One of the founding fathers of underground techno has become nothing more than an EDM conformist and hypocrite in recent years, yet seems to be immune to criticism. It's time he was held to account.
One sunny afternoon last summer Richie Hawtin played a short DJ set in the shallow waters of Salinas beach, Ibiza. Fist-pumping with one skinny arm and waving an iPad with the other, Hawtinâs slight presence was in contrast with the huge inflated black rubber rings employed to hold the speakers, amps and various other bits and pieces needed to generate loud music in the sea. The assembled crowd was a fair representation of Ibiza society â buff tattooed males, a few leggy club dancers and some puzzled family holiday makers. The occasion of this painful PR stunt marked the end of Richie Hawtinâs credibility as one of electronic musicâs forward thinkers â despite what he might tell you himself.
Richie Hawtin is no longer ground-breaking. Now the quintessential superstar DJ, he tours relentlessly in his private jet alongside his entourage of similarly-dressed fixers, photographers, helpers and yes-men, appearing at bland âfestivalsâ between weekly appearances in the (yawn) clubbing Mecca of Ibiza. Here is a man maximising income from his brand, his popularity peaking despite (or because of?) a rigorously unchanged music style.
And thatâs ok with me. There are plenty of incredibly talented DJ/Producers who are genuinely pushing the boundaries, side-stepping the clichĂ©s with which the scene is riddled and redefining electronic music as we know it. So itâs ok that Hawtin has left that behind, the remaining void has been amply filled. But what I donât understand is the almost complete lack of objective discussion about him and his current relevance to music and clubbing.
The Guardianâs weekly Guide supplement, normally with discerning clubbing and electronic music output, slips lazily into unquestioning Hawtin hyperbole. In a recent festival preview, they wrote that he is âsomeone who could have easily settled into pipe-and-slippers mode but instead keeps his finger on the pulseâŠâ More about pipes and slippers later.
A FACT magazine article introduces Hawtin as âone of dance musicâs most opinion-dividing namesâ but Iâm struggling to find divisive opinions about him on any platform. Digital media and the clubbing world at large maintain an almost authoritarian level of worship of all things Hawtin.
Where are the âRichie Hawtin is shitâ articles? Isnât that strange? A rudimentary internet search will pull up plenty of critical opinions on almost any musical artist â criticism – itâs what the internet does best! A glance to the âbottom half of the internetâ under any YouTube video is your first port of call if you want to snort up some mindless negativity about almost anything â but Richie Hawtin is troll-proof.
Iâm not saying Hawtin is shit â Iâm listening to one of his DJ sets right now and he sounds as good as he always has done. In fact, this one sounds just like a mix he would have thrown down 7 or 8 years ago. But I object to his God-like-status being reinforced by a complete lack of objective opinion on any of the big DJing websites. So I guess the concern in some ways is not that Richie Hawtin has sold out, itâs that the electronic music press hasnât noticed. And that is symptomatic of the awful quality of DJ and clubbing media. The few DJ magazines that are still surviving are filled cover-to-cover with over-the-top hyperventilating dirge which does nothing for the credibility of dance music.
Indie music has Pitchfork, and while itâs a bit holier-than-thou, dance music could really do with an equivalent â somewhere with balanced output about DJâs, clubs and records. Critical writing doesnât necessarily mean criticism, just thoughtfulness, and thatâs the least that should be expected.
Am I alone in thinking that for all the cutting-edge technology, software and hardware that Hawtin peddles nowadays (heâs a âbrand ambassadorâ for Native Instruments), his sets sound just the same as ever? Iâm certainly not an expert in this field, but Iâm not convinced that technology has improved his sound. Hawtin rattles on about technology that opens up the possibilities, game-changers, etc. but I would struggle to take any performer seriously who prances around on a stage with an idiotic toy such as this. I donât know what âtoolsâ Richie uses each night, but the tracks he plays are now so totally deconstructed by looping and multiple effects that itâs back to square one â the tracks sound different, but not any better or more interesting. Despite all of these technological âadvancesâ, the sound is the same as it ever was.
Richie Hawtin now appears at the uber-commercial EDM raves which have become insanely popular in the US. Some of these road shows such as Electric Daisy Carnival and Ultra Music Festival have migrated to Europe. Londonâs Olympic Park hosted an Electric Daisy party back in July. A friend of mine who lives nearby informed me that the noise coming out of there was shocking on that day â it probably sounded a bit like this.
