Richie Hawtin actually topped the list of people CDM readers don’t want us to interview at NY’s Minitek this weekend, which I’m tempted to take as a challenge. (Hey, I’m all for combating hype and talking to the many talented but under-appreciated artists out there. I just find it amusing how much negative energy Hawtin attracts.) In the meantime, CDM’s resident electronic scenester Liz McLean Knight notes that he has revealed some of how he works live on his blog.

M_nus label owner and minimal techno pioneer Richie Hawtin has eschewed the “trade secret” mentality (and ridiculous toupe-combover hairstyle, thank god!) and shared brief videos on his myspace blog explaining his live setup.

Traktor lies at the base of his arrangement, and in particular he makes use of Traktor’s Four Decks. Much in the way Ableton Live enables live syncing of basic elements, Hawtin uses elements of unfinished tracks, such as a partial demo track from label-mate Marc Houle, as building blocks in a live set.

And in a move that some people consider controversial in the DJing world, he admits to using the Sync function, as it allows him to focus on other things such as four-deck manipulation and playing with effects, a view to which digital musicians are more sympathetic.

Richie Hawtin: My Setup

I don’t think using four DJ decks can really be considered innovative any more, frankly — not with Ableton Live in common usage and live electronic musicians pushing in other directions. But this is how Hawtin works, and he’s more than entitled that. It’s also nice to see someone who actually uses NI’s four decks rather than just talking about them. And for all the hating around here, I do think Hawtin does deserve credit for having been at the digital DJ phenomenon from just about the beginning. (Whether that phenomenon has been a good thing, that’s a separate issue to debate.)

I’m equally interested to see, though, where people go next. I think Hawtin rightfully deserves credit for his taste factor and the influence that had — even if you hate him, here’s a guy who was able to really build a brand an a musical identity not only for himself but his label and self-imagined genre. If the ongoing attention following Hawtin seems disproportionate, perhaps that’s because others have failed to fill the void or find a way to be that successful moving in other directions.

Yes, that’s meant as a challenge.

Update: here’s a compilation of all the videos. (Thanks, Louis!)


Richie Hawtin 2008 DJ Setup from Dean Koch on Vimeo.

  • http://www.myspace.com/mistormusic Mistor

    Richie is THE MAN. He is my idol. He has got one of the best minds in the music/dj industry. If there is one person that I would like to be around non stop, it would be Richie. There is so much we have to learn from him. He keeps his focus and delivers every single time.

    Richie Hawtin FTW

  • http://deleted gwenhwyfaer

    Blind adulation and blind loathing are merely two sides of the same farthing…

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @gwenhwyfaer: Indeed. So, someone care to take a more reasoned view in between?

  • Fatlimey

    I have been studiously avoiding the Minus hype machine, but looking at these videos you've got to admit her really *gets* digital DJing. His workflow is exceptional in the details he's used to make the job of juggling four soundsources seamless. He's mapped all functions to his controller so he never touches the mouse and he's using Traktor as the master sync for his collaborations. You shouldn't be looking at the demos a show of cutting edge new uses, it's a demo of a robust and finely massaged second generation digital DJ setup. Anyone can do this.

    I have a lot more respect for him now than when he was barking on about Traktor Scratch being like soooo amazing, man. Still can't handle that haircut though.

  • http://twitter.com/wesen wesen

    well obviously his setup is not nearly as innovative as it could be, but listening to his sets, especially his latest one, you see that he's slightly beyond djing as it used to be, and obviously not full liveset-style on either. still he can really be credited for a lot of innovation in the techno realm, his de9 series, also his liveset with livevisuals thingie at the time, his own controller, etc… I don't know really about all the techno hype scene hype thing going on, but he strikes me as the one guy who hits closest to home for me, being about the process, about exploring things but in a very "laid back" and intense kind of way. he's been copied and hyped, but is that a reason to hate him or to try to ignore him? I'd rather have more people doing and approaching playing live like he does it, or at least publicize it in the same way he does. Lots of people djing now with ableton, taking it a step up, but none really "exploring" it like he did in de9.

