Techno Legend Richie Hawtin Smashes the Essential Mix Live Debut in Los Angeles: Live Review

Richie Hawtin

Pete Tong broke new ground on Friday (Jan. 22) by hosting his first-ever BBC Radio 1 broadcast live from Los Angeles. The afternoon affair, which took place on the rooftop deck of E.P. & L.P. in West Hollywood, featured a star-studded cast of dance music titans including Eric Prydz, Claude VonStroke, MK and more. “It’s just like bringing the spaceship down to the street, and actually being face to face with the city and reflecting that on air,” Tong said.

The broadcast was capped off by another milestone: the inauguration of BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix Live series in North America. The new extension of the venerated mix show finds Tong performing at venues across the U.S. alongside some world-class guests. For the debut of the series at Exchange LA in Los Angeles, Tong enlisted techno legend Richie Hawtin.

“He ticks a lot of boxes for me,” Tong says. “He’s just celebrating 25 years of his career and Plus 8 with a kind of seminal release of him putting out new music under all of his different guises. It was the right time, right place.”

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Hawtin’s performance began at 1:45 a.m. after a commanding set from Pete Tong. Despite the later time slot, Exchange LA’s behemoth main room -- the former trading floor of the Los Angeles Stock Exchange -- remained packed to the brim in anticipation of Hawtin’s performance. For the next two hours, the Detroit visionary put on a riveting showcase of live, improvised, minimal techno.

Part of Richie’s appeal -- and the same charm that has hallmarked his career for over two decades -- is his penchant for cerebral techno. Hawtin deliberately enacts long, extended sequences that never quite culminate when one thinks they will. He toys with the audience’s expectations like a masterful illusionist, deceiving the crowd at each turn. For his performance from Exchange LA, Hawtin’s bag of tricks ran especially deep.

Backed by his uniquely adaptable DJ setup of Traktor and Ableton running concurrently, Hawtin appeared dangerously on form. As each track morphed seamlessly into the next, Richie enlivened the energy with manually-programmed drum sequences on top. Clamorous clap rolls thundered down from the speakers while arpeggiated tom loops oscillated in pitch. The cumulative effect was a refreshingly organic take on techno, made all the more impactful by the scrolling LED visualizers on each wall of the venue.

By 3:00 a.m., the energy in the room had hit a noticeable peak. C02 cannons were blasting in frequent intervals while Hawtin’s selections had taken a vigorous turn. As the night carried on into the early hours of the morning, the crowd remained steadfast, determined to see Richie’s performance through until the end.

When all was said and done, Hawtin had once again proven why he’s one of top performers in the game. His loyalty to form remains peerless for an artist of his size, while his vision remains as forward-thinking as it was two decades prior.

BBC Radio 1 will broadcast Richie Hawtin’s performance from Exchange LA on Saturday, Jan. 30, as the first edition of the Essential Mix Live series in North America.