Mine is a belated love affair. It is one that was born out of the acorn that fell from the tree. It was only once I had gone back to the source that everything made sense. That metaphorical tree, in this case, was seen at last year’s Sonar festival. A gathering of electronic lovers worldwide that, year upon year, manages to bring some of the most forward thinking musicians together in one city, Barcelona, to celebrate a love for the modern. Its array of technological displays goes far beyond the simple aural concept of the output of music – it is a conglomerate of its visual form as much as anything. So, come the twilight hours of the festival’s first nightly sojourn, it seems only appropriate that the live reutrn of Plastikman to these shores is the thing that has brought everyone together.
Sonar would not be what it is to this day without Richie Hawtin – the man behind Plastikman. His most recent forays under his own name, and with his own Minus label, have led him around the world with displays of awesome electronic power that have brought in everything from audience participation in the form of the Synk application – a smartphone app that brought the ability for punters to control elements of live shows – to him being named as one of Mixmag’s greatest DJ’s of all time just last year. His ability to transcend the dance floor is second to none, but it is his return to his Plastikman disguise that has brought a warmth back to the heart of his adoring masses – a name born from his influential status as part of the Detroit techno movements in the early 1990′s and one that still coarse with more influential blood today than, arguably, ever before. This timely release of of his canon in the form of Arkives then is not just a reminder to those in the know of Hawtin’s brilliance, but an intense introduction and sucker punch to those who thought they may know it all about modern electronica.
After all, seeing its chronological formation – starting with 1993′s Sheet One and running through to 2003′s (so far) final opus Closer – in it’s all its glory really hammers home the essential nature of Hawtin’s pseudonym. The minimal magnificence of the likes of Plasticene radiates something for the newer fans like myself, proving that the likes of Audion, Pantha du Prince and so, so many other of the new set would have been completely lost if it were not for this sort of subtly twisting, sonic intricacy. Moving through Muzik, tracks like ‘Plastique’ are a demonstration of just where the artist like Modeselektor and their German counterparts have been influenced from (not forget the visual aspect to all and sundry that plays just as important – Pfadfinderei playing along in Berlin, whilst Hawtin and co. use spherical light demonstrations and the the like to detail a visual aspect to his sounds).
To do Plastikman such an injustice as to simply pinpoint his work as ‘minimal’ does somewhat do a disservice to how diverse his sound was (and still is), as that last name check would certainly imply. Taking another brief example in the form of 1994′s Muzik, and specifically the surreal sounds behind ‘Kriket’ – a track built on familiar electronic pulses encompassing an arid landscape of manipulated cricket noises and wobbling bass lines – Hawtin’s sound was built around techniques that were rooted in the manipulation of the organic as much as they were the mastering of the synthetic. In fact, the timing of his rise in line with a lot of the Warp Records artist in the UK (despite obvious, but probably unfair, genre segregation) has proven to be as vital to today’s electronic uprising as ever.
Just to look at his back catalogue of remix work shows the reverence outside of his electronic sphere as well. Reworks of the likes of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’, a mix that turns the original’s infamous introductory winces of synthesisers alone and smashes it through walls of percussive brick, showcase a respect and love for the original’s blueprints alongside an inimitable nous on how to manipulate sounds over a dissection of music to create an awesome selection of intricate reinterpretations. That same thought process must flow through those who have taken their hand to reworking the Plastikman tunes themselves – the likes of Moby and Carl Craig choosing not to meander too far of their original streams. Whether this is for fear of not being able to recreate the power of the original or merely to emphasise it is completely subjective. but that sort of philosophical musing behind the music is another pointer of just how the Plastikman aesthetic goes far beyond just the music itself.
Such thought-provoking work is, after all, where Hawtin’s strength lies – even to this day with his current Minus imprint working alongside his new found musical soul mates like Magda, Loco Dice and Gaiser. His infectious manipulation of sonic is an intelligent mastery unmatched by many, if not all, who have followed in his footsteps. Whether it be under this Plastikman alias, or any of his others, his is a distinct sound that will forever be recognised as one of the most important n electronic music both today and beyond. And while Arkives will inevtiably endear his current disciples to him even more than the casual listener – especially given its comprehensive and uniquely packaged digital and physical forms – but even the less engrained would be hard pressed to argue that Plastikman is as essential to modern electronica as any other name out there.