Richie Hawtin has been at the forefront of the electronic music scene for much of his life – from his early DJ sets in Detroit at age 17 to his groundbreaking work as Plastikman, which remains influential to live electronic shows today.
Today, Hawtin remains a musical innovator, even if the current crop of EDM stars enjoy a different level of mainstream fame from his. However, Hawtin has no envy or ill will for the new generation; he gets it. “What does it sound like to get in the middle of a dance floor at EDC and hear Skrillex for the first time?” he asks. “That’s gotta be absolutely fucking mind-blowing if you’ve been brought up on rock & roll and hip-hop.”
As Hawtin explained to Rolling Stone, he’s very content to be the next level of EDM: the music these fans come to after entering the scene.
I spoke to [DJ] Erick Morillo recently and he was very much invigorated because he never thought dance music would take off in the U.S. the way it has. How do you feel about it?
For sure. It’s like a give-and-take… I don’t believe electronic music is for everybody, especially what I do, but I definitely feel a greater number of people in the population should hear and have a chance to identify with it. We’ve actually been building the foundation that gives this bubble life.
Has it motivated you to create new music?
I haven’t been doing as much music as I did in the past. [In the] last years, I’ve been touring, I’ve been running my label and I want to get back to work on new music so I can continue the Plastikman project. Now is the time that Plastikman and my type of music needs to come back because this new generation needs to hear my take on what electronic music should be. And if I don’t do that, and other people in my position don’t do that, then perhaps electronic music will truly become pigeonholed into this sound that’s popular right now. And that can’t happen because electronic music, as soon as it gets pigeonholed and there’s no innovation and no development, will just fizzle out. It needs to innovate and move forward. And that’s happening again now: it’s another development. There’s another kid just like I was, 25 years ago, coming into a room, hearing music that sounds like it’s from the future. Like what does it sound like to get in the middle of a dance floor at [Electric Daisy Carnival] and hear Skrillex for the first time? That’s gotta be absolutely fucking mind-blowing if you’ve been brought up on rock & roll and hip-hop.
What was your equivalent of hearing Skrillex, the thing that got you on your path?
I had a number of different experiences. I found Autobahn [by Kraftwerk] in my dad’s record collection; I put that on and listened to this 30-minute piece of music and was just like, “What the hell is this?” And then my early days in Detroit, going to see and hear Derrick May play was absolutely mind-blowing. He was playing records that I didn’t know what kind of blend or sonic blend he was putting them through, what he was doing on this machine, this mixer with an EQ and making it high where my ears were going to bleed and then bass that was pummeling through me. It was physical, it was demanding, it was undeniable.
Are there any older artists that you feel warrant a closer listen by new EDM fans?
There needs to be that counterbalance and I also think it’s very important that kids, as they start to dig deeper, find artists they identify with that show this long foundation building of electronic music. Autechre is a great example; they just had another album coming out. Carl Craig is kind of the second or third generation from Detroit; he was inspired, as I was, by Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson. I wanna see Carl teach these kids what’s going on.
So there are a lot of people – there are thousands of really active artists who’ve been around for a long time, especially over in Europe, and I hope more of those guys take a step up and try to make a step towards America and what’s going on here. There are a lot of us who spent a lot of time in Europe, who want to see this explosion in a positive way. We’ve kind of all had chances to go more popular or commercial but we’ve all steered clear; we’ve just stayed to our guns and built up a long career with hopefully integrity and momentum. We’re not gonna preach to people, we’re gonna be there, and there are gonna be some kids who turn their heads and are like, “What’s that coming from left over there or right?” We wanna be that.
What advice would you give to the young DJs being swept up by the bubble?
It’s about a long, slow burn. If you really believe in what you’re doing and you feel you’re really good, then don’t take the easy way out. If you’re good and you’re dedicated, you’re gonna have plenty of opportunities over the next five or 10 or 15 or 20 years and if you don’t take a long-term approach, then this music won’t have the possibility of a long-term approach. If you’re only short-term, this bubble will be short-term, so build up your integrity, pace it out and also try to keep control. This is your life, this is your art; don’t relinquish control for a quick paycheck or a bigger gig.
Have you seen any young artists blinded by the hype?
I saw it at the EMbiz conference, just the people out there. There are so many people in business and artist development; everyone wants a piece of the pie, people who haven’t had anything to do with this music. They’re making decisions, grabbing artists, trying to be the next messiah of electronic music. Everybody is just chomping at the fucking bit right now. It’s pretty sad in that way.
What do you think will happen if the bubble bursts?
We spent the last 25 years building a foundation that is way stronger than this bubble. If this bubble bursts, there’s gonna be a hell [of a] lot of people still here doing our thing ’cause we don’t need this bubble to survive. We are on a long, slow, steady path. When I started, I was worried [and asked], “How long is this music gonna be around?” But I stopped asking that question a long time ago.