A lurid concoction of hot pink and DayGlo yellow, reptiles and Miami Vice-style typography, the cover art for 'Butter' (designed by Konx-Om-Pax) was no less than genius; a perplexing blend of '80s Americana and the wolf T-shirt aesthetic. Look closely and there's a mohawk-ed hawk dropping a stick of butter from its talons.
When it arrived in 2009, the contents of Hudson Mohawke's Warp debut was just as much of a headfuck. But a reverent headfuck. From the Prince-like screaming guitar opening of 'Shower Melody' to 'Gluetooth's synthetic horns and the signature big room drums of DJ Premiere, Ross Birchard's influences sprawled and spidered through its 18 tracks. Elsewhere, sprinklings of G-funk á la Snoop and the hyperactive R&B of Timbaland cropped up, with a hefty dose of Outkast, The Neptunes and more than a hint of the sounds of Rephlex.
Despite now being synonymous with blaring instrumental rap as one half of TNGHT, the then-23 year-old Glaswegian's tracks on 'Butter' were largely vocal works, with Olivier Daysoul and DāM-FunK getting starring roles. The latter's 'Tell Me What You Want From Me' was undoubtedly the album's peak; a delirious rush of oozing technicolour among an army of 808s. Elsewhere, LuckyMe clan member Nasdroic sing-rapped on 'Allhot' with discordant harmonies that could be plucked from a Nordic folk song.
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The album wasn't without some serious oddball moments. 'ZOo00OOm', for instance, kicked off with the most guttural - verging on disgusting - of beatboxers, then introduced a hardstyle kickdrum and a melody line that was almost comical in the imagined rave anthem it suggested. While 'FUSE', which almost went to Rihanna(!), saw pan pipes taking on their own identity, spiralling out of control in the most euphoric of manners. Then you had closer 'Black n Red', which sounded something like a sped-up reggaeton number commandeered by Sonic the Hedgehog.
Packaging an 8-bit video game soundtrack out of pitch bent vocals came 'Fruit Touch', and 'Rising 5' took those Premiere drums to South Asian heights with a host of sitar plucks. The lesser-known bonus track for Japan, 'La Zona', perfectly encapsulated HudMo's just-off-the-mark wonky aesthetic that would rear throughout his productions, with hip-hop drums skewed right of centre, plus plenty of cowbell.
Much of the ADHD genre-bending on the album has been credited to Birchard's turntablism past. Long before he was Kanye's right hand man he was constructing mixtapes aged 10, assembling beats on his Playstation at 12, and by 15, making the UK DMC finals as DJ Itchy. Maybe it's the joyride of stylistic switch-ups that led to the titling of 'Butter' - a nod to those seamless slips between genres. Or actually because, as he stated in an interview once, he "really likes shortbread."
If one thing was made clear on the LP, it was that Hudson Mohawke is someone who feverishly consumes music - whose influences are as disparate as Mahivishnu Orchestra, jump-up d'n'b and Missy Elliot. So it's kind of unsurprising that he chose to crystalise this myriad of sounds into his Frooty Loops window. He's someone who grew up on a diet of Transformers and video games, who named his 'Polyfolk Dance' EP after a track by prog rock violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, and whose first love was happy hardcore.
But it was the frontier-lessness of the album that worried critics in '09 - there was just too much going on. In 'Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction To Its Own Past", Simon Reynolds would argue that music was eating itself, citing the LP as "a CGI-like frightmare of garish and overworked sound" (despite also praising it later in an essay on maximalism). Even if it seemed to be packed with too many ideas, the true brilliance of the album was in HudMo's deft skill at meshing the interplay between genres. If we see dance and rave music as a continuum - with jungle, for example, being heavily rooted in funk and soul - then Birchard's arrangements not only worship the artists they reference - but electronic music's evolution too.
With those sugar rush drops and ecstatic, tropically-dipped synth notes, in today's musical landscape 'Butter' feels a little bit like PC Music without the irony, or rather, the inauthenticity. Yet it was also an album that was happy to laugh at itself, to poke fun - from "Whitney Houston" introducing the album sampler (this was 2009, remember..) to the skit on 'Gluetooth' which imagined two kids whispering about a magical kingdom. There was the mischievous nature that HudMo's consistently demonstrated by, for example, banging out a Purple Drank-ed remix of Toto's 'Africa' in his Essential Mix.
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A comment that Birchard once made about the label he's signed to could be a neat description of his own work too: "A lot of the attraction to Warp is that they really don't care a lot of the time. They just do stuff because they think it's good - they're not afraid to branch out and go in a different direction." And it's his own brazen, do-I-look-like-I-give-a-fuck attitude that's so attractive. True pioneers don't worry about what critics will make of their work, they do whatever the hell they want.
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Hudson Mohawke's new album 'Lantern' is out now.
Words: Felicity Martin