If Hawtinâs sharing stages with Avicii, Swedish House Mafia and Skrillex, thatâs his business, but if thatâs the crap he wants to be associated with, then heâs off my Christmas card list. Doesnât this concern anyone else? This is what he is does now, along with his weekly Ibiza junket (and thatâs another thingâŠ). What bothers me is the excuses he gives.
One day somebody must have whispered quietly into his ear how much he could pocket on the US EDM circuit. After that it was just a matter of post-rationalising the move as âpushing the boundariesâ. The internet is full of inane sound bites from Hawtin and some of his contemporaries doing precisely this â one notable instance being when he performed back-to-back with Deadmau5 at SXSW last March. In a public discussion with him at the festival he harped on about Deadmau5 being the âgatekeeper of electronic musicâ, suggesting somehow that the reason heâs appearing with a performer in a mouse mask is to encourage him to bring the EDM fan base underground. Complete and utter badger poo â and Sasha agrees.
Much more idiotic sprouting oozed on a weekly basis from a contrived 2012 DJ/lecture tour around the US called CTRL â Beyond EDM which Hawtin âcuratedâ. The lectures produced many titbits of wisdom from various DJs â all preserved for ever more on Twitter â inspirational quotes such as âI think there is something still very magical about someone who is solely a DJ and not a producer/DJâ. I donât even know where to begin with that one. The real message here is that DJs shouldnât lecture, unless youâre DJ Spooky.
And so to Space in Ibiza, the nightclub behemoth which hosts Richie Hawtinâs weekly Enter.bash (the full stop is intentional). An event so confused about its identity that the branding for it has ended up as incoherent rubbish falling uncomfortably between at least three stools. It was always going to be a big leap to credibly market Hawtin in Ibeefa without excluding his original fan base; itâs just too much of a contradiction. So, what weâre left with is big black dots (full stops? Periods?) everywhere, from billboards to the sides of buses all over Ibiza (and the internet) â reminiscent of the minimal cool from the Plastikman moniker but a little bit derivative. Add an âintimateâ Japanese sake bar, a silly slogan (âAre you ready to take the next step?â) and of course the pop-up floaty DJ set-in-the-sea malarkey and youâve got yourself a totally over the top Ibiza party.
It doesnât really matter though, because Ibiza, as we know well, is filled with unquestioning moneyed-up disciples of techno who wonât think twice about shelling out dizzying amounts of cash for a night out with Hawtin and friends. He may not be the first to take that ânext stepâ from underground minimalism to mainstream but heâs definitely not going to be the last, as German label Get Physical is now hosting a night on the island this summer.
In this way, Ibiza and Las Vegas are converging. The Balearic island of love and music is where DJs go to die â when youâre as rich and famous as you can possibly get as an entertainer, when youâve done it all but you donât want shift into pipe-and-slippers mode, what do you do? You get a season-long show in Vegas of course, just like Celine Dion and Santana. Likewise in Ibiza â glancing up at the billboards which line the highway between the airport and the centre of town, you will see the giant faces of the DJ elderly smiling back at you â the likes of Eric Morillo, Paul Van Dyk and the king of them all, Carl Cox, whose enduring popularity is completely inexplicable. These are DJ slebs who havenât produced anything remotely interesting for years. Richie Hawtin, are you ready to take the next step?
So Ibiza is kind of like Las Vegas, but for DJs. And meanwhile, in Vegas, Hawtinâs buddy Deadmau5 is getting $400k a night for a two year residency at a nightclub called Hakkasan. Itâs one of Billboard magazineâs Top 10 Vegas musical events – along with Boyz-II-Men at the Mirage. Thereâs loads of other DJs getting on that bandwagon too, David Guetta (wouldnât you know!?) and AfroJack amongst others who have also sorted out club nights in Las Vegas. The crossover doesnât end thereâŠ Vegas veteran Elton John made a live appearance last summer in Ibiza with electronic producers, Pnau.
The obvious and only conclusion to all this is Richie Hawtinâs âfinal stepâ which will almost certainly be an Enter.Las Vegas residency (heâs already been to Vegas this year with the Electric Daisy jaunt) and with it, the ultimate nail in the coffin for one of underground technoâs founding members. No longer setting the benchmark or breaking the rules of dance music, Richie Hawtin is now a conformist and a hypocrite.