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NIGHTVISION with Humberto Guida
Humberto Guida is a pop journalist and comedian based in Los Angeles who regularly finds himself in curious situations, as he explores the nefarious corners, people, and trends of contemporary nightlife. Follow his misadventures in clubland and run-ins with the wildest party people in the country right here on Clubplanet’s off-the-wall blog... Humberto's Nightvision.

Uncovering the Man Behind Plastikman

posted on 05.10.2010
Richie Hawtin started messing with people from the start of his set at Coachella. This was to be his only other U.S. appearance as Plastikman, his alter ego, besides his Movement date in Detroit on May 29th. For me, his performance was the holy grail of the festival. When I first got into electronic music as a teenager, my friends and I would peak our balls off to the trippy sounds of this mysterious artist, who we were all convinced was an alien.
 
As is the case with all Plastikman projects, and the essence of Plastikman himself, the first ten minutes of his Coachella set were minimal, repetitive forays into sound. He was literally playing noise. It drove away some of the crowd – those who had arrived to see what the hype surrounding this mysterious virtuoso was all about – but just when we least expected it, he dropped the funk from another dimension. (Click here to check out a clip from his set).
 
Not too long after the festival, I got Hawtin on the phone for an exclusive interview. This year’s rare tour as Plastikman is going down in support of his upcoming release, Plastikman Live (out on M_nus). I got to ask Hawtin about the meaning of his act and the source of all the hype he gets as a virtuoso, but before I get to that, here is a little about the enigmatic man behind the cult of Plastikman.
 
For much of his career, Hawtin has been an ultra-reclusive artist, hidden behind the Plastikman character. Only in recent years has the music world finally gotten a good glimpse of Hawtin as a person. He is still pretty keen on maintaining a sort of disconnection from the public – he doesn’t check his messages (he says so on his voicemail greeting) and he changes his email address every year to shake off obsessive fans. He operates his lucrative career for himself, which includes year-round performances and residencies in Ibiza and Berlin. In addition to that, he runs some of the dance music world’s most prestigious labels (his flagship, M_nus Records, and its landmark boutique subsidiary, Plus 8) through a close-knit inner circle of confidantes. I am fortunate to have a mutual friend who hooked us up.
 
So why the Stanley Kubrick shtick? It probably dates back to 1995, when Hawtin, who is a native of Winsdor, Ontario was kicked out of the United States on the way to a performance in New York and virtually disappeared for two years. During that time, the Plastikman legend took off.
 
By that point, Hawtin’s music career had garnered buzz around the world. In the late ‘80s, when Hawtin was a scrawny blonde DJ wunderkind, he turned the epicenter of the house music scene in nearby Detroit on its head with his distinct sound. It’s typically defined by compulsive, acidy baselines and precise, pulsing percussion, fused with trippy, 303 heavy sounds. Two highly successful concept albums in the early ‘90s, Sheet One and Musik, put his name on the map. Sheet One caused some controversy with its cover image, a proliferated blotter sheet with the Plastikman emblem on each hit. It looked like a sheet of acid, so I used to sell the copies of the cover outside of raves as a teen to pay for the cover charge.
 
For two years after the border debacle, Hawtin worked in the studio on his long awaited follow-up to Musik and toured Europe where his profile really blew up. All the while, his first two albums continued to build a buzz as Hawtin operated in exile. Finally in 1998, Hawtin returned to the U.S. on the shoulders of his third Plastikman album, Consumed. Even Rolling Stone was running stories about “the next big thing in dance music” – and that’s when Hawtin pulled one of music’s greatest cons. Consumed was not what people, including the media and his fans, expected. The reception was akin to the one Lou Reed got when he released the unintelligible Metal Machine Music. People didn’t get it. He even lost a number of fans who felt they got suckered into wasting money on some unintelligible, experimental album, when what they wanted was more of the phat tracks he produced on his first two albums.
 
His follow-up to the much misunderstood Consumed was released a mere eight months later. Artifakts B.C. (the B.C. stood for “Before Consumed”) contained all the dance tracks and blissful melodies that he originally intended to include on his follow-up. It was the kind of music everyone wanted in the first place. One prophetic track on the CD was titled “Are Friends Electrik? (For Those Who Stayed).” It was a smooth electro track that sounded as sweet to the ear as anything he had ever recorded. His true fans caught on. They came to realize that no other music artist makes his listeners work this hard, but Hawtin was worth it.
 
Today he’s touring the world playing some of the biggest music festivals on the planet. If you get a chance to see him in Detroit at the Movement Festival on May 29th, or in Europe later this year, be sure to stick around past the first 20 minutes when he’ll reward you for your patience. Check out his website for a full list of shows. 
 
