The closest thing to a household name in the world of underground electronic music, Richie Hawtin has been one of techno's greatest artists, innovators and statesmen for more than two decades. Consistently recognized as one of electronica's most successful and accomplished talents, the Canadian-reared musician was present for the birth of Detroit techno and active in that city's club scene from an early age -- first as a fan, then as a DJ, then as a pioneering producer and label boss.
Hawtin made a hotly anticipated stop in Denver yesterday, playing in front of a near-capacity Thursday-night crowd at Beta. I arrived at the club early, at 9:30 p.m., to check out the opening sets by Sergio Santana and Wolfe.
Santana started the night off with some thumping, Hawtin-worthy hard techno. He had the small crowd of early-comers grooving to his set, which was at an appropriate mid-volume, if not necessarily an appropriate tempo for that point in the evening.
Wolfe went on at 10:30 (full disclosure: I consider Wolfe a good friend). Wisely taking things down a notch, his set was funky and bass-heavy. After a string of successful, high-profile opening gigs at Beta, he's really developed his own unique sound that seems like a great fit for the club, and he got a good response from the patrons.
Beta erupted as Hawtin materialized in the DJ booth an hour later. One of the true superstars of electronic music, Hawtin is preceded by his reputation, and he didn't disappoint last night, delivering a meticulously layered set that maintained constant intensity via near-flawless mixing and programming.
The sub-bass emanating from Beta's much-touted Funktion One sound-system was gut-jarring but positively euphoric. Pulsating strobes and Beta's recently acquired fog machine added to the intense atmosphere on the crowded dance floor. Go-go dancers in green and black leotards called to mind the Wicked Witch of the West, a refreshing change from the usual ensemble of played-out moonboots and glorified underwear.
Interestingly, Hawtin seemed to play (from my vantage point) mostly from hardware rather than from a laptop. One of the things I've always admired about Hawtin is his ability to carefully balance the use of new technology in deejaying as the craft moves forward into the 21st century, while also retaining a strong sense of purism and respect for tradition. He's an artist who's always stayed true to his roots while still managing to innovate and push forward.
One complaint I did have was the lack of seating. Virtually every seat in the house was reserved for bottle service. Having nowhere to sit (at least not indoors) made things a little uncomfortable at times. It would be nice if Beta could set aside at least a few benches for regular club-goers someplace indoors.
Aside from that, this was, in my estimation, an excellent night at Beta. When the club opened in 2008, it set a new standard for Denver nightlife in terms of its world-class sound, green design and commitment to quality music. The turnout last night demonstrated that there is ample support for underground techno in Denver, even on a Thursday night.
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Personal bias: I've been a huge fan of Hawtin's deejaying and production, including his Plastikman output, since the '90s. Random detail: Quote of the night goes to Random Drunk Guy in the bathroom: "Every time I come in here, it smells like shit. I like to smell my own shit, but not other peoples'." Classy! By the way: If you're even just a casual fan of electronic music, you have to see Hawtin if you missed him last night. He's the real deal.