singles and things I’d like to see more collaborations again. We actually, like a year or two ago, we started, it was going to be a series but it was only one, the versus thing with heartthrob and gaiser, but everyone got so busy and one of the focuses right now is for the artists to work on their albums. We have a Troy Pierce Louderbach album next year, a Magda album, there’s the Gaiser album coming out, the Jesse album, so I think that’s, for me, is the step that’s happening right now. So M-nus has come from lots of singles and fun party records, to allowing our artists to bridge into their own kind of deeper creative moments on albums, and I think after that, I know at least in my career after you do something heavy like that you want to go and do something more fun, I can probably see a little bit more collaboration happening next year or after that. I know Matt Dear and Troy have been working on ideas, and Magda’s working on playing around with Click Box in the studio. it could develop like that. It’s very important for me, and for all of us, to be very serious about what we’re doing, and I want to push my artists to have serious careers and do serious album work, but I don’t want everyone to get so serious that they disappear up their own asses. You gotta have a balance. You gotta have fun. I really believe that part of the success of M-nus is that there have been some really serious records, and then a bunch of records that don’t take themselves so seriously. Like there are some great Marc Houle records that are just really fucking great techno or minimal records, but they can sometimes be a little bit tongue in cheek, so they’re playful. I think great music has to be playing in all those areas.
UMP3: He’s definitely one of those guys who seems to toe that line pretty well. He’s always very composed, but still has that kind of goofy vibe to him.
Richie Hawtin: Totally, totally.
UMP3: So how have you found people responding to your new all-digital set-up. Since you ditched the turntables, so infamously.
Richie Hawtin: You know, I really thought that it was going to, well maybe I waited too long to cross over, but I was scared that people were going to really be like aaahhhhhh, but I don’t even know if people notice sometimes. There’s definitely been some discussions on the ‘net and this and that, but when you’re actually at the club, maybe those people just aren’t coming, so it’s just the people who are really into it. I can definitely hear that my sets have changed, and my style has changed, because I play in a completely different way now, but I really enjoy myself, I’m really into it, and I thin that’s one of the important things. Maybe the people who are worried about losing turntables think it’s going to be boring or something, but I’m quite active, and if I’m into and making something really interesting, I think people will like it.
UMP3: After all, it’s the music that really matters…
Richie Hawtin: Exactly, and I think I can be more creative and the possibilities that it opens up are really endless. The best example of that is Contakt. It wouldn’t have happened unless I ditched the turntables and time-coding the records and syncing up to the machines and other people. I think that’s a big and interesting step, maybe it’s not the right one for some people, but it is an interesting one.
UMP3: There is still that certain stigma that you touched on that digital DJs, who don’t use turntables, face. What do you say to those people who are like, You don’t have turntables, so you’re obviously not a DJ? How do you get them to kind of change their tune?
Richie Hawtin: I can actually get quite, what’s the word, arrogant about that sometimes, and just get really pissy about people, but I’m trying to be nicer! What I have come to understand, because I’ve talked to a lot of people about it, is that it’s not for everybody. You have to be prepared and if you are a DJ who just likes to play records one after another, and allow the records to do the talking in the way they were recorded, then perhaps a digital set-up doesn’t make much sense and something like Serato would make more sense, where you can just play back and forth. But if you’re interested in deconstructing things and creating something more than two cool loops or something, then you have to start looking into that. There’s only so much you can do with that, some people are good with four turntables and can keep them in time. I was never good with that. Now at my shows I’ve brought the 909 back into my sets, like a virtual one, and now I can start to overlay and add rhythms, and for me, it’s honestly…I’m just continuing to do what I’ve done for a long time. I used the 909 awhile ago, but I got a bit bored with it, but I always wanted to add more and do more than play two records. If you actually go back to the very beginning when I was playing at the Shelter, I had a little delay box, but I actually got a little lazy about hooking it up all the time because I didn’t think people actually cared! But even from early on, there’s been that desire to do that. So you just kinda follow your path and you hope that it builds upon and grows and expands and has some type of continuity that makes sense, at least to you.
UMP3: And I’m sure new technologies, like Ableton and Traktor, have really opened that up for you.
Richie Hawtin: Yeah, for me like any other DJ is like you can’t do this digital DJ shit, it’s not DJing, just use turntables, and I say you know what…I’ll put you in a room with Girl Talk, and then who’s doing something creative? And Girl Talk would wipe the floor with most DJs who are too afraid of digitization.