What were your first forays into electronic music?
I grew up in Windsor, Canada. The border was 15 minutes from my house. There was nothing to do where I lived, so I had to go to Detroit for inspiration and excitement. If I wanted new records, cool clothes, I had to go to Detroit. I got sucked into the club scene, and found myself in the beginning of a revolution.  Industrial music was going into Chicago acid house, New York soul house, and it became a mish-mash called “Detroit techno.”  
 
What DJs would you get to see back then?
I was going out to the clubs and listening to Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Jeff Mills before anyone ever cared about them. It allowed me to feel a certain excitement in the air that something new was happening, and that’s why I jumped right into producing and being part of the scene. 
 
What was the scene like back then?
People were taken aback and weren’t sure what was happening. I was definitely inspired by the scene in Detroit, but because of my British heritage, I was also keenly aware of what was going on in London in 1988-89 with all the sunrise rave parties. I was listening to the European electronic music and it all came together. 
 
Your first album, Sheet One, is considered revolutionary to this day because it was a concept album. Where did the inspiration for such a blatant ode to tripping on acid come from?
Sheet One was directly influenced by late-night parties in Detroit, listening to Derrick May DJ these long tripped-out journeys of sound. At that moment in 1993, electronic music albums were all about having a handful of tracks of varying ideas. I thought there has to be a way to tell a journey for 60 or 70 minutes and spit them out the other side, to take a specific sound and take people through that journey as deep as possible. It’s very similar to what I do with my performances. 
 
What happened with you at the border in 1995? It seemed to take you out of the spotlight for two years but in a way contributed to your legend.
That was a simple situation that got blown out of proportion. I was coming back into the country to do a performance in New York and my working papers weren’t in order. Essentially, I wasn’t allowed into the country to perform. I wasn’t prepared to not show up at the show, so I went anyway and I ran into the wrong people (authorities) who weren’t happy I was coming to take jobs away from the Americans.
 
I took that time that I was not allowed in the U.S. due to that “trespassing” incident. I was working for one year on the Concept series, just staying home, in the studio. Those years gave me early inspiration for the M_nus label. I was going around Europe, meeting people, raising my profile there, because at that point, I wasn’t sure when, if ever, I was going to be allowed back in the states. I couldn’t just let myself be cut off from the scene worldwide.
 
What were you trying to accomplish by releasing Consumed, with all of its experimental sounds that most people couldn’t digest, when you had Artifakts including those very tracks that would have blown you up?
Once you grab people’s attention, once you have their trust, you almost have a responsibility as an artist to take them deeper than they are willing to go.
 
At that moment in time, I knew there was a huge anticipation for Plastikman – from people who had been waiting because they were fans, to people who danced to Plastikman when they went out, to people who had just heard of me getting kicked out of the country, to kids getting arrested for having Plastikman CD covers. There was so much hype that it became more than music. It went well beyond what was intended.
 
It would have been very easy to just deliver them a continuation of what I had been doing on Musik and Sheet One, but I was much more inspired with what I had done with Consumed that I figured this was probably the only situation I could think of where people were going to check it out and perhaps give the chance they wouldn’t give to another artist who was releasing something so obscure. So I had to use the potential of this moment or I’d be throwing away all that had built up throughout the previous eight years. I gave people what I think is progressive electronic music to let them decide. And then after that I put out music that’s easier to digest, but I wanted first to deliver what they weren’t expecting. 
 
How big is the divide between Richie Hawtin and Plastikman?
There’s always a connection point between both identities. They feed off of each other. Right now Richie Hawtin has become the extrovert; the one who goes out and parties and plays with the people as a DJ. Plastikman has a lot of different influences, and is more introverted and introspective. It can be danceable but it doesn’t have to be. When I get to that deep, dark moment I tap into the Palstikman persona, which goes into the deeper regions of who I am, while the Richie Hawtin side is the outer entertainer who I have become more of in the last few years. 
 
You seem more comfortable in your skin than you did in the ‘90s.
You spend a lot of time by yourself in studio doing what you think is right, but then people start to connect with you and feel close to you. You start to travel around the world, you learn about yourself and meet people and you become more confident and outwardly expressive. I think that is what people have seen from me in the past few years.
 
I’ve always been very serious about what I do. That hasn’t changed, but I‘ve been able to enjoy it more and share it with people more than I could ten or 15 years ago. 
 
