Hudson Mohawke: Scotch Tape
Haribo fiend Hudson Mohawke feeds his gummi bear dependency as he pieces together his sonic legacy—and says nothing about Kanye West.
Photos by Tim Saccenti
Slumped in the lounge area of Manhattan’s SoHo Grand Hotel, Hudson Mohawke looks absolutely exhausted. His fatigue is understandable. On this late spring afternoon, the 29-year-old Glaswegian producer is fresh off a run of shows and has one last interview before wrapping up a long press day. Clad in an all-over print Heart Breaker T-shirt that he commissioned artist Charlotte Mei to design, a long-hooded bomber, and jeans, he immediately brightens up at the sight of a bag of Haribo Gummi Bears, whipping his phone out to document the moment. His love for candy is well-known, and he mentions collecting regional variations of the gummis whenever he tours Europe on one of his musical endeavors.
Hip hop heads know Hudson Mohawke as an in-house producer for Kanye West. Electronic music fans recognize him as one-half of TNGHT (along with Lunice) and co-founder of pioneering label and artist collective LuckyMe. The world at large probably recognizes his massive song “Chimes,” which was tapped for Apple’s MacBook ad campaign and featured an all-star remix with verses from Pusha T, Future, Travis Scott, and French Montana. Considering his involvement in so many group projects over the past couple of years, it’s almost impossible to predict how a solo Hudson Mohawke album will sound.
Lantern is HudMo’s first full-length release since his 2009 debut Butter, a collage of bright, neon-infused hip hop beats with a range of different tempos, sounds, and influences that received a lukewarm reception. “Nobody was really super keen on it when it first dropped,” Mohawke notes, but “nowadays, people talk about it more.” He now thinks of that project as “a mixtape or something like that,” as opposed to a cohesive album—simply a collection of tracks that were sitting on his hard drive.
This time around, Hudson Mohawke set out to write nothing less than “a classic album.” Instead of the “here’s a bunch of songs, let’s just shove them together” method employed on his debut he says Lantern was made as one sort-of succinct piece. The album’s 14 songs were whittled down from 40 with counseling and input from Mark Ronson, Benji B, Zane Lowe, and Rick Rubin—with whom HudMo worked on Kanye West’s Yeezus. But he maintains the final decision was his, cautiously asserting that some of the biggest hits on the record may be tracks that others wanted to leave off. If you’ve been paying attention to Hudson Mohawke’s mixes, you may have noticed he plays out a number of unreleased productions. However, with the exception of “Scud Books,” all the tracks on Lantern are brand new.
Thematically, the album tells the story of a 24-hour day, starting at dawn with ambient sounds and progressing through daytime radio with more pop-sounding material. By early evening, he explains, we arrive at the Miguel and Jhene Aiko collaborations, after which the album builds toward club songs like “System.” The DJ Rogers-sampling “Ryderz” pays homage to mid-2000s soul-driven hip hop. Though he declines to mention specific reference points for this track, Mohawke’s been known to drop The Diplomats’ “I Really Mean It” instrumental (produced by Just Blaze) in DJ sets.
Above all, Lantern is an exploration of Mohawke’s influences—both in terms of music and location. Each track on the record showcases a different facet of Mohawke’s creativity, from the cinematic “Kettles” to the Fatima Yamaha–sampling “Resistance.” Location-wise, Mohawke still works out of Healthfarm Studio, the same London soundlab where he and Lunice recorded the TNGHT EP in 2012, and later worked on Kanye West’s “All Day.” With Lantern, he took on more of an executive producer role, a method he learned from working with Mr. West. While Kanye’s latest release, “All Day,” was mixed and mastered at HudMo’s London studio, don’t bother asking him anything about Kanye’s upcoming album. “I can’t speak on that at all,” he replies five different times throughout the interview, alluding to the fact that revealing studio secrets has gotten him in trouble in the past.
While Butter was written almost entirely in the solitude of his mother’s basement, Lantern provided the opportunity to collaborate with artists and producers he’s long admired. Working with input from others allows a track to grow organically, says Mohawke whose tracks with Miguel and Antony Hegarty changed massively from the bare-boned skeleton to the fully fleshed-out final product.
Mohawke’s working relationship with Miguel dates back to MySpace days when they worked on the R&B singer’s 2011 single “Strawberry Amazing,” released when few listeners were aware of him. Though Mohawke worried that the success of Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream would jeopardize any chance of working with him, the singer made the journey from L.A. to London to make the collaboration happen.
Although HudMo has made inroads into the American hip hop world over the past few years, many are unaware that his musical roots are also in hip hop, and that he was the youngest ever U.K. DMC finalist at the age of 15 under the moniker DJ Itchy. Despite these ties to the genre, the producer made a conscious decision to not feature any rappers on Lantern. “I didn’t want to have anyone on there was going to take away from the fact that it was my project. Everyone was picked on the fact that I have so much respect for them as an artist but that wouldn’t overshadow the fact that it’s my solo project.”
While some fans of TNGHT may feel the partnership was too short-lived, Mohawke disagrees. “It’s too easy to make a record of festival songs,” he says. “Which is what TNGHT was.” While there may be more TNGHT in the future, it won’t come until both producers’ solo projects have been released.
HudMo plans to tour with a band in support of Lantern performing a set featuring live keys, drums, and vocals. He promises more of a live performance than your average EDM show, though HudMo will still be doing DJ sets at select after-parties.
With so much evolution since his debut and so many new collaborators at his side, one way HudMo chose to stay close to home is by tapping longtime LuckyMe partner Dominic Flannigan for art direction on Lantern. It’s important to note that Mohawke stipulated in his contractual agreement with Warp that he needed to maintain the same aesthetic that he built with LuckyMe (also adding that he “didn’t want to become an IDM act”). The LuckyMe creative presence in Lantern can even be traced back to Mohawke’s 2008 EP Ooops!, which features the same typeface used on Lantern’s album cover.
This participation of longtime associates serves as a reminder that success didn’t come overnight. Take his iconic “Hudson Mo” drop, which is a recording of his younger sisters made roughly 10 years ago, when they were 10 and he was 20. He first played those little drops out at “little tiny nights in Glasgow.”
Having helped nurture those club gigs into a sound that has traveled the world, HudMo has earned the right to sit back and reflect. “It’s truly interesting to watch the scene grow from a little bar with 50 people to nights with over 2,000,” he says, having polished off the entire bag of gummi bears he began chewing on when he first sat down. As those numbers keep growing, it’s good to know that some things never change.
This article appears in Mass Appeal Issue 56. Purchase a copy here.
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