LIVE: Hudson Mohawke @ XOYO, Hoxton
DJ/Producer Showcased Both New And Old
With his first headline show in London last night, it is clear that Scottish DJ and producer Hudson Mohawke (or Ross Birchard, as is his real name) has established himself as a major attraction in his own right.
Supported by Canadian producer and fellow future-R&B enthusiast Jacques Green, Mohawke was, apparently, scheduled to promote his first album – 2009’s fantastically wonky LP, 'Butter'. This felt odd, not only because he has sinced released plenty of new material to promote, but also because this new material seems to have resolutely parted with many of the musical characteristics that made 'Butter' so extraordinary.
Now, it feels important to make it clear that I absolutely LOVED everything about 'Butter'. I loved the delirious synth riffs, the spacey acid-jazz influences, Oliver Daysoul’s histrionically squeaky vocals over the thumping basslines, even those wonderfully geeky 8-bit melodies. Perhaps most of all, I loved that it all kind of sounded like the irreverent antics of a hyperactive 11 year-old that had been locked up in his room and allowed to go HAM on a kiddie’s Casio and some sort of funky beat machine. And the reason it resonated so well, might have been that it simply sounded like Hudson Mohawke was having a helluvalot of fun.
He still did when he released 'Satin Panthers' EP earlier this year, but – as most reviewers seemed to also agree on – Birchard has tidied up his musical equations to the point where his sound now almost has a structure. Shock horror. This of course does not have to be a negative thing, but it does make you wonder just where he has garnered the influences that have now enabled reviewers to start placing him in certain sound categories. Birchard’s most recent Soundcloud uploads has hinted at a penchant for hip-hop producer Lex Luger’s seemingly ubiquitous blaring walls of sound.
So when he came on stage at XOYO last night wearing a Juicy J-referencing 'We Trippy Mane' t-shirt, and assumed position behind a row of white Styrofoam letters spelling out ‘HUDMO’, it felt like a vague inkling was immediately confirmed.
He started off slowly, building up anticipations with a remix of Bjork’s 'Virus' (taken from the fittingly trippy 'Biophilia'). When he dropped the running spiral synth intro to 'Octan', the crowd lifted off accordingly, and what followed after that was a DJ set bursting with hip hop and R&B samples (from Young Jeezy to that much-played remix on Keri Hilson’s 'Turnin’ Me On'), some typical HudMo basslines and a lot of tinny, floating melodies. He did include the big hits – 'Rising 5' and 'Cbat' were particularly warmly welcomed – but overall, there was a notable lack of the almost childlike energy that made 'Butter' so special.
Perhaps not surprising, with the surge of acclaim Mohawke has recently received from some of the biggest names in hip hop: the legendary producer Just Blaze’s reaction to 'Satin Panthers' on Twitter was nothing less than “I AM LISTENING TO NEW @MOANHAWKE AND ALMOST JUST GOT MOVED TO TEARS. WOW. THESE ARE THE CHORDS I HEAR IN DREAMS THAT I FORGET WHEN I WAKE”. It feels like these big-ups from the hip hop industry has left Mohawke soaring with pride. That wonderfully gawky teenage spirit of the DJ who once proclaimed “I know it’s cheesy, but I want to make melodies that sends chills down your spine”, seems to have been replaced by a far more mature approach.
It’s true what Just Blaze said though – Birchard’s are the chords of dreams, and last night’s set (accompanied by a perfectly irrational set of visuals) was heavy enough to have even the most rigid sceptic banging on the walls. But where 'Butter' excelled with its utterly genre-defying, unexpected playfulness, this set did feel inescapably genre-led. While some may have felt that 'Butter' was “an unfocused mix of future-R&B pastiche and jumbled funk experimentation”, I, for one, missed that unrestrained exuberance.
Of course, the genre doesn’t make the music, and don’t get me wrong – it did feel good. From what I gathered, his audience also loved what they were served. I just can’t help but wish that Hudson Mohawke would have continued to let us in on his own trippy ride.