Richie Hawtin on his new CLOSE tour

Canadian DJ and producer Richie Hawtin brings his exciting, experimental CLOSE tour to Glasgow this month – we find out what's in store

Feature by Claire Francis | 08 Oct 2018
  • Richie Hawtin

The Skinny: We’re very excited that Glasgow is one of the two CLOSE tour shows you’ll be playing in the UK. What’s your affinity with Glasgow and why was it important for you to bring the tour here?

Richie Hawtin: Scotland has supported me since day one. Whether it was the PURE gang in Edinburgh or the SLAM guys in Glasgow, I’ve been playing regularly since the early 1990s. This has given me a great foundation of fans in the area and so it’s always important for me to try and keep everyone up-to-date with what I’m working on besides the “normal” DJ shows! I really feel like I’m playing to multiple generations when I return, so this is also why it's important for me to keep bringing back new ideas and showing the people how my musical and technological ideas are developing and try to give everyone another incredible, sweaty intense night!

You’ll be supported by Swedish artist TM404 for these shows. Can you tell us a bit about them and how this fits into the CLOSE experience? 

TM404 does one hell of an all-hardware live show. He carts around so many toys and basically plugs them in, presses start and takes everyone on a deep trippy ride. I love the feeling of his shows and the sound is always filled with weird melodic lines coming out of multiple Roland TB303 machines. Anyone who knows me a little bit knows that I love the sound of the TB303, so it just felt right to invite him on the tour. Also I want people who come to the show to see two different shows that push the idea of what “live” electronic music can be. I see many live shows and DJ shows these days that seem to be more pre-programmed or planned out. I love spontaneity, the surprise and anticipation of taking the crowd and myself on a new sonic adventure every set and I believe that is also the intention of TM404! Let’s see, I’m quite sure the night will be full of surprises!

The setup for CLOSE appears very complex. How long did you work on the concept of CLOSE and how challenging is it for you, both physically and mentally, as a performer?

Honestly, the show has been under development in my mind for many years, nearly as a continuation of the DE9 project – originally the idea was to call the show DE9:LIVE! However, it took a long time to get all the pieces of the puzzle to come together into something that I thought we could take on the road and which would give people a new view of how I play.

The CLOSE shows are very intense, hopefully for the audience and definitely for me as a performer. The basis of the show is my modern take on DJing with computers running different songs and loops, and on top of that I have an array of analog and digital synths and drum machines that I can use to improvise over [the] top to take things onto a new level. Once I press start, it's a blur of options ranging from what records to play, and how to use them (as main sounds or loops or sound effects), and then what to add on top – then building new songs and rhythms and allowing them to develop for a certain amount of time, finding a way to transition from that moment into something else, and then the whole thing starts again. It’s a challenge to keep everything working together and sounding cohesive, and remembering to find the right timing within each idea!

Do you find it ironic that it’s these kind of man-machine relationships and new technologies that are enabling us to bring audiences – people – closer?

Electronic music has always been a bit of a mystery to many people in the audience as there’s very little direct connection to the movements you see from a regular DJ, and the sounds you hear coming out of the speakers. That's the challenge, to find ways to connect movements and visual cues with the sounds that are developing, and try to bring people into synchronous moments. With CLOSE, we take the live feeds from several cameras placed around my equipment to help connect my movements and interactions with the machines into part of the visual show. Zooming in and out of real-time cameras and augmented abstracted visuals, driven by my movements, brings a direct connection to all that you hear and see!

In all your experience of technological innovation within electronic music, is there one particular concept or piece of equipment that you think has really redefined or shaped the trajectory of dance music? 

Wow, now that is a deep, tough question. I think the concept of an electronic drum machine that allows you to write in rhythm patterns, and then change/move/modify them into something that is either so rigid and direct or even completely off-kilter, [is what] gives techno its unique 'man v machine' sound. The way we interact with these drum machines gives a unique rhythm and groove that is as much driven by the machines as it is by the human programming it. This is really a special interaction and has given our music a very special drive and intensity!

Where do you see technology taking dance music in the future?

Well, technology has taken dance music from obscurity, over 25 years ago, and into the mainstream, with nearly every type of musician and producer using the tools that we have been using for decades in their productions. Technology has allowed us to twist and shape music in ways never before possible, and I believe that will continue since the technology that we use to shape our music continues to evolve and develop.

You have spoken about how CLOSE seeks to bring the performer closer to the audience, literally and figuratively. How do you feel about the ‘DJ is God’ kind of worship that can be seen in the industry and how social media etc can inflate the ego of a DJ?

The singular artist on stage, the DJ, has a lot of power to tap into the emotions of a crowd, taking them through an adventure of sound that is in reality a tapestry of emotions. The great DJs can really transcend time and space and move things on to a spiritual level; however, that is only done by a few who are able to bring frequencies, emotions, rhythm and many other aspects all into focus at exactly the right moment. Pumping fists into the air and high-fiving your friends surrounding you in the DJ booth are perhaps not some of these aspects I’m speaking about.

What would you like your audiences to take away from the CLOSE shows? 

Having a sense of the intensity and spontaneity that happens on stage when in the zone of a performance, and hopefully feeling a little bit closer to the creative moment as it unfolds in front of their eyes and ears.

You’ve previously collaborated with artists such as Anish Kapoor and Andreas Gursky. What about contemporary art inspires you and do you envisage more of these collaborations in future? 

Contemporary art has been inspiring my work since the early 1990s when I shared my studio with my brother Matthew, who is a painter. He actually inspired me to learn more about art and that led me to incredible artists like Kapoor, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and people of that style. Many of these artists, and others, have given me inspiration, and sometimes a way to re-think my music more in architectural terms, which very much led to new sonic ideas. The Plastikman Consumed album was definitely inspired by Anish Kapoor and I definitely hope to collaborate more in the future with artists like this to find a fusion between art, music and technology.

In a slightly unrelated note, let’s chat about your passion for sake! How did this passion develop? And do you think sake will catch on as a drink in Scotland? 

Japanese sake is catching on all around the world and we’ve seen an incredible increase in awareness the last few years. Sake has a distinct pure taste and unique “buzz”, or feeling, that I think people really are surprised and excited by. One of the other things that people don’t often realise is that sake pairs well with food, and actually it pairs with nearly all of our normal western food, sometimes in more exciting ways than the traditional idea of pairing it with Japanese food. I don’t expect sake to suddenly take over everyone’s favourite beer but if you give it a chance I know you’ll be pleasantly surprised… so if you’re open to it, ENTER. Sake is a good way to begin, hence the name! Welcome to the world of sake!

Richie Hawtin CLOSE, O2 Academy Glasgow, 11 Oct