Richie Hawtin lives an enviably stylish existence in an unlikely and unexpected place. His refurbished home sits across from a throbbing factory in a spare, industrial zone of Windsor, Ontario. The 97-year-old building was once a firehouse in the days when its firewagons were drawn by horses. But in the 21st century, what used to be a hayloft has been transformed into Hawtin's striking, uncluttered, red-and-black apartment; the horses lived directly below in what's now his state-of-the-art recording studio.
More than a decade after his first release, "Elements of Tone" ? under the moniker States of Mind, on his own Plus 8 label (1990) ? Hawtin is one of the world's most revered and popular techno artists. Traveling around the world while pushing his music's creative boundaries, Hawtin has taken the taut, lean sound of classic Detroit techno to new heights and new places.
"Being away from the hustle and bustle of all the large cities allows me the space and time to reflect. It also gives me a different perspective. I love being in cities like London, Frankfurt or Tokyo," says Hawtin. "But I live and record in Windsor."
The oldest son of Brenda and Michael Hawtin, Richard Michael Hawtin was born on June 4, 1970 in Banbury, Oxon, England. His dad, a robotics technician for General Motors, and his mum, a teacher-turned-real estate agent, moved the family to the Canadian suburbs of Detroit when Richie was nine.
While his seventh- and eighth-grade schoolmates were getting deeply into rock'n'roll, Richie spent his afternoons fiddling with rudimentary home computers like the early Commodore PET. Perhaps because of his interest in electronics, Hawtin's first musical fascination was for early electro and breakdance records. He suggests that, from his young perspective, electronic music was different, but it wasn't alien ? in fact, he says he found it "comforting."
Hawtin soon got turned on to the progressive electronic sounds of Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, whose records he first discovered in his dad's LP collection. Yet even as his musical world expanded, Hawtin's teenage years gave little inkling of his career to come. He recalls his first job as "corn detassling," followed by equally mundane stints at McDonald's and a video store.
At 15, Hawtin began sneaking out of the house, heading across the Detroit River ? and over the U.S. border ? to see concerts in Motown's St. Andrews Hall. At 17, he was already DJing at the Shelter, a dark, low-ceilinged basement club beneath St. Andrews that he was too young to attend as a legal patron. There he spun a mix of house and early techno, augmented by heavy doses of industrial favorites like Nitzer Ebb, Skinny Puppy, Severed Heads and Front 242. After playing a year for free, Hawtin finally turned pro when the club began paying him $20 a night in gas money.
But radio proved as valuable an influence on Hawtin as clubbing. "Detroit radio in the late '80s was incredibly progressive," he says. "This was how I was first got exposed to house and techno." Eventually, he wound up with his own Friday night show on Detroit's 96.3 FM, showcasing mixes he'd create in his home studio. But early on, Hawtin spent many late nights listening to the Wizard, a mysterious underground radio DJ. The Wizard turned out to be Detroit techno legend Jeff Mills, and the pioneering electronic tracks he played by Juan Atkins and Derrick May found their way into Hawtin's growing record collection.
Hawtin was startled at first to realize that Atkins, May and other favorites (like Kevin Saunderson) were based in Detroit. But in 1989, a chance encounter with May at local college station CJAM inspired Hawtin to move toward setting up his own label and releasing his own tracks. Plus 8, the label Hawtin launched with partner John Acquaviva, proved to be the seminal imprint of Detroit's second wave of techno.
Though Hawtin has been deeply inspired by the city of Detroit ã its music, its creative energy and even its vacant spaces ã he sees his work apart from it as well. "Coming home to Windsor at the end of a night out gave me a unique viewpoint, musically, which is quite different from the other, more traditional Detroit techno artists."
That sensibility infused Plus 8's varied and adventurous releases. Along with records from Kenny Larkin, Dan Bell, Speedy J and others, Hawtin's own discs (as FUSE, States of Mind and Plastikman) propelled his blossoming role as a DJ. His hectic schedule forced him to drop out of the University of Windsor, where he was studying film, in the middle of his second year. But even as demand for his appearances grew throughout the Midwest and Europe, Hawtin took time to shore up his reputation at home, promoting now-legendary parties such as Heaven & Hell, Spastik and more.
