It probably goes without saying that Ross Birchard’s changed the game.
As Hudson Mohawke, one of the figureheads of this current Rustie/FlyLo/Beat Dimensions wave of hip-hop producers that are pushing the genre forward at such rapid pace, he’s eked out his own unique style – one that takes in Premier and Pete Rock, Dilla and Diplomats, 90s RnB and Prog, and materialises in a recorded output as disparate as the Secrets and Puzzles EPs with Heralds of Change, the crackling camp-fire ambient ‘Star Crackout’, and his bolshy takes on late 90s/early 00s chart bangers on the Oops bootleg EP.
But no matter how far or close the 22 year old Glaswegian’s tracks fall from the mainstream, there’s something unexplainably him about all of them – you know his beats when you hear them, and there’s an unstated personal aspect to them. The latest twist in the Hud Mo tale is Polyfolk Dance, a six-track EP – his debut for Warp – and possibly the best thing he’s done to date. We talked to Hudson about his career to this point, what inspires him, and where he’s going.
How did you get started making music?
“I was DJing already; my dad had a radio show in the 80s, so from there he had vinyl round the house, which I was playing on a little hi-fi turntable that I had.”
What sort of stuff?
“Well basically he’s from the States; he’s from LA, but he had this show on Scottish radio that was the American music show, basically – so he had a lot of music around the house; American pop music, old stuff, that kind of thing…”
Were you playing any instruments?
“I still play drums actually, but this was back… this was back when I was eight or nine. So yeah, I had a hi-fi turntable and one cassette deck and sort of mixed between them – that’s where the DJing thing started. Then I got some shitty belt-drive turntables when I was about eleven or something, and just started buying records; started getting into it. I got some mixtapes from my cousin of old jungle and hardcore stuff, and got really into that, and started buying that sort of stuff. But I was only twelve or something. Did that for a couple of years, ’til I was fifteen, sixteen or something, and then got the Music game for the Playstation and started messing about with that – making music on the Playstation basically.
Were you making hip-hop tempo stuff then, or was it jungle, or what?
“It was hip-hop tempo stuff, but also bits of jungle and bits of techno – I was just fucking around; I didn’t have any particular genre in mind, I was just playing around. Then when Music 2000 came out, which was the follow-up, you could sample on that – like you could take out the game disc and put in the audio CD, sample it into the Playstation, then take it out and put the game back in. So I started sampling, and jumbling up samples – that’s how I started to get into that side of things.”
Was it a natural thing for you to program beats the way you do – quite complex and off-kilter?
“It seems natural because I’m not consciously trying to make things that are really off-kilter or anything like that – I just didn’t think there was any point making music that was dictated by a computer, or by whatever hardware you’re using. I wanted to make something that was a bit more human basically, and push that side of things.”
Do you think that side of things comes from playing the drums – presuming you were playing them at that stage. Like Dilla used to sample his drums live…
“Possibly. I was playing drums at school, and people would try to discourage me from playing loosely, and try to get me to play really rigidly, with a metronome, but I just liked to fuck around basically.”
What producers were inspiring you at that stage?
“Lots of DJ Premier, Pete Rock… the D.I.T.C. producers…”
‘Cause something that always strikes me about your stuff, on parts of Polyfolk Dance, though I guess more obviously on Oops, is that people bring up Dilla and that to talk about your work, but to me it sounds more influenced by more mainstream stuff – like Diplomats. Is that fair?
“I guess so. I like to make music that’s quite immediate – that’s the sort of sound that I make; I want to make it jump out, and I don’t really consider whether it’s underground or mainstream, I just like to make lively music… It’s interpretive, and it is quite commercial I guess. And I do like a lot of mainstream RnB and rap…”
How did the LuckyMe thing start?
“It started with my friend Dominic [Dom Sum], he started the collective with him and some friends in Edinburgh, and he was studying at art school in Glasgow and ran a little club night in a bar there. I became resident DJ at that night through a friend of a friend and got introduced to Dominic and sort of hit it off from there – I would play every night, we were in a group together and made music – and from there we just expanded, and more people got involved with it – it sort of went from there…”
What stuff were you playing out at those early nights?
“A mix, erm, we had guests as well, like a few bands would play, a lot of MCs would come – I would DJ but I would play a lot of instrumentals really, instrumentals of the tunes that I liked. Quite a lot of Dilated Peoples and that type of thing; even a lot of the UK production like Harry Love’s stuff. Bits of my own stuff, but I wasn’t really that keen on spinning my own stuff, even if I did do production for the group – when we did our own little gigs that was my production, but I was never that keen on it. And this was before the days of Serato or even CD Decks; so it would just be taking a minidisc player and plugging that in but it’s not the heaviest thing to be playing at a club…”
Had Heralds of Change formed at that point?
“No, that came about in… 2004, we started that.”
Something that always gets brought up with LuckyMe is the way you’ve become part of a global set of like-minded producers – whether that’s the Beat Dimension stuff in Holland, or Flying Lotus, Edit, etc in California… Was there a point where you became aware that there were these people out there with a similar mindset?”
“I certainly wasn’t aware of most of those people when I was making a lot of my stuff – it was only later that I was like “oh, we’re quite similar”. I wasn’t aware of Flying Lotus, I was aware of Edit before I was aware of Lotus, and I thought his stuff was very different to mine; I liked the sensibility of it, but I didn’t see it as similar music. I wasn’t making stuff with a view of being like that stuff – I wasn’t even making stuff really with a view to release it – like I say, I was just messing around and it took off…”
Does that side of it get blown out of proportion, or is there a genuine interconnected thing going on?
