By Javier Blánquez
The announcement halfway through 2010 of “Arkives. 1993-2010” ended up a test of faith, as the year went on. Richie Hawtin said words to the effect of “now you'll have to show if you believe in me or not.” You had to fly blind: he gave some clues about what “Arkives” would be (an anthology box, more than a compilation, about which, little by little, info was given); he also loosely described its contents, which would go way beyond the reissues of all of his official studio albums. There would be a double remix CD, two more albums with remixes by him, one with unreleased tracks, one with extended and alternate versions of some of his classics, a book, a DVD and many more goodies. And that's where the dilemma started: pay up or leave the credit card where it was. Because this “Arkives” wasn't exactly going to be cheap (about 150 euros) and, as the box was going to be manufactured based on the amount of pre-orders only, first the demand had to be created and than the money gathered, in order to be able to actually produce and send it. The test of faith, therefore, was to pay a large amount of money in December for something that would be delivered in February. You had to decide whether to give one of the techno greats your vote of confidence or to think it was all a lucrative marketing trick at the expense of the gullible fans. And by 31st December 2010, there was no going back.
Yours truly is one of the guinea pigs who, after taking a deep breath, clicked “Pay” and wired the money from his bank account to M_nus'. An amount one can do many things with in a month, like eat, for example, and in exchange for which one got nothing immediate in return. The box (available in two versions: the 15 CD + DVD + book package, or the extended version including the vinyls compiling the best of “Replikants”, for the real fetishists and collectors) wasn't due until February, but an email from M_nus changed the situation: the delivery would be delayed because they hadn't even started manufacturing it. Hawtin, high and dry in Canada and rummaging around in his parents' basement, had found new material that deserved space on the volume that would close his “Book #1” as Plastikman: photos, alternate takes, DATs with rarities. The delivery was postponed, first to April, than May, then “before autumn”. Some people got angry (and rightly so: once the transaction has been made, the selling party should deliver the goods within the stipulated period), some people decided to just wait, and the message from M_nus was a mix of apology and optimism, as they kept assuring us that it would be worth the wait: for the same price, they said, we would get a considerably better “Arkives” than the one promised initially. Last August, we got word the boxes were about to be sent out. Last week, a UPS delivery man rang our doorbell.
The first lesson to be learned from the eventful transformation from the simple double box to what it is now (CDs, vinyls, two volumes united in a very elegant white design with red and black lettering and the omnipresent Plastikman logo Hawtin has tattooed on his arm), is that the Canadian can be trusted blindly. I have a few anatomical suggestions for the people who accused him of being a swindler as to what to do with their “take the money and run” comments, because the label's communication with their clients has been transparent and sincere from the start, and they kept their word on all accounts: they promised a historical box, with more material than we could dream of, and that's exactly what they have delivered.
Why is “Arkives” the compilation of the year and one of the best boxes ever made? You only need to take a look at it, touch it, explore the details: other recent boxes, like the Ninja Tune 20th anniversary one (which also featured loads of CDs and a label history book), fall short when it comes to the duration of the Plastikman box. The other recent big collectible in electronic music (and also pricey on pre-order), the Warp 20th anniversary collection, also pales in comparison: Richie's box is superior in every aspect; its beauty, the book (signed by Philip Sherburne, with a certain hagiographic accent but beautifully packaged and with different kinds of paper) is an essential info guide to the history of Hawtin (which isn't as well-known as one would think, what with the fame, Ibiza, the Sónar parties and all), and the audio is, as expected, fingerlicking good.
If you didn't pre-order “Arkives” at the time, there is a solution: several volumes will be made available to the general public shortly, albeit without some of the goods the early birds did get. For example, the book will not be personalised with your name (on a page saying “Kreated February 2011 For...”), and the vinyl version of “Replikants”, the ambitious volume of remixes of Plastikman's greater moments won't be included, either. For the lucky few who did get the complete work, there's not much more to say: congratulations on your excellent purchase. For the ones who didn't and are still thinking about putting aside three 50€ bills for the basic box (see? In the end, the act of faith pays out), here's a few reflections on the contents of this bottomless pit.
1. The albums
No additions to the material of “Sheet One”, “Recycled Plastik”, “Musik”, “Artifakts (BC)”, “Consumed” and “Closer”, which come numbered according to their respective release dates, thus forming a logical sequence of how Hawtin progressed in the musical concept of Plastikman. The only “but” is that you might already have all the records, but really, you shouldn't see it like that.
