Once a week, a record stall would pitch up in Square 3 of the University of Essex in Colchester, just outside the entrance to the main campus bar. For my first year of studies, that stall would prove to become an expensive thing to pass on my way to dull accounting classes – as I have told many people over the years, I initially became a vegetarian just to save money so that I could continue to buy records with the same fervency as I had before I left for university; ethics came much later. Between that stall, Time Records (a bus ride away in the town centre) and Mute Bank, I’m surprised I ever had any money left to buy food, let alone the bottles of Smirnoff Moscow Mule that I developed a taste for early on at university.
I no longer have a lot of the things that I bought from that stall, but this cassette is one of the purchases I kept. A DJ mix by Richie Hawtin, this arrived in my tape deck at a time where dance music – and techno in particular – seemed to be taking over my life. I’d buy 12-inch singles just for the remixes and recorded Pete Tong’s Essential Mix each week irrespective of which DJ was supplying the mix. Colchester had one nightclub, The Hippodrome, where you’d take your life into your own hands if you ever visited thanks to over-eager bouncers and the toxic combination of students and local military personnel, and so my flatmates rarely visited there. The Arts Centre would occasionally book dance acts, and I recall going to see Empirion, J Saul Kane and Loop Guru there. The university’s own music venue struggled to attract many acts of any particular note while I was there, in spite of some of the mature students talking with misty eyes about the time that Nirvana played there, and the weekend club nights were generally best avoided; Mr C did a DJ set there once, and I recall shaking his hands while he was handing out flyers for The End, but that was the only ‘name’ DJ to drag themselves out to the furthest reaches of Essex.
This tape contains scant information, and was presumably recorded direct from the mixer. It captures a Richie Hawtin set prior to his efforts to push the tradition DJ set envelope by using loops, effects, drum machines and other kit to create new dimensions in techno, dating this to sometime in the mid-90s given I’d have bought it in either late 1995 or some time in 1996. Aside from the obligatory dropping of his own ever-versatile ‘Spastik’ as Plastikman, his remix of Slam’s ‘Positive Education’ and a snatch of ‘Rollin’ & Scratchin’’ by Daft Punk, I’ve spent so long away from the company of techno that I can’t readily identify much else. Tracks featuring 303s abound, very possibly including many of the many Hawtin remixes I religiously collected, but I certainly wouldn’t want to attempt to compile a setlist. Its pace is relentless, rarely dropping the beat at all across the 90 minute set – that duration simply being the length of the cassette, and presumably just a segment of Hawtin’s full mix. If indeed it’s even Richie Hawtin – the cassette body credits this to Richie Hortin.
“90 minutes of the best in techno trance available today.”
– Hyperactive presents – Live in the mix – Richie Hortin
Hawtin’s mixes have evolved massively since the likes of this. Compared to his Close Combined album from earlier this year, the approach to mixing here is positively naïve. “In Detroit, electronic music was futuristic music.” intones Hawtin’s robotic, processed voice on the opening track on Close Combined. “It was alien music. As much as the music was like that, the mentality of the DJs was also like that in Detroit. If you were playing futuristic music, you had to perform futuristically, and find new ways of performing, new technologies, old technologies, wrong technologies.” When this set was recorded, Hawtin had yet to figure out how he could use those technologies to enhance his performance. Instead, his approach is on deploying a dizzying number of tracks where he moves on after the main hook – generally an acid pattern – has played out.
The blueprint for what has become his CLOSE technique – the extreme extension of the DE9 approach documented on NovaMute’s DE9 | Closer To The Edit release from 2001 – is nevertheless audible here in the form of a relentless pursuit of unfaltering energy, with short builds and none of those trashy euphoric peaks that became formulaic in dance music; a focus on the rudiments of body-moving rhythms and the alien chemical structure of Roland’s fabled bassline generator.
Words: Mat Smith
(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence