Does electronic producer and DJ Hudson Mohawke hate his fans?
I’ll save those of you already familiar with Betteridge’s law of headlines the sigh and answer right now:
Last night at the Middle East downstairs, it was sometimes hard to tell, but it certainly felt that way at some points.
Putting on a radical electronic show really isn’t rocket science — it’s as simple as giving the people what they want. Cobble together a few remixes of today’s underground rap hits with dubstep or trap music or whatever subgenre happens to be in vogue that week and the crowd will worship you as a lesser deity. They’re already messed up on some kind of weird pills! It doesn’t really take much to win over a crowd that came to get hyped up and dance until they pass out.
And so the scene at the Middle East seemed set for success, though not without a shaky start. For one, the whole operation was running forty-five minutes late. One could accept the door guy’s explanation that “the power was out”, or as I enjoy speculating, we could believe that HudMo was pulling some sort of rock star-diva bullshit antics and gumming up the works. But again, this is baseless speculation. As the opening DJ spun, extravagantly-dressed youths eagerly gulped down various mysterious powders from tiny zip-loc baggies. He humbly thanked the crowd for responding so well to his set, and scurried off stage. With nary a second to waste (say what you will about electronic concerts, the set-up time is minuscule), the reedy, bespectacled nerdle known as Hudson Mohawke (née Ross Birchard of Glasgow, Scotland) took the stage. At first, he did nothing. He stood at the DJ deck of turntables, surveying the crowd.
Then he got all Kanye on ‘em.
Fresh back from Kanye’s studio in Paris where he had a hand in producing West’s new album Yeezus, Mohawke peppered his set with the album’s highlights, to varying degrees of success. Expertly, HudMo opened with the industrial banger “On Sight” from Yeezus, immediately working his crowd into a froth.
That part was great! Kids at concerts like this love hearing Daft Punk-tinged booty-shakers and the like. What kids at concerts do not like is when the DJ sees fit to stop everything for five minutes and play the entire recording of Nina Simone singing Billie Holiday’s standard “Strange Fruit”. We all understand that that’s the sample from which the Yeezus mega-jam “Blood on the Leaves” was born, but that doesn’t mean that an electronic concert is a welcome occasion for pensive soul singing. This was but one of HudMo’s greatest gaffes during the performance. He also saw fit to play the entirety of Ponderosa Twins Plus One’s song “Bound”, another sample from Yeezus.
The crowd did not react well, yelling at him to “shut the fuck up” and “get back to the music,” suggestions that HudMo did not take kindly. In response to these jeers, he threw up two middle fingers, plastered a big grin on his skinny Scottish face and sung all the words he knew as loud as he could. As if to further antagonize the crowd, Mohawke’s set included no light show whatsoever, preferring to do all of his DJ’ing from the eerie white light of his MacBook.
HudMo clearly understands the fragile symbiosis between the DJ and his crowd. The slightest misstep can send them both out of whack. So if, for instance you’re Hudson Mohawke and you’ve just dropped the full mix of “Blood on the Leaves” to the crowd’s delight and approval, the thing to not do is cut it off after a minute and play something else.
The final slap in the face came at the set’s close. As if poised for an encore, HudMo re-mounted his laptop. He looked passively at the screen, made a few swipes of his fingers. The crowd began chanting his name. Perhaps this offends Mohawke, as his only response was to wave his finger at the crowd and then leave without another sound.
This would be borderline intolerable behavior if Hudson Mohawke wasn’t the best at what he does. He can be a real asshole, but when he’s good, he’s very good.
It’s a difficult experience to recreate accurately with words, but here goes: The air reeks of weapons-grade marijuana and sweat that smells not of bodily odor, but of overripe Mediterranean food. It is unbearably hot, and this is the night after a long day of insufferable heat. Blaring from the speakers is a jam such as “Goooo” or “Higher Ground“, and you’re packed in so closely with a horde of jumping fans that you are lifted off the ground with no personal effort.
Mohawke thrives in conditions like these, and he knows it. These are his people, and spaces like these are home to him. Maybe he’s going through a post-Kanye ego trip. Maybe he misses his TNGHT partner in crime, Lunice. Who knows why he’s misbehaving. But if he could just keep his shit together and stick to Danny Brown remixes and original material from the upcoming TNGHT album, Hudson Mohawke could be the greatest DJ on Earth.