RICHIE HAWTIN with BILLY NASTY , MAGDA , GREG GOW and CASPIAN RABONE at Roxy Blu (12 Brant), Thursday (October 30). $20 before 11 pm, $25 after. www.bluebookings.com Rating: NNNNN
After a five-year gap, Canada's best-known techno producer, Richie Hawtin, has finally released Closer, the fourth album in the Plastikman series, which in the techno world is a momentous event. Unfortunately, in Hawtin's opinion, the power of that event has been diluted by the fact that the album was bootlegged and posted on various file-sharing networks months ago.
"I like the idea of file sharing, and I think it can help promote the music in some ways, but in cases like this I think the momentum gets lost for actual release. The energy of everyone hearing it for the first time gets dissipated when it gets leaked so early.
"The group experience is an important part of humanity. The lyrics were circulating on the Internet for a long time, too, which changes their impact when they're separated from their context like this."
Yes, you heard right: the new Plastikman album features Hawtin's voice. It's pitched down into a scary growl and heavily processed, but the words are still recognizable. This is a big step - Hawtin is one of the most popular proponents of extreme minimalism in the electronic world, and while previous releases had samples of voices buried deep in the mix, this is the first work to put them front and centre.
"I was worried at first. I used to think I didn't like vocals, but then I listened back to the other albums and it made sense, since voices were important to them all in different ways. Working on this album was about capturing my state of mind - not just blips and rhythms, but voices as well."
Don't expect any gospel-style wailing, though. The voices on this album are monotone and a bit creepy. It's a dark and very personal album, dealing with fear, uncertainty and insanity. In many ways, the processed vocals are reminiscent of older industrial dance music, a sound that's been getting a second listen lately in the techno scene along with other forgotten 80s tangents.
"I haven't listened to industrial music for 15 years now, so I wasn't directly inspired by it. Eric Satie was the only thing I was listening to while making this record, so that's much more of an influence."
It makes sense that Hawtin is a Satie fan. Plastikman albums are notoriously minimal, sometimes holding on a single modulating bass pulse for minutes at a time. The last album, Consumed, was all about the echoes and spaces between the notes, but this one strips it down even more to an inside-your-head claustrophobia.
Most of Closer would be pretty hard to dance to, but that's not really a concern for Hawtin, who sees his Plastikman persona as a necessary outlet for his more out-there tendencies and reserves his own name for DJing and his mix CDs.
"At the beginning of my career I had over two dozen names for trying different things, and over the years it got reduced down to the two. Plastikman is the more experimental outlet and is closer to me; I lock the door to the studio and this is what comes out. This album wraps up a chapter for me, but after every album I think the series is over."