Searching for Richie

Winter Music Conference week went mostly by the numbers. Most of the same labels showcased the same artists at the same parties as last year and the year before. The hotel gigs were predominantly filled with fat-free cheese as background music for sunbathing playboys, models, and strung-out club kids. It was supposed to be the ultimate celebration of what used to be underground music, but underground enthusiasts had a hard time finding what they were looking for.

While wading through poolside festivities and brand-name bashes, the absence of a momentous, mind-altering talent became apparent. But according to the grapevine, an artist who had changed the face of dance music without much mainstream notice was supposed to come. For those who knew, the question of the week was: Where will Richie be? Richie Hawtin's minimal techno and acid house trips listeners into a "dimension intrusion" by stripping away excess sound, sharpening synthetic noise till hairs split, and pounding eardrums incessantly. Few artists in the electronic/dance music world are as mysterious, forward-thinking, and unpredictable as he, the conductor of Futuristic Underground Subsonic Experiments, a Circuit Breaker, and to most people, the Plastikman.

Rumors of Hawtin sightings were running amok at any party featuring hard techno beats. At the Detroit Meets Miami BBQ at Rain on Friday, the buzz was Hawtin would be hanging out. This year, though, the buzz proved right. Hawtin showed up and quickly went unrecognized, thanks to a recent replacement of his iconic bald head and black-rim glasses in favor of a punkish-looking crop of brown hair and stubble. Erik Blanco, one of Miami's long-time ravers and a fanatic who has driven to Detroit for a Hawtin performance, happened to fawn over the wrong guy, a would-be Richie Hawtin look-alike standing right next to the man himself. "I couldn't recognize him with hair and without the glasses," Blanco said. Once he did, he said that Hawtin's first Plastikman LP, Sheet One, had changed his life. Hawtin responded, "Sheet One changed my life too."

As soon as word got around who came out and where he was, fans approached with sentimental stories about how they used to sell pieces of his Sheet One CD cover (a mock sheet of acid) to get into raves and how they were convinced Plastikman was an alien, because no human could come up with his music. That was just in conversation, though; experiencing Hawtin on the decks proved to be the worthwhile encounter many of his fans were hoping for.

Hawtin's M-Nus label party at B.E.D. on Saturday was a private, invitation-only affair that you couldn't find on the Miami Master List. If you weren't on the guest list, you might've gotten in after waiting outside for an hour before the doorman felt sorry for you. Inside it was everything a legendary party should be -- packed, frenetic, loud, and on a higher state of consciousness. When he slapped the first slip of wax on the turntable, the hooting and hand-raising began.

It isn't often that a venue in Miami is slammed with a crowd as aware of someone like Hawtin and his place in music as this one. The tracks he mixed were hard but classy techno riffs that kept the frenzied crowd on a peak till 7:00 in the morning. Finding Hawtin was the highlight of the week's avalanche of light, sugary, record label-promo material.


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