UMP3: Fair enough, but no comment on his music!
Richie Hawtin: I think it’s absolutely brilliant. What he does musically isn’t necessarily all my type of thing, it’s definitely a more commercial sound. But technically and creatively, he’s being really creative.
UMP3: Again, I guess if you can turn people on to new methods, then that’s kind of the point.
Richie Hawtin: I really heavily believe in the future. In the future, you go into a place like this and they’ve got a DJ, it’s not going to be some guy playing turntables or a computer, one song after another. The whole world is mashed up already, and it’s only going to continue like that, and everyone’s going to be a Girl Talk, and every small bar that used to have a DJ will have a Girl Talk just mashing it up. ‘Oh, you want to hear this song or that?’ And then he’ll just [makes mixing sound] bring it in…
UMP3: You’ve always been really good about embracing new technology. What’s driven that in you? Is it just some sort of innate desire?
Richie Hawtin: I was always more into technology than I was into music. Maybe somewhere along the line music came that was wrapped in a wrapping of technology, and the technology is what keeps me interested in music. That comes from my Dad, from growing up and trying to build little things and just always being interested in futuristic things. From building rockets when I was a kid and reading about NASA and flying Concords that were the fastest things, shit like that. That was just my mentality.
Switching gears a bit to your label, did you ever, as a kid growing up in Windsor, think that you or M-nus would achieve the level of success that it has?
Richie Hawtin: Not really. When we started M-nus it was really, in a way, a big step backward and against everything that Plus 8 had become, and so in that way I wanted to keep it small. The original idea was to have a label for my own music and leave it like that. So, ten years ago, I would’ve said you’re crazy if you told me we were going to have a label as big if not bigger than Plus 8. And perhaps that’s another reason why it’s happened, because we didn’t—I say we because I started M-nus with a friend of mine, Clark Warner, who was working for Plus 8 at the time—and we didn’t have the desire to have this much work load again, and this much responsibility.
UMP3: And now here you are!
Richie Hawtin: Yeah, it comes and you just go with it. I don’t feel totally comfortable, if I’m completely honest, but I’m more comfortable than I was 10 years ago with Plus 8. So, somehow it’s more manageable. I have a really fucking great team of artists and a great team behind the scenes who are keeping everything running and doing everything, so it’s really a good situation.
UMP3: That’s excellent. It’s no secret that there’s a sort of M-nus sound. What’s been your secret over the past decade to keep that fresh for your fans and the audience?
Richie Hawtin: Well, I get bored really fast, so that low attention span sort of helps! I don’t know though, for sure you get worried about what people want and keeping it fresh, but at the same time I’ve always wanted to just follow my path as a DJ and play what I like, which is a combination of new things and popular things and classics, and find a way to keep that refreshing for me to play so much, because I play like 100, 150 gigs a year, and things can start to sound a bit tired. I think that keeps the label going as well, keeps it fresh, as well as keeping interesting, young, energetic people around me too. Magda, Troy, Jesse and JPLS, and Barem especially right now, and Fabrizio, our new guy from Italy, are all different characters. So they’ve all got their own ideas, and they’re all talking and pushing each other, so somewhere out of that something new comes. To me right now, it’s like I know there’s a resurgence of the groovier Latin style house stuff right now, and I think Barem kind of has that sound for us on the label, while some of our other guys are continuing their sound, and perhaps the sound isn’t quite as popular or as trendy as it was like a year or two ago, but you know, we didn’t become trendy by trying to become trendy. People just became aware of what we were doing, and that’s happened many times over the years, with Plus 8, with Plastikman, with F.U.S.E. back in the day, you know, and I think you just need to stay focused. My guys just need to do what feels right, and if you keep doing that, then after five years, after ten years, after 15 years, you’re going to look back and you’re going to see it makes sense. Sure there are high points and low points, but it’s together.
UMP3: It’s all in the longview….
Richie Hawtin: Yeah. And that’s the way we look at it, you know?
UMP3: So, there’s a lot of talk about the “death of minimal.” Is that just overblown hype in your opinion?
