- A three-album box set showcasing Richie Hawtin's extraordinary early talent.
- In 1990, Plus 8, the techno label run by Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva, released a controversial 12-inch. The white label Technarchy, by Cybersonik—Hawtin, Acquaviva and Dan Bell—bore a red stamp that read, "The Future Sound Of Detroit." It pissed people off. Some felt Hawtin and Acquaviva, who are white and Canadian, had no right to say so, regardless of how often they'd crossed the river to DJ or party. Others, including Mike Banks, were more sympathetic—"I think, personally, it was done actually out of respect… these guys really admired the Detroit music, it influenced them," he said. The episode underlined Plus 8's outsider status—records like Elements Of Tone and "Thrash" showed they had as much in common with European scenes as they did Detroit's. As the fifth entry in Warp's Artificial Intelligence series, Hawtin's debut album had similarly strong ties across the Atlantic. Dimension Intrusion, part of a three-album, 25th-anniversary reissue by Plus 8 and The Vinyl Factory, was recorded under his F.U.S.E. alias, which combined Detroit techno's clacking percussion with Phuture-inspired squeals of acid.
Warp's series was designed for "long journeys, quiet nights and club drowsy dawns." Though some tracks—like the still exceptional "F.U." and "Substance Abuse"—were made to get dance floors moving, Dimension Intrusion is a balmy afterparty record at heart. Of the LP's downtempo tracks, "UVA" is particularly striking. Soothing synth chords, laser-like zaps and a subtle 303 bassline quickly establish a rich yet mysterious mood, at once yearning and urgent. It's easy to imagine as Hawtin's own theme for the rebel hero Jessica in Logan's Run, the 1976 film that helped inspire Dimension Intrusion. The '70s sci-fi themes land in subtler ways, too. The LP's shifts between whimsy and suspense—take the menacing, Model 500-like bassline funk of "Another Time (Re-Visited)," and the next track, The Orb-evoking chill-out of "Theyxch"—reflect that film's giddy dystopia, where even the most ominous scenes can't obscure the fun everyone is having. The album is full of optimism for the future.
Whatever Dimension Intrusion's debt to other producers, it also shows Hawtin surpassing his influences. "Slac"'s slinky 303 lines and erratic percussion are unlike anything else on the LP, and is an early draft of the eerily minimal acid he'd go on to make as Plastikman. Dimension Intrusion found him expanding the edges of F.U.S.E.'s ravey acid sound, but Computer Space sounds like Hawtin's creative breakthrough. Is it a great album? You might not immediately think so. The title track—37 minutes of beam-like 303s scanning desolate sonic space—is totemic, forbidding, and far less friendly than much of Dimension Intrusion. But as a training exercise it was crucial. Unlike the bits-and-pieces way Dimension Intrusion came together, Computer Space is a self-contained world, full of lean loops and strange acid textures, which Hawtin achieved by feeding 303 sounds through an Akai S950 sampler. It set him on the path to Sheet One, the Plastikman album that defined Hawtin like no other.
Computer Space is as abstract as it is inventive, which may explain why it's been shelved till now. Hawtin didn't have much joy selling an ambient LP to hesitant record execs in 1993. But he was in good company—Renaat Vandepapeliere, R&S's cofounder, once told me how dismissive his peers had been of AFX's Selected Ambient Works 85–92, released only months prior. Had Hawtin found an enthusiastic listener in a high enough place, Computer Space might have attained something like cult status. "Sanctuary"'s soft acid phrases, which flutter like kite ribbons against a seaside breeze, amount to a sharper version of "Theyxch," and a truer complement for Matthew Hawtin's strikingly minimal artwork. "Runner," a squishing, throbbing 303 track that is almost creepily alive, is Hawtin at his mind-melting best. Computer Space is an understated gem.
You wouldn't say the same about Dimensions (25th Anniversary Edition). The package's three records—including Train-Tracs, expanded from the tracky EP originally released on Warp—booklet and artist-grade prints of the LP covers, all by Matthew Hawtin, cost £300. Those who buy vinyl regularly would rightly call that a rip-off (the iTunes versions fall just short of £20). Hawtin, though, hasn't had that buyer in mind for a long time. In 2007, he predicted vinyl would soon be a "limited specialised market for people who choose to collect records as pieces of art." Given the depth of his brother's involvement—the box set also includes an essay by Matthew Hawtin, a professional visual artist—that conviction obviously still stands. Fair enough. Summing up his business partner's growing fascination with the art world, Acquaviva recalled a day with Hawtin, sometime after the mid-'90s, at a Rothko exhibit in the Smithsonian. He said it felt like "our last date before breaking up."
Hawtin once described his pet hate. "I think everybody wants to look up on stage and see someone doing something," he said. "If they see someone who they think is just checking their email, or… [a DJ] turning around, talking to his friend, having a smoke, and then playing another record, that's not very engaging—that's downright boring." His recent endeavours, like the Close show and the PLAYdifferently mixer, have shown his interest in debunking the stereotype of the DJ as an idle, hands-in-the-air show-off. He sees electronic music as art, and Dimensions (25th Anniversary Edition) combines the two like never before. But it highlights the sharpening contrast between Hawtin's past and present. The box set charts the emergence of an extraordinary and prolific talent. It's also a reminder of how far from the coalface of producing Hawtin has been. 2015's middling From My Mind To Yours aside, his musical output in the last decade has been scarce. Dimensions (25th Anniversary Edition) is a handsome reflection on Hawtin's legacy. It might, I hope, inspire him to get his hands dirty again.
01. A New Day
04. Dimension Intrusion
05. Substance Abuse
06. Downbeat (Unreleased)
07. AnotherTime (Revisited)
09. Time Stop (Unreleased)
13. Into The Space
14. Logikal Nonsense
06. The Day After (MV's Mix)
01. Computer Space
04. Last Day
05. Computer Space Album Mix