What to catch at Castlepalooza and Indiependence this weekend,
“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.”