Richie Hawtin’s Consumed paved new roads for minimal techno
Original release date: 18 May 1998
Richie Hawtin is a complex figure in modern techno – these days, his on-and-off stage exploits generally overshadow his music. Whether it’s bad behaviour (throwing speakers at people, getting kicked out of Berghain) or questionable concepts (such as the fashion label Richly.Hawtin), he’s lately become adept at diverting attention away from a watered-down, formulaic strain of the minimal techno he helped pioneer through the 90s and 00s.
Leading up to the release of his fourth studio album, Consumed, in May 1998, Hawtin was perceived differently. His most famed alias, Plastikman, broke new ground with the sparse, brittle acid double-drop of Sheet One and Musik, and his Plus 8 label with John Acquaviva was a huge influence on the emergent techno culture in the US and Europe. While his productions up to that point were exploring minimalism in techno alongside Robert Hood and Daniel Bell, the overall sound was still pretty raw.
Hawtin’s explicitly ambient projects – his collaborations with Pete Namlook, or the twee early 90s bleeps of his F.U.S.E alias – still bore the naive hallmarks of early machine music. Consumed spelt out an entirely different concept, stripping away what people had known about Plastikman, laying out a new manifesto in this exploration of minimalism. “There’s something intriguing about this album,” rRoxymore told Electronic Beats in 2015. “The music is like a big vacuum that sucks you up. Time stops. I find it mysterious and luminous. It’s fully cathartic.”
The cover alone sets the mood: the black, die-cut sleeve peers into a murky midnight blue void. It’s austere in its form and oppressive in its tone – the perfect primer for the sound that ensues, all low-register pulses and understated rhythmic ticks echoing out into a deafening negative space.
What makes Consumed such a vital album to this day is that, for all its unflinching experimentation, it’s actually not hard to listen to. It can fill a space without drawing unwanted attention. Various strains of techno adopted ambient principles early on, but Consumed demonstrates the merging of styles reaching a kind of maturity. The sound palette is subdued and the repetition is unforgiving, as if it positively shuns your attention.
To get lost in the album is the real treat though. After opener Contain, the slow 11-minute ebb of Consume is the true gateway in; a seemingly endless bassline pulse and dubby splashes taking on an organic quality as they unfurl through billowing clouds of blue-hued vapour. The muted, slow-techno thud of Cor Ten demands submission, while the distant choral pads in Converge strain towards the light, only to be pulled down by the strung out, backroom whirl of Locomotion.
It’s worth pointing out that, however radical Consumed was, it wasn’t alone in its field. Tracks like Cor Ten have a distinct parallel with the Berlin sound of Basic Channel and the Chain Reaction label, and in particular the work of Monolake and Porter Ricks – a similarity that didn’t go unnoticed at the time of its release.
However, in presenting a challenging new direction, Consumed marked a significant turning point for Hawtin. It was the first release on M_nus Records – the true vessel for his minimal explorations – and just one year later he would release his still-essential Deckx, EFX & 909 mix album.
In the end, the album’s crowning glory is its title track. Edging in just enough harmony to lift the blanket of fog above head height, it’s the perfect tonic after the shadowy exploits that precede it. As the looping melodic phrase steps out to be heard without heavy processing, its devastating simplicity sums up minimalism in all its glory. As a marvellous parting shot, the riff drifts into grainy distortion at the end – a rare imperfection that makes the track, and indeed album, all the more special.