Buttering Up Hudson Mohawke
November 22, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: UHH, November 21, 2009.
– words DAN RULE
Glaswegian lad and latest Warp Records glamour boy Hudson Mohawke (aka Rodd Birchard) has emerged as one of the key protagonists in the trans-Atlantic beat scene. Sharing stages and secrets with LA future hip-hop kids like Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing and neo-soul funk-freak DaM Funk – as well as his own art collective LuckyMe – the 23-year-old savant is making some of the most crowded, skewed and thoroughly demented beats we’ve heard in some time.
While the chopped vocal samples and cutie-pie kiddie-hop of his debut EP Polyfolk Dance had anyone from Sa Ra, Goldie and Rihanna singing his praises, his first full-length Butter – released last week – has Hud Mo rocking anything from sex-charged neo-soul and glossy 90s RnB, to stuttered, synth-driven electronics.
But the affable Hud Mo frames his work in much simpler terms. On the eve of his inaugural Australian tour with the Stereosonic Festival, he reveals that his penchant isn’t for highbrow obscurity. In something of an affront to previous generations, he sees the mainstream as hive creative potential.
UHH – I wasn’t really familiar with your work prior to Polyfolk Dance, but to me Butter has a really different sensibility. It has a much harder edge than Polyfolk Dance, which had a real innocence and sweetness to it in a way.
HUD MO – Yeah, I think they definitely are different. I think the album is a bit more considered, whereas with the EP it was more just a one-off kind of introduction. Some of the tracks had already been finished and it was like a combination of older tracks and it wasn’t really made to be listened to start-to-finish. It was just a collection of tracks really.
But I think the album has been much more considered and just the overall vibe of it has been more thought-out.
UHH – Did most of these songs come out of a similar period in time? Were they sort of purpose-written or did they come from a collection of material that you had sort of set aside to use later on?
HUD MO – It was a bit of both, really. Most of it was done in the same period of time – between when Polyfolk Dance came out and about August this year. I think altogether, the majority of the tracks were put together in eight or nine months, but I had started already a while before that. But yeah, most of it was done in that period and it was just about trying to bring it all together and give it a bit more of a feel that it was one piece.
UHH – I don’t know if I’m reading too much into the promo cover art, but this record really feels like it’s got more of a sexuality to it, especially with the Olivier DaySoul and DaM Funk collabs. But yeah, the promo cover, with those weird, headless hip-hop girls…
HUD MO – Yeah, with the promo artwork we kind of consciously worked on giving it a kind of more romantic edge, I guess (laughs). I didn’t want to use it for the finished record, because I thought that it was an element of the record, but not the full picture basically. So with the final artwork on the gatefold vinyl, the front is just a kind of fantasy landscape, and I thought that that was one of the main kind of themes in the music – this fantasy, psychedelic, childlike kind of thing – but when you open the gatefold it’s just a mass of arse really (laughs). So I was tapering the inner snake in order to bring the romantic edge back into it (more laughter).
UHH – More like arse-mantic…
HUD MO – Yeah, that’s true! But yeah, it just sort of brought it all together. The promo artwork was cool, but it really wasn’t the full picture and I wanted to make it more fantasy basically. It could still have the kind of sexier edge to it, but I just wanted to make it more psychedelic basically.
UHH – Tell me a bit about the title Butter.
HUD MO – It came from a few places. Basically, a lot of it came from that word being used in a lot of, like, 90s hip-hop and RnB – this very sort of smooth sound – but it also came from the contrast between a block of butter and the idea of butter taking on different forms and melting and becoming an ingredient for any number of things. Also, just coming from Glasgow, which is just such a traditionally not very smooth or hip-hop place, again the contrast between a block of butter, which is kind of untreated and uncultured in a certain way, and melting and transforming into the music that I’m trying to make.
UHH – That’s a kind of cool metaphor, because with your work, it’s so sort of layered and insanely busy – it’s kind of rhythmically cluttered and there are lots of things going on – and I’ve always wondered where these tracks begin for you. What is the trigger or the guide that takes you through them?
HUD MO – Yeah, I never put it together with the aim of being difficult. I actually think it’s quite simple to me basically. It’s just that if I’m making music, I get bored if I can’t go off on these tangents and explore these other places. Like, just I hate making loop-based tracks and that’s also why a lot of the tracks are so short, because I get pissed off if I have to repeat myself. I like just going off in one direction for two or three minutes and then just letting it finish.
I don’t know, it’s just what comes out of my head basically. It doesn’t seem complicated to me, but I understand – and I’ve been told by many, many people – that it does come across as quite complicated. But it’s not supposed to be like IDM or anything like that. It was meant to be, consciously, a bit simpler than that.
UHH – There’s a lot going on, but at their core, the songs are really melodic and accessible. I guess there’s just a heap of data banging around in there.
HUD MO – Yeah, for sure.
