First & only instruction. Click on the link above and listen to this album. Sip some tea, smoke a joint – do whatever you have to do, each to her own, just make sure it is done, the mindset, the wordset. Settle in.
[For the debates are swirling through techno-lists as this album is released to the masses, sneak peek, the worshippers draw near with offerings – yet can you see the glint of knives under their stained cloaks? They are hungry.]
In some ways, Closer is Richie Hawtin’s answer to electroclash. Everyone else is going back to the ’80s. Well guess what: so is he. But this is a different ’80s. The ‘slowed down voice’ that gravels its way into faux-horror, acid-trip tonality is direct from the pages of industrial music. I mumble to myself: "He's going back to his influences. Some of this sounds like very early Detroit." Very Detroit – but lest our readers forget, Hawtin is Canadian, from Windsor, Ontario (across from Detroit), and his life of late has been one of a jet-set DJ, playing with the likes of Sven Väth at Ibiza and Ricardo Villalobos elsewhere. His international DJ sets are nothing like this album, referencing instead a scrubbed clean, pounding techno that has lost its contextual, subcultural force. This album is an attempt – as both fans and purveyor realise – to reinstall meaning into minimal techno.
The machines always had meaning. The 909, the 303, the 808 – Roland mindmachines, the blinking lights, the pulse of MIDI. But does software? Is our connection to the screen anything like those nights spent under the kitchen stairs in our dark studios, rewiring and recording into tape, hours and hours of grainy loops?
This is also not "Richie Hawtin." This is Plastikman, and Plastikman, the MidWest beast of mental fuckery, is a different beast indeed, legendary for his warehouse rituals, his cornfield surrealism driving bodies and minds into the twilight of our own sequenced idols.
Throughout the album, the pitched down percussion and blatant time-stretching sounds a little wonky and undisguised. Software makes its mark. IS that bold – like the basic use of 909 in early techno, the refusal to mask the machine – or is it because he's lost touch with advanced production techniques?
Partial answer: Richie’s sounds are still so unique, so melancholic, nostalgic, bare, open to this very critique, that I think he has peeled back his skin, to the cyborg frame underneath, to share with us his dreams. But at times, what we have is a Live 2.0 pitched down or Recycle on the loop. Digital dreaming. Regardless of what the software actually is – others "hear" ProTools – the digital detritus is either a bold statement of the presence of software or a misguided use of software technique. But like all techno that is dark and minimal, the question to ask is: is it a mindfuck?
[Listen to "Mind In Rewind." When that acidic slice cuts through the rotational beat. Acid. Acid.]
Well, yes. MINDFUCK. Concept-era references abound (which I think was some of his best, most exploratory & daring work). Early basslines from Sheet One slip the radar; chords from Consumed. What's new? High pitch frequencies; cell phone samples; the vocoded & pitched-down techno-poetry; a clean aesthetic from DE9 era running roughshod over a dark palette; and the fact that it sounds utterly different to his previous material, despite the references.
[Bytes and bits of this were premiered at Mutek: the cut-high-hat that has seen some criticism, I hear the memory now of its headchop, slicing clearly through the massive, rumbling system at Metropolis, as a few of us turned to each other and simply nodded: Plastikman has returned.]
Closer is a meditative album. No "Spastik" here, although "Ping Pong" plays a few energetic and stuttered moments of dancefloor engagement. No acid house groove of Sheet One either (that chorus – "Acid house, acid house..."), although the momentum picks up with "Headcase"’s shuffle beat. In some ways, Closer is a very simple album, and this is its sticking point. Minimalism was about paring down, restricting, bondage – like gagging and tieing flesh, a bound body, the fetish: S/M sound. But here, the minimalism is accentuated via its software coda as deceptively simple. To the point where we wonder what has been restricted and left out – has there been a M_Nus reduction, of the sort Richie spoke of in the late '90s? Or is this the additive production of software technique – downpitching, timestretching, detritus? And in debating the techical presence of software in the music, are we not adding our own interpretative layer to the quest for meaning in the nexus of human/machine? Is this not the point of techno – to strip bare the funk, to debase the sham, to reveal the fascist core of the wires underneath, the violence of the cold metal, to become closer to that which we create in our metallic movements of mechanized bodies?
It’s with "I Don’t Know" that the kick returns, and all the ambiguity, of as to what techno is, what it became, and what today, it becomes.
"I don’t know/
Whither techno? In the mutated high-hats, the clicks? The bassline from Sheet One, the 303 resurrected from the ashes of a night’s decade and decadence, the chords from Consumed, the kick from DE9, and this whispered voice – this technopaganpoetry – that culminates in what... in this sound... this driving force that propels us to bow, heads shaved, and move.
To drive the Motor City and the bridge to dusk and dawn, to fuck the apocalypse, to revel in darker mysteries of occult music – hereby, techno.
By tobias c. van Veen