We Watched Richie Hawtin Woo Rich People at the Guggenheim (VICE)
"I know nothing about Richie Hawtin. I'm not very up on the hip new shit that happens in the world," admitted Zosia Mamet, better known to everyone as Shoshanna from Girls. Amidst the hubbub of the Guggenheim's 2013 International Gala last week, I'd found her in an empty gallery, quietly admiring the museum's Christopher Wool word paintings—which screamed in bold block letters messages like: "FOOL" and "IF YOU CAN'T TAKE A JOKE YOU CAN GET THE FUCK OUT FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE."
The party was quickly filling up with gilded heiresses, sharp-suited financiers, and a smattering of celebrities, all exchanging breathless greetings in the museum's storied atrium. "I like to go to dance parties… in my bedroom," Mamet continued, "This music and this setting makes me feel like I'm on acid." But was she actually on any drugs? "No, I'm not on anything. You also know that nobodyhere is on acid."
Indeed, none of the tightly-buttocked socialites hobnobbing on the dance floor seemed to be imbibing anything more than mini macaroons and Elderflower cocktails. And yet, the mood in Frank Lloyd Wright-designed art museum was not unlike the anticipatory air of a rave—albeit the poshest rave in miles.
The main attraction for the night was a one-night-only set by Plastikman, the most famous alter ego of the flaxen-haired techno god Richie Hawtin. It was unclear what percentage of the well-heeled crowd were clued into Hawtin's history as one of the progenitors of sleek, minimal techno, or his critical role in putting Detroit on the global dance music map in the 90s. But the bowtied dandies next to me were certainly amped. They whistled at every pause in the opening act—a sparse, ambient set by Hawtin's younger brother Matthew that went largely ignored as background noise by the glitterati.
The older Hawtin was offstage, surrounded by wide-eyed admirers. I sidled up to his circle, and in between camera flashes, asked why he chose to describe his performance at the Guggenheim as "risky" in a recent Mixmag interview.
Who was it risky for—the art? The crowd? His status as a superstar DJ who still retains a healthy dose of underground cred? After all, despite some accusations of "irrelevance" by Internet pundits, Hawtin still remains as one of the most respected mega-DJs in the industry. Music heads may roll their eyes at Tiesto or Skrillex, but few would dare guffaw at Hawtin's finely-tuned productions... although his status as "Ibiza's first sake sommelier" probably does deserve some chuckles.
Richie turned towards me, his trademark black shirt smelling faintly of roses. "I don't think it was risky for me," he said, "But it's risky to be in a different context, and actually push music in a different angle than you would in a nightclub. We had a lot of discussions over the last three or four days about bass, vibrations, and the art. And it's challenging to find the right balance between art and music. That's why I agreed to do this."
Despite intruding elbows from a few statuesque blondes, I pressed on. Why the Guggenheim in particular? Why not PS1—MoMA's trendy sibling museum that regularly hosts summer shows stacked with electronic music legends?
"It's actually a Dior event, and Raf Simons is a longtime Plastikman fan." Richie smiled and leaned closer. "He told me he's listened to Plastikman everyday for the last ten years."
A few minutes later, Richie took his place behind an elaborate cluster of techno tools. A towering LED obelisk of his own design flickered to life, nearly breaking the Instagram servers with the sudden uptick of snaps from partygoers' iPhones. Richie launched into an hour-long set, swinging from noisy abstraction to a growling low-end march and back. The obelisk, which bore more than a passing resemblence to the mysterious black slab in 2001: A Space Odyssey, beamed synchronized light projections monitored with scientific precision by Richie himself. An elderly man wearing Google Glass stared up at it, mesmerized, before boogieing back into the dancing morass.
Next time we catch the Plastikman and his light-up techno stick will hopefully be under more down-to-Earth circumstances—and ideally won't end at midnight (or even start at midnight, let's be real). But hey, the people-watching was prime and the Moët was free, so we saved our spending money for a taxi back to Brooklyn.