Hudson Mohawke is a precocious 22 year old kid from Glasgow making beats, soon to come out with his first record on Warp (not a bad start). He belongs with this newish subgenre of music that combines house and techno, early video game music, IDM and glitch, maybe some dubstep and hyphy, and all with sense of a hip-hop beat pushed so loosely on the backbeat that it almost sounds like a drummer making mistakes. The affect of this trait is a kind of humanization of beat programming (something some IDMers, those who weren't attempting to obfuscate the beat so much that it became alienatingly other, were after) in that it approaches the beat more in the way a jazz drummer would. Jazz drummers (or really any drummer with any sense at all) know that where you place your hit, either on top of the beat or behind it, changes everything about how the sense of the rhythm is conveyed. A beat on top pushes the piece forward, drives it, while being behind feels lazy, or halted. The way these beats seem to work (although it's frequent enough that one feels some other type of alchemy involved) is that there's enough going on before the beat as after it, and they 'errors' kind of cancel each other out. But they also call attention to themselves so the process of humanization isn't really that it sounds like a human playing a drum kit (badly), but rather human rebelling against and breaking free of the grid clock of computer programs. Tic toc tic toc boom.
The term that often gets used to talk about this is 'wonky' although the confusing thing is that 'wonky' came about in describing a music really more rooted in techno. It was dudes making techno with rubbery funk bass lines and a steadily shifting beat structure (mostly in London, Glasgow, and to a lesser extent Berlin) that were thought of as 'wonky'. These guys, on the other hand, owe their sense of rhythm and instrumentation to hip-hop - slow stoned tempos, big downbeats, shakers, pitched up high hats, claps, glossy synths and obscured soul samples. In particular, it seems that pretty much everyone (including LA's Flying Lotus and Mike Slott, SF's Lazer Sword, Montreal's Megasoid, and fellow Glaswegian Dustie) references J Dilla often enough that one could pretty safely call him a kind of absent dad unknowingly fathering a sort of freakish offspring from his blend of downtempo, soulful, hip-hop. The thing they share most with him isn't just the self conscious placement of the snare, or the warmth and depth of his mixes, but the underlying sense of a dorkish studio wizard, staying up too late drinking Dr. Pepper and taking bong rips and living a kind of hermetic lifestyle. In that sense, many of these artist's beats feel like an inside joke, or a tangential point in a stoned internal monologue in which the train of thought begins and ends without direct reference to anything except feeling high and happy and kind of dark, but mostly free. In the world of instrumental hip-hop, where the gloomy posturing of Burial marks one overbearing end, and the euphoric pop collage of Girl Talk who shuns any sense of crafting one's own sounds from scratch, marks another exciting but slightly vacuous end, with Prefuse 73 lying somewhere uninspiring for either moody or dance advocates in the middle, this emergence of...I read someone call it 'aquacrunk' but I had to get creative and think of something else and I vote that it start getting called 'thunk' - apparently thunk isn't just a funny way of saying thought (although that's not a bad connection either) but it's a word used in computer programming in order to describe a piece of code used to perform a delayed computation which I find fitting for numerous reasons (see above's discussion of rhythm)...this emergence is as fascinating as it is healthy for the future of hip-hop.
Hud Mo, the diminutive, puts together a banger with "Polkadot Blues", a soul sample squeezed into chipmunk territory, a lopsided but headstrong beat, and a very strong resemblance to a J Dilla production. Heralds of Change's "Spotted" is a glamorous anthem, blinged out bleepy synth, a cowbell hammering out "my drink and my twostep" like the drunk uncle joining in with the wedding band and playing way too loud, and a warm pad and some gauzy bass wrapping everything up in some secret sauce. And Mike Slott's 'Flunky' is a like a etude on this whole scene. I get the weird feeling he's gonna be the next to get heard.

Hudson Mohawke: Polkadot Blues

Heralds of Change (Hudson Mohawke's project with Mike Slott): Spotted

Mike Slott: Flunky

1 comment:

david said...

great article, thanks for posting.