Hudson Mohawke’s Tuesday night set launched from a port of silence. The DJ’s first track sent slow, rolling waves of sound over a restless U Street Music Hall crowd. Then, another cut, better suited to standing still than dancing, stretched into the new Kanye West single, “I Am a God,” on which Mohawke has a co-producer credit. What followed was a journey that wandered all over the map, venturing between romping battle cries and mellowed-out sample sources. It was an erratic trip, one that, at times, crashed into the thumping shores of drums and bass but more often left the crowd looking lost.
Mohawke is the stage name for Ross Birchard, a Scottish DJ and producer who is part of the breakout electro-hip-hop production duo TNGHT and has recently raised his profile by working with the likes of West and Harlem rapper Azealia Banks. Mohawke’s music sometimes functions as a bed for rappers to rhyme over, and other times as stand-alone blocks of brass and percussion. All of it feels firmly grounded in hip-hop.
And on Tuesday night, hip-hop was what Hudson Mohawke delivered. Sort of. Although many of his selections were tried-and-true staples of the party side of the genre, others were cuts that famous hip-hop songs have sampled over the years. At one point, Mohawke dropped into Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit,” the song that he used to create Kanye West’s “Blood on the Leaves.” It was an odd fit, between booming instrumentals and lyrics peppered with drug references, but it made sense given that he played West’s version immediately afterward.
But Simone’s song felt like the exception. Each time the crowd started to get wild, every time the energy got to a point that felt electric, Mohawke would veer off on a different course. His next move was either too chill, or too chaotic, when put in context of the move before it. And it wasn’t just the music that was all over the place. The volume in the club rose and fell abruptly, at random, peaking in the red and straining the speakers.
Mohawke put some of his finest work on display, but he didn’t always present it well. The selections were strong — TNGHT’s “Higher Ground” sent the male-dominated dance floor into a tizzy — but the mixing was careless and sequenced in a way that left little room for momentum to build. The whole trip was less than the sum of its parts.
Yenigun is a freelance writer.