Hudson Mohawke: Two heads are better than one

With Antony Hegarty and Miguel on his new album, Lantern, Hudson Mohawke is learning the fine art of collaboration

Ross Birchard keeps a list of people he wants to work with. “A lot of people on the list don’t materialise because musically, it’s very different,” the Scottish producer known as Hudson Mohawke explains. “Then, there’s a lot of others in more left-of-centre, avant-garde, electronic music who wouldn’t necessarily consider doing a collaboration with me. Some people do materialise, but it takes ages.”

One of the people on his list was Antony Hegarty from Antony & The Johnsons, who appears on new album Lantern.

“When I eventually tracked him down, he wanted to get away from what he was known for. I had no idea that he wanted to change his approach. I think he felt a bit stagnant in his own work and he wanted to try to expand in terms of production techniques and sounds.

“It worked really well and we made a lot of songs together, probably more than I’ve made collaboratively with anyone for quite a few years. He was up for trying something new, which I really appreciate.”


Birchard himself probably features on many lists too. The Glasgow kid, who got into the production game initially through experimenting with PlayStation games, a cracked copy of Fruity Loops audio software and his family's home computer, has become a hugely in-demand producer. His albums Butter and newbie Lantern are awash with lavish soundcraft and beautifully buffed boom tunes.

These well-rounded releases for the Warp label aside, Birchard has also worked with Kanye West, Drake, Pusha T, Lil Wayne, John Legend and many in West’s Good Music gang. His collaboration with Lunice on the TNGHT fandango took the pair off on a whole new set of adventures.

The art of collaboration then is something Birchard can riff about with some degree of expertise. According to him, it's all about meeting in the middle. "What I really like about Antony, like Miguel who's also on Lantern, is that there's no ego involved when you're in the studio. There's no one going 'I'm not doing this'. It's a perfect 50/50 situation.

Expecting to fly

“I did a lot of stuff with Antony in New York but he was more than happy to fly to London and work with me. That means a lot to me as I’m a big fan and I’m really grateful that he was willing to come to me to finish recordings. There are other songs from those sessions which will be released over the next few months.”

In Birchard's mind, collaborations have been the key to him finding new momentum in the seven years since his debut album, Butter, was released. "It's my ability to collaborate with other people that's the biggest change. It means not thinking it has to be done this way, my way, and that there are no alternatives. That takes a long time to accept.

“There are often times when someone has an idea that you don’t think is great but it turns out to be an integral part of the song you’re working on. It’s a learning process when you go from working completely solo to working with three or four people at once and being able to take on their opinions on stuff.”

His work with West and other A-list superstars has also meant Birchard has found out about the code of omerta which surrounds their projects. “Within the four walls of the studio, anything goes. But as far as talking about things publicly, I tend to steer away from that because you can say one sentence and it can be taken out of context and that one sentence turns into an avalanche of articles about ‘this is coming out’ and ‘this is happening’ and you have to deal with that again and again. It’s taken me to have to experience that to realise why these artists are so private with their work.”

Alongside such experienced names in the studio, Birchard has also found himself having to do some adjustments. “When I first started working with people like that, I think I pressurised myself to work in a certain way and deliver this hit.

“More so now, I feel much more open to experiment and that’s why you get asked to get involved in projects like this in the first place. It takes you a while to realise that you’re there to make your input and provide your approach to the track and feel more relaxed and less afraid to experiment within that environment.”

In the spotlight

Another intriguing iron in Bichard’s fire has been the TNGHT project. What started out as an EP with Canadian DJ Lunice in 2012 led to festival headline slots, a lot of attention from the EDM scene and some big offers.

Birchard and Lunice, though, decided to step away before things got out of hand. “We began to feel that the direction that scene was going in was not for us. When we first released TNGHT stuff, you didn’t have festival stages devoted to that kind of music. At first, it crossed a lot of lines with everyone from the most out-and-out EDM DJs to the most underground, leftfield DJs playing TNGHT. Nowadays, though, that music has pigeonholed itself and when we saw that happening, we said that wasn’t what we set out to do.

“Various people approached us about making a major American album and it takes some weighing up when someone is in front of you with a blank cheque saying ‘do whatever you want’. But you’re also aware that the expectation then is to make a record of bangers from start to finish and we felt that was not in either of our interests.

“TNGT shows have been among the most fun shows I’ve ever done and the project is not finished by any means, but it’s on the back-burner for the moment because we felt that it would be the end of our solo careers, which both of us have been nurturing for a decade. We didn’t want to throw that away for the sake of two years’ worth of hype.”

It’s clear too that Birchard has reservations about the huge EDM scene in the US and what it entails.

“I have to be very careful what I say here because again, it can be taken out of context. It’s very apparent to me why it is so appealing to such large crowds because it’s kind of the ultimate dance/pop music crossover.

Finger on the button

“It’s no surprise that it’s completely successful but it’s not something I felt or have felt recently that was incredibly stimulating. It was not motivating me. It’s so much fun to go out and play in front of thousands of people and watch them go insane, but there’s some element there that I can’t put my finger on which is a little cynical at the same time.”

Lantern is out now on Warp. Hudson Mohawke plays Longitude festival on July 18th