I can see you… but not like, in a stalker way or anything like that.
- HG


Coachillin'

posted on 05.03.2010

I wanted to be at Coachella bad. Really bad. It was the end of the first night of the hottest music festival in the country and there were two nights left. I was hoping to nab a scalped ticket because, like the procrastinating asshole that I am, I waited past the press credential deadline and the general tickets were sold out – all 75,000 of them. Tickets were exchanged for bands on site and concert-goers were to keep them on all weekend. Fans who couldn’t stay for the entire festival sold their bands on Craigslist.com for upwards of $1,000, which is a little beyond my budget. Besides, people were getting ganked all weekend by counterfeit bands they had bought. One girl sat outside the gates for a whole day sobbing about having spent all her money ($400) on a fake band. As for the old school, over/under the fence move, witnesses told me that several gate crashers got tasered and arrested (not always in that order). How was I going to get inside? Well, I had one last hope.

Her name is Tanya Valiente. She’s known as Electrobunni, a striking model and social impresario who defines what I believe to be modern edgy beauty. She’s a Queen of the Night from my hometown of Miami, which means she’s cunning and resourceful and kicks ass, despite being a tiny beauty with really fair skin and very dark hair. Visit her website to see why some say her looks literally cut like a sharp knife. Along with her fairy godmother (a restaurateur from Reno), Valiente managed to acquire a band for me, a real one, for nothing more than a pack of Lucky Strikes and a bottle of Sailor Jerry Rum (for whom Valiente promotes). From that point on, I was Coachillin’.

Valiente, a music snob, directed the itinerary, which was highlighted by the most demonic performance I’ve seen since I was little heavy metal head. The act was Fever Ray. Holy shit, are they dark. Fever Ray "super fans" wearing dead animals (heads and paws included) as coats. “That was the best nightmare I’ve ever had,” Valiente said.

Little Boots was a hit. She closed her set with a different rendition of "Stuck on Repeat" that literally knocked Valiente’s little boots off (she actually threw them at a really tall person who wouldn’t get out of her way so she could see (she’s really tiny). Next stop was checking out lesser known but major buzzworthy acts like Aeroplane (best DJ set of the festival), Glitch Mob, Bass Nectar, The Gossip, and The xx, the much-hyped indie band from London who had most other performers including Jay Z on the sidelines watching. Everything was going great until Valiente got lost and had a mini-panic attach. But she quickly learned that if you get lost, “follow someone that looks like they know where they are going!”

What of the biggest acts of the week? Some of the big name European artists like Gary Numan didn’t make the festival because of the Icelandic volcano. Old schoolers like Devo were neat, but they also looked 100 years old, “really weird and sad slightly pathetic,” according to Valiente. I have nothing more to say about Phoenix, Jay Z, and LCD Soundsystem other than they were what you’d expect – although MGMT didn’t play “Kids” which is whack. I hate when big bands don’t play their big hits to prove some sort of point or something. Gorrillaz definitely did not disappoint. The combination of five-story HD screens showcasing the animated group backing a live performance was very multimedia. And it’s no doubt that when they got into “Stylo” the entire festival was on the same vibe. 

Beyond the music, the festival provided me with a chance to be silly, since silliness abounded. And when you put me in the middle of 10,000 maniacs, all of whom have lost their heads, I start to mess with people. After a nostalgic set from Afro-centric rappers De La Soul, there was no sound as they switched the stage. I used this opportunity to step onto a chair I stole from the handicapped area in the middle of the field and soap-boxed to the crowd. “Who the hell let all these little kids in?!” I yelled out. Seriously, there were way too many junior high kids, not to mention a number of toddlers and even babies. “Get a sitter,” Valiente added.

One re-occurring maneuver I’d pull is looking over a large crowd and yelling at nobody in particular, “Wellington! Wellington I’m over here! Wellington, Godamnit don’t you see me?! Turn around. No the other way! Wellington!” The other exclamation I couldn’t help myself in calling out actually involved the participation of an entire section of fans near the main stage. “Excuse me! Everyone can I have your attention?!” I yelled at the thousands of people within earshot. They all perked up and listened. “Can you all stop where you are? Don’t move. Now please look around the ground. I lost my contacts!”

As a testament to how nice, and fucked up, everyone was, a section of about a thousand concert-goers politely looked in the grass and dirt for my fictional contact lenses, like they’d be able to find them. I even had a security guard using his flashlight. Man, this would never happen on the East coast, where I’d most likely get my ass kicked from this kind of stupidity. I love California! After about ten minutes I let everyone know that I don’t wear contacts.

The most amusing thing about the whole festival was the outward, blatant inebriation of the crowd. Man, were people tripping out. And the large beer and cocktail gardens were churning out wobbling, sauced concert goers, many of whom have been featured in YouTube clips like this one. Hilariously, the concert tackled this problem by coming up with a solution that turned out to be to tempting for some of the tweakers in attendance. At the entrance/exit, the festival had put up a mail box, re-labeled with a sign that read “Amnesty Box.” It was meant to be a last chance for concert goers to give up their illicit stash by dumping it there on the way in or out, no questions ask.

