It’s pretty easy to take the piss out of Richie Hawtin these days. The silly haircuts, the silk scarves, the frolicking around in kiddies paddling pools with mates, the sake, the increasingly bland music and the painfully obvious attempts to rebrand himself as some sort of cool big brother to EDM have resulted in Hawtin being viewed by many as an embodiment of everything that is Wrong and Bad in electronic music. Go on, admit it: you probably agree. What’s more, you’ve probably used his current status of Pantomime Dame of Berlin to excuse yourself when you’ve muttered the all but inevitable ‘I never liked him anyway’.
Whatever Hawtin is nowadays, or whatever he might morph into somewhere further down the road, only someone with the narrowest tastes, or a profound lack of knowledge of electronic music history could discount the role he has played in its evolution. The mythology is, of course, just that; placed squarely amongst the likes of Underground Resistance and Carl Craig as part of the second wave of Detroit techno, Hawtin always seemed Detroit by a quirk of geography more than anything else. An English kid transplanted to the Canadian town of Windsor just a stone’s throw away from the Motor city, his music never seemed particularly close to that of his immediate peers.
Beyond his own musical output, though, it was the Plus 8 record label, started with school friend John Acquaviva that had a truly lasting impact on the direction electronic music would take throughout the nineties. It provided an outlet for some great tunes from the likes of Ian Pooley, Kenny Larkin, Sysex and Vapourspace. It’s ethos of a partly raw, partly playful acid techno sound shaped so much of what came later, and elements of it even predicted the rise of tech-house and minimal long before those genres existed, let alone became anodyne and formulaic. It was an incredibly progressive label in so many ways; a hotbed of invention and a production line for a number of records that no self respecting DJ would dream of leaving the house without.
Plus 8’s sub label, Definitive, was often the more straight up housey of the two. Check out some of those old records by the likes of Omegaman or Chuck Phulasoul and listen to the way they give releases by labels like Guidance a run for their money. Still acid at heart, they hail back to a time when the underground was capable of putting out big, big tunes without feeling guilty or without accusations of selling out.
Originally released on Definitive’s, um, definitive compilation ‘Acid House For All’, Horton’s Groove was the work of Jochem Paap, an artist whose own career mirrors Hawtin’s in many ways. Best known, of course, for his Speedy J guise, Paap was one of the original stars of Plus 8, and one of the early European producers to really take an fairly American sound and rework it into something new. He now may well have gone down a similar path as his long time friend into a fairly humdrum musical cul-de-sac, but you can’t really doubt his pedigree.
Horton’s Groove even by Definitive’s standards, is a bit of an oddball. It is, however, a perfect Friday Night Tune, and pitched somewhere between house music, funk and something altogether weirder. It is almost impossible to categorize it. A shambling, deeply tripped out and dubby number it’s beauty and fun lies in the way it sounds like the product of an unhinged jam session between live musicians and a mad eyed, bass playing acid robot from a twisted future where techno won the war. Better still there is something to it reminiscent of Weatherall produced Primal Scream or even the Happy Mondays. All it lacks are Shaun Ryder’s gutter messiah vocals.
It’s also a reminder that great music or artistic contributions don’t stop being great just because you don’t like the person responsible any more. And that, my too-cool-for-school friends, remains true no matter how many stupid haircuts are involved.