Plastikman: Awakening the Giant

As <strong>Richie Hawtin</strong> awakens his dormant project <strong>Plastikman</strong> for a new world tour – including a performance at this year’s T in the Park – the people behind Glasgow tech-house night <strong>Bigfoot’s Tea Party</strong> speak to the Minus maestro

Feature by Calum Sutherland | 25 Jun 2010

Minus Records is to many so much more than merely another techno imprint. It is an ethos, a design and a guide. The Berlin based label has been at the forefront of cutting edge electronica for the past decade, with an unimpeachably talented artist roster and an approach to techno like no other.

At the helm of the label is Richie Hawtin, a Da Vinci of modern electronic music and arguably one of the most innovative and progressive artists our generation has ever known. This year sees the return of Plastikman, the project that brought Richie to the attention of the techno community of which he is now seated firmly at the epicentre.

With Plastikman´s re-emergence this year it appears Hawtin is attempting to fill a void he believes to have existed in live electronic music for some time. "There is nobody doing what I would be doing," he says, "trying to create a crazy live audio visual experience.” This is not unfamiliar territory for Richie. The Contakt shows of 2008 are still engrained in the minds of all who were witness to the most ambitious Minus masterminded project to date.

"Contakt was a laboratory," says Richie, who believes that the Contakt allowed for unbridled degrees of experimentation which have been adopted into the Plastikman setup, with the use of LED lighting along with the synchronisation of jaw dropping techno and head fuck visuals.

This wholly original approach to the audio/visual experience is the result of the collaboration between Hawtin and Ali Demirel, a Turkish-born visual architect whose structural, concept based creations resonate strongly with Hawtin’s own approach. The pair’s marriage of audio and visual produce a hypnotic and psychedelic experience for the audience, as the spectacle takes on a poetic form, saying nothing, and everything.

Neither the Contakt and Plastikman shows can be classed as club nights. You are not just going to see a DJ, nor will you be shaking your ass from start to finish; the aim is that you will be taken on a journey.

"Clubbing in the early days was always an experience," says Hawtin. "Now everybody knows all the music, all the DJs and now everyone on the dancefloor is a DJ and sometimes it’s not so exciting."

With so much added to the presentation of the Contakt shows, it seems that perhaps nobody but Richie Hawtin could recreate it. "If you can excite a DJ in the crowd, that’s a reminder of why we're all in it in the first place, that’s what Contakt was about and hopefully that is what Plastikman will be about."

Perhaps it is with this in mind that he began to devote more attention to the visual aspect of performance? "It’s what you see behind us. Everything, the experience, is designed. We sit down for months and think about all the ways we can create an experience with lighting, sound, visuals, venues... we don’t just put Plastikman anywhere." 

The point is that with so many great parties, DJs and producers around, a Minus tour is unparalleled in its unique nature, as anyone who witnesses one of these special shows will testify. The audience leaves remembering something exceptional; something they have never felt, heard or seen before.

With a career spanning almost two decades now, Hawtin has influenced and affected generations of electronic music fans, clubbers and artists alike. With that in mind, was he concerned about alienating his younger fans who were perhaps unaware of what the Plastikman show entailed?

"Actually, I was more worried about shocking my older fans who were so used to seeing me DJ. Usually they’re the ones complaining about all the changes we’re doing but the younger ones are always just like ‘Hey this is crazy, what the fuck are you doing?’ They love it, but we’re always thinking about that. That’s also why I’m still DJing and playing in small clubs, and doing this, because I love it all. I love just having a great night with a cool crowd with a soundsystem and a strobelight. But we also wanted to grow and do weirder things. I think with Plastikman now as well, we just did a show in Detroit and there were friends there who saw the last Plastikman show in 1994 and next to them were eighteen year old kids who had just heard a Plastikman record who were like ‘Man, what the fuck is going on?’ That’s cool right?"

Plastikman’s sustained longevity means there is a whole new audience of techno fans who are perhaps unaware of the project. Does this notion have any effect on the production of the new shows? "When I see other live shows or hear other things that are out there right now, I don’t think there’s anyone doing anything like Plastikman, so if there was someone else doing it, like continued on with what I was trying to do, maybe I wouldn’t be back but since it’s open I’m like ‘Y’know what? Nobody else is doing it so I better fucking do it because people need to hear this shit.’”

This is another example of Hawtin’s drive to break down the walls between performer and audience. It’s part of what makes him stand out and contributes to making whatever project he is involved in unique and different. "I want to try new things and connect to the fans on the dancefloor. I want to keep them up to date but also sometimes to hide information, but what you have to remember is you need a crowd, you need people there listening. It gets boring when its just someone sending out a message, it gets interesting when you see messages received and come back. This dynamic loop of performer and audience, what goes in, what comes out, we're all in it together, that’s what makes a beautiful, amazing, crazy night."

Plastikman appears in the Slam Tent at T in the Park on 11 Jul