Of course, nobody dumped any of their stash, not even the paranoid-stricken party people who ate their magic beans before they entered. I know this because when I walked past the receptacle, I shook it and there was nothing in there. Now this didn’t stop one desperate degenerate who apparently couldn’t hold himself back from the hope there were some treats in that thing. After looking around for security, he sprinted up to the Amnesty Box, yanked it out of its foundation and took off for the exit. He got a full 20 feet before a security guard who missed his calling as an NFL safety sweeped in out of nowhere and speared the poor moron to the ground. Next year, a festival spokesperson told me, there will be no Amnesty Box.

Now, despite the fact the aforementioned account of my Coachella Music Festival experience portrays a lucid experience shaped by Electrobunnies and zonked out concert-goers, I actually did get to see one of my favorite artists, regardless of genre – Richie Hawtin, aka Platiskman. As the closing act at the electronic music stage, Hawtin performed as Plastikman, his legendary altar ego, in the United States for the first time in years. For me, his performance was the holy grail of the festival. As is the case with all Plastikman projects, and the essence of Plastikman himself, the first 10 minutes of his set were minimal, repetitive forays into sound. It actually drove away some of the crowd who had arrived to see what the hype surrounding this mysterious virtuoso was about. And just when you thought he was melting into his own repetitive effects, he dropped the funk. It was insane. For more on Hawtin and why Plastikman is to electronic music what Pink Floyd was to rock ‘n roll (plus my exclusive interview with the man himself) tune in next week. 

I can see you… but not like, in a stalker way or anything like that.
- HG

(Photo of Tanya Valiente provided by Blast 'Em Photography)

Vinny The Chin: Long Island Clubland’s New Poster Boy

posted on 04.23.2010

Nightlife is filled with freaks and over-the-top “personalities.” They come out at night under the cover of darkness and strobe lights; but when you have night vision like yours truly, they’re easy to spot. This blog is all about scoping out those exceptional impresarios as I make my way through the underbelly of clubland.

Recently, I flew into New York to do some comedy at Gotham and hit the clubs. I’ve been dropping in on New York on a regular basis since college, but I always stay in The City, where I got fam, and rarely venture out to the surrounding boroughs. But with the Jersey Shore phenomena having grown on me,  and with my close friend, Brooklyn-based artist Jonathan Riesco imploring for years, I journeyed off the uptight confines of Manhattan and into the thick fog of Long Island for a taste of authentic New York sociology. I decided to go cross the bridge the wrong way and hit a hotspot where the hair is on fire, the collars pop, and the Guido juice goes down like a Jägerbomb… Glo.
 
I’m from Miami, live in LA, and spend part of the year chronicling the nightlife industry in Vegas. I’m no stranger to enhanced boobs, but this place was ridiculous. I hadn’t made it to the bar before I passed about half a million dollars worth of silicon implants. Now, I noticed that unlike the skinny girls with the subtle, natural tans in those other places I cavort through, or the anorexic yuppie/hipster types you find in Williamsburg and the City, some of these LI ladies had six-packs, biceps, and brown-to-orange-hue tans. No wonder this is called Strong Island. All the guys around here are meatheads by necessity, because you need a cycle of Winstrol just to keep one of these Guidettes from kicking your ass after you check out her short friend with the crack-ass showing out her jeans.

In between slipping and sliding through a dancefloor packed with people, all of whom had very moisturized skin (I don’t mean sweat, I mean like lotion), I found the man I had come here to see- the over-the-top broskie behind the YouTube sensation, “Vinny the Chin Live (Strong Island Remix),” Vincenzo Michael Ferraro, better known as “Vinny the Chin.” In the age of people becoming famous on the heels of nothing but personality and party habits, and with stereotypical New York characters very much in fashion, Vinny the Chin just might be the new face of the Tri-State area club scene.

After I interrupted him as he was pumping his fist and flexing his bare pecks through his open shirt to the beat of the house music, pulling him away from two fake blonde bombshells, and then convincing him I wasn’t an undercover cop but the blogger who had emailed him about meeting, I had the following interview with Vinny the Chin. A quick disclaimer to anyone sensitive to admitted drug and steroid use, fighting, and the objectification of women: this guy has no censor. If you do have a sense of humor, meet the guy who makes everyone who hated Jersey Shore for glorifying Guido culture pull their hair out. Brace yourself.

