Cry Sugar is the new album by Hudson Mohawke. It deepens his practice of producing motivational music for clubgoers — uplifting the debauchery and inspiring many through his own brand of anthemic maximalism. This is simply his best work to date. A score that immediately puts you in a great mood, and when you’re three tracks in, you discover that you're immersed in something much more complex than a dance music album. Despite the apocalyptic undercurrent, Mohawke foregrounds the iridescent vibratos of gospel choirs, soul samples, and scat-sampling throughout Cry Sugar — scaling our bright human drama in the tumult.
Known for his deft uses of fragmentation and deconstruction, Mohawke presents our fraught cultural moment as set against the quintessential backdrop of late capitalism — a tightrope walking between chaos and the unashamedly euphoric, between the erratic and the bold, the noisy and anthemic, the saccharine with the devastating. The record draws a line where to reflect on mass media consumption and provides with insightful feelings from the insides of the music industry and how modern music taste and perception is currently evolving. But mostly is his artistry that makes you think why we’re miles away from giving music pioneers the place they deserve as people contributing to the bigger social picture.

It has always been like this, as David Foster Wallace captured in his book Signifying Rappers, the relationship between electronic music and hip-hop is monumental and has yet to get its fair share of recognition as both styles meet in the corners of underground clubs, and it is really interesting to see how this affects the music industry, and even social media, today, in different parts of the world. Talking to Hudson is like getting a masterclass in music production, you learn how sounds that may at first seem only structural have a meaning and a more conceptual role than you might imagine. We cannot attempt to study how music evolves in terms of how we socialise through it without talking to those who push the boundaries. His versatility as an artist brings a very specific vision of music as art, as a social movement and as a market.

There's hyperpop, soul, a nod to his years of turntablism, metasampling (sharing vocals from Tasha Cobbs' For Your Glory with fellow Scotsman S-Type), jazz fusion, prog rock, happy hardcore, chiptune, and more, with a formal education in rave, hip-hop, soul, intelligent dance music and glitch. The broad and complex nuance of all these genres and more has become the palette of Hudson Mohawke's sound.

Cry Sugar becomes a testament to its namesake. In the most intimate and melancholic moments, something sweet and twisted emerges. A wry smile beneath the malice. In 2022, we cry sugar.
Hi Hudson! How are you?
Good, how are you?
I'm doing fine. Thank you very much for taking the time to do this. First, congratulations on the new record. It’s been out now for a month. I've been listening to it a lot, and I think it puts you in a good mood, but it also makes you think. I wonder how intentional it was to make the listener think rather than just dance or be in a good mood.
It's not totally intentional, I always think for dance music the focus should primarily be just on the energy of the music. I never want to make anything that is only for thinking, I think sometimes I end up doing that accidentally. When I'm making things, I want them to have an emotional, introspective kind of lit zone because that's usually what I want to feel. I definitely don't like making things that just play in the background.
I understand. When you listen to the whole thing, it sounds like a film score and the press release refers to the style as anthemic maximalism, and I think it's a really good definition. It's very difficult to listen to something new nowadays that doesn't remind you of something else you’ve heard before. And it didn't this time. At some point, I felt the same things I felt when I listened to Rustie's Glass Swords or some records from this band called Tobacco, but here we find hyperpop, hip-hop, soul and gospel making a new sound. What were your main influences on the record during its creation?
A lot of those influences and those kinds of genres didn't really exist when I first started releasing music. I think what did exist and what I always think of as my influence is really rave music and happy hardcore. So, I think since we had our little scene, which was Rustie and me and a bunch of other people kind of mastering that, that's when hyperpop became a thing. And that was when you started to hear all these weird anthemic chords in rap music. I was inspirationally drawing to go to sort of euphoric, anthemic, to the kind of rave side of things and combined it with a lot of my favourite rap production. And it comes from that era where a lot of the big songs had these really fast sped-up soul samples and, you know, people like Just Blaze and those kinds of producers were making commercial, rap music. It really had these soul and gospel influences, but it was also really, because all the samples were sped up, it was all really sort of high pitch, high kind of energy. But it was also rap music at the same time, and that style of production I always just loved as well.
It's strange because these kinds of pitched voices/sounds and this anthemic sound are becoming a trend now. Before, it used to be something quite underground. And it can sound absurd or weird in a way but it's becoming more and more mainstream.
