Plastikman // Richie Hawtin

It may not be the most talked about, blogged about, photographed or purchased, but minimal techno is arguably the longest-lasting genre of electronic music there’s ever been. Its fans are loyal to the core, and if there’s one man who serves as the godfather of minimal, it’s Richie Hawtin.

The 41-year-old pioneer of Detroit techno sound has been producing music since his teens under numerous aliases, as well as touring the globe with others and as himself. His latest side project, Plastikman, is unlike anything many EDM fans getting into the scene today have ever seen, though it’s not something they’ll soon forget.

The Arcade was lucky enough to catch Plastikman live at Coachella 2010, and again last Friday night at the Cosmic Meadow stage of the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. Most ravers at first caught the set while sitting on the one grassy part of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway venue, relaxing for a bit and enjoying the minimal lights and beats. The dark, slow and churning sounds soon became more and more intricate and intense, and many stood up, mesmerized, to better view the two-story LED-wall light show. We overheard one attendee remark that they needed sunglasses — at 2 a.m.! That is the kind of show Plastikman live is.

One of the few coveted artists asked to perform on two separate occasions during the three-day festival, Hawtin also played a DJ set Saturday night on the Circuit Grounds stage. I had the chance to briefly catch up with Hawtin backstage right beforehand, to talk about the festival, the evolution of the Plastikman show, and the future of techno. Enjoy!

So, how’s EDC treating you so far?

So far, so good! We were here until nearly 6 a.m. this morning. We did the show, then we were walking around, and we wouldn’t get onto the main stage — they wouldn’t let us — so we actually drove a golf cart. I don’t know how we did this, but we told the driver we wanted to go to the front of the main stage and he drove through like five thousand people. I don’t know how he did it but it was quite an experience and then we hung out there. It’s a great experience to just check out a really huge variety of electronic music, you know?

Whose sets did you check out last night?

I was over there for Steve Angello, and then I saw Calvin Harris hanging around, and then there was someone after I played, I don’t remember who it was, but it was more of a drum & bass thing…

Yeah, Sub Focus. With the MC?

That’s it, yeah, I don’t know who they are, but they had such a great energy, and they destroyed it! The whole scene over here is exploding and that’s why we came, we wanted to see what was happening and also be a part of it somehow. We do quite a different, weirder, more subtle thing, and it’s not for everybody but we’re happy to show it to people. You know, we’re happy to be here to do what we do.

What’s the difference between playing your show here in America versus in Europe and the rest of the world? How is the response different?

Well, here we’re on a small stage. Over there we’d be on the main stage packing it! (Laughs) But I don’t know—we’re doing something a little bit weird wherever we are. We have more people in Europe, but more people doesn’t necessarily mean better, you know? We’re just going around the planet and doing what we do.

You’re playing EDC this year as both Richie Hawtin and as Plastikman. What is your different approach to the two sets?

Yesterday as Plastikman was much more cerebral, deeper, darker. There’s no compromise. Plastikman is my alter ego, so when I do that it’s like, “this is what it is, and if you don’t like it, fuck off.” Tonight, as a DJ I can move a little bit more, you know what I mean? I love house music, I love techno, I love it hard, I love it soft, and every time I play as a DJ you’ll get all of that, but it can be weighted and balanced in different ways. In that way, as a DJ, it’s a little bit more of a party atmosphere. So we’ll see how it translates tonight!

How has the Plastikman show evolved in the last year? For example, since Coachella in 2010?

Well it was funny, we’ve had a lot of shows since and the most technical problems we’ve had during a show was at Coachella, and last night! But I think we’ve really updated the show a lot — we’ve added songs, we’ve changed over the visuals, and we’ve tried to have some visuals where we have a camera inside where people can see me on the screen and connect a little bit more. Because that’s still the thing — as Hawtin, like I said, I’m there, I’m with my drink, I’m with the people. Plastikman has to be pulled back. It has to be disconnected from the people. But we noticed over the last year that maybe I was a bit too disconnected.  And now, with the changes and cameras, you can see me on the actual screen. We’re trying to bridge that gap a bit more. But we don’t want to bridge it too much, you know? Like, I come out at the end, but I’m not gonna come out for the whole show.

That had an awesome effect at the end with the spotlight!

Yeah it was also bright! I think I got a tan from it! (Laughs)

Of course, there is a big crew of people behind the Plastikman show. Can you tell me how everyone works together to bring the show to life?

There’s ten of us traveling — lighting, sound, video, technical — and we all come together. It’s a really complicated show because the very important thing you have to realize which may not be so obvious is you see a lot of these type shows with flashing lights and cool visuals. But 99 percent of the shows you see — any concert, but especially electronic ones — they’re timeline-based, which means everything is pre-programmed. They press start, and for the next hour, every time you see that show it’s going to be the same. We have all these guys, and we create a system that’s flexible. What you’re experiencing is really being generated at that moment for you. So it can be very, very powerful and personal.  But it takes a lot of people and a lot of networks and wires and bullshit to make it happen. So it’s a bit of a pain in the ass.

When can your fans expect new Plastikman material? You’re busy touring right now, but are you doing any studio work along the way?

We’re just deciding if we’re going to do some more dates. We’ll probably do a couple more dates at the end of the year in Europe and then shut down the show until next summer. And then in between that time, actually do some new music. Because we’ve been doing the show now for about a year, and it’s been a great reintroduction — but it’s also time to make some new, totally updated shit.

Where do you see techno music going in the next decade?

That’s hard — mainstream, in a way, but you know, honestly I don’t think it’s mainstream. All these acts like David Guetta, Skrillex, and Deadmau5, they’re making some amazing — well, some of it is too pop for me honestly, but some of it’s really cool! But it is all fucking pop music. And I hope that as that expands, as people get into electronic pop music, we’ll have a little bit more people into underground music. I’m not going to make pop music. Even if I tried, I couldn’t make pop music. But hopefully it will make people gravitate toward some cool, underground shit.

Electro-pop: the gateway drug.

Yeah, exactly! (Laughs)

What advice would you give to other people who don’t want to make this pop music? DJs that want to make the music they love but also crave success?

That’s easy, just don’t be in a rush. It’s very easy to jump on and do something that’s gonna make you big really fast, but there’s been people and pop stars and musicians that have come up really fast over the last 20 or 30 years, and then disappeared. Stick to your guns, learn your craft, learn your turntables, learn your keyboards, learn your computers, whatever. Do your 10,000 hours of fucking working at it — then when you find it and you have your hit, you’ll be there on your own terms. There’s no shortcut.

West Coast Arcaders make sure to catch Richie Hawtin this weekend! He’ll be playing DJ sets at the Mezzanine in San Francisco Friday and The Music Box in Hollywood Saturday.
—Marie Cravens