Richie Hawtin wants to ‘bring back quality to the DJ booth’ with his new mixer [Interview]
“What we’ve been faced with as the DJ and the artist, is playing on things that were envisioned in a different time.”
Richie Hawtin has always been regarded as a technologist, but with his latest venture, he’s taken this identity to new heights. Last week, the techno pioneer officially unveiled his custom DJ mixer, Model 1: a collaboration with highly touted product developer Andy Rigby-Jones (of Allen & Heath fame). The first product under their new PLAYDifferently umbrella. it’s an avant-garde piece of gear aimed squarely at high-fidelity DJs.
“The grounding concept was to bring back quality to the DJ booth,” Hawtin says. “A lot of the mixers that are out there are 10 to 15 years old. Even the brand new ones are revisions of ones that have been done for a long time.”
Hawtin sensed a void in the DJing world — particularly in the realm of mixers — and like any good entrepreneur, sought to fill it with an innovative solution. Rather than simply bring an updated model to the table, he wanted to create something new altogether:
“However many DJ mixers there are out there, they all pretty much do the same thing,” he says. “We wanted to offer something that was a different way of mixing.”
One glance at the Model 1 will confirm what Hawtin says. For starters, the mixer features six channels, with two more for return tracks, meaning 8 manipulable audio channels in total (4 more than most garden variety mixers). What’s more, Hawtin has completely revamped the filter and EQ section of a standard mixer. With separate lo-pass and high-pass filters (as well as a master filter), a single, adjustable, parametric EQ per each channel, and a master EQ section, the Model 1 essentially allows one to utilize 3 filters and two EQs all at once — which, in the hands of an artist as formidable as Hawtin, provides quite the canvas for sound sculpting.
Beyond this, the mixer is completely analog. “There’s no digital circuitry,” Hawtin says. “We know people are gonna plug in lots of different devices and we thought analog would be the best unifying way to mix those all together.”
“The sound is blowing everyone away. It feels and sounds bigger, and thicker, but still well-defined.”
One of the main draws of the new Model 1 is the sound. “We wanted at first to come back and create a mixer that just sounds absolutely incredible,” Hawtin says. As an artist who’s been performing over two decades now, you can imagine Hawtin is quite particular when it comes to acoustics. Part of the appeal of the Model 1 is thus upping the ante of sound quality to match both Hawtin’s standards and that of modern nightclubs:
“In the earlier years, the sound systems weren’t that good,” Hawtin says. “Now you have clubs around the world, part of their promo is how much money they spent on the system, which engineer they use, which custom tweeters they have. The quality on the dancefloor has just taken incredible leaps and bounds. It’s beautiful. But as all of that has been progressing, the actual main hub of the whole experience, the DJ mixer, I don’t really think it’s caught up or stayed up to date.”
Outside of its high fidelity audio, Model 1 is well-equipped for collaborative DJ sets. With two independent headphone cues, it allows both DJs to be tuned into what the other is doing while simultaneously focusing on their own role. “You can both be playing, listening and preparing and really have a collaborative experience,” Hawtin says. “It’s much more of an intimate, fun collaboration.”
As it happens, Hawtin’s been road testing the unit for about a year now, collaborating with plenty of world-class DJs along the way. One such artist was Maceo Plex, whom Hawtin hosted at his summer residency at Space Ibiza last fall. Not only was it the first time the two have ever performed a B2B set together, but it was Maceo Plex’s first time on the mixer as well. “He saw in the mixer 15 minutes before, he said ‘ok I understand it, I wanna go for it,’” Hawtin says. Listening to the set, you’d have no idea, as it sounds like the kind of fresh, full-bodied fusion you’d expect from their inimitable styles. If anything, it’s a testament to just how intuitive the new mixer is.
Maceo Plex isn’t the only globe-trotting techno icon who’s been fond of the new unit. Hawtin dished out 8 prototypes to some of his most respected peers, including Loco Dice, Nicole Moudaber, Chris Liebing and more. “The sound is blowing everyone away. It feels and sounds bigger, and thicker, but still well-defined,” Hawtin says. “[Loco] Dice won’t give his back,” he laughs. What’s more, some of the DJs are already beginning to develop signature moves on it. Loco Dice, for instance, has taken a liking to the parametric EQ, setting a notch between 60-100hz and bumping it up or precisely taking away the kick. It’s this kind of personal flexibility that Hawtin is looking to foster with the unit: “this mixer will sound great if you just play one track left and right. But if you want to get deeper into the sound, you have a lot of opportunities to do that.”
Ultimately, the Model 1 is just the beginning of a larger vision from Hawtin: “PLAYDifferently was a dream first off to create a mixer, and we’ve learned so much from this, we’re gonna see where it takes us.”
Richie Hawtin’s Model 1 mixer will be officially released on June 30. More info can be found on PLAYDifferently’s website.