Electronica musician, DJ, label entrepreneur, and multimedia artist Richie Hawtin, also known as Plastikman, feels strongly about building connections with his audiences, especially since his music has no vocals and in his live performances he may appear only in glimpses through illuminated curtains and blankets of smoke. In this interview, he talks about how he builds those connections, and the fluid social, creative and national boundaries within electronica.
How were you communicating at the start?
In the beginning, in the early 1990s, we had snail mail lists. Electronica music wasn’t very popular. We were playing in Detroit and just trying to get the word out. People really responded to that and there was always a lot of interaction.
The internet didn’t really change anything, it amplified what was already there. If it helps reach one or two more people and they reach one or two more then it spreads globally.
What are the different ways that you communicate with your audience now besides being out and meeting them when you’re performing?
I post updates to Facebook and Twitter. I post my own updates, other people might post news, but I don’t have any one pretending to be me or anything like that.
For the Plastikman tour we built an iPhone app called SYNK for people in the audience. When I perform, at one point I can unlock their iPhones and they start seeing words on their screens and they can manipulate them. As soon as that happens, they start playing with it. It starts making sounds. And at that moment I stop being the performer, they’re performing.
In the electronica community, people want to create. The boundaries between producer and creator are more fluid than in other genres. This is a way to play with control. Sometimes I’m in control, sometimes they are and it’s going back and forth. It makes them think about the technology in their pocket being as powerful as what I have on the stage.
In the new Plastikman tour we’ve been broadcasting concerts on the web so that people can participate who aren’t there. So I’m doing stream of consciousness chatting with people in Kuwait and Korea while I’m performing.
But ultimately what’s most important is to get people to form connections in person, it’s using technology to get them away from the technology and into connecting with each other in person. For example, we set up a chat room for one of my performances. The first day I hung out in this little micro-community where people from all over the world were chatting, and at the end of the day I went to bed. The next day I was busy and didn’t look in on it. And then the next day I went back and looked and it was still going. People were still in there chatting. They weren’t talking about me, they were talking about music and they were exchanging email addresses.
Before a show I might post and ask where people are. Like if I’m playing Korea, I might ask “where is everyone” and someone will say “they’re eating salted squid next to the venue.” So I’ll go there and try to meet some people. I travel so much that if I didn’t reach out and make connections with people there it would all be a blur.
Is the internationalism of your career and the ability to visit so many different nations and build connections with people from different countries part of what appeals to you?
Travel is one of the great parts of being a musician, forming those connections all over the world. When I started way back playing in Japan, my friends there – we didn’t even speak the same language – but electronic music, because there’s no vocals, it reaches people at a very emotional primal level and we could build on that to become good friends. The music industry doesn’t talk about it — they all think about sales — but if you talk to musicians they’ll all tell you that’s a really big part of it, when people from different cultures connect around music that’s really powerful.