TNGHT is less a meeting of minds than a high-speed collision
On record, Lunice and Hudson Mohawke are hardly wallflowers. The former barged onto the scene with 2010’s Stacker Upper EP, a set of Commodore 64 crunk that boiled the Glawegian collective’s signature sound down to its raw ingrdients. Last year’s One Hunned mined similar territory, and the Montreal native has since found himself picked up by Mad Decent and going viral with Azealia Banks (not to forget turning out the absolutely incendiary ‘The Good Kids’).
Hudson Mohawke, meanwhile, has been LuckyMe’s principal poster boy since Hudson’s Heeters dropped back in 2006. The former DMC finalist makes gaudy capriccios that fuse hip-hop rhythms with a wild prog-rock sensibility. In the years since 2009’s excellent Butter on Warp, he’s stayed busy with the Satin Panthers EP, some canny jingle-writing and a little odd-job work for Kanye West.
“It’s a rap record, right? Just straight rap-bangers that rappers can totally get on.” - Lunice
Their self-titled debut EP as TNGHT is a rambunctious delight: upfront, tightly wound and, more often than not, charmingly daft. Atrophied voices, hand claps and Michael Bay FX are all hurled into the mix. Lead cut ‘Bugg’n’, meanwhile, yokes pots’n’pans clatter to a trap-rap undercarriage. It’s also a triumph of economy, trading in the madcap scrimmage of Butter, say, for a ruthlessly efficient approximation of Hot97 head-snap. Warp and LuckyMe clearly have high hopes for the record, and TNGHT pays back dividends.
FACT spoke to the pair at London’s Red Bull Music Acadamy Studio on the eve of their first headline show at London’s Village Underground. They make for an odd but affectionate pair: Hudson Mohawke is measured, taciturn and gentle, wherea Lunice is ebullient and keen to natter. Major labels, beat-biting and “wiling out” were all on the agenda.
How and why did the TNGHT project first come together?
Lunice: “Really, we were both onto a point where we were just starting to find a sound, trying to sort of challenge ourselves in a way, where we wanted to see what we could come up with with the most simple layers. Like, “how big of a sound can we come up with just that?”. But that was on our solo type of thing. And when I heard [Mohawke’s] remix on Sinden’s Gucci Mane mixtape, that track that he did was on that total radio-rap type thing. That same day, I just hit him up straight on Gmail like “Yo, gotta try something out. Straight rap shit, no weird shit, just straight rap”. And he was like: “Yeah sure, let’s try it out”.
“But what was funny is that we didn’t try it out for a while, until I was actually in London for like two days or so. We were in the studio – he was working on something else at the time, and by the time he was done we were like, “let’s try something out”. Next thing you know, we have three songs that same day. And the next day, we continue trying to finish at least two or three and afterwards just started sending parts, and finished the rest of the record the time I was here again for a day or two again. We finished it then. That was pretty much it: it came from what I felt was us both being on the same idea of rap music, of where we want to push it. So we’re like, “why not just have both us try it out, see how it goes?” It’s pretty good.”
“There’s a huge difference between a beatmaker and a producer.” – Lunice
So you were paring your sound down – taking it down to a few elements…
Lunice: “Yeah, when you start out with a new sound, you’re super hype off of it, right? It’s like, “Wow, this is totally inspiring!” So you really try to explore and see how much you can push the sound without making it super weird. After a while, you just naturally want to challenge yourself, so you try to make certain parts simple. Then you straight try to make the whole thing really simple and super-tight, because that’s hard to do. So that’s pretty much what came about, the whole idea of working together. But it didn’t come as, let’s work together and make a project: it was just. “let’s work together, and that’s it – put it out, lay it out at gigs”. It was such a really great result from the whole crowd, so it was the people that made it into a project more than us really [laugh]. We’re just responding to the people whilst having fun together.”
How who would you describe the EP that you’ve created together?
