Review of Arkives Album by Plastikman

Richie Hawtin is one of those iconic figures in electronic music culture/folklore who inspires almost religious devotion, having been one of the pioneers of the second wave of Detroit techno at the beginning of the 1990's. Born in Oxfordshire but relocating with his parents to Windsor, Ontario in the late seventies, Hawtin was introduced to the likes of Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk by his boffin father and subsequently went on to co-found the much venerated Plus 8 label, recording solo as F.U.S.E and latterly, Plastikman.

Plastikman Arkives Album

Named after a piece of DJ equipment which was used to speed up the tempo of more laid back house records to greater extremity for the rave generation, +8 would go on to create a notable legacy, releasing the likes of Final Exposure's Vortex and Circuit Breaker's Overkill. As the story goes Hawtin was at Rotterdam club witnessing in person the results of his label's flight-to-hardcore on a crowd of gabba enthusiasts when the brutality and sheer tribalism of the audience reacting to his music prompted a change of direction. Cue Plastikman.

Since the moniker's 1993 debut album Sheet One - the cover of which so accurately depicted an acid blotter that a man was arrested by the Texas police when they found it on the front seat of his car - Hawtin has swapped hyperextended beats for a more dextrous minimalism. Producing five studio albums since then, the lure of DJ'ing and side projects such as composing a piece for the Winter Olympics in Turin's opening ceremony appeared to signal a lack of interest, but the seven year hiatus since 2003's Closer was finally plugged this year by the reimaginings of Kompilation.

That, as they say, was just the beginning. The scope of Arkives is breathtaking - each of the original Plastikman album releases is delivered in remastered form, along with five other CD's of hard to get or unreleased material in special packaging. Not enough? well, it also comes with a 64 four page book, a DVD of promotional videos AND for the diehards - the physical release is limited to exactly the number pre-ordered - comes a code which lets you download even more. I think we can now agree that we're taking the term completist to a whole different level here.

So what does it sound like? Well, the promotional version issued to us is a measly double CD consisting of 'The Albums' - which features selected album tracks - and 'The Extras' - which contains amongst a clutch of remixes the recently releases single Slinky. The former charts an evolution from the largely familiar acid tinged nostalgia of Plasticene and Koma, (A sound more accessibly explored by Orbital in their early work), to Closer's Mind Encode and Lost, both entirely more cinematic, swathed in atmospherics and spaces for the imagination to expand into.

The second disc is arguably of more interest, the source material being taken from a disparate range of dusty cupboards and featuring work on and by other artists. It's the trio of remixes done to Hawtin's that most catch the imagination; Vince Clarke takes Elekrostatik for a tech-house stroll, whilst Dubfire swathe Spastik in chattering hi-hats and tumbling echo, but the major kudos belongs to a reworking of Pakard which loops a big break and dirty fuzz bass to create a rumbling Death In Vegas style drone. Less can be said for the tedious robotic jitter of System 7's versioned Alpha Wave - the thirteen minute 'Edit' of it here, that is.

It seems almost too obvious to point out that Arkives is a collection strictly for people who would be insulted by my inadequate attempts to define them - just entering it's world requires a degree of commitment which most casual music fans will be totally unable to relate to. As an aural resume it stands comparison with any other ever produced, especially given the normally transient nature of recognition in these circles. As a listen, if this 160 minute sampler is anything to go by, it'll require an open mind and lots of patience.

Andy Peterson

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