  • http://twitter.com/wesen wesen

    my last post was completely ineligible, sorry. i wanted to say: i admire his craftmanship, taking the tool he has, and working out something that's robust and works for him.

  • http://beatfix.com beatfix

    Good videos, well presented, and I appreciate everything that Hawtin has to say here. No doubt he is one of the people on the forefront of live electronic performance. The most interesting part to me was the discussion of multi-threaded live performance, using a master clock to sync multiple live rigs so that the M-nus crew can switch from artist to artist (or blend them) seamlessly.

    Of course, part of what's interesting is how, conceptually, almost everything that Hawtin discusses is fairly simple. 4 decks, adjustable loops, per-deck fx, giant searchable playlists – these are all pretty standard, technologically speaking, and as Peter mentions Ableton and other softs are already going beyond this functionality into new, more complex dimensions.

    What it really points out to me is the huge gap between creating a sophisticated performance rig, and knowing it intimately enough to create something that is both complex AND cohesive. In other words, it's not enough to have lots of knobs to twiddle – you have to know how and why you're using them to best effect.

    There's a kind of innate hubris that comes from the "live remix" paradigm – DJs assuming that, through improvisation, they can improve upon tracks that the original producers slaved over. This is why it's so impressive when it's done well. In the demo videos, every time Hawtin demonstrates one of his techniques, it sounds pretty shite – something that I attribute mainly to the fact that he's busy trying to give an interview at the same time.

    One last note – I'm very sympathetic to the creative tension that technology fosters – you can almost feel that Hawtin himself still has some ambivalence about how complicated his rig has become. I bet anything that when one of his computers crashes, or one of his multi-macros goes awry, that he feels the urge to throw down a straight vinyl mix on the ones and twos every now and then.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @beatfix: Absolutely right. Well, and you can be "innovative" and come up with something really terrible; sometimes, something that's conceptually simple is the way to go. As I recall, wasn't it a Reaktor ensemble called "4decks" that served as an early prototype for Live? Likewise, you'll see even a lot of Ableton users who don't go the DJ direction finding ways to simplify their sets to keep them musically manageable. I'm really not so concerned with innovation; I think what matters is whether something is expressive in terms of what you're trying to do.

  • http://www.gorehole.org/nostromo/ M-.-n

    thanks peter for the vids link. I don't idolize Ritchee but some of the plasticman still give me goosebum. Plus I think that anybody famous pulling the concept of DJ'ing further than putting tracks one after the other deserve kudos. .. at least they are making it personal. A lot of things he says are not revolutionary but make total sense. Hence are inspirational

  • http://nickel-berlin.com polygraf

    Hey, I had the same ridiculous toupe-combover hairstyle at the time as well, it was the hotness ;)

    But anyway, thanks for the post Peter (the videos had also been released on the m-nus podcast last month) and being so reasonable about the guy. I admit he can be a bit obnoxious to listen to at times but remembering some cracking sets from him in the past, there’ll always be a soft spot for the guy in my heart.

    Anyway, I’m really liking the new stuff as well and looking forward to seeing it live in october when the contakt tour kicks off in Berlin. The setup looks amazing, lets see of the music will deliver..

  • Michael Una

    Wait, there’s a controversy over using some kind of auto-beatmatching function in DJ software?

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but for a community of people who spend their time playing back other people’s music…

    That’s a real big glass house is all I’m saying.

  • http://www.granularmatter.com George P. Macklin

    @Michael Una: There is still controversy over DJ software in general. Some friends of mine swear by vinyl and scorn all who are performing DJ sets via laptops. On the other hand, I know of a friend who was denied a DJ gig because he intended to use a laptop and CDJs. The entire event was being done with CDJs.

    They are all vehicles on the road. Get the tunes out and people moving.

  • http://www.myspace.com/jnnx J

    Hawtin attracts so much negative energy because people feel he clones things other less famous (read-black) people did first, and gets the fame and the fortune (like say Detroit Techno).

