Richie Hawtin comes from a different era of music producing. His intricate relationship with Detroit and it’s timeless techno sound reflects on Hawtin’s inherent passion about creating a communal surrounding for a sound he loves. He speaks fondly of the times when it was a much more simple thing to meet other producers at a coffee shop or a record store and immediately hit it off and get caught up in the sense that there are people that care about that genre as much as he does. The event took over colleges around the United States and Canada in cities such as New York, Toronto, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and finally Los Angeles. The daytime lectures were followed by a nighttime event with the lecturing DJ’s playing sets. On the CNTRL Edu website, Philip Sherburne defines the event as “CNTRL is what America needs right now: an effort to reconnect the electronic dance music movement with its history, without forsaking either innovation or imagination.” and to some extent, I agree. Upon arriving at the Schoenberg Bulding, I was disappointed but not surprised to see that the majority of people that were on the standby line for Hawtin’s masterclass were male EDM producers or so called ’‘production ensembles”, handing out their business cards to other people in line and showing off their “bitchin” label t-shirts, all adequately smelling like AXE Body Spray. This lead me to have deep thoughts on the future of the electronic music community, but I will get to that later.
After a slight delay, I was called out from the standby list and entered the intimate Jan Popper Theater, where Richie Hawtin had already gotten started on geeking out over the new Kontrol D2 and started showing his live set up. Hawtin being able to have 4 tracks playing simultaneously on Traktor while also having Ableton running for drum loops, whilst being in complete control of not only a drum machine, a midi controller, at least 3 Kontrol controllers and a foot pedal for delay is just awe inspiring. He’s as much a sonic expert as he is a businessman and a truly gifted producer. It was very refreshing to see that he is very much so involved in advancing his gear setup, all the while doing his best to keep the human element involved in his mixing by not letting the computer sync fine tune everything, a process he jokingly says “would be very boring”. He takes a stab at the “put your hands up in the air” gesture made famous by the globe trotting EDM DJ’s, by stating how convenient life would get for them if someone invented a wireless controller that would allow them to mix with the “hands up” gesture. The rest of the masterclass was an insight into Hawtin’s work flow and how he manages to stay sane with all the touring and the business endeavours going on, whilst also still managing to be creatively productive with his production and mixes. As the time was running out, the moderator opened the floor to some questions, which was followed by a presentation of Pioneer’s new project KUVO, an app compiling playlists and events from clubs around the world, but most importantly audio tagging the songs played in that club so that the producers may receive the performance royalty they deserve. A really interesting endeavour from Pioneer that will surely help some struggling young producers get some much needed financial influx.
The second half of the event was a lecture hosted by Ean Golden featuring Hawtin, Victor Calderone, Chris Liebing and last but not least, Grimes; who brought a much needed DIY spirit to a discussion of producers who were experts of the technologies they were utilising. The main themes of the lecture included making time to focus on being creative, the importance of feedback for ongoing works or projects, remaining focused by getting rid of distractions or carving out a time especially reserved for making music and knowing when to give in to a inspiration. It was a particular joy to see the genuine interest the other lecturers had towards the points Grimes was making, who in my opinion was bringing in an essential feminine and do it yourself perspective to the discussion. The same interest towards Grimes however, was not reflected on the audience at certain times.This brings me back to the thoughts I mentioned earlier about the electronic music world. I don’t believe the electronic music world has a women problem, I believe the problem is much deeper rooted than that. With the outburst of easy to access technology and the act of producing and DJ’ing appearing “cool” to a lot of people, electronic music is slowly but surely becoming more and more superficial. Like a point Hawtin made during the lecture as well, it only takes a room of 150 to tweet a sound into popularity, hence creating an environment where short lived trends in electronic music sounds is in such a state of flux that the majority of new producers are actively seeking out and trying to copy the sounds of others, and choosing a “look” or an “image” to create some sort of distinction for themselves; when it would be much more rewarding for those producers and the electronic music community in general for them to be seeking out their own niche sound, something they can call their own. Which brings us to the inherent misogyny of any kind of industry where picking the right image might give you an edge. I guess that is what happens with any sound that goes mainstream. It becomes a man’s world where the sounds are as superficial as the producers themselves, and the genuine DIY spirit of Grimes when she mentions she “paid her friend a potato and some olive oil” so that she can teach her how to play an instrument appears merely amusing for the audience, with the laughs appearing to discard her as quirky instead of showing her a genuine appreciation for the true creative spirit she is displaying. I’m very glad that the rest of the panel consisted of such good lecturers and people that at least some of the points Grimes made resonated amongst highly creative people. To sum up, I admire Hawtin’s capacity of putting together such events to create communities around North America that come together solemnly under the unification of music and not an image or a trend. I just sincerely hope by the time the next CNTRL tour hits, the people showing most potential of achieving success won’t be six dudes with laptops.