Making Contakt follows Richie Hawtin and his Minus crew on their 2008 Contakt world tour, capturing the highs and lows of the international techno roadshow with an emphasis on technological breakthroughs and pitfalls. This angle should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Hawtin’s DJ career: he’s long been interested in taking techno performance beyond turntables, from adding FX and a 909 to his Decks… in the late-nineties through to his abandonment of records altogether in favour of Traktor. For Contakt, Hawtin set about creating a techno supergroup, joined by DJs Magda and Troy Pierce and live producers Gaiser, Hearthrob and Marc Houle, synched and performing as one. “People like seeing us together,” says Hawtin. They’re also joined by a host of Minus extras, including publicist, roadies, Hawtin’s parents, even their accountant, but the most important figure is designer Ali Demirel, responsible for the LED visuals which are such a crucial part of the show. Hearthrob’s words are telling: “So much of our live show is about visuals.”
Techno geeks will find much to enjoy, particularly as laptops, turntables and effects units are sprawled all over Hawtin’s living room in preparing for the tour, their network then mapped out on screen. Minus cynics will also find plenty of fuel for the fire: ‘Minus members’ accessing ‘our friend’ the Cube via their membership cards, smacking of the Mickey Mouse Club, for instance. The Cube itself looks crap, its purpose unexplained. When Hawtin laments at one point that “technical issues sometimes outweighed the pleasure,” it’s hard not to read that as an accurate assessment of his musical career.
Nonetheless, the ups and downs of life on the road are often captivating: the roof literally being brought down by their kick drums in Detroit; their rider being usurped by Madonna in Buenos Aires; problematic shows in London and Ghent; perfect shows in Barcelona and Tokyo. It’s interesting too observing the regional differences in their audience: Minimal hordes in Rome, the lone fan in Amsterdam begging for a ticket, ten thousand giddy Japanese dancers. Amusingly the most effective addition to their show is a curtain made of an old black cloth, an impromptu addition thought up in Amsterdam, and not some new fangled gadget.
Unfortunately we don’t get to see, let alone hear, much of the actual show, but what we do catch is impressive. Rather, bland Minimal tools are laid over much of the film as soundtrack, a kind of techno muzak that already seems dated. Indeed, throughout the tour music seems secondary, almost forgotten, swallowed up by all the pizzazz of ‘event’. The wider shift towards deep house, the raw simplicity of DJs playing records in a dingy space, thus seems logical, in the way that punk followed prog.