    I've seen Rich more than a few times since 2000, and although he CAN put on a good show, more often than not it comes off as running on auto-pilot and uninspired.

    My point is although Rich might be pushing the technology foward,(thanks to all his company sponsorships) but his music is still just cloning a proven formula.

  • http://www.muloka.com/ Louis Muloka

    Link at Vimeo.com with all of the video parts together.

  • 4lefts

    how can we, have come this far without anyone shouting “magda, make the tea”?

  • tobamai

    @J: "running on auto-pilot and uninspired" are fantastic words to describe all of the work from him I've ever seen. It's fairly polite too.

    More important than if I like Richie's music or not (no really, who cares if I like it? If you like it, good for you, listen to it) does it bother anyone else to see that mess of cables he's got on his desk? It's driving me mad just looking at it.

  • http://mnml.ca/ NyQuist

    @3ZKL Same here. I found DJing complete tracks with live a bit too fixed, in terms of play lists. Just too hard to be spontaneous. Of course, it took me warping some 500 tracks before I decided this, :)

    That said, I am using Jack to run Traktor to run into Ableton — VSTs in an effect rack, with chain select awesomeness!

  • http://TEAMH8.COM 3ZKL

    pardon the pun, but you must ‘minimize to maximize’. . .

    having flip flopped between 4 decks in traktor vs ableton, i have to say that traktor is much more ‘dj friendly’. the fact that i can quickly dump any old track into a playlist without warping (or play directly from my iPod) makes the whole process that much easier.

    while ableton has limitless possibilities, i think we can all agree that it is sometimes better to limit yourself in order to garner a bit more of a creative edge.

    that being said, i totally ripped off all of richie’s custom midi controls & am enjoying the heck out of it!

  • Mike

    One think I think everyone on here will be interested to know is that. While Richie does all that cool stuff in Traktor…..he also busses it out to another laptop running Ableton…..now that's pretty innovative for DJing if you ask me.

    I think he didn't mention it as it was a sponsored video by NI

  • al

    yeah love him or loathe him who cares

    ive only seen him live once in the slam tent at t in the park

    cant really remember a bit to facucked up

    but anybody who takes the actual time to set up traktor 3s midi control deserves some kudos

    thats why im still using traktor 2.6

    as i wasnt getting the control i needed

    with version 3 as its a real fcuker to set up

    also for me using ableton to mix tracks

    just aint as fun or spontaneous as id like

    and it dont sound good when u mess up

    like it does somtimes when using traktor or actual decks

    so i took the traktor through ableton

    when djing route then im able to use my many vst plugins ive made to alter loop cut and even scratch my in coming audio signal

    then use my overdub loopers on two other channels in live giving me my 4 channels

    works for me.

  • Caspian

    Another point that he brought up toward the end- using unfinished tracks and bits and pieces. This basically turns the old "collage" metaphor for that style of music into something of a performance art. It's one thing to be able to know your music library and play it to a crowd. It's another thing entirely to be able to produce music on the fly from a set of samples and beds, and that's where he's going with this, it would seem.

    Of course, I've seen others do this before, but it was tricky, and now it's less so.

    The whole syncing controversy reminds me of the massive AF vs MF debate that pro photographers got into in the early 1990s when AF lenses started becoming common. We all use AF now. It lets us concentrate on composition, rather than pointless technical details that are better handled by a machine (most of the time).

  • bliss

    I liked all of Hawtin's Plastikman albums. Really loved Consumed, really loved Decks, EFX & 909. Frankly, I don't give shit about the Detroit controversy because I love Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, et.al.

    And then there's the bit of bitterness that espouses that the Detroit cats received more fame and riches when in fact they ripped their ideas from the Chicago scene.

    Whatever – with all of this nonsense. Love it or Hate it, is Right. I wish the players and the fans would just shut the fuck up about it all. Whom does this noise benefit?

    Shoot the piano player. And those on the dance floor. Then let Michael Jackson sing about it.

