Richie Hawtin unleashes 30 years of techno mastery at Maiden Voyage’s Unfold stage

For the first time in its history, London’s infamous party, Unfold, combines forces with Richie Hawtin to teach a lesson in techno excellence at Maiden Voyage festival

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Richie Hawtin at Maiden Voyage

Richie Hawtin at Maiden Voyage / Credit: Xavier Andrews

As the clock strikes five at Maiden Voyage festival in North London, an ominous cloud drifts above the Unfold stage in the corner of the Lee Valley Showground-based site.

The stage is run by the infamous queer techno party of the same name that takes place at FOLD nightclub each Sunday. An event with a Berghain feel that sees droves of hardcore ravers queue around the corner from midday until midnight each weekend, it’s a safe, inclusive space. If you don’t fit the bill, you’re not getting in.

Maiden Voyage’s Unfold stage, as with each club event, is shrouded in mystery. There’s no disclosed lineup – just a series of set times and corresponding question marks. The 5 pm – 7 pm slot, on a sign, reads ‘?????? ??????’. Punters connect the dots: ?????? ??????, it becomes apparent, means Richie Hawtin.

For the first time in the event’s four-year history, the stage is outside under a canopy rather than in the dark depths of FOLD, which sits in the industrial landscape of Canning Town. The legendary producer Richie Hawtin is at the helm, bang in the centre of the 360-degree crowd – a common sight for Unfold regulars; the central stage is designed to invite a more intimate rave experience.

Richie Hawtin at Maiden Voyage
Richie Hawtin at Maiden Voyage

A bulging blob of bodies in black clothing swells uncontrollably to the thunderous techno music. Even though it’s outside, the sound system is clear as day; the kick drums pummel through your chest like a sonic boom. There’s no rushing to the front to hear the music here, everyone has room to dance – and dance they do, chucking all manner of shapes to the no-frills techno excellence. Those who aren’t completely losing their minds simply stand at the outskirts, agreeing with one another – this guy really is the GOAT.

As a stern Hawtin, who seems to be the only face in the crowd without a gleaming smile, powers through his selections, it’s clear to see how the role of technology makes for a distinctly singular-sounding set. It’s a hybrid setup, consisting of a Novation Launchpad Pro, two Allen & Heath Xone:K2 DJ MIDI controllers, with the central hub of all this being his own PLAYdifferently Model 1 mixer and Bitwig Studio. The effects, sound effects, his own lashings of synths and drums, along with his prolific selection, brush his performances with a signature, refreshing flavour.

For many of the techno purists at the festival, it’s a relieving breath of fresh air. While DJs at the other stages are brilliant, we notice an overdose of gimmicky edits. Hawtin’s music, however, isn’t messing about. There’s no fun and games to be had here, and there’s no silly donk edits of Girls Aloud. This is a no-nonsense exploration of movement through repetition – refined techno as an art form.

Hawtin twists and turns at his mammoth setup, a veteran in his element. How can someone who’s been in the game for so long still feel so fresh? This is the man who has been a leading exponent of minimal techno since the mid-1990s, and here he is, deep in a puddle of young ravers, leading the charge. Thirty years after his debut album, Dimension Intrusion, he’s as present as ever, constantly at the forefront of modern electronic music.

It’s only when you get to witness someone like Richie Hawtin live, especially in such an intimate setting as Unfold’s special circular stage, that you feel the power and start to understand why the minimal legend has the status he does.

Hours after Hawtin’s set comes to an end, the Unfold stage still bursts with ferocious kick drums and the outstretched arms of a receptive crowd. Unfold’s mainstay resident, James Newmarch, is bringing proceedings to a close, but the crowd don’t want to leave; the security resort to barking orders at the incessant dancers. In a frenzy of great music, but lots of gimmicks, Unfold and Richie Hawtin combined forces at Maiden Voyage this year to remind London ravers what real techno sounds like.

Check out Richie Hawtin’s music via Bandcamp.


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