2. The book
Because of the layout, with lots of photographs and memorabilia –flyers, stickers, places, logos, machines and stamps of the original perforated design of “Consumed” and the LSD tablets of “Sheet One”– and most of all because of the memorial-like text, in which Hawtin explains his whole history, step by step, to Philip Sherburne, the book “Arkives 1993-2010” is reminiscent of “Electroshock”, written by Laurent Garnier and David Brun-Lambert. Apart from understanding techno and digging deep into an era, the book makes one connect better with the artist, lays out the reasoning and process behind the music. It might sometimes suffer from the same defects as the so-called “authorised biographies” (there's not a lot of self-criticism and the uneasy parts are conveniently trimmed-off), but Hawtin does seem sincere when talking about what might hurt him the most, his early devotion to partying, the emotional crisis he suffered after his sentimental and vital world fell to bits at the end of the nineties, the difficulties of starting over.
This is the CD featuring the much talked about original 23-minute “Spastik” set. After hearing it, it doesn't seem too big a deal in comparison to the classic version, mostly because it's still an edit featuring all the memorable moments of an initial jam during which Hawtin was playing around with his rhythm boxes like a kid with his new Star Wars action figures. What this early version of “Spastik” does have is a double amount of drum rolls, it's more hypnotic and epic. Nine minutes is not the same as the double of that, especially if you fully get into the loop. The “Peel Session” and the two live fragments of “Spastik” (one sounds closer to Moby's “Thousand”, at about 300 BPM, than the original idea of the track) are gems for the most avid fan.
About six years ago, Hawtin was already paving the way for this box, with the release of three vinyl records, which, with the label “Nostalgik”, recovered six tracks made in different episode of the Plastikman era. It's great that “Arkives” includes those pieces (among which is an alternative take of “Panikattak”), even for those who already had the release and wanted it on CD.
5. Rekonstruktions I & II
This is one of the true strong points of the box, as it features each and every remix Plastikman has made over the years, in more or less chronological order, starting with the one for La Funk Mob, of which the original release on Mo'Wax was a collector's item years ago, and very rare remixes for Talvin Singh, Blood Sucker, Bomb The Bass, Hardloor, Josh Wink and Depeche Mode. With the 13-minute remix of System 7's “Alpha Wave” you comes the free download of the original 20-minute version.
6. Arkive Mix / Arkive / Extrakts
This is the centrepiece of the box: three whole CDs of rarities, unreleased tracks, alternate (and never heard before) takes which were never finished or, in the case of some of the tracks, didn't fit on the 80 minutes of “Closer”. Some have been released over time ( “Slinky” appeared on vinyl last year, for example), but as they are exceptions, what we have here is a treasure that should be dug out with the patience of an archaeologist in Mesopotamia. Plastikman's most avid fans will recognise some pieces on “Extrakts” (which features several exclusive compilation tracks, such as “Hump”, which appeared on the mythical American underground techno compilation “Trance Atlantic 2”), although as a whole it's like listening to three new records from the days Hawtin shaved his head, with the same acid sounds, the same drum rolls and the same mysterious echoes. Not quite on the par with “Consumed” or “Musik”, but still rather good. There are liner notes for virtually every track, explaining the history, origins and the reasons why they weren't released before.
On the download version there's almost four hours worth of rare material which, basically, are new or rare remixes by artists from Hawtin's orbit. But the real goodies are on the two CDs (or six vinyls with poster of the extra box) called “Replikants”. 21 remixes by unexpected names, such as Steven Soderbergh's regular soundtrack composer Cliff Martinez, and others from a more Plastikmaniana world, like Alva Noto, Dubfire, Steve Bicknell and Heartthrob, people who cover the more arty, party, hard or minimal angles of techno of the past twenty years. Apart from those mentioned before, we hear Carl Craig, former Depeche Mode / Erasure / Yazoo member Vince Clarke, Severed Heads, Moby, François K, Carter Tutti, Soul Center and Pete Namlook, all of them broadening the Plastikman sound palette, adding power where there wasn't any, more oxygen where before you couldn't breathe and more rigidity where the improvisations were too elastic. Consume with patience, there's a lot to keep you busy for quite some time.
Finally, the DVD, featuring all kinds of things: videos, obviously, starting with the most recent ones (directed by Ali Demirel, responsible for the M-nus image; “Ask Yourself”, “Disconnect”, “Lost”, etc.), and continuing with the nineties era, when Rob Heydon & Scott Souilliere and Sigma6 were the directors, and with several unreleased extras: an introduction, an outro, a documentary about Plastikman at Glastonbury 1995, the personal biographical sketch called “Kommentary” and a selection of photos which, when seen all together, is what has always been missing in the documentary Electronic Beats released under the title “Slices. Pioneers Of Electronic Music vol. 1”, which, although it featured lots of interviews, lacked promotional videos and the important visual part of the Plastikman universe.
That said, this is the time to be proud or be sorry, depending on each individual buyer. “Arkives 1993-2010” is not just another box. It's THE BOX.
If you pre-ordered in December 2010, you should have received “Arkives” by now, the big box that collects the complete works, official, new and unreleased, of Plastikman. If you didn't and you're consumed by jealousy, this is for you.
Interview: Plastikman. On a permanent transition