We caught up with Richie Hawtin, a.k.a. Plastikman, at Coachella over the weekend and asked him a few questions about technology and the state of North American dance music. Hawtin has pioneered the use of Ableton Live software to atomize and reconstruct tracks on-the-fly during DJ performances and has now turned to his own iPhone app, called Plastikman Sync, to allow interactive, audience input at his live events. He debuted the app for the first time in the U.S. Sunday at Coachella.
LA Weekly: What inspired you to integrate an iPhone app into your set.
Hawtin: I think a great concert experience is when unexpected things happen and when people come together to experience something that goes beyond music. The idea was to throw something into the mix that would heighten that experience. With the app we're able to send people messages, we're able to actually synchronize things that are happening on stage with the iPhone apps, we're even actually allowing people to actually have access to my set-up, you know, triggering sounds. So everyone talks about technology democratizing everything. With our app we will actually blur the lines between the performer and the audience, actually forcing questions of, who is the performer, who is being in control, It is an experiment.
Are you still using Ableton Live software to perform?
We are using Ableton Live, Ableton is actually controlling and opening pages on the iPhone app. Where we're at today technologically, there's some unbelievable software that's out there. We put together some off-the-shelf programs and customized how they interact with each other to create something different than anyone else is doing.
You're based in Europe now, where everyone seems to think the edgiest electronic music is being made today. How do you think the American scene can catch up?
Well, to catch up would be hard in a way because it's been sustained for so long there. I haven't spent too much time in America in the last year, but the vibe I'm getting about New York and especially L.A. and the West Coast is that it's really really vibrant here again. And so it's not about catching up, it's about following your scene and your location's individual path. And that's what electronic music's about. There shouldn't be one electronic music hit everywhere, like Jay-Z is everywhere. Electronic music is like a snake that you can't grab. So it should be different in different scenes. That's what makes it interesting.
Has the popularity of dance-crazed acts like Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas pulled more people into the core electronic music scene?
Yeah, I think Neptunes, N.E.R.D., these guys, some of the other hip-hop artists from five, six, seven, eight years ago were already paving that way, electrifying their sound, freaking out their low bass-lines and just integrating weird snare hits. You know, it's very hard to get people to be entertained by something they don't understand, something that they're not familiar with. And that's what's been happening is they've been teaching everybody the language of electronic music, and now I think that a wider audience accepts and appreciates what some of us are trying to do.