[Mutek 2003] :  : Return, Restoration, Repetition [aka, Druqcks]
8:27pm. Saturday, May 31, 2003
If day one and two were about zoning--zoning out, zone-space, zone-drones, anchorde @ Ex-Centris--then day three was about beats. I commented last year (in the Wire’s review) on the still prevalent high-art/low-art distinction often implied between abstract/beatless/arhythmic (high art) and beat-orientated (low art). In fact, after a few conversations today with a representative of the Canadian Music Centre, it was interesting--well, disappointing--to discover that such distinctions still anchor the definition of a "composition" in New Music and electro-acoustic. Beats are bad, not to be taken seriously, etc. Now, if it's one person, or at least a choice representative who might disrupt this hierarchy in a way that exceeds the austere claims of clicks and cuts and enters the realm of what can only be called the "mental," this is Richie Hawtin's investigations as Plastikman. Not only his albums, but his events, which pushed decibel levels alongside extreme durations of physical, and eventually mental, exhaustion.
Yesterday was the Plus 8 / M_Nus showcase. But we are not there yet.
First, I missed all the panels again. But I do know that the morning panel on digital distribution went something like this: all those in favor of the net (Hawtin included) argued something like: MP3s can be stored on a hard drive, and gee, a hard drive is much lighter than a crate of records. And those against said: what about money, and what about the original artifact, and packaging, etc.. And then a bunch of people stood up and said very postmodern things about the authenticity in the age of digital reproduction and so on.
Now, irony of ironies, anyone tuning into the Mutek.ca website last night to hear the stream quickly realized a key set was missing: Richie's. Why ..? Well, word has it the pro-MP3 man didn't want his set broadcast as it was to contain unreleased material.
Umm ... excuse me?
It doesn't take a degree to understand what can easily be interpreted as the hypocritical nature of Hawtin's arguments in lieu of his earlier statements and, moreover, his commercial investment in Final Scratch. It could be argued that a pro-MP3 stance doesn't necessarily entail a supportive attitude toward streaming one's set. And undoubtedly there were legal reasons. But given that the streams are non-recordable Real Audio, fairly low quality comparably, and that Hawtin was djing his new material--thus making it difficult to distinguish, in any case--the legals could easily have been wrangled. No other artist has had this concern.
Let's backtrack a little.
The day started off with a Studio event, which was primarily a grab-bag of performers who, for one reason or another, just didn't seem to fit anywhere else. As it was free, and on a Friday, it was also packed. First off was Montag, a multi-instrumentalist who impressed anyone within distance, playing a violin, several keyboards, a mandolin and a few wind instruments, set to analogue synthesizer rhythms; the sound was something akin to the source material for a Boards of Canada track. Needless to say, it was excellent. Next up was Ototo, a minimal techno act that was fine, playing unmixed tracks off their laptops and a controller-synth. Again, "fine," but the time could have been taken to mix the tracks together or add an improvisational layer; there was certainly nothing special about the performance of these otherwise minimalist techno tracks, a few of which reminded me of earlier Background releases. Then, [sic], who in a rather listenable set improvised drones and noises with a theramin-device and a few knob boxes. A non-linear journey into Jen Morris' very twisted world of thievery. The artists just kept coming ... as next was Pierre Crube. Now, Pierre was very nice, playing two Casio keyboards. Yes, preset rhythm time, all kitsch and camp, replete with indie-rawk facial expressions. It was funny for a minutes, kitsch for 5 minutes, and questionable for the remaining 30. Why, I ask, did Mutek book Crube? Nova Huta and Felix Kubin gestured the way last year as to how to create kitsch-conceptual-performance, and with exploring the realm of preset rhythms. Pierre was nice, innocent, and should have been performing at a $2 Casa show, not Mutek. Again: why Pierre?
Finishing the evening, however, was surrealist downtempo hip-hop artist Sixtoo, working with a collaborator on a Rhodes and synths, four turntables, and a full MPC-box set-up with the beats. Smooth turntablism mixed with smoother beats, head-knodding delicious, Ninja Tune style. Unfortunately, due to some contractural agreement, Sixtoo couldn't rhyme at the show [what the fuck?..]-- which is too bad as his latest album, _Antagonist Survival Kit_, is an understated exploration of post-Tribe rhymes, Anti-Pop rhythms, and live instrumental sampling. Nevertheless, a smokable set.
So then we all ate and headed over to Metropolis... and I learnt how much Andrew Duke can eat...
First on at Metropolis was a live set from Toronto techno producer Jeremy P. Caulfield. His dark edge intact, Jeremy introduced his moody productions to a slight German Can feel, bass-heavy, menacing, and slow pounding. The technoheads were out in full force.. unlike the previous evening, no LSD-trippin' goth kids were babbling over Coil. Instead, there were just the post-ravers, a few Plastikman tattoos making their appearance here and there, a contingent of recognizable technoheads from across North America.
Thus, the atmosphere was one of a highly critical cabal: either Richie and his entourage would stage a comeback, or fail. Mutek is a rough testing ground. Music has advanced far, far beyond simple kicks and sparse sounds. Could M_Nus and Plus 8 deliver?
The first sign was not a good one. Magda's set was unimpressive from all angles. Yes, she had good track selection. But who wouldn't, given she's been handpicked by Richie, and no doubt receives the best promos in the world? Her set went nowhere, had little narrative, was barren of all elements of techno-turntablism save dropping out the bass--hardly a difficult maneuver. It lacked in both programming and skills; although it was "setting the stage" for what was to follow, it failed to even gesture towards the theater. It began deeply minimal; it began with the material Richie ends with. It neither peaked nor valleyed. And from a Dj's standpoint, Magda's skills were just about bedroom-average. The predominant mix-length was about 4 bars, and these mixes were starkly obvious. I couldn't help but think .. what a waste, when Mike Shannon, Algorithm, Adam Marshall, a whole slew of talented, Canadian techno DJs could have filled this role. It makes one wonder as to why Magda was picked, and raises all the ugly and negative questions of gender in such a situation, where a female DJ, with little track production under her belt, is opening for Richie Hawtin. One can easily research her bio online; she's been Djing since 1996 around Detroit, and has been a staple opener for Hawtin since his Millennium show. Nonetheless, it is perhaps all this attention that needs to be questioned. True, her choice in music is excellent, delving far into the abstract realms of minimal techno. But she is a DJ, and must be evaluated as a DJ, as a techno turntablist, as a selector and a manipulator of wax, and, for a DJ who is nearing on seven years behind the decks (which, for a techno DJ, is not that long--most techno DJs are past the 10 year mark now), her skills are, simply, not as inventive, polished or performative as they could be [and for someone apparently tutored by *Claude Young*, I find myself utterly confused].
[I should note that all my criticisms along these lines are open-ended: if reasons can be given, preferably with a display of talent, my opinion is easily mutable. But one *must* question, and I remain adamant in refusing to play the back-patting game in this respect.]
So: Jeremy P. Caulfield should at least been given Magda's set time.
Next was Mathew Dear. Readers of Dustedmagazine.com will know I was unimpressed with his False album under the moniker of the same. Repetitive, bass-laden, minimal techno with no remarkable directions to speak of. Nonetheless, he completely changed my opinion as to his *potential*, laying down a vital live set, one that worked the crowd and interplayed a vast array of material. All minimal, to be sure, but referencing such mentors as Robert Hood, with intricate tonal arrangements, realizing the stark necessity of high-hat placement and arrangement, and overall presenting a dark platform to produce from, a dark tower, arranging noise and feedback, cutting slamming beats that delved into the potential of the mental aspects of the minimal genres. Hopefully this new material will see release (perhaps it is already available?), as it is certainly a step far beyond his False release on M_Nus.
Finally .. Richie Hawtin ..
Like Coil, Richie is somewhat mythical. His early-90s parties were the stuff of legend: a row of massive bassbins, a dark warehouse, red spotlight, difficult directions, 6 hour sets .. his Sickness/Recovery event with Jeff Mills in a cornfield .. his arrest .. his LSD references .. Richie was the main force behind a disturbing journey through the mental-altering states of minimal techno, and he's one of the originators, right there from the start. What set apart Richie were the undercurrents of masochism, a cult-ish worship for being fucked by the music, beaten down into submission. There was, indeed, a Richie-cult: shaven heads, Plastikman tattoos, head in the bassbin all night... and now, Richie has blond hair, blue eyes, and contacts. Plastikman may be gone, but a new Richie Hawtin as reinvented himself, and what a transformation it was. As Graham Miller told me that night, Richie sculpted the sound, like pottery, utilizing Final Scratch like no one else could, churning tracks into minimalist, throbbing beasts, monsters of bass, high-hats often completely removed, buried, mental programming sequences, an onrush of breath, a slow pounding ... never a hard-techno track the entire night, the set was all but unrecognizable, leading me to wonder as to how much was his own unreleased material from his new album ... for it seemed like it was all new all over again: minimal techno was back, it was haunting, it made one envision a future that could only be thought in sound. We fetishized the speakers, gave over, tired feet moving against our will, even... and Richie delivered two solid hours of the deepest minimal techno heard since.. Jak?. Skeletal breakbeat structures poked out through the howling, at points, through the live-granulation, tonal shifts, and computer trickery; what sounded like Plastikman acid lines and chords drifted in and out, leading down into isolated sequences only to open again onto vistas confined only by the distance of the horizon. The set began with no beats--just rhythms, a howling of noise left from Mathew Dear setting the atmosphere for a tension-filled entrance of the beat-drop. And then what a journey it was, although only half as long as it should have been: I would have liked to hear him take this path, this concept, this thought of sound he is processing, for another solid two.
Yes, the question is answered: Richie Hawtin is back.
Of note, the only recognizable track dropped that night was by Ricardo Villalobos, second-track to last. The fact that the material was so manipulated, and that most of it was new, and his, was testament to Richie's skills as a sound sculptor, a techno-turntablist, and to the potential of Final Scratch, despite its downsides. The question remains as to whether one can use the same techniques and not sound like Richie; and Richie used a good amount of vinyl in the mix; however, certainly, we heard a new direction, a new path, a variation on a theme, to be sure, but given that we barely knew how this theme started, this meme of technology and computer music, we have far, far to go in its unfolding.
By tobias c. van Veen