TNGHT are right here, right now
After a six year hiatus, TNGHT are back. DJ Mag speaks to Hudson Mohawke and Lunice about creative freedom, EDM, and barking in the studio
No vowels, no features, no frills, no nonsense — and for six years, no music, either. Nobody could accuse TNGHT of overdoing it. Their second EP, ‘TNGHT II’, dropped this week to the same raucous reception as their self-titled debut did in 2012.
The duo — sorry, side-project (more on that later) — are Hudson Mohawke and Lunice, two electronically-minded solo artists who share a fondness for rap and an impish sense of humour. Hudson Mohawke is a multi-talented producer on the cusp of the A-list. He’s soundtracked video games and Apple adverts, spun quasi-legendary hip-hop sets, and received production credits on avant-pop records by FKA twigs and Anohni. He answers questions in fluent Glaswegian, swearing prolifically and laughing often.
Lunice, who produces under his real first name and comes from Montreal, met his cohort after his local party crew Turbo Crunk linked up with Scottish label LuckyMe through MySpace. He appeared in Azealia Banks’s smash-hit ‘212’ video, has collaborated with Denzel Curry, Rick Ross, and Diplo, and once supported Madonna on tour. “I’ve never seen something like that,” Madonna told him after his set. His hyper live energy (as seen in his 2014 Boiler Room) shines in conversation, his ebullient responses spoken through a grin that’s obvious even over the phone.
Together, Hudson Mohawke and Lunice make dizzy, loud dance music that’s been variously classified as trap, hip-hop, and EDM. Their first release, ‘Higher Ground,’ was included in Pitchfork’s recent Top 200 Songs of the Decade list, a once ubiquitous club track that rudely hacked apart Julie McKnight’s 2002 house tune ‘Home’ and added a thunderous brass bassline. Its success outstripped anything either of them had done before, becoming a sports stadium anthem in the States and even being ripped off by a Mountain Dew advertisment.
When it arrived, the ‘TNGHT’ EP sounded unlike anything else around. Now there’s lots of stuff that sounds like it, from ‘Harlem Shake’ to the Rick James-sampling second half of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DNA.’ Their new record, ‘TNGHT II’, somehow repeats the trick, this time referencing trance and hardcore alongside trap and hip-hop while comfortably avoiding any simple categorisation.
Even if we may not have realised it until the release of their new track ‘Serpent’ in September, we’re all in dire need of TNGHT. While contemporary producers stand accused of over-conceptualisation and humourless comments sections are shut down, TNGHT hammer out tracks instinctively in slapstick jam sessions. They even insist that they’ve never verbally conceived an idea together. “It’s never done with a notion of setting out to make a particular thing,” says HudMo.
The pair got together again after HudMo invited Lunice to come and stay at his new place in LA earlier this year. Lunice flew over without telling his manager or agent. The two of them began messing around in the studio at the back of the house, trying out some ambient sounds on HudMo’s new Mellotron keyboard, among other things. HudMo then left to get something from the house. When he got back, Lunice played him a melody that he’d just come up with.
HudMo suggested that they record it. He then added some drums, which Lunice liked: “I was just wiling out, screaming,” he remembers. “He was like ‘Let’s record that, too’.” They recorded Lunice wiling out, screaming, ad-libbing vocals. Such a din was forming that it woke the neighbours’ dog, who started barking at them. Lunice barked back. Soon the two of them were pissing themselves laughing. The resulting track — barking, laughing, and all — was ‘Serpent.’
Both of them still compile their tracks on FL Studio, the production software formerly known as Fruity Loops. Lunice started making music in the mid ’00s after reading about Fruity Loops in an interview with 9th Wonder, who famously used the software in making his unofficial Nas remix album, ‘God’s Stepson’. “In some sense people do have the impression of it being this fucking toy programme,” says HudMo. “But at the same time, you’ve got these fucking highly decorated producers who are like, ‘Ah fuck, can you teach me Fruity Loops?’ Because it’s such an immediate, direct way of getting ideas down.
“But to be totally honest, I always find it’s never that fucking interesting to read about, like, a gear list,” continues HudMo, “because, ultimately, you could probably do any of this shit with any gear. It’s not like you could only do this with a certain piece of gear, ‘this synth and that synth’.” The pair say they’re good at stopping each other from obsessing over minor components in a track, or spending hours working on a kick drum. Has electronic music become fixated on the minutiae, too — to use a popular buzzword — chinstroke-y?
