As one of the most recognizable figures in electronic music today, Ritchie Hawtin is a pioneer who has explored the DIY route as an artist as well as collaborated with larger labels like Mute Records.
Initially, Hawtin drew inspiration from his peers within the music scene that is now referred to as the second wave of Detroit Techno, as well as those that preceded this era.
Artists like Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kenny Larkin, Carl Craig, Jeff Mills, Kevin Saunderson, and many others formed the microcosm that would propel electronic techno music forward, growing far beyond the fad that many thought it to be at the time.
As a label curator, Hawtin’s partnership with John Acquaviva in building the Plus 8 imprint resulted in one of the most highly regarded labels in the scene, with a wealth of classics still enjoyed on dancefloors to this day.
The Ritchie Hawtin Sound
Although today Hawtin is an internationally recognized DJ, his cult status in electronic music came through a project called Plastikman, which is one of the many aliases he released music under over the years.
His stripped minimalistic approach to dance music sets his sound apart, as well as his love for new technology that he embraces in the studio and in his live and DJ sets.
Introduced in 1983, the Roland TR-909 is to minimalist techno what the Gibson Les Paul is to rock. While you might not find its sounds on every track, Hawtin was a big fan of the onboard sequencer which of course had MIDI, unlike the TR-808.
If you’ve programmed a 909 or anything similar you’ll find it’s the perfect tool for creating the simplistic yet hypnotic drum patterns found in Ritchie Hawtin’s music.
Using a vintage drum machine simply for its sequencer might be a tad luxurious for most of us. So instead, with originality as the goal, the Jomox Alpha Base provides all the 909 hallmarks along with plenty of sound-shaping tools.
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Jomox Alpha Base
Many of the core Plastikman leads and basslines come from sequencer-based synth boxes, namely the TB-303 and the lesser-known MC-202. While one might regard these instruments as limited, they play an essential role in the development of techno and acid-house music.
They remain performance-orientated without polyphony or even a keyboard, encouraging the user to do live shaping of sounds while the pattern sequencer provides the repetitive pulse of the song.
Today there are many versions of acid stations like TB-303 and SH-101, but the TD-3 MO provides a recreation of the famous Devilfish Mod from Real World Interfaces with an affordable price tag.
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While most electronic music today is made with Ableton Live, the unique feel of Ritchie Hawtin’s music is created through the juxtaposition of multiple hardware sequencers.
Using analogue sequencers like the Doepfer MAQ provided the perfect platform for the mindset, aesthetic, and workflow of loop-based electronic music.
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Doepfer Dark Time Red
Samplers like the AKAI S950 add their characteristically punchy sound, as well as the versatility to manipulate digital audio in ways that no other instrument can.
While sampling might not be as much of a feature in Ritchie Hawtin’s music as it is in The Prodigy, for example, it’s still an instrument with unique texture and tone that adds to the overall Plastikman sonic landscape.
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Serge Modular System
Another avenue Hawtin explored in his music was modular synthesis. He was one of the early adopters of the Serge Modular System, a design which along with Buchla became known as the Westcoast approach to modular synths.
Rather than creating movement by connecting oscillators and filters to envelopes and LFOs, Westcoast synths have a far more flexible sensibility, allowing you to manipulate sounds at almost every turn.
With the seemingly endless sea of modules currently available, you can create your own hybrid monster of any style of synthesis you like. Moreover, modules like the Intellijel Bifold offer a combination of Buchla and Serge-style wavefolding capabilities.
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Intellijel Designs Bifold
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- Roland TR-909: Roland
- The TB-303 Devil Fish Mod.: Facebook
- Doepfer MAQ 16/3 Anniversary Edition.: Doepfer
- AKAI S950: Oscidance
- Serge Modular STS: Matrix Synth