Lunice: “To me – and probably to him too – it’s a rap record, right? Just straight rap-bangers that rappers can totally get on. There’s space for a rapper. What we’re intending to do with this TNGHT project is just to go straight into mainstream rap music in the States and go against all the top producers in there right now. But not only that: I also feel like this whole project is sort of a voice for all our homies, know what I mean? Not only LuckyMe, but also Night Slugs crew…all the homies of our scene put together, and this is what we’re presenting to the Americans.
“[Mohawke] was saying, a lot of people on major labels, they know we’re around. They’re very well aware of us, but don’t even bother trying to contact us. They just straight frickin’ rob us, almost. I wouldn’t say ‘rob’ – [they] just get the idea, then get another producer to do it. And for a while we were like, ‘Whatever, we’ve got our own little scene going, I don’t mind and it’s all good”. But after that we were like, “Okay, okay, hold up, it’s getting a little too obvious!”
“We didn’t think about breaking in fully until we did the TNGHT project together, and the response we got from rappers from that. We were like, “You know what? Let’s just straight bring it in. Straight bring it in. We’ve been doing this shit for years, and it’s not like we’re new or anything, it’s not like we’re new money shit, it’s not like we came out of the blue and we blew up like crazy. We’ve built a whole foundation of our work. So it’s about that time. I feel like that sort of movement is backed with all of our homies together, like: “This is us! You can’t do this shit! You can’t just take our ideas and come up with it all after all these years. We’re coming for you!’ [Laughs]. That kind of thing.”
“All these guys are doing the exact same thing that we’re doing – just sitting on a laptop on Fruity Loops” – Hudson Mohawke
It sounds like there’s a real David and Goliath mentality to what you’re doing.
Lunice: “Pretty much.”
Hudson Mohawke: “From us growing up in our little circle or sphere of music, we sort of had an inkling for a while that maybe more commercial and mainstream producers were vaguely pinching ideas or sort of borrowing, but you can never really be certain about it. I definitely had the distinction in my head of, “We’re doing this type of stuff, those guys are in massive budget huge studios all working on the best equipment, the best whatever”. The reality of it is it that all those guys are doing the exact same thing that we’re doing – just sitting on a laptop on Fruity Loops. It just happens to be in a different sphere of music, but it’s basically the same thing. We sort of came to the realisation that a lot of those guys are aware of us and what we’ve been doing. You thought it was a completely different world, but in reality, people are well aware. And either they’re just borrowing a little and not saying anything, or…”
Lunice: “Borrowing a lot.” [Laughs]
Hudson Mohawke: “There’s much less of a distinction now in the whole thing. There are, in my limited experience a couple of good major label A&R people that are bringing more interest in, and there’s much less of a distinction between the two sides. So things are meshing together a bit more, which makes it an interesting time for us.”
Lunice: “There’s a bit of an opening where we can get in and present our music to a commercial crowd.”
It’s one of the fascinating things about the current state of play with the internet, whereby the medium that gets a bedroom producer heard is exactly the same as the one that gets a multi-million pound producer heard. Which can be great, but can also lead to, as you say, pilfering and theft. It’s a really interesting time.
Lunice: “Very, very. Right now, major labels are struggling, trying to work out what’s the Big Thing. There’s big things happening with a lot of people, a lot of new talent, but it’s just so vast it doesn’t feel concrete. It’s not like, “Ah, we forgot the formula in this era, we can just do that now” – they still didn’t figure it out. Which is great, because it gives us the opportunity to break in and bring to the table what we have, without them being like “It’s missing a certain thing in here to make it this sort of track”. Now, it’s like “Oh, wow, very interesting. This might be the next big thing!” So it’s really interesting nowadays.”
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From what you were saying, you two were making the record around the same computer rather than pinging things back and forth. How do you two function as a production unit? Is someone Mum and someone Dad?
Lunice: “It’s a very smooth dynamic, to a point where I feel we can’t get a writer’s block, because even though we don’t have an idea, we always just put something on loop. From the moment we stated working, I don’t think there was a pause from the moment we started to the moment we finished. It’s all in one motion, almost. Or sometimes we’ll do the whole structure of a song, with the bridge and everything, and just stop there because all that’s left is to tweak it. So we’ll just stop there and move to the next one, boom-boom-boom-boom. Stop there move to the next one, boom-boom-boom-boom.”