“It is interconnected in the sense that all of us can travel to Australia or LA or somewhere, and there’ll be like-minded people who’re aware of what we’re doing. That’s pretty amazing, and in that way it is interconnected. But in other ways, it’s not like we’re going to play at enormous clubs or anything… we’re fairly like-minded people, but it’s not a massive thing yet by any means.”
You did get to play Sonar [Hud Mo, Rustie and Flying Lotus].
“Yeah, we played at Sonar. That was amazing.”
I remember seeing you, Rustie and Jackmaster at Fabric, and you had Edit there. And when he came off he was like “these guys are the future” and stuff. Do you view this wave of producers as a progression of hip-hop, or do you view it as a reaction?
“I think it’s a progression. I still think when I’m making my stuff – especially at the start – and I’ll be listening to DJ Premier or whoever, that I’m just making my version of that. It just sort of turned out the way it did – I wasn’t trying to be radically, radically different from them, it was my interpretation of it. And it so happened that people heard it and were like “what the fuck is this?” But to my ears it didn’t really sound that different to any Premier production, and I was a huge fan of that stuff a couple of years ago… Not so much these days, but up until 2004, 2005…”
Have you moved away from it?
“A little bit – it’s not so much that I’ve moved away from it; I still like it. I just think that those people aren’t really doing it the way they used to… I hesitate to use the term falling off, but I haven’t heard anything that’s really excited me from those guys for quite a long time.”
Have your tastes changed quite radically in the last couple of years? This is kind of speculation on my part, but when you compare those Heralds of Change EPs on All City to something like ‘Star Crackout’, or some of the tracks from Polyfolk Dance, they’re world’s apart…
“Well to be honest, with ‘Star Crackout’, that was made before even some of the Heralds of Change records – a lot of my stuff is all made at different times, and I just decide when to put it out, it’s not necessarily made right before it gets released. I’ve been experimenting with lots of different stuff like that, and I have lots more stuff like that which I haven’t really decided what to do with yet. But in my idea for the Heralds thing; it was that type of sound, and I wanted it to be that type of sound. It didn’t necessarily mean I couldn’t make very different stuff at the same time.”
So what inspires you nowdays, if it’s not Pete Rock and Premier?
“Still a lot of the commercial stuff, but also a lot of earlier prog stuff. Like a lot of it’s quite cheesy… but in particular, I’m into stuff like the Mahavishnu Orchestra and their off-shoot acts. It’s like prog stuff fused with opera, fused with crazy free-jazz, electric violin – it’s just the weirdest stuff.”
Is that something that resonates in Polyfolk Dance?
“Yeah, they’ve definitely made a really big impact on me, and all the off-shoot members – it’s the whole thing; like twenty different people coming together and it’s such a mash of different ideas and different colours and different places, and it doesn’t necessarily fit into one ideology – you can’t draw a line through it all, it all comes from different places but somehow it all works together as well.”
That seems like a pretty good description of the EP itself. Were there any particular goals or intentions you had with Polyfolk Dance – especially given it was your first on a big label?
“It was something that I took a long time to think about – I was thinking about it, but I wasn’t really coming up with any conclusions about what I wanted to do. So in the end it was like “right, I’m gonna pick these six tracks, and put them on it, and if people like it, they like it.” And if not, then you know, whatever. I don’t think we necessarily all come from the same standpoint, but it’s all still my music, and it still has its place, you know what I mean? Whether it’s completely suitable for a first record, it’s not up to me to say I guess.”
Where does the name come from?
“The name is actually from one of the off-shoot members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra; it’s a guy called Jean-Luc Ponty. He plays electric violin; an older French guy, he must be in his sixties now. He did loads and loads of albums, and a track from one of them was called ‘Polyfolk Dance’ – and I thought it particularly suited what I was about…”
Where do you think you’ll go from here?
“Well I’ve got the album just now; I’m just finishing it off at the moment. It’s probably more pop – I’ve got a few vocal tracks, and some of it is quite straight-up pop stuff. There’s more experimental stuff as well, but it’s less beats-focused and it’s more trying to make actual songs. I’ve got a guy who I did some Heralds of Change stuff with, Olivia DaySoul, and there’s a few other vocalists – some I’m still waiting to get things back from, so I don’t want to say in case it doesn’t work out.
“To be honest, this beat-tape that I did a couple of years ago, in 2006 or whatever… one or two of the tracks on the Polyfolk thing are originally taken from that, and all that stuff was done with the view of having vocalists, whether that was MCs or singers – it was never supposed to stand on its own feet as just tracks on their own. But I think the way people heard it, because it was quite busy sounding and there’s a lot going on, it’s too much for vocalists – ’cause a lot of the time when I’ve given these tracks to vocalists they’ve been like “I don’t know what to do with this – there’s too much already.” So in a way they do stand up on their own. I’m definitely getting more into making whole songs though, rather than random beats.”
And then hopefully people can stop calling them wonky.
“I hope so. It kind of seems to have stopped, that, I dunno whether it’s just me not reading as much…”
Does it still annoy you?
“It does annoy me. It’s quite a derogatory term, you know? It implies that it’s… I mean, it’s not serious music, that’s fair enough, but it doesn’t mean that a lot of time and effort doesn’t go into it, and it’s not just like the main theme of it is to be as crazy as possible.”