Most folks head into Ibiza with plans for a pretty chill summer—but that’s not really Richie Hawtin’s style. The Minus label head and constant re-inventor of what we’ve come to know as techno doesn’t ever really stop, and this past season saw him rachet up the activity as usual, with his first-ever residency on the island (at Space) and now, a 17-day-and-night tour of the US and Canada called CNTRL: Beyond EDM. The tour, which he’ll embark upon with friends like Loco Dice and DJ TechTools’ Ean Golden, and which will feature guests speakers and DJs such as John Acquaviva, Carl Craig, and Kevin Saunderson, will find Hawtin hitting college campuses by day to teach a bit of techno’s history and technology to students and then by night connecting all those dots in a club atmosphere in the same city.
The CNTRL tour is set to kick off next week in Buffalo, NY, and will take him through his hometown of Windsor, Ontario (full disclosure—it’s also my hometown, where I formerly worked for Hawtin’s Minus label years ago) and other midwestern cities, but before it does, we checked in with Hawtin to get more insight into the upcoming road trip and his just-completed Ibiza residency.
It’s a little bit crazy that ENTER. was actually your first residency in Ibiza. Why do you think it took so long?
I think if you look at the other DJs who had projects on Ibiza sooner than I did, their main focus really was Ibiza—that was their big project of the year. Over the last five or six years when I guess you could say it would have been possible for me to do Ibiza, I always had other things going on. Of course, a label takes a lot of time because I’ve always been very intertwined with most of the operations, and then we had CONTAKT, which kind of took us over a year and a half, maybe two years. We had Plastikman, which took two years. Honestly, the projects that took my focus and my attention and didn’t allow me to do Ibiza are actually the projects that allowed me to build the team, and even the confidence to come to Ibiza and be able to do something that I felt was worthwhile and different.
Was it laid back in comparison to the other projects that you’re always working on, or was it just as busy?
No. I would say each project builds upon the knowledge we’ve learned beforehand, but it always presents new challenges. So I would say CONTAKT was one level, Plastikman was the next level, and Ibiza was definitely the most challenging thing we’ve ever done.
Oh, wow. So what would you say were the biggest challenges then?
Well, with the other projects, going around the world and doing CONTAKT was, I don’t remember now, 10 or 11 shows; Plastikman was 20. They’re pretty cookie-cutter in a way, like concert shows. So once you had one show done, the rest kind of followed.
You could say that with Ibiza. The actual show, once we had it locked down, each week we were plugging in new DJs and new talent, but the actual setup and the construction was the same. But it was learning about the intricacies of how to do and create that type of experience on Ibiza, finding the right people, learning how to promote and all the kind of things you need to know to have a successful night on Ibiza was a huge learning process.
I think the other ones also, if I’m very honest, you roll into a city with CONTAKT and Plastikman, it’s a one-night event and most of the time, you don’t really have that much competition. It’s such a big event for a city. It doesn’t matter how big the city is. Take New York, not that we actually played in New York, but if you roll Plastikman into New York, all the fans of electronic music who are into cool electronic music are going to be there. So as long as you get the word out, there’s not that much kind of risk.
But on Ibiza, no matter how good you are, or how big of a name you are, every night there’s something. You’re not only competing with the other people on that night, but you’re also competing with everybody else doing a night during the week and during the summer because there’s only so much money, so much energy that the people have on the island, so you really have to—you can’t lose focus for 90 days, actually, probably 180 days, because you’re promoting before and you’re wrapping up after. It’s a huge commitment and the scene was bigger than ever.
I imagine it’s also a huge financial commitment, too.
It is. People [have said] in the past, “You should do Ibiza,” but all the people doing Ibiza were saying, “Don’t do Ibiza”—not because of competition. It’s just because it takes a hell of a lot of time and resources and money. I think we stepped into it in a good way, someone like Sven and Cocoon who really paved the way for everybody on the island right now and were playing good music—they had a much harder time because they really had to invest a lot of years and a lot of money before they were able to kind of recoup and allow this island to kind of be an island of good music and not an island of cheesy trance music.
So we didn’t have to invest really that much time because we had an incredible first season. But there’s still money—no matter what everyone thinks—there is a lot of money flying around on this island for sure. But no matter how much money you can make each night, there’s a huge investment to have a good staff, to have great decorations, to promote it well. We were doing some special after-parties and we were doing special promotions at the club… and that all comes out of our pockets.
At the end of the day, Ibiza is again like Plastikman, like Minus, like any of my other projects. If you believe in the project, you invest your time, your energy, and your money into it so that you can fulfill the idea and the dream that you have in your head. And I think many of the people that I feel are at the top of their game and really delivering incredible experiences are always investing more money back into it, because these things, they’re not money-making machines that everybody thinks, especially our night. It’s not us showing up and plugging in two turntables or a computer and playing. There’s a shitload of things going on behind the scenes to create that experience for people.
