Hudson Mohawke Delivers Dark Set with New Music at SXSW’s Hype Hotel
In the opening moments of his Hype Hotel set Saturday afternoon, it seemed like the British DJ-producer Hudson Mohawke wasn't interested in pleasing anyone but himself. The music began slow and beatless, eerie washes of gothc synth pulsing and ebbing, queasy and unsettling, hyperactive drum eventually butterflying in to join them. From there, the song became doomy and Wagnerian, a synthetic symphony of minor-key electronics and snatches of chattering vocal.
The set eventually became more user-friendly, but it was a good indication of what was to come. Throughout his brief 40 minutes on stage, Ross Birchard balanced moments of crowd-pleasing exhilaration with brief asides of boundary-pushing experimentalism. The triumphalist rush of Kanye West's "All Day" was balanced by a long passage of unsteady synths, beats sputtering and popping like marbles in a frying pan. At one point, he dawdled on a song that smeared green, grimy synths downward over and over, feeling funereal, dark and imposing.
This is more or less his m.o. — the producer has made a name for himself by balancing clear pop sensibilities with instrumentation that is fitful, restless and, at times, threatening. One riotous, uptempo instrumental eventually gave way to cannons full of detonating bass, which then yielded the floor to bright bands of synth that gradually became knotty and tangled. The pattern repeated over and over — first calm, then explosive, then brain-scrambling, feeling more foreign and daring with each pass.
Near the end of the set, he layered the vocal of Laura James's "Constant Radio" over ghostlike, forlorn synths. But before too long, he'd grown tired of it, and blazing, siren-like sound rushed in, slicing the track to ribbons and making it sound like some kind of strange apocalyptic air raid. It was a suitably disorienting end to a brave, renegade set.
Written by: J. Edward Keyes