fes­ti­vals

What to catch at Castlepalooza and Indiepen­dence this week­end,

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

“Those Ox­e­gen gigs just didn’t work ... it wasn’t the right at­mos­phere and there was no one there”

IT’S ONE OF THE most un­likely pair­ings of the year. Ross Bir­chard is the Glas­gow pro­ducer and DJ who op­er­ates as Hud­son Mohawke and makes space-age, fu­ture-jazz in­stru­men­tal beats and tracks. Many have thought that Bir­chard’s beats would be ideal for a hip-hop or r’n’b track, but no one ex­pected Chris Brown, the r’n’b singer best known for thump­ing his then-girl­friend Ri­hanna in 2009, to be the one to bring HudMo into the pop game.

Bir­chard ac­knowl­edges that it was a strange turn of events. “It came about through a re­ally bizarre con­nec­tion,” he ex­plains. “Steve Beck­ett runs my la­bel Warp and his wife is a film pro­ducer and was friends with two chore­og­ra­phers who do chore­og­ra­phy for all the big pop videos you could name. She gave them some of my work and that’s where the con­nec­tion be­gan.

“They passed the stuff on to Chris Brown’s peo­ple, who got in touch. I was just an­other pro­ducer on the pro­ject, I don’t think Chris Brown knew who I was. Orig­i­nally, it was just a demo track to see what I could do and I didn’t know they were go­ing off to make a video and put it out on YouTube.

“But a lot of stuff has al­ready come off the back of that so, yeah, it was a good move.” Bir­chard’s ap­pren­tice­ship as a pro­ducer be­gan in Glas­gow nearly a decade ago. He’d al­ready shown his smarts as a 15-year-old DJ when he was the youngest ever fi­nal­ist at the DMC World DJ Cham­pi­onships, but his dal­liance with the Luck­yMe col­lec­tive saw him broad­en­ing his hori­zons.

“I wasn’t aware of oth­ers do­ing sim­i­lar things mu­sic-wise when I started out,” he says. “I was re­ally young at that point, it was 2001 or 2002 and I was 16. Do­minic [Flan­ni­gan] who is the main guy at Luck­yMe was in art school at the time and he started a club night and that was the first place I re­ally got to play reg­u­larly.

“It wasn’t even a club, just a night at this bar, but it was a good ex­pe­ri­ence to be around like-minded peo­ple who were into sim­i­lar mu­sic as me.” When he wasn’t on the decks, Bir­chard was at work cre­at­ing his own sounds. Hav­ing al­ready spent years mas­ter­ing turntab­list tech­niques, he quickly found him­self im­mersed in try­ing to pro­duce tracks.

“I think it’s in my char­ac­ter, that to­tal fo­cus thing. I al­ways liked to lock my­self away from the world and just cre­ate beats. I still find it re­ally sat­is­fy­ing to just sit and work. That’s my re­ward, to go through the process, en­gag­ing my­self mu­si­cally.

“DJ-ing was a com­plete ad­dic­tion for me and when I started to fo­cus more on pro­duc­tion, that also be­came an ad­dic­tion for me. I’m not a mu­si­cian so I had to start from scratch with this. I’m learn­ing all the time and it’s just taken time to get to this level.” He’s quite fas­tid­i­ous about the process.

“Usu­ally, I’ve got some sort of idea what I want and I don’t like ad­just­ing some­thing af­ter I’m fin­ished.

“I’m quite stub­born like that, I like to get the job done and don’t go back over it af­ter­wards. I don’t like get­ting sug­ges­tions about how to change some­thing or hear­ing peo­ple talk­ing about putting an elec­tric gui­tar or some­thing in which would be just plain wrong to me. I work on some­thing, I fin­ish it, that’s it. I might make some small change in terms of ar­range­ment, but that’s it. I’m prob­a­bly too pre­cious about what I do in that sense.” Bir­chard’s 10,000 hours of prac­tice has al­ready pro­duced some great blasts. But­ter, his de­but al­bum for Warp, was an idio­syn­cratic, ma­jes­tic snapshot of 23rd cen­tury soul. There’s also a huge vol­ume of tracks re­leased be­fore that al­bum to sign­post his de­vel­op­ment as a pro­ducer, from grooves like Oops to col­lab­o­ra­tions with Dubliner Mike Slott as the Her­alds Of Change.

He’s got very def­i­nite ideas about what fits where in his canon. His forth­com­ing EP Satin Pan­thers is very much pitched at the dance­floor with a set of tracks like Thun­der Bay which will knock the doors off the gaff with their boom and eu­pho­ria. “I wanted to make some­thing more pop-ori­en­tated with beats,” says Bir­chard about the new EP.

“I don’t think I’ll ever make an al­bum which is full of those beats, so I thought I’d ex­per­i­ment with an EP be­tween re­leases with more dance­floor stuff. But I al­ways want the al­bums to be for lis­ten­ing, rather than for clubs. The next al­bum won’t sound like

But­ter, but it will prob­a­bly be in the same vein.”

The pro­ducer is also happy to see that his peers have be­gun to diver­sify with their sounds. Af­ter HudMo and fel­low trav­ellers like Fly­ing Lo­tus first emerged, it seemed that ev­ery chancer with a sam­pler was mak­ing ex­per­i­men­tal hip-hop beats which sounded woozy and wonky and you couldn’t move for deep and dubby in­stru­men­tal hiphop tracks. Now, though, the strong have sur­vived and have be­gun to take chances again. “I can feel mu­sic chang­ing a lot at the mo­ment,” says Bir­chard. “A year or two ago with the more ab­stract hip-hop side of things, there was a lot of stuff which ba­si­cally sounded the same and there was lit­tle vari­a­tion. It was dull and bor­ing. Now, you’ve got peo­ple branch­ing out in all these dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions and you have a bunch of like-minded pro­duc­ers pro­duc­ing so much var­ied stuff, which is a very healthy sit­u­a­tion to be part of.”

Bir­chard is head­ing to Ire­land this

week­end to play at Castlepalooza. He’s had some in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ences at Ir­ish fes­ti­vals to date, namely his brace of ap­pear­ances at Ox­e­gen. “Those Ox­e­gen gigs just didn’t work,” he says. “I was on be­fore Fever Ray the first time, but it wasn’t the right at­mos­phere and there was no one there. I played again the fol­low­ing year and again, it wasn’t right. But I played T In the Park this year, which is the Scot­tish ver­sion of Ox­e­gen and there were five or six thou­sand peo­ple there and it was bril­liant. You never re­ally know or can pre­dict how you’re go­ing to go down when you play fes­ti­val shows like that.”

A Hud­son Mohawke show is just Bir­chard fly­ing solo and that’s how he likes it for now. “I do want to get a band with in­stru­ments to­gether at some stage, but I want to wait un­til it’s right. I think a lot of peo­ple who do that are only do­ing it for the sake of hav­ing a band on­stage and be­cause it looks good. It doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily as­so­ciate with the ac­tual mu­sic that much. It’s al­ways weird to see acts who are largely elec­tronic based take to the stage with all these in­stru­ments which just don’t fit in, no mat­ter how much they flesh out the sound.”

ELAINE

MAI

CLOCK

OPERA

DJANGO DJANGO

ONRA

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