IMAGE COURTESY OF CHRISTINA KERNOHAN
When electronic/hip-hop producers Hudson Mohawke and Lunice holed up in a London studio for a few days last summer, getting sloshed on cheap whiskey, they didn't intend to start a super-duo rap production project. They simply challenged themselves to use less to make more—and found in the process that their minimalist, forward hip-hop beats sounded like nothing else in the contemporary commercial rap world.
Now collectively known as TNGHT, the Glaswegian 26-year-old (HudMo, aka Ross Birchard) and the Montrealer 23-year-old (Lunice), both boast successful solo careers, which still take priority. Together, though, they quickly tickled the music industry with a glass-shattering debut performance at South By Southwest this year—literally. (The glass windows in the garage door of the venue they played, the Auto Shop, shattered.)
Following their breakout set, they released the much-blogged "Bugg'n": a killer bass-heavy hip-hop track featuring tin-hollow drums, snapping fingers, what sounds like a cartoonish bubble popping and a whirly laser-beam synth and the infamous Timbaland baby coo.
The duo hatched a simple plan: prove a bare-bones approach to hip-hop can rattle your bones as hard, if not more, than the complex frills and fluff "busy" formulas of commercial radio. Their self-titled EP (Warp Records/LuckyMe Records) zips through 18 minutes of wild launches and lurches, unraveling and rewinding in a wonky, spacey whirlpool of horns, lasers, and looping vocals. It climaxes into a cacophony that shape-shifts into a break-shit banger, "Easy Easy," a dizzy, drunken decree that screeches, "Follow suit and f*ck shit up!"
Naturally, rapper/producers ears perked up, like Kanye West, who has recruited HudMo's touch, and Diplo, who's collaborating with Lunice, and other cannot-yet-be-named MCs. Interview chatted on the phone with HudMo and Lunice while they were hanging out in London, about the revival of the Timbaland baby coo, refining their sound, and what makes them dance their asses off.
AIMEE O'NEILL: I've had the EP on loop for a couple days, and considering it's 18 minutes in length, I feel like I've really lived inside it at this point. And the first question that came to me was: What made you want to bring back the Timbaland baby cry? Stroke of genius! Instant nostalgia.
LUNICE: [laughs] I don't know. There was really no intention of bringing it back. It was just a nice sound for [the track "Bugg'n"], right?
HUDSON MOHAWKE: Yeah, I had done a remix of the Aaliyah tune ["Are You that Somebody?"] that came out last year, but it didn't have that sound in it. I had the sound lying around, so I thought it might be put in somewhere. That's the thing that everybody comments on in that tune, "What the fuck is that?"
O'NEILL: What's great about the EP is it doesn't take itself too seriously, and yet it's progressive and forward-thinking. Where were your heads at during the creation process?
MOHAWKE: We didn't intend for it to even be released, like a record or anything in particular. We've been talking about working together for a couple of years, but we never really did anything about it. Then last summer we just happened to get together in the studio in London and just messed around, had loads of drinks. We were just doing it for the sake of fun at that point.
O'NEILL: And you were on the same page? You both wanted to simplify and tighten up stylistically, right?
MOHAWKE: Just for this record. It's the stuff we were both really interested in making at that particular point. For this project, we wanted to make it simple and just make a load of bangers. We both always liked that stuff ourselves, but we probably wouldn't put it on our individual records. We were like, "Fuck it, we're just going to make a load of party/club/festival banger stuff and just put it out." It's nice because [the project] is just a blank canvas to do whatever you want. We don't have any people expecting what they might expect from a Lunice record or a Hudson Mohawke album. There are no preconceptions.
LUNICE: That's what makes the project enjoyable. They don't expect the "next whatever," they expect us as us—what new thing are we going to bring to the table?
O'NEILL: What do you think it is that works about you guys as a pairing?
LUNICE: Good question. [laughs] When you put it down to the basics, we're just two likeminded people. Before even doing this project we were already doing shows, not together, but on the same bill. The promoters thought it made sense to have me on the same bill as HudMo sonically. From doing all those shows, I had him eventually come to a club night I had with my homies called Turbo Crunk, that's when we finally met face-to-face.
MOHAWKE: We were talking about working together since before we first met. We became aware of each other on Myspace years ago, like 2006, 2007, we always talked about doing something. I'm always saying to people and they are always saying to me, "Yeah, we should do something!" Never happens. With this, it just seemed to fall into place.
