Get Their Sound: Hudson Mohawke
Electronic mastery from Scotland’s finest
There’s always something interesting about an unassuming musical genius. Someone who doesn’t feel the need to flaunt their talent, yet who almost secretly has been responsible for some of the most high profile music out there. Hudson Mohawke fits that bill perfectly. The Scottish producer has amassed an extremely prolific body of work, solo and collaborative, but it’s his work producing records for Kanye West that really elevates him above other artists.
Let’s look at HudMo’s musical background, notable tracks and offer some advice on how you could attempt to replicate his sound.
Hudson Mohawke (real name Ross Birchard) started out as a turntablist in his native Glasgow, and is to this day the youngest person to reach the finals of the UK DMC DJ championships. He later signed to Warp, home of some of the best and most interesting music electronic has to offer.
In 2009 he released his first LP, Butter, under the Hudson Mohawke name. It’s often said in these days of streaming and downloads that the art of the full-length is dying out, but Butter resides at the other end of the scale. Listened from the first track to the last, it takes HudMo’s frankly bonkers brand of jittery, cut-up audio and somehow manages to make sense.
His second album, Lantern (2015), was dialed back in terms of craziness but in its place were bona fide pop hooks and a slightly more cinematic vibe. In between his work putting Butter and Lantern together, he worked as a producer for hire, signing to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. collective and producing tracks for Kanye, Drake and A$AP Rocky, among others.
He’s also extremely prolific with remixes, racking up credits for his work on tracks by DJ Shadow, Bjork and Paolo Nutini (yes, really).
Worth Your Time
Because his style shifts and morphs over time, it’s hard to suggest something which would be typically HudMo. Perhaps it’s more interesting to show a couple of tracks which show his characteristics, rather than a signature sound.
First up would be a track called Chimes. This tune is a great example of taking simple musical expressions and motifs and using technology to elevate them. The ‘verse’ – if you can call it that – has a brilliantly delay-soaked melody which gives way to a frankly obscene amount of sub-bass.
Another one to recommend would be Star Crackout, from the Butter album. This shows off another of Hudson Mohawke’s oft-used techniques; creative sampling. He takes samples, notably in this track of a melancholic flute and female vocal, and mangles it up beyond all recognition. Well worth a listen if you’re into sampling.
Coming from a DJ background, you’ll not find much in the way of traditional or acoustic instruments in the Hudson Mohawke line-up. It’s fairly well documented that he spent a lot of time getting to grips with a Playstation music game, which taught him the basics of MIDI and creating tunes based around recurring patterns.
The Butter album was created almost entirely using a laptop and a copy of Fruity Loops, perhaps about as basic an electronic setup as you can get. Goes to show you can’t blame a lack of creativity on your equipment!
Nowadays he has access to an expanded range of equipment, as you’d expect. Notable equipment includes a Teenage Engineering OP-1, an Akai MPK Mini and a gaming computer with enough on-board RAM to cope with ever more complex DAW sessions.
Get That Hudson Mohawke Sound
If you’re brave enough to want to attempt it, there are some specific bits of gear we’d recommend. While it’s not known if he’s a user, we would definitely say Native Instruments’ Maschine would enable you to get stuck into beat-slicing, sampling and arrangements. Add in a copy of Native Instruments’ Komplete package and you’d have access to thousands and thousands of sounds too.
Perhaps more important than the gear is the approach though; swot up on your sampling techniques, as well as your ability to compose non-linear passages of music.
A final tip from the man himself concerns how you listen back to your music. In a great interview with The Fader, he said: “You become so accustomed to letting the screen tell you what’s going on when making electronic music, rather than your ears. Once I get to a certain stage of something I’m working on, I’ll turn my screen off and just sit and listen. I won’t necessarily know what’s coming up next, and see if that works purely on a listening level.” Use your ears folks!