Hudson Mohawke: “I think we stop each other from getting too caught up in the intricacies of it, and keep it on more of a vibe level rather than a technical level.”
Lunice: “It’s all the in the jam session.”
Hudson Mohawke: “It’s more like a jam than two ‘electronic producers’.”
Lunice: “Yeah, very like [chin-stroking voice] “Change that to that, blah blah blah…” No.”
Hudson Mohawke: “For the most part, the way we did it was to have a couple of keyboards set up. We’d come up with a loop in five or ten minutes or whatever, and then keep the loop running the whole time. Then we’re continually adding or taking away or making little arrangement changes whilst the whole thing’s running, so you never lose the train of it. And before you realise it, it’s done. Like what you were saying about us both simplifying things: we were both able to be like “Right, that’s it – this one’s done”. Even if there’s only three or four elements in the track, we just say, “This is how we want it to sound” We’re not going to obsess about turning it into this big opus.”
“You can’t just take our ideas and come up with after all these years.” – Lunice
Lunice: “It’s almost as if, even though we don’t finish the whole song, it’s like: this is enough for now, we know where it’s going, let’s start something right away while we’re still in the moment of creating and creating. What I like about is that it’s a very jam orientated type of collaboration, because it’s not like we’re both sitting and working really silently. It’s us wiling out. He would start some shit, and I would be like “Oh, shit!” and stand up and start vibing around the room and jumping around and shit, and then pretend to rap! [Laughs] Just to get the flow going. That time when we were working on shit and I was pretending to rap like Meek Mill? [Laughs]“I’m out in my old hood!” and shit like that. It was great because then you get in the vibe, you’re like “Yeah yeah!”. He would play with some notes, and I’d be listening and be like, “Woah, woah – loop it like that, yeah, boom!” And then I’d start to add some, and he’d be like “Oh, let me add that in, boom-boom-boom-boom‘. It’s constant: that, that, that, that…”
Hudson Mohawke: “It was great. It was more of a natural click .The sort of collaborations you sometimes get that are set up by a third party – “Oh, maybe you two guys should work together” – it can work from time to time, but it doesn’t necessarily work. It’s just two people sitting in a room, it’s not that often that it really turns into a proper vibe and becomes something. But this one seemed to click and turn into something.”
In relation to what you were saying about doing something a bit more minimalistic: the TNGHT project seems to come with a lot of bombast around it. Everything from your blockbuster-style promo video to a lot of the sounds you’re using (explosions, smashing glass). Was the intention always to do something quite widescreen?
Lunice: “Whatever made us laugh, really.”
Hudson Mohawke: “We just wanted to make a load of bangers that were not necessarily what each of us would release on our solo material, but that we do want to make and do want to have an outlet for. To turn it into its own project of stuff that we’re both big fans of, but wouldn’t really fit on either your record or one of my records, but that we do want to release.”
I gather there are rappers you have in mind for the tracks. Is that something you can talk about yet?
Lunice: “It’s still something we’re keeping under wraps, because it’s rappers, right? You’ve got to wait until they actually record something! [Laughs] You can’t go running your mouth, saying “Yeah I’m working with this, this, this, and that” – and then you look like a fool.”
And your Meek Mill impression isn’t good enough to sub in?
Lunice: [Laughs] “Maybe I’ll just do a Meek Mill impression if he doesn’t rap.”
It seems to me that a crucial part of the DNA of the TNGHT material – and also Lex Luger, Southside, etc. – is the rattlesnake hi-hat. It seems to me to be the central germ (in the same way that bass wobble is in dubstep, for example) of your sound. Is that something you see as a crucial ingredient, and why if so?
Lunice: “The hi-hat is what keeps the rhythm going, really.”
Hudson Mohawke: “The main track being pushed at the moment is the ‘Bugg’n’ track, I don’t think it even has a hi-hat.”