It's funny though, because if you look at Cam’Ron’s Oh, boy, that is almost 20 years ago, and those big songs from the 90s with that breakbeat hardcore. It was all that type of shit. I don't think it's necessarily a crazy new thing. I feel like it was a sound that never really trickled down into more serious dance music. Everyone always thought it was like a joke, especially with happy hardcore and that kind of thing people didn't even know. I just fucking loved a lot of that music and I never looked at it as a joke. But I realised that the perception of it is that it's just this kind of shitty music for idiots…
It's funny how the timing works for things to be cool or not. There's something I loved about the way you presented the album, along with the first single you released a Megamix. And I thought that that was a very good idea. It’s such a 90s concept, it reminded me of the times when we used to watch VH1 and the German music video channel Viva. It was very common to create this big mix of very famous people’s hits. And, somehow, it has to do with the way European dance music is consumed through these platforms. But also, it's kind of like an advert. So, when did you decide to do that?
I've done that with a couple of my other projects. And I always thought that I like getting a teaser for someone to get a glimpse, like a trailer or something, I like that. I think part of me also wants to prepare people and try to get the message across that there's like, a whole bunch of different things on the record. Especially now that there's so much focus on singles. People don't make records with like a whole bunch of different sounding things on, and so, I always want to get that idea across that you're not going to get just fifteen songs that are the same type of thing. I hadn't really thought about this, but probably what you're saying was like those TV adverts that worked for compilations and things like that. It was like 5 seconds of each song and I have very fond memories of euro dance compilations.
The other thing was that I haven't really done a full new album in the streaming age, because the last record was released in 2015, and Spotify wasn't the main way you could go and get into something.
About the record, we also have nineteen songs that are a real journey, but there are three songs that I especially wanted to ask you about. The first one is Bow. When I was listening to it, it struck me as a really cool track that time-travels and revisits the genres while listening to it. And there's hip-hop, and at some point, you hear the turntable. And I thought that that obviously comes from the beginnings of your career, like a very special, personal sign. Is this song also kind of reminiscent of it?
Yeah, I think so. I remember I made that a couple of years ago and I never really finished it, and so when I got into it I didn’t want anything that sounded like my older stuff, but something that had that kind of energy, but also felt like it was new. I worked on this with my friend Clarence Coffee Jr. who I remember had started that instrumental when we were working on something else – he's like a big guy. He writes Dua Lipa songs and others, he’s like a real pop songwriter. I remember randomly playing that instrumental for him and he immediately started doing this weird vocal thing, very different from what he's normally working on. It was like: fuck, these elements actually really work well together. And I really wanted to have some scratching somewhere on the record because you never hear that now. And I still love that type of thing, I almost feel like it's a bit of a forgotten kind of art.
Another great track is Kpipe. I love its distortion and glitch. And it gives you a sense of discomfort. This is something that I really like, for an album to go through different types of emotions and moods, and I thought that you had worked on it very, very well. It gives me a sense of suspense and takes me back to the idea of the album being like a film score. It's a moment in the album. Which mood were you in to create something like this?
I wanted to have something on there that was kind of noisy and disturbing like you can't really figure out… Is that the voice or is it like…? Because it's easy for that kind of stuff to just make everything distorted and noisy, but then it's difficult to get ebb and flow and movement in it. I did it with my friend Káryyn – she is an Armenian vocalist, her record is coming out pretty soon and I’ve produced a lot of it as well. So, we were kind of messing around with a bunch of different ideas for that. And I knew that I really wanted something that didn't sound like it had been made on a computer and that had different panels and different colours. I didn't want it to sound like it was just glitch music.
I think that's why I mentioned Rustie's album. In the sense that your album is such a massive piece because, not only do you have different genres that you kind of end up creating your own, but it all makes sense structurally. I wanted to ask you about the other track that I loved called Stump, it recreates such a specific atmosphere. And then I saw the video that looks like a video game where the world is ending and your character is just running away. But, ironically, and worryingly, it's very real and dystopian, it’s aesthetically right into the moment we're living. How did you put both the music and the visuals together for such a concept?
There was a guy I randomly came across last year, called kingcon2k11. And he had barely any followers. But he had these really strange pieces and I think one of them was Peter Griffin from Family Guy. He's describing in an artificial intelligence voice how to crack Photoshop and how to make the demo last forever. You never have to buy it. And I was like, for someone to put this much effort into making something that's so not specific and also really helpful but done in this really stupid time-consuming way… I thought it was so cool. So, I message them right away like “we have to do something together.” And he did the whole visualiser for the song and for the Megamix as well.
