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Richie Hawtin's CLOSE Was A Fun, Yet Unremarkable Set At The Sydney Opera House

Originally published on Pulse

The setting is perfect for Richie Hawtin. Though always done with teshno-appropriate tastefulness, Hawtin’s events are often cloaked in a sense of drama, ceremony and bold aesthetic, so a stage perched between two of the world’s most famous landmarks, The Sydney Opera House and The Harbour Bridge, for VIVID’s multi-faceted art, music and cultural festival, is bang up Richie’s street. This privileged locale by sea and under star proves a top notch spot for some pounding techno and, when combined with VIVID’s atmospheric lighting, proves quite a scene.

Musically it’s an enjoyable session, but with few surprises. Hawtin delivers the rolling, thunderous bass lines he’s known for with very little melodic adornment. Rhythmically energised and texturally slick, his beats slice through the night air and shake the cobwebs from a crowd which responds animatedly with a volley of techno-fist salutes.

“How can I bring people closer to what I'm doing? How can I make them feel that they understand how I play my instruments?” were the questions which prompted Hawtin to develop CLOSE: Spontaneity & Sychronicity, through which he has carved out his own hybridised niche in electronic performance.

Surrounded by gear and scaffolding, the angular silhouette of Richie Hawtin appears as another component of the machinery itself. Having unshackled his personage from traditional booth confines (surprise! DJs have knees!) it is certainly easier to see that Hawtin is working feverishly, expertly weaving a dense and complex aural tapestry on the very spot - though it’s unlikely anyone present ever doubted his powers of electronic improvisation even when they were hidden from view.

The many cameras trained on Hawtin’s hands dancing across dials are translated into heavily altered visuals across the stage in an impressive but hardly inclusive display. You can understand what he’s going for with CLOSE; the concept is a noble one. But is the experience really any different for the audience? The heavy beats and nuanced ticks roll on, the visuals hypnotise, Hawtin pores over his equipment and the people dance.

He may well be playing those mixers like an instrument, but no amount of cameras or knees can recreate the experience of watching someone play a traditional instrument - nor does it need to. Hawtin’s rumbling techno is a powerful and entertaining force at any time, but for all his performance innovations, all that’s really changed for the audience is the silhouette.