Alex de Brabant, Jordi Cerveira (photos)
He sees music and technology as a way of bringing people together and helping them connect with one another. The UK native uses techno to bridge divides. His thumping beats are the artist’s way of embracing the crowd. And Hawtin certainly stirs the masses — although he prefers to do so on a small rather than a large scale — inspiring them to exuberant heights and sometimes even ecstasy. Over the years, Hawtin has continually reinvented his music, his look and his surroundings. He witnessed techno’s birth in Detroit, which makes its future all the more precious to him.
Tell us, Mr Hawtin, …
I remember going to high school dances. When we were kids, the basketball hall where we played sports during the day were also used with the lights turned off for disco parties — that’s what they were called. I remember being fascinated by dancing and the technicalities of controlling the lighting. There was something about the lights and the atmosphere. It was about bringing people together.
It was the broader experience and the way music surrounded it all. Everything I try to do now involves bringing people together — through technology and music. It’s like, hugging them through the frequencies. I love bringing experiences to people for the first time.
When I was a kid, I loved being surrounded by people, but I wasn’t very comfortable being in front of people. Being a DJ is different to standing in front of a hundred people and giving a presentation or talk. I could never do that. But I always loved having a bunch of people around me, like a gang. As I got more and more into music, I wanted to perform. I wanted to do something. But 15-year-old Rich couldn’t have done that. He would’ve hidden in a corner. I think music was just so much a part of me that it had to come out somehow.
Born in England, raised in Canada, celebrated in Detroit, New York and Berlin — the now 46-year-old Richie Hawtin has performed gigs in every major techno club in the world. Today, he’s not just passionate about turntables but is also committed to taking action through organizations such as Bridges for Music, which champions social equality. Hawtin has also turned his hand to designing new equipment, such as the PLAYdifferently MODEL1, the mixer of the future.
Yes. I collected so many electronic records and my friends would say, “Hey, we love this music!” It really was like a mini party — just me and five friends. But we felt like this was bigger than us and that we needed to get more people to listen to this music. And the only way to do that was to invite more people round. Since I had the records, I became the center of things and it just started to happen that way.
It was a very natural process. And I think if you were to ask me now whether I wanted to become a DJ — knowing how DJs get up on big stages and control thousands of people — I probably wouldn’t. But I’m definitely someone who has a keen sense of curiosity.
Being one step ahead for me is really the wellspring of everything that excites me. I’m always trying to find out what the next big thing will be — the next book, the next type of music, even the next fashion style — and go on searching and experimenting. That’s what really brought me to techno and electronic music because it has always been about what’s next, pushing the limits, challenging and inspiring. And that helps me keep on feeling like a kid — the same kid who 25 years ago was always wondering, “What’s next? Where are we going?”
Technology influences my work from the ground up. People ask, “Are you an artist or are you a musician?” It’s the chicken and the egg question — music or technology? I can’t answer that. Today, there’s a constant back and forth between the two. They’re mutually inspiring. I’ll have a new piece of equipment or a new piece of software that suddenly means I can pursue a musical idea that wasn’t possible before this new “instrument” existed. It’s a beautiful interaction — the two feed into each other every moment of the day. And when I think about where I came from, they seem like very humble beginnings compared to what’s out there now and what has made me who I am.