Lunice: “No – it doesn’t even have a hi-hat!” [Laughs]
Hudson Mohawke: “But there are a couple of tracks that have the triplet hats.”
Lunice: “If I put on a hi-hat, what I like about it is that we don’t want it to come off as a trap kind of rhythm. We definitely appreciate the whole style of it, because we love it, but we don’t do that. We just want to get the best out of it. So there’s been a thing lately in terms of hi-hats: more than doing [makes scattershot hat sound] I’d be like [does cantering syncopated rhythm]. It’s a totally different thing. Not many trap dudes are doing that kind of thing! Obviously it’s not like a revolutionary hi-hat, it’s just not everybody’s doing it.” [Laughs]
“So, that’s something I definitely like about he project is that everything in it is totally different from all the producers and what they’re doing, so it definitely stands us out. And snares are just as important. There’s a certain type of snare for a certain type of track. Obviously there’s the 808s. But what I love, love, love about our project is we don’t use that many 808s. I love minimizing on it. I like to challenge myself and be like “Aight, I’m just going to use one 808 kit and see how I go”. Or just two. And try to make it just as effective or more than a Lex Luger beat or some shit.”
“It’s more like a jam than two ‘electronic producers’.” – Hudson Mohawke
What have you both got coming up soon?
Lunice: “I’m working on my first full-length album, and I’m planning to release it by the end of the year. After I’m done with that album, forthcoming on LuckyMe, I’ll be working on an EP, and afterwards early next year I’ll be starting work on a new EP for Mad Decent, a five/six track EP maybe. That’s all out in the open. On my album, it’s also my goal this year to really reach out to rappers, reach out to vocalists. I’m really trying to build a list of singers or rappers that I can hit up who are always down to work. I feel like the TNGHT project will really help bring our work to those rappers and vocalists to make them see, “Right, these guys are legit, they don’t fuck around””.
Hudson Mohawke: “The TNGHT stuff’s going to be our focus for the next month or two – we’ve got a load of festival shows for that coming up. I’ve got a load of my own festival dates coming up over the summer. I’ve got another album that’s nearing being finished, but I’m taking my time. I’m not going to try and rush it out. It’s been two and a bit years since the last one, so I’m not in a rush with it. I’d like to have it out sort of end of the year, early next year – but I’m not forcing it. For the moment, this project is the focus for the next little while. And like Lunice was saying: working with more vocalists, working with more MCs, doing more sessions with different MCs.”
Lunice: “I notice there’s a huge difference between a beatmaker and a producer. I didn’t’ realise that as much until I started working in studios like this, when I realised producers really take charge of a lot of things. They actually talk to the artists, saying “I want it to sound like this and that on my track. Can you do it like that?”. I was never like that. I was always like “Do what you want to do”. Now, I’ve been really focused on being more assertive. Like, “Hey, I want it to sound like that”. So that’s what I’ve been trying to really push lately.”
Hudson Mohawke: “We’ve got our Waka remix coming out.”
Lunice: “We’ve got the official Waka Flocka remix [of ‘Rooster In My Rari’] coming out soon It’s going to be pretty interesting, because I don’t think anybody remixed the whole instrumental of a Waka song before, officially. Usually, it’s like “Remix!” but there’s just 3 other rappers added on the same beat. It’s just him, but added on another beat, which is cool. At least that’s one rapper we can say!
“Oh! And one word for all the producers out there. Next shit: motherfucking scratch drum loops, that’s what I fuck with! [Laughs] That’s what you’ll notice a lot on the record. A lot of drum loops that I put on are all from thinking about scratch lops from the early 2000s when turntablism was the shit. Yo, I love that shit. So I’ve been fully into it. Everybody’s on their trap shit – ain’t nobody fucking with that scratch shit! And I’ve been fucking with that hard. Shout out to to all the producers who feel the same. You’re on the right path!”
TNGHT will be performing at Poland’s Tauron Nowa Muzyka Festival in October. More information and tickets here.