This is how Richie Hawtin performs live
Anyone who has seen a Richie Hawtin performance can attest that it is no ordinary spectacle. Hinging on moments of madness at times — absolute bliss at others — his live sets careen like a vessel at sea, taking one on a tumultuous journey with new surprises at every turn.
So how does Hawtin — the mastermind behind world-class techno brands Minus and ENTER — work his magic on the dance floor? It’s actually quite a complex setup. Back in April, on his second CNTRL tour, Hawtin gave an extended look into his gear in a talk with Point Blank Music School at UCLA.
Before diving into his setup, Hawtin gave a brief account of growing up in Detroit and witnessing pioneering techno artists first hand. Artists like Jeff Mills and Derrick May were early influences for young Hawtin. “They didn’t care if they really fucked with the way they were playing,” Hawtin said, describing the often destructive style of mixing that was a radical notion at the time.
While his gear has changed considerably over the last twenty years, nowadays, with the evolution of DJ technology, Hawtin’s setup is quite advanced by anyone’s standards.
At the center of his setup is Native Instruments’ Traktor, which Hawtin controls with NI’s X1s and the new D2s. He uses these to trigger songs and loops which become the foundation of his set. From there, he’s got Ableton running in the background hooked up to a Push controller. He’s got his own custom drum rack loaded up in Ableton which he can then launch and loop samples from via the Push. This allows him to create new drum sequences atop whatever tracks are playing inside Traktor. Most notably of all, he intentionally does not sync the two programs, and instead opts to align the drum sequences from Ableton himself so as to add desired swing or move them perfectly in time.
On top of all this, he’s even got a foot pedal for FX and a Roland TR-8 — not to mention his favorite Xone:92 mixer. The cumulative effect of this extensive live setup is the flexibility for Hawtin to do whatever he desires at any moment, whether it be constructing a track on the fly, or layering three records together to create an entirely new composition.
Towards the middle of the talk, he admits that sometimes things get a bit crazy or overwhelming — but therein lies the beauty of the setup. Just when things seem to descend irreversibly into chaos, Hawtin pulls back on the reigns, taming the beast and inserting his control over the machine.