What would you say was sort of the defining philosophy for ENTER. then that set it apart from everything else? What was your plan to make it different from the other stuff that was going on on the island?
Well, there are a number of different levels. Most of the other nights on the island are very—they’re music-focused and, well, I don’t even know if they’re all music-focused [laughs]. We wanted—of course, the foundation of our night was music, but we wanted to be very experience-focused. We want people to come in through the doors and really feel like they were having an experience unlike anything else on Ibiza, that we really changed the space, top-quality lineup, and just—you know, I can say, forget everything I just said and just say, I think what set us apart was the attention to detail.
And apart from that, bringing in different components to add on to the music experience like all the decoration, like the pre-party and the sake, like the ambient technology. These are all things that never happened early on on Ibiza before. And to continue this one long answer here, one of the very core components of what I wanted to do on Ibiza was to give back the experience that I had on Ibiza when I first came, and that was one of friends coming together with a family-type atmosphere listening to great music, partying to great music, and freaking out to great music. That’s what I learned at Cocoon. Over the years, I think maybe things changed and parties become—it’s been there so long that people accept them for what they are. I just wanted to bring my friends together and artists that I love and have a great time.
Do you think you’re going to do it again?
For sure. You don’t go into a season on Ibiza and do one. You’ve got to really honestly think of a five- or a 10-year plan. Thinking of a 10-year plan is a little bit hard for me, but definitely three to five years is easier and we’ll be back. We’re already working on the drawing board of ideas and concepts for next year.
I was looking at the lineup over the last few months and stuff, and the one that really struck me was the Grimes show—and I wondered how that went over with the crowd there.
I think there was an incredible buzz on the island for that show and for Grimes because for some of the people who didn’t get it, there were so many people who were so happy to see something different and something challenging within the normal framework of clubs here, and that’s also what we were trying to do with the upstairs room, ENTER.Air, where we had Mark Ernestus from Basic Channel, we had Tommi Grönlund from Sähkö Recordings, Global Communications, my brother [Matthew Hawtin], Clark Warner—people playing a different type of ambient music or even slightly experimental music, so we even had Carsten Nicolai there.
It seemed like there was a lot of those kinds of risks, which is what—I mean, obviously it’s what always sets you apart musically anyway—but that’s something that I think people really focused or would focus on. I definitely did, too, and I thought, “Wow! This is really cool that this is happening.”
You know, even some people in the beginning, they thought we were crazy doing the pre-parties at the sake bar and having Dubfire, Maya Jane Coles, and myself in a small room for 250 or 300 people. It was about changing some of the conceptions of what Ibiza is or is becoming. I think it’s a strange situation because it’s been incredible in the last 10 years, but it is changing with the rise of VIP culture and another influx of a more commercial music, these huge clubs now which are a little bit closer to Miami or Vegas style than the traditional Ibiza style.
There’s a place for all this, but it is a time where I think the underground gang of people need to tie themselves together and offer quality shows. That’s why we’re big supporters in what Cocoon are doing, supporters of—well, pretty much everyone—but why we also aligned ourselves and did a special night with Sven, we did a special night with Luciano, and I think you’ll see more of that next year.
That kind of brings me to the CNTRL stuff that I wanted to talk about. I was thinking about CNTRL as this educational experiment for you, and it reminded me of this—I don’t think I ever told you this story, but the first time I actually heard your music was in Mr. Thompson’s art class at Sandwich [Secondary School—the high school we both attended in LaSalle, Canada].
He just had a stack of records. He had a bunch of prog records and classic rock. And I remember there was a Plastikman record in there. I remember putting it on and being, “What is this?” and he was like, “Oh, this is a former student of mine, Richie Hawtin,” and stuff like that. Do you recall any experiences with how art and music were taught in high school, and university and stuff that you want to share?
Honestly, no because I didn’t really take any art classes. I was a friend of Mr. Thompson because of my brother and some other friends who were in his classes, but I didn’t take them and I didn’t take any real music classes either. But I think over the years—and I wasn’t even very good at public speaking—but over the years of being asked to do presentations (with Mute in the early days, I was doing a presentation on Ableton when they first came out in the late ’90s talking about why I was doing DE9, and honestly doing this, doing interviews over the years telling people about what I do and why I do it) it’s kind of prepared me to actually really enjoy talking about the greater side of electronic music, real concepts and inspiring people and teaching people about things.
I think right now we’re seeing a huge change in music. Kids are now growing up aspiring to be DJs or electronic musicians and it’s time to notice that and focus on it, and offer a real platform for history and depth and help this next generation along.
Was there a specific thing that sparked CNTRL, like any certain moment?
I don’t know if there was a certain moment but I’ve just been definitely—as people know watching the American scene the last year and a half, well, even further like with Deadmau5 and Skrillex, honestly I remember watching this one interview with Deadmau5 and that was actually my introduction to Deadmau5. I hadn’t really heard about his music or anything. Or I heard about it and I was like, “Okay.” It wasn’t really my type of music. But I’ve watched this interview, and I was interested in Deadmau5 because he was Canadian. I was like, “Okay, who’s this Canadian making all this—everyone is making so much fuss about them. Let’s check them out.” I watched his documentary and he made a reference to DE9. I was like, whoa! There’s a big shift now in these kids that I’ve never even heard of, kids I’ve never even maybe played in front of but maybe heard a record that I’ve done and now are being influenced.
And so perhaps it’s time to take that even further and take that influence and be more open about where I’ve come from and kind of make a real connection. I also saw that there was Caribou from Canada, and he had referenced something about Consumed. I think all these references and things that have come up, and the resurgence of electronic music in America and how different it is to what we did or where we came from. It just seems to me like it’s the right time to step up and be part of this continuum and this momentum that’s gathering.
It almost seems like—I’m just thinking about all those points of reference, and it feels like you’re the Neil Young of electronic music for Canada or something [laughs].
I don’t know [laughs]. But I think Caribou and Deadmau5, and even some other people, these people have been developing out of my radar. How did they find my music? And it’s interesting that that inspired them. I think it’s just showed me that electronic music is so wide that with all these new people getting into it—young kids, old kids—there are so many stories to be told. And if we don’t tell our story, if we don’t give people our perspective, and I mean like—I don’t know if we want to call it “underground,” but this kind of techno/house perspective—then who will? If no one does, then that influence won’t be on the blueprint of the music of tomorrow.
So how do you see a day of the CNTRL program laying out basically?
Well, it’s going to be a tough program because we’re playing nearly every day for 20 days. The idea right now is to play the gig, then jump on the bus or sleep a little bit and then roll into the next town, probably around noon. The concept that we’re playing with right now is then to meet up with the guest speakers and guest DJs of the night on the bus and do a little live-streaming variety show, a little interview and chat, and kind of prepare about what we’re going to talk about. And then go off to the lectures, talk about electronic music, and kind of talk through the program of that, grab a quick bite to eat, go to the gig, watch whoever is playing, especially the guest DJs because they’ll be only coming in for a day or two, play and then repeat the cycle.
Along the way, hanging at the gig, meeting new fans, talking to them in the foyer of the club or checking them out on the dancefloor, talking, taking some photos, some video, posting comments and ideas of what they’re saying, what we’re thinking on Facebook and Twitter—I expect to live and breathe CNTRL for those 22 days and try to inspire and educate, but also learn and get re-inspired by the people that we meet at the conferences and at the clubs.
What are you most excited to share with the students that are going to be there?
I don’t know if there’s one specific thing. I know that Loco Dice and I, and Ean Golden, and the rest of the gang, but especially the kind of inner core—we’re really infectious when we get into something, especially in myself. If I’m into something and believe in it, then my energy is quite easily transferred to somebody else and that can resonate and become very inspiring. So that kind of energy and that belief in what we do and that kind of hands-on approach—maybe talking with myself through this talking to you—that’s one of the most important things.
We all built our careers or our little empires or musical direction really from the ground up. There was no real superstar DJs 20 years ago when we started. It’s so easy for kids to be like, “Wow! I want to do that. I want to jump on stage to be in front of 20,000 people,” but it has to be more. There has to be a greater foundation, a greater reason to want to do this music rather than money and fame. I hope that comes through, that kind of grassroots working-class mentality that is very ingrained in independent electronic music. I don’t actually see that being a risk of us losing that right now, but it’s definitely a good thing to kind of preach. When I met Joel Deadmau5 or Sonny (Skrillex), all these guys, whether they are on a major label or not, they’re all workaholics and they believe in their path and they’re going for it. So I see that energy in them, too, but we definitely want to show that the energy is there from us and from our side.
The other good thing is all these new guys are like three, four, or five years into their career—we’re 20 or 25 years into our career, so that can also demonstrate that this can be, if you believe in yourself or work hard, this can be a career. This is not just one of the flashes in the pan here.
When you talk to younger producers coming up and stuff, what do you find are the things that they’re most lacking in terms of experience and knowledge?
I think they kind of expect what we’re just talking about. I think everybody is in such a rush. Music-making is relatively easy these days. You download a program and you’ve got Ableton or something else running and the time lapse between the first idea and the end result is so small. So I think kids are in a rush where everybody wants to get on the main stage, but there’s a certain beauty and purity to making sure you’re putting in your 10,000 hours to really become an individual.
You’ll actually see the logo of CNTRL is a fingerprint which is a combination of a fingerprint and a circuit board. And the idea behind that is that our fingers kind of connect—are our connection point to technology that allows us to transfer our creative ideas through this technology and come out in a beautiful way in the end, whether that’s music, electronic music, or whether that’s technology-based painting or whatever.