Something that I love is the title of the album, Cry Sugar. I think it's such a concept and I found it quite political; it perfectly describes the way we live now. We live in this system of productivity that we can’t really escape but on the other hand, we also have this new side of our lives, which is social media, where we always have to pretend to be cool, so Cry Sugar is the perfect definition. Also, as an image, when you think about it it's really cool, but also very sarcastic and ironic. So how did you come up with the idea for the title?
Well, funnily enough, one of the samples on the record says ‘cry sugar.’ Yes, I hadn't thought about it in any other context. And I remember talking about it with the label and it seemed that those two words together felt like a good description for the body of work. And like you're saying, it kind of plays into this idea of – certainly how I feel anyways – the general overwhelmingness of social media trends, and the way that we're sort of seeing now that there's a whole new generation of people for whom the etiquette and how they approach social media is a foundational aspect of how they approach their lives. How deeply embedded that is within us just from waking up – and I'm guilty of it as well, we all are. There's something that really has infiltrated every fucking aspect of our lives. And we know it really, we know it's really bad for us, but we also love it more than anything at the same time.
I wonder how important the internet was for you and for your music. How was it, not only in terms of finding different tools to create music but also in this new world where you can find so much information and people?
When I first was getting into reading about music it was via my cousins. I was probably like 9 or 10. So, in the mid-90s. I guess people had email addresses and stuff, but you had no real way of getting any more information on anything. And I think when I first got the internet in the family place it was probably kind of late, it was like a dial-up. I was very, very involved in message board culture – that's really how I got into a lot of the turntable stuff. And, after that, I was hugely, hugely into MySpace and this kind of thing. I am a massive Twitter person, I feel like we probably are a similar age, we may have a kind of a sweet spot of some life pre-social media. And I often wonder if younger people find the notion of just having every piece of insanely specific information you could ever want, or having permanent access to all of that, whether that that doesn't almost make you less inquisitive or less inclined to learn about one specific thing. Because it's just everything everywhere, whenever. But maybe that's just because I feel old. Maybe that's not what people feel like, if you're 10 and you grew up with TikTok it doesn't feel that overwhelming.
Going back to the record, I wanted to ask you if the pandemic influenced the way you create anything because we suddenly were in lockdown. But did that make you have more time to focus or to think more about it?
I feel like there were a couple of things. The pandemic is a very tragic side period for everyone and, definitely, a lot of people had a way worse experience than I did. There was certainly a long period of the pandemic where the question was not “Will there ever be parties again?” but rather “Will we ever be able to go outside again?” It was a very strange experience. I think nobody really knows what the long-term residual effect of that will be. It's a very deeply traumatising thing for everyone. But having said that, I've always worked best when I'm just left alone. When I was touring a lot, and I think this happens to a lot of people, you only want to make things to make people go crazy party because that's the mood. But the question is then where does your creative energy take when that is just removed entirely? When you do it, the only thing you're left with is what you’re making, but does it make you feel invigorated? Does it excite me? It doesn't fucking matter because there's no party to go and play out or something like that. So I think there's an aspect where we make sounds that make us happy, or where we're making things for the imaginary part in my head.
It's funny that you say this because the other day I read a Björk interview on The Guardian about her forthcoming album. They said she's created some more danceable stuff, but as it was made during the pandemic, it apparently is a record to dance on your own by yourself, which makes sense to have been made during that period, obviously. I also wanted to ask you about the role of the producer because, for example, both Björk and Madonna have spoken about this before, and they feel like they're always linked to the name of a producer. But the opposite thing happens; I think we're now in a time where there are so many pop stars whose whole sound is created by producers. And the latter doesn't get recognised, because the role of the music producer is not really well known, and people don't really know how it works. What is your opinion on this and do you think that the figure of the producer is fairly treated in the public media and music? 
It depends on how you look at that, but I think you want to look at classic producers. I don't think they've ever really been in the spotlight. The traditional idea of the producer is someone who is facilitating another part of making the art and not being the face of it. What I always find kind of comforting about that is the idea that I know that I can produce big songs with other people, but I don't want to be the face of it. I'm kind of a shy person, which is probably why I've always gravitated towards these people who are behind the scenes but they're really like the driving force behind, like Quincy Jones. But in the grander scheme of things, the number of people who know Quincy Jones' name versus Michael Jackson's, it's not very many people. That has always kind of fascinated me. The idea was that it could be your creativity but you didn't have to be the face of it.