Having sharpened his DJ skills and shaped his music into a refined and distinctive form of minimalist techno, Hawtin made a major leap forward in the mid-1990s when he began augmenting his live sets with the Roland 909 drum machine and other electronic effects. He especially recalls a momentous gig as Plastikman Live, at England's 1995 Glastonbury Festival, as a watershed in his performing career.
A late-1990s hiatus led to some creative rethinking. Hawtin suspended the Plus 8 label and launched the M-nus imprint as a home exclusively for his own recordings. That set the stage for his stripped-down, nearly ambient 1998 M-nus/novamute CD, Consumed, as well as its elaborate, all-night release party ? concurrent events that cemented Hawtin's place at the forefront of contemporary electronic music.
When he's not globetrotting on the international DJ circuit, there's no place Richie Hawtin would rather be than back home in Windsor. He shares his former firestation there with a vast record collection, two Siamese cats named Spaz and Miss, and the visual arts studio of his brother, Matthew (a talented minimalist in his own right). But with Windsor wedged in the frigid breezeway between Lake Erie and Lake St. Claire, there's not much to do during the harsh Ontario winters but stay in and make tracks.
"I do most of my recording in winter," Hawtin admits. "I like the winter... how sparse it is, how cold, and how everything seems to be so much more specific and detailed. There must be some connection between that environment and my music."
FIVE RECORDS THAT CHANGED RICHIE HAWTIN'S LIFE:
"Acid Trax" Phuture
"It Is What It Is" Rhythim Is Rhythim
"Pacific" 808 State
"Jack Your Body" Steve Hurley
"Amenity" Link (Global Communication)
RICHIE HAWTIN: TECHNOLOGIST
Richie Hawtin recalls that his dad, a certified electrical technician, was always assembling various devices at home ? including a primitive computer. Before long he was also buying Richie electronic kits to build stuff like his own radio.
But that wasn't the only important thing he gave Richie. In addition to being an adventurous music fan whose record collection offered Hawtin his first exposure to Kraftwerk, he was a stereophile who handed down things like his old reel-to-reel tape deck. Hawtin's destiny was clearly taking shape at an early age.
The reel-to-reel gave Hawtin his first exposure to home recording and tape manipulation. As a teenager he acquired a Tascam 644 four-track and, with the addition of a coveted Numark mixer (with a built-in sampler), began making rough-and-rugged tracks to use on his radio show at 96.3 FM Detroit.
By the late 1980s, Hawtin was collaborating with Detroit techno prodigy Kenny Larkin. Hooking up a Korg Poly 6 keyboard to Hawtin's funky Amiga computer, the two were able to launch a musical partnership that extended through Larkin's three releases on Hawtin's Plus 8 imprint.
Hawtin's first exposure to proper studio gear came when he began working with John Acquaviva in 1989. Acquaviva was a veteran DJ and producer whose Roland 909 became a touchstone for Hawtin's next decade of work. Hawtin, who at first "couldn't get his head around MIDI," developed his own workarounds for sync, multi-tracking and sequencing, using simple triggers and control voltage to layer his tracks. "It wasn't too dissimilar to working on a computer," he recalls.
Eventually he began assembling a bedroom studio while still living at home with his parents. He started with a Roland 202, soon adding a Korg Wavestation. But "everything changed," he says, "when I got a Roland TB303."
One of Hawtin's most impressive breakthroughs was his "decks and effects" approach to live performance. Dissatisfied with simple DJ mixing, Hawtin began incorporating the 909 and into his sets, augmenting the vinyl on his decks with beats created in real time as well as digital effects like reverb, filters, flange and delay. The results have made Hawtin a superstar DJ around the world, with the results first formally documented on 1999's brilliant Decks, EFX & 909 (novamute).
With the release of DE9: closer to the edit, Hawtin demonstrates that his own progress is as inevitable as the march of technology itself. As mixed and manipulated by Hawtin, the disc includes several of his own tracks as well as the music of kindred spirits like Carl Craig, Theorem and Stewart Walker. His current DE9 live shows incorporate Final Scratch, a new system that allows DJs to control digital music files on a hard drive from a standard turntable ã to pitch and manipulate these files while mixing them with plain old analog vinyl. And lately he's been working extensively with the Electrix Repeater, building complex loop-based tracks on the fly.
Hawtin has made it his mission to look to the future ? to push his music as far forward as his instruments will take him. "It isn't just the gear," he says. "It's what can you get out of them that's new. And isn't that what techno's all about?"