History Sifter: Concept 96

If you still consider Richie Hawtin a titan of techno, you probably live in Europe and go to electronica festivals. Except as a megastar DJ, he's dropped out of any other conversations of electronic music. There's been precious little new material from the Plastikman camp in the last 15 years and the work he built his reputation on remained unavailable on streaming services for far too long. To any casual techno fan, Richie Hawtin had all but disappeared.

Even though you can finally listen to most of his catalog online, I would argue he left out one of his most striking works, and it still remains absent. In 1996, Hawtin released one 12-inch single, every month, called Concept 1-12. Each was a strident, minimal beat exploration using a purposefully restricted set of gear and sounds. They were suitable for only the bravest and most inventive DJs. Reportedly, he recorded the tracks live, in the studio, and mixed each single at the last minute, giving himself little time to fuss.

I never managed to get ahold of more than a few of the original singles—but for a brief period, his Plus8 label offered a large cross-section of them, collected on CD. The Concept:96 collection remains a touchstone of my aesthetic development. In my very unscientific surveys, the people I've introduced it to—some who have little use for minimal electronica—are unananimously impressed.

It's easy to cite a handful of releases that are clearly influenced by the Concept series. Many of them, like snd's makesndcassette, ended up as landmark records in my personal history, as well. I wish I knew why Richie Hawtin chose to leave Concept:96 in the past, while he was bringing the rest of his catalogue into the present. It's too esoteric to change the written history of techno in the 90s (or even about Hawtin himself) but it's still one of the most daring—and therefore, rewarding—albums of his career.

Strangely, it even seems the (also out-of-print) remix record Thomas Brinkmann made, Re:Concept, is easier to find. These versions were made by simply playing the Concept singles on Brinkmann's vari-speed turntable with a sepearate tone arm for each channel—the same device he'd previously used to make versions of Wolfgang Voigt's Studio 1 releases. Sometimes, I suppose it pays to have a gimmick.