Performing under his own name, Canadian-born, Berlin-based Richie Hawtin for two decades has navigated the space between DJ and recording artist, constructing epic swaths of spatial microedits and spartan percussion. Using everything from the Roland TR-909 drum machine and outboard EFX processors to laptops augmented by Ableton Live and Native Instruments software, Hawtin has isolated, elongated, and condensed acid-etched techno and brought it to fields, forests, black-box art spaces, and megaclubs all around the world. Starting out in Windsor, Ontario, across the river from techno's birthplace of Detroit, Michigan, Hawtin has become an ambassador for deeply conceptual electronic music, constantly promoting new means to maximize minimalism.
It was recording under his persona Plastikman, however, where Hawtin first established himself as a standard-bearer for material as much about breath as breadth. Now, seven years since the last Plastikman album and 18 years since debuting the brand, Hawtin is prepping the Plastikman Arkives, a comprehensive, limited-edition set including remastered, rare, and reinvented tracks that chronicle how Hawtin molded his career narrative.
Available in three formats — an 11-disc CD/DVD edition, a six-record 180-gram vinyl edition, and a digital edition (as well as an option to compile all mediums) — Arkives surveys a decade during which Hawtin went from live-to-tape recording to multitrack computer engineering. Plastikman's development from front-forward to dislocated inertia is integral for understanding the full-length, full-body evolution of techno from 1993 to 2003, as well as its voguish reverberations. And this body of work would sit comfortably, and proudly for Hawtin, next to the works of genre originators such as Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May, as well as Hawtin contemporaries such as Daniel Bell and Aphex Twin.
While the full rundown of Arkives is available on the Plastikman website, the common link among all six albums — not to mention the remixes, in-studio live sessions, previously vinyl-only bonuses, unreleased extended versions, etc. — is an undulating, insistent exploration of the Roland TB-303 analog bass-line synthesizer, and how even the most odd, excessively minimal components can be broken down in both cerebral and kinetic ways. It's easy to get too analytical when presented with how technology has allowed the evolving musical possibilities of a single little silver box, but Hawtin believes even armchair listeners fascinated by his ambient adventures shouldn't forget Plastikman's physicality.
"Plastikman is based on rhythm, low bass lines, syncopation — all stuff that can make the body move even if it's not the typical 4/4 kick and open hi-hat on three and seven," Hawtin explains.
"I think Plastikman was always very, very physical," he adds. "It started in dark warehouse parties with pummeling bass and snare rolls. You couldn't get much more physical than a huge speaker system with 808 kick and snare through it. [Plastikman's debut album] Sheet One was very much inspired by the sounds and feelings of late-night Detroit underground parties, those moments in the morning where only the hard-core people remained and they were either tired or induced into a weird state where they would be, for lack of a better word, slinky and elastic."
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Acknowledging he can't re-create the feeling of both vastness and closeness found in the darkness of a massive, burned-out factory or the isolation of a northern Michigan forest rave, Hawtin has engineered a hypersophisticated, semicircular LED installation set that reacts organically to audio signals. In this way, he uses spacing and shadow to create the kind of introspective, expressive environments — "an entanglement where I can feel the structure of the machine and the chaos of the human being" — which have always played a significant part in the Richie Hawtin/Plastikman experience.
"It may be more lights, more flash, more scale. But [a performance is] basically me manipulating different types of technology in ways to create a connection to the people out there — through sight and sound — and have it come together as something that is more than the sum of its parts."
Whether onstage or archived, Hawtin (or Plastikman) is undeniably immersive.