Richie Hawtin: Well, anything you super hype you’re going to have to super crash, so there’s always, it sounds like an old Derrick May title or something, a “beginning of the end of the beginning,” but it has to go down to come back up again. It’s definitely cyclic. I can definitely feel that there’s, well, it’s hard. Some people are saying it’s the death of minimal, but i guess if we were out there just playing minimal records I would have to worry about it, but even through the whole ‘”minimal hype” we continued to play some house and sometimes I can still get pretty techy, and I look out now and I see us playing at Contakt or Marc Houle playing out by himself, everyone’s quite eclectic. They don’t from hip-hop to gospel, but we’re eclectic in our own world, and I think that keeps everyone still with a fresh edge. We’re probably finding that we have to work a little bit harder right now just because there has been so much hype on minimal, and sure a lot of that hype was on us, and even when you’re doing stuff people want to hear, after that much hype people want to really find something different, even if they’re like ‘wow, we really like this, but shouldn’t there be something different? these guys have been making great stuff for a couple of years now!’ I think it’s just built into people, so we just continue.
“I really don’t expect everyone to like what we’re doing right now, especially everything because it’s getting a little bit more diverse, but that’s what I hope the label can do and the artists, because that’s what it needs to do. I want the label to kind of grow up a little bit now, and allow each artist to become their own thing.”
UMP3: It’s that boredom again! I’d say that the new Barem release is a real nice answer to all of that. It really fits in, I think, with a lot of the stuff that’s been trendy this year.
Richie Hawtin: Exactly. And I think Barem fits in well with what we’re doing and with the sound of M-nus, but it’s a continuation of it, and I think for me, the Jesse album was really nice, Gaiser’s album is super deep, it’s really pure pure Gaiser. Troy’s Louderbach album is really a little bit more, not alternative like alternative rock, but alternative electronics. It’s pretty droney with some vocals…so I really don’t expect everyone to like what we’re doing right now, especially everything because it’s getting a little bit more diverse, but that’s what I hope the label can do and the artists, because that’s what it needs to do. I want the label to kind of grow up a little bit now, and allow each artist to become their own thing.
UMP3: So I guess with everything that’s gone on this year, Contakt, the new Heartthrob album, the new Gaiser album, all that stuff, it’s been a huge year. What’re you going to do next year?
Richie Hawtin: It is crazy. And that’s what’s funny, it’s definitely like you said there’s this bit of down-hype on minimal, but from our viewpoint the year’s beem absolutely fucking crazy…these crazy crowds, this crazy energy, and we’ve just been so busy doing the albums. We were going to do 4 albums at the start of the year, and thank God we didn’t, because that would’ve killed us! ‘Cause you know, just to promote that, it’s on another level. So what’re we gonna do next year? I would say I don’t know, but we kinda do. We’re kinda…it’s hard to say, because I don’t like to say too much! But one of the things I’m thinking about a lot, it’s making me look back at what we thought M-nus was going to be, or what it was supposed to be, back in the early days, and so part of the early direction of M-nus may come back into the next direction. I think it was a bit more balanced with the arts, so there could be a few more experiments happening next year, but at the same time, honestly, Contakt was only supposed to be like 9 or 10 shows, and maybe a continuation of that is in the cards. We’re all having so much fun that I don’t know if any of us want it to end at the end of the year!
UMP3: It’s an excuse to get out there and play…
Richie Hawtin: Yea, and we’ve just learned so much. There are about 15 people working on Contakt, about 10-15 at each one, it’s a huge undertaking and seeing everyone work so well together and bring this fucking circus on the road [laughs], it’s really quite incredible for us.
UMP3: So then what’s next for you specifically as an artist?
Richie Hawtin: Well for me, I couldn’t have done anything else I want to do in the future without doing Contakt. It’s a bit of an R&D of where I would want to go. It started with the Plastikman live show, of which I did one and had moments of clarity and moments of complete confusion. All the things we wanted to do there we’ve now been able to do with Contakt, and that lets me think about what I would like to do by myself as an artist again. I’m not really interested in making albums, I’m only interested in making physical experiences and physical events where people really want to and really must attend. So I think that’s going to somehow materialize into my next big ’solo’ project.
UMP3: So I guess we’re not going to see that new Plastikman album anytime soon?
Richie Hawtin: I think you’ll see some kind of Plastikman event or something by, I don’t think it’s going to happen by the fall…but in my head it feels right when I say spring 2010.
Q&A: Carl Ritger
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