Richie Hawtin – minimal techno hits Mzansi

Hailed as an ambassador of electronic music, globe-trotting producer and DJ Richie Hawtin (aka Plastikman) has been a pioneering force since the 1990s, scored music for the Winter Olympics and now heads to South Africa to headline the second annual Cape Town Electronic Music Festival.
Richie Hawtin - minimal techno hits Mzansi
This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Weekend Argus of 2013/012/03.
The naysayers quip about Richie Hawtin being a poster boy and pooh-pooh his mainstream success: a slew of awards over twenty years for Best DJ, Best Techno DJ and Favourite International DJ from magazines like “Wired”, “DJ”, “Raveline” and “MixMag“, through the International Dance Music Awards and Detroit Music Awards, to arts entities like the Festival du Cinema et Media, the Music und Maschine Congress, and Prix Ars Electronica. “Resident Advisor“, the staple of electronic music coverage, has him as a frequent figure in their annual “Top Ten DJs”, as well as winning the coveted Best Live Act (for Plastikman in 2010). Hawtin has played all over the world, included headlining Glastonbury and TribalGathering; co-founded seminal techno record labels Plus8 and M-nus, and has exhibited sonic artworks alongside modern sculptor Anish Kapoor and collaborated with choreographer Enzo Cosimi for the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremony. He is a pioneer and innovator, as well as a DJ who likes to get the crowds moving.
Electronic integrity
“For the most part, electronic music has kept its integrity,” he says by ‘phone from his annual holiday, this year at Manamoc Island (Philippines). “It’s close to our hearts in a close-knit society and it grew by taking baby steps, growing naturally and organically over the years. Now, it’s a worldwide phenomenon. I’ve been learning about how it’s grown in South Africa: you can see that house music has become a force there – and other forms too – but by growing out of its own incubator. Although electronic music is huge now, and I’m lucky enough to perform all over the world, I want to keep those early ideas with me. I don’t want someone to come and rape and pillage our scene – although I don’t like that word – whether that’s in South Africa or the USA or the greater world.”
Is the world famous DJ talking about how electronic music – his included – have gained mainstream popularity, and is this something he always aimed for? “Is that something I always tried to do?” he replies.
“Yes and no. I don’t think my music is specifically suited to the masses, but I think there are always new people out there who might enjoy it. I’m always mindful about letting people step through that doorway where, hopefully, they can come and connect with something they like. I don’t think, ‘How do I make my music appeal to more people?’ Or, ‘How can I change my performance so everybody likes it?’ It’s about understanding who I am and what I do really well, and then trying to find a way to give as many people the opportunity to hear it, and make up their own minds about it.”
Bridges For Music
Hawtin’s interest in the expansive possibilities of electronic music extends beyond just his dancing or listening audience. In addition to the live show in South Africa, he will be conducting workshops in his capacity as an ambassador for the international Bridges For Music organisation – an ambassadorship he shares with South Africa’s own Black Coffee.
“Any type of project that gives an opportunity to meet and inspire the next generation is important,” says Hawtin. “Whether it’s for music producers, or just giving people from a younger generation another way of bridging out of what’s in front of them. Music for many of us – even myself – is a way out. My town (Detroit) is an automative capital city. The general future for kids there is that you go and work in the automotive industry. Of course I had lots of possibilities. I wasn’t coming from a place with as many hardships as South Africa, but music was a way to get beyond barriers and maybe even find a career. is a way to show people a way out, maybe, or just as something that can take you to a place you’ve never thought of before.”
Future frequencies
After two decades experimenting with music, and seeing its effects on people, Hawtin is perfectly placed to predict its possible future. “The music we listen to now has a lot to do with how and where we listen to it,” he says. “People used to listen to classical music in concert halls, then at big rock concerts and then in clubs. Electronic music now is either in hi-tech clubs with digital sound-systems beyond what we could have imagined from the frequency responses on vinyl. Or, we listen to music very close to us, on headphones or earbuds. Even the quality of an mp3, but with no outside noise interference, lets you really get into the detail of the music. That’s why some people found an interest in music that is based on small little fluctuations that create melody and mood and all the things a great track does.”
“Music in 20 or 50 years? How will we be listening to it? Will it be on some kind of hologram deck? Will people want interpretations of what they think it was like in the past or, perhaps, will they be trying to imagine a future? Will we be able to listen to music even closer to us? Some kind of jack directly into us, so you don’t actually use your ears to hear it, it’s just frequencies piped into the brain? Perhaps we will discover that the ear is not so efficient in what it perceives – what will music be when the frequency range becomes even wider?”
Cape Town Electronic Music Festival
Richie Hawtin headlines the second annual Cape Town Electronic Music Festival on Friday 15 February. The thirty act strong festival runs until Sunday 17 February and features electronica stars like Sibot, Haezer, Black Coffee, Shangaan Electro, Richard The Third vs Jakobsnake and DJ Ready D; live acts Mix ‘n Blend, Lark, Card On Spokes, Crazy White Boy and others; stalwarts Killer Robot, G-Force, Niskerone, Forgotten Free-quencies, Phat Jack, Anthea Scholtz and LadyM (Breakwater parking lot, V&A Waterfront, tickets R150 (day pass) or R350 (weekend pass) from Artist profiles, line-up times, workshop details and more on and Also see and
* Win one of two double weekend passes by answering this simple question: “Where will the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival be held?” Email your answer, along with your name, contact cell number and ID number to Entries close on Thursday 7 February at 12noon.
This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Weekend Argus of 2013/012/03.

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