  • http://twitter.com/wesen wesen

    I'm really interested in this topic. There is so much you can do with a laptop, but digging up really interesting descriptions on the internet is kinda hard, because it often doesn't go beyond the "there's this effect and this effect and i load up tracks here", but doesn't show how the actual possibilities are put to use.

    For example, there is a lot of wiimote videos around, showing how to use the wiimote to control sounds. Or the monome. But actual in-depth videos describing how a whole set is built, because especially in the techno direction i'm interested in, the focus and skill lies on the long progression… Maybe I missed them though :) On em411.com we had a small series of "fly on the wall" videos where people would show how they work on tracks in realtime, seeing all the little quirks and doodas and the "actual" workflow. I also recorded a small video of a liveset where I try to explain everything I do:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7Zz68LVScQ

    That's the kind of things I'd like to see, and hawtin's video is pretty much spot on.

  • http://twitter.com/wesen wesen

    To add to this, I also play "traditional" music (jazz bass to be more precise), and the amount of exercises, learning material, theoretical material is just amazing.

    And seeing how far you can go with having an actual practice schedule and learning plan is quite intense. I would love to see things like this develop for electronic music, which is still quite "all-over". Reinventing instruments every 2 days is a bit troubling for this also.

    Ther ealready is this kind of "structure" to DJing and turntablism. Things to practice, things to work on, things to learn from others, etc…

  • bliss

    @ wesen

    "Ther ealready is this kind of “structure” to DJing and turntablism. Things to practice, things to work on, things to learn from others, etc…"

    Indeed.

  • bliss

    @ wesen

  • bliss
  • milc

    There's people (at least I believe) who hate hawtin not because he's hype or whatever but becuase he always acts like a dumb salesman for NI, Ableton or Allen & Heath and call it "innovation"!

    And this video is a perfect example of it.

    And the worst thing is that it becomes hype later, and all these people start to consume those products instead of developping their own ideas on how thing's can be done.

    Seriously, when I see all those minimal techno "producers" using Ableton and same set of plug ins all the same way, under the nation of hawtin, it seems to me being Nazi party and that's all.

    Waiting something surprising in techno scene is really impossible now? How long time we have to be disappointed by those brain fucked concainomans trying hard to sell their shits and their dumb followers in nazi uniforms?

    hey, come here to berlin and buy a copy of ableton and an allen & heath, and call yourself dj, at least you'll make some friends! but you'll be among ten thousand "innovators" walking around in the street with same t-shirts like you. what a pity….

  • George Kilburg

    Apparently, upon witnessing the underwhelmingness of the demonstration, the lameness of the features, and the limpness of the music, a well known religious icon wept.

  • Joshua

    Richie Hawtin was at his best back when he was busy producing tracks. He needs to take a break from djing, move back to windsor for a while, and do a proper Plastikman album again.

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  • Hungry Antelope

    And then there’s the bit of bitterness that espouses that the Detroit cats received more fame and riches when in fact they ripped their ideas from the Chicago scene.

    Totally false… The Detroit cats didn't rip their ideas from the Chicago scene, the Detroit cats where a part of the Chicago scene! Derrick May and Juan Atkins where living in Chicago and a part of the house scene from the very beginning. Juan Atkins sold Frankie Knuckles his first 909. Juan Atkins and Derrick may would be considered important figures in the early Chicago scene, except of course that they invented Techno and that overshadowed their significance to House music.

    Saying that Detroit ripped of Chicago is kind of like saying New Order ripped off Joy Division.

    Which is beside the point that Chicago House music was way more popular than Detroit Techno… if the Detroit guys made more money than the Chicago guys (I don't know if they did), it was because they where better businessmen. The Chicago guys and Detroit guys were black, so it isn't like there was racial favoritism like there is with Hawtin.

  • TJ

    "ridiculous toupe-combover hairstyle"

    One person's poison is another person's wine. I think it's a hot-in.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Yeah, but surely Juan and Derrick get credit, too, right?

