- When Richie Hawtin was invited to play at the Guggenheim's International Gala last fall, he took the opportunity seriously. Instead of giving the crowd of celebrities and socialites a typical Hawtin set, he holed up and wrote an album's worth of new material. Plastikman material, to be specific, which meant brooding techno in the vein of his finest work. Now Mute have packaged that set as a live album, the closest thing to a new Plastikman record since 2003's Closer. More of a tantalizing snapshot than a proper LP, EX leaves a little to be desired, but it also shows that Hawtin hasn't totally lost the genius that made his early work so beloved.
EX doesn't offer any surprises for fans of vintage Hawtin, but there's a real thrill in hearing that unmistakable synth line hit in "EXposed." Bare and unfussy, the album recalls Closer, which put a more polished spin on the Plastikman formula. EX works with a similar palette: strands of 303, pitter-patter drum machines and somber synths that feel out the space around them. Perhaps owing to Hawtin's latter-day big room leanings, that space is suddenly huge and enveloping, even with the minimalist style. Otherwise, the Ibiza flourishes are kept mostly in check, aside from a dramatic synth swoosh here and there. Only the bobbing tech house bassline of "EXplore" or the regrettable whoopie-cushion bassline of "EXtrude" pander to the kind of parties Hawtin most often plays these days.
The rest of EX is careful and methodical. There's some heavy duty low-end, but it's restrained. Even the bleeps and playful hi-hats of "EXpire"—which sounds like it might burst at the seams—don't deliver the resolution they promise. Instead, Hawtin fades back out with the spare "EXhale," squeezing some final resonance out of those well-worn sounds. This one is the album's best—it could easily fit on a classic Plastikman record—but it's an ending that will inevitably leave some underwhelmed. It's likely a result of circumstance: you can't just let it rip at a fancy gala.
Which makes it frustrating that Hawtin would release EX instead of a proper Plastikman album. It's easy to daydream about the kind of post-production wizardry he could have applied to a studio recording, and as much of a landmark as the Guggenheim gig might have been for him, it's less exciting as a recording. The first new Plastikman material in over ten years was always going to carry some high expectations, and as solid as it is, this one doesn't quite match up. The way it's presented, EX feels like a bone to chew on while we hope for a fuller meal.