III Points Festival

In "Close," Techno Legend Richie Hawtin Bears It All Between Machines

Andrew J Rauner
Richie Hawtin’s new live performance begins in pitch darkness. Hawtin can’t be seen, but he can be sensed behind a droning bass line that undulates at a frequency felt deep in the chest. A flurry of chirps follows and rises in pitch until the sound seems to hover over the crowd like a UFO about to abduct them. The audience whistles and cheers in anticipation. They love it.

As if summoned by bass, Hawtin's figure appears onstage in silhouette, standing between two control panels, arms outstretched, fiddling knobs. An array of cameras and lamps hangs overhead and subtly illuminates his movements while a recognizable rhythm develops.

Close: Spontaneity and Synchronicity is the techno legend’s latest mission to challenge himself as a DJ and drive his craft forward. The live performance sees Hawtin take his sets to new depths, engaging with his audiences on a new level.

That says a lot for a man whose career has spanned nearly three decades. In that time, Hawtin has entertained audiences around the world. Beginning in Detroit clubs, he helped redefine the mechanical sounds emanating from the Motor City. He has since become one of the world's most influential electronic musicians, as evidenced by his high-profile performances at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and Grand Palais in Paris. He’s now on tour in support of Close, taking the performance to events such as Coachella and III Points, in an effort to give audiences a completely unique experience of sight and sound.

In Close, Hawtin invites his audiences to an intimate space typically hidden behind a table topped with computers, mixers, and drum machines. While he mixes music onstage, his team behind the scenes stitches together an image of his performance. With these audio and visual elements combined, Hawtin hopes to get closer to the crowd and prove there’s actually some creative artistry at play onstage.

“What I’ve noticed over the past five or six years is I have a very unique way of playing, but I don’t think people really realize what I'm doing as a performer and as a DJ,” Hawtin says. “At the same time, electronic music has had this explosion around the world, and I strongly believe that although the idea of a DJ is more widely known, the actual definition is probably less descriptive than it’s ever been.”

To show what really goes on behind the table, Hawtin and his team began by taking the table away. Throughout the performance, the DJ is bookended by two mixers such that his body is visible from head to toe.

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Prudence Upton
"The very simple act of moving that table away — which is quite strange for a DJ because you’re completely open and naked to the audience — is probably the most important decision we made,” Hawtin says. "Without that decision, there wouldn't be the show. You have to see that human form moving and gyrating."

It’s an unusual sight — a DJ’s legs onstage. Hawtin's every move is in full view, and the camera array captures from above a live feed of his mixing. A team of visual artists offstage reinterprets the images and beams them onto the back wall.

As Hawtin pivots and spins, reaching between his mixers, his limbs fuse with the machines and transform him into a kind of musical cyborg with mechanical appendages.

"What I do is try to get to a point where I lose myself and stop thinking about the apparatus and the technology I’m playing,” Hawtin says. “I try to stop thinking about where I begin and the machine ends, because it has to be a symbiotic relationship for me to touch buttons and make choices and attenuate small knobs and faders and just allow my physicality and movements go through the digitization and come out the other end as a beautiful experience."

Richie Hawtin Close. 3:45 a.m. Saturday, October 14, at III Points, Mana Wynwood, 318 NW 23rd St., Miami; 305-573-0371; iiipoints.com. Three-day tickets cost $205.