I think, weirdly, the people who really don't get the credit are the songwriters. I didn't really even know about that world until I moved to Los Angeles, but there are thousands of people who are so skilled and so, so talented, who are really working like crazy making three different songs with three different people in the hopes that maybe like two of them get made, two every year. And they do it every fucking day. And nobody gives a fuck about that.
It's been 16 years since you founded the UK label LuckyMe. What are your memories of those early days and how important was it for the Glaswegian music scene?
I remember we had just a very small club night in a bar. It was like 50 people or something. We started to do that, and the label came slightly later, but we started the little club nights in like 2003 or 2004. It was mainly like an open hip-hop night and we were all really into it, and more kind of experimental electronic stuff. And then there was another label. A couple of guys who were like the same age as us.A couple of guys who were like the same age as us. It was called Numbers, and they were Jackmaster, Rustie, Spencer… and they were coming from a techno standpoint. I think they were kind of bored by the regular techno scene. It was right in that era where it felt like people were kind of bored of traditional genres like house and techno if you went to a club. At that point, they were people who were interested in how you could start to cross all these different ideas. So you had this rap and hip-hop music that had this dance music influence on it and vice versa.
I remember right around that time when there were two big pop albums; Justin Timberlake’s Futuresex/lovesounds, and Nelly Furtado’s Loose record. I remember we were all talking about how fucking amazing they were. Like, here's this weird electronic production on these pop records. And The Neptunes had been doing it a little bit. And we were all really fascinated by this idea of underground dance music production, infiltrating American pop music. Then we did Sonar in 2007 – I did it with Tiga, for our project together, but it's funny just to think about how we were saying it's a whole different generation of people. But I think that there are definitely multiple European cities that had this situation as well, where we had a thing in Glasgow where I didn't realise it at the time, and I've only realised that after having toured and travelled around. Often you find that that there are two types of parties, it's like a party where people really care about the music. Then the other side is like the party where people just want to go crazy. And we had both of those at the same party. So I think that was a big contributing factor to us continuing with the label and as far as we did.
There are so many people that don't have the context to experience music the same way another person can do it. It's interesting to see how an artist creates you know depending on that perception. That takes me to my next question; I wanted to ask you who your favourite musicians are that you’ve collaborated with, and how is the approach when you work with someone like Anohni or Kanye West.
It's different for every artist but I think the most important thing is having a kind of trust and respect for each other because you want them to make their best record and they want you to do what you do best. So, I think it really varies with each person. I think the most obvious one and probably my favourite collaborator has been Kanye. Mainly because as a culture we don't have a lot of artists at that level of prominence that is willing to be like “I know that everybody loves me for this one thing but I'm going to do something totally different.” Someone who is like, “Well, I know that I'm really successful and I'm at the height of my career, and I'm just going to be entirely different.” And that is, in my opinion, real artistry. It's a business but when you come across someone who is at peak level of their career and peak worldwide, an established artist who is also like “No, fuck you. I'm gonna do it this other way.” That's really interesting. people will say whatever they want about him, but I think that's a rare quality.
My final question to you is a bit strange, but I was thinking about this when we're talking about the public – I was wondering if you have played the record to your family; what do they think about your music?
My dad just sent me a picture, he bought the CD today, it's funny, I always give them copies if they want but I am kind of shy about it. I would never ever sit down and say, I'm going to play you this record. I would never do that. But I know that they've heard it. I have three sisters, they've always been really supportive, and I am truly grateful, but I can't think of anything worse than having to sit them down and talk about it...
Have they shown any interest or asked what your music is about? Or are they musical?
It normally happens because their friends start contacting them. We did a thing in Glasgow last week where we placed this giant banner with my name on the main bridge in the city. My mom went to see it – the way she found out about it was through a bunch of her friends who were texting her, I think that's kind of cool.
Hudson, thank you so much, I have really enjoyed talking to you.
This has been really interesting.
What's next? Are you touring?
I’m gonna do a bunch of festivals next year. I'll take some time before the end of the year, but probably I think like London, New York and LA. I've gone to Japan a little bit. But I'm kind of reluctant to, I used to tour so much. And I really like my day-to-day life now. I get to come to the studio every day and just work on things. I'll probably do a bunch of touring next year, but I don't really want to go back to continuous tourism. Feels like it's more trouble than it's worth.
Well, I'll keep an eye out and, hopefully, I'll see you live soon. Thank you very much for this!
Thank you.
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