    Here’s my thing — anyone I talk to, I’m going to talk to as a musician. I’m not really qualified to make grander sweeping judgments of the history of music or who invented what. I’d rather talk to people as individuals independent of all that anyway. That’s not to say it’s not important — I think it is. But if I talk to someone, I would hope to avoid any favoritism, and certainly I’m just as interested in people who are completely obscure as those who’ve made a name; I’m not going to discriminate against either one.

    Now, maybe there is some nasty politics going on here; I could believe that. I just assure you, my own part is significantly random.

    As for the computer technology, Richie and others had a hand in its development, so I don’t think you can blame them for being attached to it. But then, that’s the point — you do have to distinguish between the technology and the music. Whereas the stated mission of this site is using the technology as a window into the music, I don’t think tech is ever the whole picture.

  • http://onosendai.free.fr Cyril

    "I don’t think using four DJ decks can really be considered innovative any more, frankly — not with Ableton Live"

    I'm not agree with you.

    You can't really compare Live and Traktor for DJing. Yes, you can DJ with Live but you have to make a lot of work before (create all the loop, sync all the track etc). In traktor you do that in real time, you don't have to think about that.

    I'm also very surprised about the "sync push button" reaction. I think people don't understand the real deal here. Syncing vinyls is not a big deal, it's a technical skill you can learn in 5 minutes. It's not the more important thing in a mix. The more important thing is playing with the sound, how and what you will combine in your set. It's the real talent !

    4 deck mixing is a new edge. DJ are not any more DJ, but real time remixer/composer as well. It's no more about sync mixing, fade in, fade out, and all this kind of thing, it's creating new track live !

    Carl Cox and Jeff Mills are well knowed 4 deck vinyls players. But when they do that, they are focused on keeping all the deck in sync. They can't really create repetition, loop, new track…

    Sync is a tool, combine sound/FX/track/loop is creativity. I don't care if a DJ use automatic sync, but he have to be good :)

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  • Natasha

    Well all those people who are apparently 'hating' really should focus their energies on something else… This is not some communist dictator who has caused death and destruction to his peoples (although im sure these haters would contest otherwise).

    Hawtin is looking toward a more creative DJ future (and so he should), utilizing certain types of technology to his needs, and as a means to his 'end, whether complex or not (should this matter?). In a few years he may find something more exciting and innovative (innovative to him at the very least).

    After being a dj a few years back, i appreciate that he and (dj) others are approaching technology more conceptually and creatively. It hopefully will get ALOT of other dj's thinking outside the box, as there are plenty stuck in the box.

    It might not be live coding or live 'electronics' (electronics in the way that 'guys' who are using language applications built in max/msp or supercollider combined with sensors/hacked toys/game controllers/3d visuals and other complex devices – does that make them any better?? more innovative you may say) but its all a means to a sonic 'end'…. And it depends what sonic 'end' your after, at that particular time.

  • buggy

    I think ableton possibilities are the new key. I heard hawtin´s sessions with a lot of syncing mistakes (example: Hawtin with Adam Beyer@Mint), that´s really anoying when you are dancing. the problem with ableton: you can´t see the four decks picture at the same time and the same problem is present with the efeects. Nobody thougt of that? Please answer me. I think four screens can be the solution or something like that. Or rebuilding ableton in any way (perhaps creating a new program for djing)

    Thanks

    Beware of drugs and techno, you can end up crazy as i did

  • Bubble1

    Hi !

    For me it's all about including new technologies to your sets. And it's great.

    I have an Xone 3D and I'm actually testing both Traktor and Live, as an early vinyl dj.

    I don't feel any trouble to play with all this differents things.

    The main problem of Traktor is HEAVY Sync bugs due to its problem of detecting the tracks BPM with efficiency.

    And also the incredible mistake that makes the decks sync by pair, A with B and C with. If you want to sync C with A, it bugging as hell…

    SO, for me, the technology is not ready yet, and it's ridiculous to have these kind of, not 100% efficient tools. you still to make compromise, because there is no solid solution….a shame in 2008 imo.

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