But the other important idea behind that logo is not that it’s only our connection point—it’s that we can only go to a greater level. We can only go beyond other people and become a great artist if we become—if we find ourselves individually through that technology, that idea that we all have, we can all be uniquely identified by a fingerprint is very important—that we should be able to be uniquely identified by the creative output that we make with technology.
That to me seems like a nice way of summing up what I see as being the major issue with young producers—not being able to define themselves in…
It’s all about originality. It’s originality, putting the time and the dedication and working hard, and finding your own fingerprint or your own blueprint. If you don’t do that, there’s no way—there’s no quick way to do that. You may make a hit song with your first or second Ableton session but that doesn’t mean that’s going to take you five or 10 or 20 years in the future. It’s finding your own individual sound.
It’s like when we made Plus 8. We had some great success with Cybersonik, our third record. I had my first F.U.S.E. record, which was Plus 8 #4. But if you listen to that and you listen to the later F.U.S.E. records, it wasn’t really until the later F.U.S.E. records, which my acidic sound was sort of coming out more—and it wasn’t really until I developed through that and I found Plastikman where that sound was really, okay, here’s the sound the Richie Hawtin, you know?
I’m wondering if you’re particularly excited to do the University of Windsor session.
I guess I should say yes, because it’s my hometown [laughs], but you know, it’s always a pleasure to go home and talk and inspire kids directly in your neighborhood. And I think Windsor, as Detroit, compared to a lot of places in America, has had a really, really hard time with the whole bubble explosion with the automotive industry. Windsor is not the place I remember growing up, so if I can go back there and inspire kids to see that there’s another possible way out of ending up in the jobs that they see in their future right now, that’s an incredible thing.
Also, I think it’s important that whether kids come down with their parents—probably that’s not going to happen; we’re talking about university kids—but if they can see that, they can also explain to their parents, “Hey, we just saw these really interesting or inspiring talks by these producers. They’ve been doing it for 20 to 25 years.” This isn’t just a new music. It has a foundation. It has a history. This is like another type of jazz music that wasn’t accepted for a long time but finally was. And this is what we’re seeing in electronic music now. And if we can inspire both the producer and their backup, their parents, their family to say, “Hey, go for this,” that’s also a great thing because it’s probably one of the most—one of the things that I had as a kid. I was really lucky that my parents said, “You know what? Okay, go for it. Try this for a year. If it’s going to pan out, then we’ll know and we support you to try this different direction rather than just becoming a doctor or an executive.” Every job is a fine job if you believe in it, and I believe in this. My parents believed that I was going to go for it and that foundation was part of what gave me my success. So there are so many different levels to go through to Windsor, to Detroit, to Ann Arbor, but then also to Wisconsin, then to Buffalo, New York, to Syracuse, some places I’ve never even played at before, and try to energize and to resonate our energy through the United States for the music we believe in.
CNTRL: Beyond EDM tour dates
10/29 Buffalo, NY — TBA // Town Ballroom*
10/30 Syracuse, NY — Syracuse University // Westcott Theatre*
10/31 Boston, MA — Berklee College of Music // RISE*
11/1 Washington, DC — American University // EchoStage*
11/2 Philadelphia, PA — Drexel University // Electric Factory**
11/3 New York, NY — New York University // Webster Hall***
11/5 Montreal, QC — McGill // SAT****
11/6 London, ON — UW Ontario // London Music Hall****
11/7 Windsor, ON — University of Windsor // Boom Boom Room*****
11/8 Toronto, ON — TBA // The Hoxton*****
11/12 Detroit, MI — Wayne State University // TV Bar******
11/13 Urbana, IL — TBA // Canopy Club******
11/14 Ann Arbor, MI — University of Michigan // Necto******
11/15 Dayton, OH — University of Dayton // Masque*******
11/16 Chicago, IL — Columbia College // The Metro*******
11/17 Madison, WI — TBA // The Majestic Theater*******
11/18 Minneapolis, MN — Slam Academy with UMN EDM Club // The Loft at Barfly*******
*Indicates date with Richie Hawtin, Loco Dice, Paco Osuna, Ean Golden
**Indicates date with Richie Hawtin, Loco Dice, Josh Wink, Ean Golden
*** Indicates date with Richie Hawtin, Loco Dice, tINI, Ean Golden
**** Indicates date with Richie Hawtin, Loco Dice, Victor Calderone, Ean Golden
***** Indicates date with Richie Hawtin, Loco Dice, Carl Craig, Ean Golden
****** Indicates date with Richie Hawtin, Loco Dice, Seth Troxler, Ean Golden
******* Indicates date with Richie Hawtin, Kevin Saunderson, Gaiser, Ean Golden