The Creators Project: You are one of the progenitors of techno. How did it first capture your attention? Richie Hawtin: I grew up in Canada, in Windsor. The Motor Capital of America—Detroit—was right across the river and without this looming dark city right next to my provincial town, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. When I was 15 or 16, I became bored with what I could do in Windsor and went across the border and found a whole underground of record shops and nightclubs and resale shops. That was the beginning.
What kind of music were you listening to then? No offense, but it must have been tough to find a source for electronic music in a place like Windsor. When I was growing up radio was quite a big thing, and there were hardly any Canadian radio stations, so we listened to the stations out of Detroit. There were a lot of mix shows and weird electronic shows that were playing early acid house and Chicago house. Before I even went out to visit the clubs, I stayed up all evening listening to the music before going to school the next morning. The more I found out about music, I discovered that what I liked the most was made by people from Detroit. That was a key moment. When you find something you like that’s happening so close to your home you really get into it. It caused me to spend as much time as possible in Detroit. And that led to DJing? I started DJing by accident in in ’87 or ’88. My friends in Windsor were too scared to go to Detroit but wanted to dance to the music, so we went down to a nightclub in our hometown and asked if we could play our music. They asked us who was going to DJ. All of my friends pointed to me because I had all of the records. Two weeks later we threw this party, which was super successful, and as soon as the night was over the club-owner offered me a job. But over the next few weeks less and less people came because they got used to it, and five or six weeks later I lost my first steady DJing gig. You’ve been around long enough to experience the transition from analog to digital instruments, which has undoubtedly transformed your work in unthinkable ways. When you first starting using computers and other digital equipment, what were the immediate benefits? The reduction in the size of the equipment and expansion of possibilities were invaluable. A lot of my sets in the early days were quite long—six or seven hours—and I would cart around four or five huge boxes of records. Computers did away with all of that and made things more spontaneous. What’s the next step for you? Right now the problem I see with performing is breaking the visual barrier. I find it rather uninspiring to play to audience with just laptops in front of you. So I’m experimenting with touchscreens and flat-panel displays. One thing about the days of turntables is that you could see movement and action that you can’t pull off with a laptop, so I am checking out interface methods that enable me to do new things—ways the audience can see my human movements. I am trying to figure out ways to visualize my movements and the connection they have with the music I create.