Hawtin was born in Banbury, England in 1970, but at the age of nine, his family moved to Windsor, Canada; just over the river from Detroit, the birthplace of techno. His father – a robotics technician at General Motors, fittingly – introduced him to Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and other early computer music, and it was somehow inevitable that he would become infected with the techno virus. He began to DJ in Detroit clubs like Shelter at the age of 17, mixing house and techno with European post-industrial electronic body music by the likes of Front 242, and even had his own show on a Detroit radio station. He started the Plus-8 label with fellow Canadian DJ John Acquaviva in 1990, releasing his own tracks – initially as FUSE – alongside those of producers like Speedy J and Kenny Larkin. Along with Underground Resistance, Plus-8 had a huge impact, launching the second wave of Detroit techno, just as its originators – Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson – became global stars.
His subsequent albums as Plastikman and his Concept series of 12-inch releases helped to take the genre one step further in the mid-1990s. Hawtin had, by this time, established himself as one of techno’s leading innovators, a reputation cemented by his mix CDs. In 2003, after leaving Canada to spend a year in New York, he moved to Berlin – which has been the world’s second techno city since the fall of the Wall opened up creative spaces in derelict buildings left abandoned by the march of history. It’s an environment he’s found genuinely inspiring.
“I’d always wanted to move to Europe,” he says. “I needed somewhere that was inspiring and where there were like-minded musicians and artists, somewhere you could still experiment with music and with life. Berlin is so liberal in so many different ways; there’s an amazing club scene, there’s a great development software tech scene, there are so many resources here.”
Hawtin has sometimes been portrayed as some kind of scientist-intellectual figure within techno culture, partly because of his innovative use of music technology. And yet there’s also something of the night about him. Berlin has amplified that, too. “I think I’m a little crazier now, I party a bit more,” he says. “I’ve been dancing a lot, listening a lot, going to crazy parties with a bunch of really good friends – being part of the scene.”
Hawtin was the force behind some truly twisted warehouse parties in the Detroit area in the 1990s, until a local clampdown cooled the ardour. He now does his own club nights in Berlin, although much of his time is taken up crossing contintents to play anywhere from 10,000-strong raves to tiny sweatboxes for 300 people. He says that what he’s seen on his endless travels suggests that any pronouncement of the death of dance music is seriously premature.
“In the last few years, the interest in electronic music has gone back up, the quality of the music has gone back up, there’s a buzz which reminds you of the early days,” he insists. “From where I’m sitting right now, dance music is more vibrant than ever. In some countries you’ll always have the press saying it’s going down and writing it off, but somewhere else the interest level is soaring and people are discovering this music for the first time, like in South America, where it’s completely kicking off – it’s unbelievable down there. There are some great festivals and parties in Europe, and over the last five years I’ve seen Ibiza go from complete cheesy shite music to the resurgence of a number of different types of progressive electronic music.”
The Plus-8 label still releases records sporadically, but Hawtin’s main label now is Minus, the nurturing environment for a new generation of minimalist techno composers and DJs. He has also done a number of projects which fall well outside the traditional role of the club DJ, such as the music he’s composed for a choreographed piece which formed part of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Turin.
Hawtin talks a lot about experimenting, but it would be incorrect to characterise him purely as some kind of electronic lab technician. What he does has a sharply defined purpose: “It would be so easy to make something so fucking extreme and so out-there that people would say it was crazy and experimental, but they wouldn’t really like it,” he says. “As much as I like experimenting and pushing forward, I also like partying, so I’m always trying to find a way to communicate my furthest-out ideas in a way people can comprehend at this moment. It’s forward thinking and futuristic but it’s not far-fetched.”
He concludes with a phrase that sums up his mission: “I want to entertain people, but I want to take them somewhere they’ve never been before.”
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Added by rsanheim on November 10, 2006