“That’s a very loaded question!” HudMo laughs. “I don’t want to give any quotables on that.” He won’t be drawn into “mad shit-talking mode,” but points out that, when TNGHT started, many of the DJs booked alongside them would play music they liked regardless of genre or BPM, whereas now those same names seem largely confined to house and techno. “I'm curious to see how that works,” he says. “Us going back into those kinds of shows, where audiences are so conditioned into purely house and techno. But in a sense it’s almost like a challenge.” “Yeah, it will be pretty fun,” grins Lunice.
Fun seems to permeate their recording process. “It’s very much randomly painting a canvas,” says HudMo, “and then going back to whittle it down to a final form. It’s not like ‘Oh now we've done drums, now we need this element, now this element’.”
“Oh yeah we’ve never said that,” Lunice jumps in. “Never. At most we’ll just say ‘Yeah’, ‘Nah’, or a grunt, or a nod, or a giggle. Especially if we start giggling at something then we put that sound in the bank. We don't even think about where it’s going.”
HudMo bounces off Lunice — “It’s a feel thing rather than ‘Hmm, let’s think, where does this necessarily sit?’. It’s not a vocal discussion” — and Lunice bounces off him. “That just made me think of the Blue Man Group for some reason.” They both laugh loudly. “The way they just look at each other, it sort of feels like that, I swear!”
Making each other laugh has always seemed like a primary concern for these two. In fact, part of the reason for their hiatus was that they were almost getting on too well. “When we took a break from the first project, not that anything happened,” says HudMo. “But we didn't really speak for a while, just because we’d been on the road together for a long time and were like ‘Right, let’s just do our own shit’.”
After ‘TNGHT’ blew up, picked up by rap, techno, and EDM DJs alike, they were on the brink of superstardom. But they were wary of the project eclipsing their own solo careers, which — as they often stress — have always been their priority. “We’re trying to make everyone know that it’s me and Hudson Mohawke,” says Lunice. “It’s not a duo.” With that in mind, they put TNGHT on ice in 2013, ignoring the encouragement of their agents, managers, and baying fans.
Catering to the masses might also have meant limiting their sound — and essentially becoming an EDM act, something they never wanted to be. “You might make a bunch of money short term,” says HudMo, “but you’re sacrificing your own creative freedom.”
More than simply turning away from EDM, you’d be forgiven for thinking that TNGHT have one eye on poking fun at the genre. In 2018, HudMo produced a track for DJ 5olitary, a fictional character in Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy series ‘This Is America’. A cacophony of drum-stomps, clattering keys, and salacious vocal samples, ‘Cell-by-date’ was by all accounts an EDM parody. It also sounded more like a TNGHT track than anything else in HudMo’s solo catalogue. ‘Club Finger,’ from the new EP, makes a similar racket out of a slicing trance riff and a few giddy vocal snippets, albeit with fewer expletives. Is TNGHT in some way satirising EDM?
“Definitely...” says HudMo.
“Well, it’s more playful than anything, right?” says Lunice.
“Satirical is very specific. It sort of entails having to know about certain subjects very well.”
“Yeah, I think when you say satirical you’re talking about elements of irony and things like that,” HudMo reasons. “It’s more like fucking around with something that vaguely sounds like this genre or that genre, but it’s not meant as, like, a pisstake.”
They put the humorous element in their music down to their personalities, something their favourite rappers of the moment — Jpegmafia, TisaKorean, Rico Nasty, Westside Gunn — seem equally skilled at capturing. Though they’re tight-lipped about who, the pair say they have a shortlist of MCs they’re hoping to work with in the coming months, and mention the possibility of someday releasing a full rap project.
Their most famous collaboration so far came in 2013, when Kanye West’s ‘Blood on the Leaves’ combined a Nina Simon sample with TNGHT’s unreleased ‘R U Ready?’, the first thing they ever made together. What do they think of Kanye’s new album, ‘Jesus is King’? “I think it’s good,” says HudMo. “And let’s leave it at that.” “I’m happy that he’s happy man, that’s all,” Lunice chortles.
The two of them are happy, too. So, will they stick around a bit longer this time? “I don’t know,” says Lunice, as though the idea of thinking that far ahead had never occurred to him. “We like what we’re doing at the moment so we’ll keep doing what we’re doing, but where it’s going to go... who knows?”
It’s that immediacy, that focus on making an impact — here, now, tonight — that’s TNGHT’s greatest strength. They reckon that they’ve never spent more than three hours working on a track, but that time is spent in absolute focus — no checking their phones, no talking to each other. It’s about feeling, not thinking: two artists who express their personalities through claps, barks, horns and whistles, and whose chemistry makes their haywire collaborations greater than the sum of their parts.
“If we did have any... not ground rules, but if we did have anything that we were aiming for,” says HudMo. “It’s basically to capture as many instinctive moments as possible.” May those moments last forever.