Meet the Scottish producer whose links to Kanye West have him heading to the top
Time Out Dubai staff
Kanye West-co-signed producer Hudson Mohawke is about to make a splash with his star-packed summer album, Lanterns. He talks to Andrew Frisicano about playing to the festival crowd, and his mum finally accepting his ‘job’.
Call him a Kanye West protégé if you want, but Scottish producer Hudson Mohawke (born Ross Birchard) has been killing it for a while. At 15, he was an award-winning battle DJ; at 22, he signed with the prestigious electro-leaning UK label Warp; and at 26, TNGHT, his trap-house project with producer Lunice, blew up. (Trap-house, you ask? Think bassy electro with menacing, 808-style beats.) TNGHT, which matched energetic dance music with a booming Southern-rap influence, landed at just the right time, 2012, when mainstream bros and the festival promoters who love them were just starting to get wind of this stuff called EDM. Along the way, HudMo caught the ear of Mr West, who mined his producing talents on Cruel Summer and signed Birchard as a producer for his GOOD Music label.
The 29-year-old has put TNGHT on the back-burner and kept the big-name gigs at bay long enough to release Lanterns, a full-length packed with pop hooks, speaker-jarring bass, synthesiser fantasias and vocal turns from Miguel, Antony and Jhené Aiko. It’s diverse (and challenging) yet catchy enough to play at a barbecue. In other words, it ain’t just trap music. We talked to Hudson Mohawke about shifting from party-starting, sought-after DJ and one of the cool producers you need to know in 2015 to fully fledged performer.
How do you feel about playing big festivals? It depends on the festival. Certain festivals, particularly the really large ones, nobody knows what’s going on, and that’s pretty frustrating. Having said that, it’s super fun playing to a big crowd. But you can’t get much better than playing to a really packed club with a good sound system.
The preconception with big festivals is that people don’t really care what’s playing... With the EDM stuff, you can just stand and watch ten DJs one after another, and I couldn’t tell you the difference between any of them. There’s so many of them, I couldn’t tell you one from the next, if I was to listen to one of their sets. But I guess there’s so much money in that scene that it can support an endless amount of DJs playing the same stuff.
Do you have any issues with the paparazzi in London now? From time to time in random places, like grocery stores. It’s never anywhere cool – it’s me buying a sandwich.
Why did you decide to come out with this solo record now? I meant to put it out a while ago, but we were doing the TNGHT project and I was doing a lot of collaborative work. TNGHT was a lot of fun, but we got to the stage where we didn’t really like the direction the genre was taking. When that record first came out, the quote-unquote trap thing hadn’t really blown up yet. And that’s what I think was part of its success, because you could have Thom Yorke or Richie Hawtin or Calvin Harris playing it. We were increasingly getting put on these line-ups with people playing the exact same stuff, and it was becoming a bit boring. So there will still be more TNGHT music. It just won’t probably be for a while.
Were acts copying you guys? I don’t like saying that, but I do think there was an element of that.
What have you learned by working with Kanye? I’ve learned a lot, just observing how an A-list record is put together, because it’s so different from my previous working process, which was just me and a computer.
Who are the people who had a big impact on the record? Rick Rubin, Mark Ronson, Benji B, Zane Lowe. In fact, Lowe is one of the main tastemaker radio people in the UK. I think it’s important to get fresh ears on a project, because once you’ve heard your own song like 500 times, there are little things you might not pick up on.
When you were starting out, what did your parents think of you being a DJ and producer? My mum’s a teacher, so there was quite a lot of ‘When are you going to get a real job?’ Thankfully, at the moment at least, it’s worked out for me, but there was certainly a lot of that when I was around 19 or 20, because I’d gone to college, but at that point, I was just working in a bar and making music. But they’re very supportive now.
Was there a moment when they realised, ‘This is his job’? After explaining to them how influential a label Warp is, that’s when they were like, maybe there’s something going on here. Maybe he can make something out of himself. Lantern is available on iTunes, www.apple.com/ae/itunes.