O'NEILL: Where do you want the listener's headspace to be when they experience TNGHT?
LUNICE: In terms of when they hear us for the first time, what I would expect, and would like them to hear, would [be noticing] the clarity, the sharpness and the simplicity. Nowadays, commercial radio stuff—not just rap, just stuff in general—it seems to be really busy, in terms of composition. We've come to a point where we want to refine how we control our music and to see how much more we can push it, how much more simple of a track we can make but still make it sound huge. That kind of feel, you know?
O'NEILL: For sure. There is simplicity there, but at the same time, it's impressive that it's still so commanding and inspires some interesting imagery. My friend aptly described your sound as "nanobots crawling in his ears." Do you guys keep the visual element in mind?
LUNICE: [laughs] That's funny! Totally. Yeah, I think so.
MOHAWKE: I don't think we did at the time, but now, you can see it afterward.
O'NEILL: Your track "Easy Easy" sounds like a clock going haywire, where all the cog and gears malfunction and are getting smashed, like it's some kind of Mad Hatter mayhem vibe.
MOHAWKE: When we made that track, we'd been drinking really, really bad quality whiskey.
LUNICE: We were pretty drunk already by the time we did that track. [laughs] It literally started with him putting up an explosion sample. I was like, "Yo... this is funny" [laughs] and we continued from there.
MOHAWKE: [laughs] That is probably a result of [the whiskey].
O'NEILL: Who do you guys think is getting it right of the young rappers out now?
MOHAWKE: We really want to work with Meek Mill, French Montana, 2 Chainz...
LUNICE: Someone with a powerful voice. I love French Montana's voice because it's sort of on a monotone pitch but not—it's hard. There's something about it. And like 2 Chainz, there can be like a whole crowd talking and he can talk and you can totally hear him. And Meek? Forget it, he's way out there, cuts right through. We are interested in rappers whose tone of voice is up to the frequency of how we're making music—the music is loud. We need a rapper with the same type of personality.
O'NEILL: Is TNGHT an ongoing project?
MOHAWKE: It's ongoing. We don't want it to become our main focus. We want it to be a big project and get as much attention as it can, but our solo careers still have to be the main priority.
O'NEILL: Well, you definitely have been getting a lot of attention, which is in part because of the positive response to your debut performance at SXSW.
MOHAWKE: I see what comes in on Twitter, but I don't like to Google anything. It seems to be doing well, but I don't want to get too caught up in it. We're only doing eight or 10 shows for the whole year, and that will be it. We're going to have some US dates in October/November, I think.
LUNICE: That's what I like about the project, we present ourselves as a two minor producers working together to bring a certain sound and to push into the whole rap world and just do certain showcases, to show what we've been working on. We're not going the whole DJ route where we tour a lot.
O'NEILL: Why are you called TNGHT?
LUNICE: I wanted to find a word that felt like an event and artist when you say it: "Who you gonna go see?" "TONIGHT!" [laughs] I was hollering at some homies, Jacques Greene and Ango, to get some honest feedback about the name "Tonight." The common response was that the whole word was a little corny, but when you say it, it sounds good. My homie Ango, my labelmate, suggested I take the vowels out. He texted it to me and it looked so good. It's very symmetrical: starts and ends with a T. There are a lot of things to do with that design-wise. So then it was official. We're TNGHT.
O'NEILL: Although it could lead to a "Who's on First?" scenario: "Who are you seeing?" "TNGHT!" "No, not when, who?"...
LUNICE: [laughs] Yeah! I like that about the name though, that people like to play around with it. "Yo, we're going to see TNGHT, tonight!" And from that they just get all hype because it's funny.
O'NEILL: It's got a sense of humor.
LUNICE: Our sound in general is not serious, but it's no joke. [laughs]
O'NEILL: What track gets you dancing your ass off every time?
LUNICE: [to Mohawke] I would love to see you dance your ass off! "I Don't Like" [by Chief Keef], it gets you all mad and shit and want to punch somebody if you don't like them. [laughs]
MOHAWKE: Probably at the moment, G.O.O.D Music's "Mercy."
O'NEILL: Oh, the one you worked on?
LUNICE: He didn't think of that. [laughs]
TNGHT'S SELF-TITLED EP IS OUT JULY 24. FOR MORE ON THE DUO, VISIT THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.