Are you motivated to show the world a different side of New York party culture than what we saw branded on Jersey Shore?
Being the best ever motivates me, like challenging myself to get some girl’s number. Seeing if I can hook up, having the sharpest clothes, best muscles, best car, being the best looking guy here in a crowd. Just being the Alpha male wherever I go.

How'd you get the name “Vinny the Chin?”
I have had my share of fights. It has a double untondra [sic] meaning. I had a short temper as a younger guy, so my friends and neighborhood people would say that my chin had an addiction to fists. Then after a few years, they noticed that when I got socked, I didn't go down. I’ve never been knocked down. These days though I am calmer. The ecstasy helps.

How does Vinny get ready for a night out?
Tan in the afternoon, listen to house music, sometimes buy a new outfit or belt, shave my body, shower, do the hair, de-odorant, cologne, bronzer, pre-game with Red Bull vodka, meet up with my boys, stop at 7-11 for gum. I used to do coke too before hitting the club, but I am trying to stay sober now. I got like a schedule to keep.

Where's Vinny hanging?
All the hottest clubs in Long Island. Right now Glo, Venue, in the summertime it’s Neptunes, Allan acres, and in the city Pacha. Mainly everywhere there is good house music. A lot of places I use to love are not around no more – Zachery’s and Origen. I hang out with a lot of people, but right now I'll give a shout out to my main wing man Vinny da Beak and first childhood friend ever Joey Heads (the large guys standing behind him).

Why does Vinny always have his boys behind him?
In case shit gets crazy at the club and a knucklehead runs his mouth too much. Also as wing men for the girl I am trying to fuck’s friend. Hewas [sic] usually travel in packs, so you have to travel in packs. It’s the law of relativity. If one hewa is left behind or out of the equation, it can ruin your whole chance. So you have to match up perfectly, or hook up in the parking lot and get it over with, which is preferred, so she doesn’t have to make the awkward Saw movie decision of ‘do I leave this bitch here alone and fuck this stranger, or do I stay with her.’ That is why you should shoot for the parking lot…

What's Vinny's work out plan?
It is only warm in NY during the summer, so that is beach weather. That is when I really get in shape. I do steroids, cause how you expect me to stay in shape? I go out bigger and buffer than anyone else. I’m not just some fucking Jabroni. If I’m sitting next to some chick and she sees a guy with bigger muscles than me, how am I gonna compete with that? People who say steroids are no good are right, but they are also probably virgins.

What's the craziest thing Vinny's ever done?
Some shit I can't remember. But this isn't really the craziest, but it's a good story. There was this one girl at Oneonta when I visited, and she had no arms, like two stubs. She was really nice, but drank a lot. My boy Meatball would call her Flipper behind her back. Long story short, it was a dare to see who would hook up with her. I did her.

So are you finding a way to make a living as a party personality?
Yeah. YouTube “celebrity party person.” I get hired, paid to show up places and shit. It's because I AM the party.  I bring that New York Long Island energy that no one else in the country really has.”

I noticed you have a lot of female fans?
I'm the total package. I'm honest most the times too. I tell them if their hair sucks. I grow on them like a fuckin’ fungus. I engulf them like a mold and fungus.

What's this I hear about you being the face of a college website?
Yeah. The rumors are true. This big, huge college website called OnCampusDrama has signed me to be the face of it. It's crazy. They are doing a nationwide tour on a big bus to every college starting September, throwing a big party to every campus they pull up to. They want me to join them to bring the energy.

When Vinny comes face to face with a “real” celebrity, what does he do?
A real celebrity? What’s that supposed to mean? I don’t think they are better than me, so I don’t give a shit. If it is a girl celebrity, then maybe try and hook up to have a story for my friends and add her to the casualty list, body count. Oh, let me make a shout out to a very special celebrity woman. Can I do another shout out? (Mind you, he’s talking to my tape recorder… I answer “yes”). This is to Lil Kim. I love you. Let me take you on a date. Hit me up! I usually don't date black girls, but I'm in love with you. You think she will see this?

Some of this interview had to be followed up with a phone interview, due to the fact I couldn’t hear half of it on my recorder, and thanks to Vinny’s insisting on talking to me right next to a speaker so the music could help him “think straight.” I also got cut off by his boys Joey Heads and Vinny the Beak every few minutes because they wanted to ask Vinny again and again if he knew who I was. Check out Vinny the Chin’s Twitter and YouTube pages for where you can spot him next, to see why many believe he’s the next big marketing vehicle for Guidoness. Look for an upcoming documentary on his wild antics out next year.

You can contact Vinny the Chin for interviews or appearances on Twitter or via e-mail.

I can see you…but not like, in a stalker way or anything like that.
- HG

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