UHH – How did the collabs with Olivier and DaM Funk come about?
HUD MO – Olivier has just been a friend of mine for a couple of years. He’s originally from Washington DC, but now he actually works as a scientist at Oxford University, so he’s a bit of a mad scientist character. I was introduced to him by a friend of mine – an MC called Odyssey – and we basically started to do some work together. He was more of a traditional sort of neo-soul kind of singer, but he also does these crazier – almost like Outkast – style tracks and I wanted to see how much further in that direction we could go. So we started doing that and we’ve got a lot more stuff on the go as well; a lot more stuff that’s going to be coming around before too long.
Then with DaM Funk it was just being a fan of him basically and then just getting in touch with him and finding out that he was a fan of mine as well, and just doing it basically. I’d been in touch with some of the Stones Throw guys for a while because we’d been talking about the possibility of me doing a release with them or something like that, so they put me in touch with him and just did it. I’m not sure yet, but I think we’re going to be doing some touring together early next year as well.
UHH – Do you feel a real kinship with the current LA scene? That Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing, Gaslamp Killer kind of community are always name-checked in relation to you. Do you feel a creative connection personally?
HUD MO – Yeah, definitely. A lot of those guys are good friends of mine and, you know, I’ve been over there three times in the last year doing gigs and just hanging out over there. My dad’s actually from LA originally, but yeah, I hadn’t been there for years and years up until about a year ago. But yeah, anytime any of those guys are over this way we’ll always see each other, or I’ll go and see them over there and do gigs together.
I think it’s nice because even though their music is actually quite different, I think it still kind of comes from the same standpoint and that’s what’s sort of quite fresh about this scene that people keep talking about. Everybody’s kind of coming from the same mentality, but the music is completely different and everybody’s angle on it is completely different. I don’t think there are that many musical styles or genres where that’s the case. Generally, with electronic music, a scene is a bunch of people making the same music at the same temple with the same kind of sounds.
I think we’ve completely sort of branched away from that. I’m not really keen to be put in any sort of scene bracket, but I’m kind of happy to be put in with that because it’s completely undefined. Anybody could do anything; there are no rules about what the music has to be. It’s a pretty fresh angle on it really.
UHH – Yeah, it seems far more like a philosophical understanding rather than a stylistic lineage or whatever.
HUD MO – Yeah, totally.
UHH – When I spoke to Fly Lo last year, he was kind of speaking about being really unafraid of commercial music and how he kind of sees no delineation. It seems to me that your record and your music has a real kind of sheen and gloss to it that seems very much informed by mainstream music…
HUD MO – I agree and it’s basically because I don’t see a gap between commercial and underground music, especially in the UK, where we’ve had dubstep tracks in the top 40 and where the pop producers really look to the underground for inspiration and the production in the pop music – if you actually listen to it – is far more complex and the arrangements are far more well thought out than in most of what’s considered underground music.
So it’s an interesting avenue to explore, I think, because you can go in any direction you want and it opens up a whole new audience. I just don’t really see any great advantage these days in limiting yourself to being a strictly underground artist. I could see how there was an advantage to doing that maybe ten years ago or something like that, but these days I think everything is so intertwined, from the guys who are at the top of the charts, all the way down. Like, one of the guys from Warp was telling me last week about Jay-Z coming to a Grizzly Bear gig and Beyonce’s sister singing over a Boards of Canada track.
UHH – Nice…
HUD MO – Yeah, there just isn’t that gap anymore and it’s not necessary to emphasise a gap between two things when it’s not really all that relevant anymore.
UHH – On another topic, your music is very much deconstructive at its core. What originally opened your ears to working in that fashion, as opposed to using instruments and so forth?
HUD MO – Well, before I was really focussing on production I was really into turntablism, which is obviously scratching and beat-juggling and so on, and the whole thing is about dissecting tracks and taking an original track and seeing what you can mould it into by just using your hands and a cross-fader.
I think a lot of my music is really chopped up, but it’s not very process-heavy and not really laden with effects. It’s more sort of manually deconstructed, as you said, and I think it definitely comes from the turntablism background. I think that’s where the sort of more erratic sample chopping comes from.
UHH – So it really comes from that physical aspect of turntablism?
HUD MO – Yeah, I guess it’s just based on rhythms that I’ve been creating with my hands on cross-fader for years before I’d been chopping up samples in a sampler or a computer. I think those rhythms have sort of rubbed off into the production.
SOME MATTERS OF INTEREST
Butter is out now via Warp/Inertia
Hudson Mohawke tours Australia with the Stereosonic Festival later this month:
Sydney – Sun 29 Nov @ Stereosonic
Perth – Mon 30 Nov @ Stereosonic
Melbourne – Sun 6 Dec @ Stereosonic
Adelaide – Sun 6 Dec @ Stereosonic
Brisbane – Mon 7 Dec @ Stereosonic