"We’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we were trying to make something in the vein of the first record," says Hudson Mohawke of the duo's new project.
After the release of TNGHT in 2012, Hudson Mohawke and Lunice were wiped out. Their project was immediately acclaimed, but the resulting rush — the festival circuit, production work for Kanye West, and an invasive industry clamoring for more — left the two artists exhausted.
The production duo, who record together under the name of that first EP, went on hiatus just a year after the release of their breakthrough debut. “I’ve tried to respect the notion that my body and mind can’t just work and make music for 29 hours in a row,” explains Mohawke. “You can’t do that.”
As solo musicians, Mohawke and Lunice had garnered critical and commercial acclaim, but together, they tapped into something unique — a musical blend that landed somewhere between indie rap production and crowd-shaking EDM. The duo bridged the gap between stadium rap and rave culture, where the disparities between trap music and four-on-the-floor dance bangers slowly disappeared. They took the bombast of mid-2000s Chicago drill, blended it with the slow-building ecstasy of dance music and opening a door between these two worlds, as if they brought Waka Flocka to Electric Daisy Carnival and Skrillex to Magic City. A crew of producers including RL Grime, Baauer and Flosstradamus rose simultaneously, cementing trap as a major force in the U.S. electronic scene.
Mohawke, who relocated from London to Los Angeles in 2017, and Lunice, who's been a Montréal homebody his entire career, have had the desire to return to TNGHT. But first, they had to fortify a structure in which they could pursue the project unencumbered by the trappings of modern music success.
Individually, the two tread different territories, pretty clearly delineating the two halves of TNGHT’s sound. Lunice is the hip-hop head, a collaborator of The Alchemist and rappers like Denzel Curry and Azelia Banks; meanwhile, HudMo is the hyper-driven electronic producer whose music is generally unrelenting, an aural assault of electronic sounds both sweet and grating. His ear for melody has carried him far, and his attention to detail pushes his more extreme moments into an area of accessibility. Together, they blew up, before just as swiftly backing away from their collaborative project.
“If things were to get too out of hand, we felt that we would be pigeonholed in a specific sound and genre that would permeate to our individual work, too,” explains Lunice. “In order to control that creative direction, we had to create some space.”
Adds Mohawke, “We were very conscious of the hang-ups that were developing around us at that point. It didn’t necessarily encapsulate what we had set out to do. It would have been a risk where we’d be trapped, able to do only one thing.”
But with their new EP, II, Lunice and Mohawke sound as free as they did on their debut. Though only seven songs, the EP -- out today (Nov. 12) Warp Records -- spans genres, speeds and emotions, resulting in the cacophonous delight that can only be realized by these mad scientists. “Dollaz” moves from juke to a turntable-style showcase of sample chopping. ”Club Finger” plays with the haunting exoskeleton of trance, using synths to create something more caustic and haunting.
The album isn’t too different from their debut, but it moves the dial enough to be considered a step in a new direction. The record moves at a breakneck pace and doesn’t take a breath until it’s over.
Here, the duo discuss their success, taking space and reconvening seven years later.
When, exactly, did TNGHTseem like it was going to happen again?
Lunice: There’s no definite time or date that we had in mind for coming back. The earliest reference I have is when Hudson Mohawke was headlining a festival in Montréal called Mural Festival. He asked if I wanted to come up for “Higher Ground.” I did, and it felt great. We realized it had been a while since we last did business. It was just a thought, though, that we would maybe do something again. I think an entire year passed before HudMo spontaneously hit me up and asked if I wanted to book a ticket, fly out here, and stay over at his place to start working on some stuff. It felt like the right time.
Mohawke: From a managerial and booking agent standpoint, no one really wanted us to go away in the first place. We didn’t want to do it for a while, though. We decided to revisit it when it felt right. If, by some chance, it never felt right, we were just going to move on.
Did you reference the first record in making this one? Did you build off it in any way?
Mohawke: We didn’t reference the sound palette of it, but it’s inevitable that we reference the personality of it, because it’s coming from us again. We’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we were trying to make something in the vein of the first record, outside of the way our personalities work together.
Lunice: We were more concerned about what we would sound like today, not compared to the past. We didn’t want to put any kind of thought to that. We were thinking more about, ‘What will come up today?
Did the success of the first album make you hesitant to begin on a second one because there were would be expectations? Or was the time off purely a desire to pursue your solo projects again?
Lunice: Our branding has been very specific to Hudson Mohawke and Lunice as TNGHT, because TNGHT is more of the event, the project, and an idea — rather than a duo. We were very specific in this being two individuals presenting a project. That helped us create an amount of space to pull back from and pursue our own work. We were able to discover new things and maybe come back together in the future, which is what ended up happening.
Mohawke: The whole point of starting it was to play some fun stuff out. The BPM didn’t matter, nothing did. If it’s fun to us, then that’s what makes it worthwhile.
How long were the two of you in the studio together working on this?
Mohawke: We got together a bunch of times, but in terms of the total amount of days, it probably wasn’t much more than two weeks. We generally stop one another from getting too caught up. That’s something we’re semi-intentional about. We keep each other moving. It keeps it exciting, and it stops that period where you can spend 19 hours EQ’ing a fucking snare or something like that.
Was there a need to keep the reunion under wraps because people have been waiting so intensely? I imagine fans would have been disappointed if they knew you two were collaborating but nothing came from it.
Mohawke: We definitely teased it a little bit, but we certainly avoided saying anything about new music, because we really didn’t know, either! There were a few things on Instagram, though, small Easter eggs here and there. Even at that point, though, we had no idea that something would come of it. It was only when we put it together at the end that we were like, "Huh, it really does sound like a record. Maybe we should put it out."
Lunice: It was like, "Oh, damn. There it is!"
It sounds like the build-up was lower stakes for you than the fans anticipating it.
Mohawke: Lunice has always been really good at that. I’ve struggled with it at times, but I’ve gotten a lot better over the years. You really have to remove yourself, otherwise you can get creatively crippled by having a big record. You can’t do anything after that. You become so incredibly harsh on yourself that you don’t make anything at all. Until you can find that line again, where the only stakes are whether you like it and if you’re having fun, it’s probably gonna be shit. If it needs to be anything, you’re potentially setting yourself up for failure.
Lunice: It gets more complicated. All your expectations become external, rather than internal. A lot of our work comes from the inside. We hit sounds, and each sound has an emotional response to it, whether it’s something we hate, like, or laugh to. Each sound goes into the bank, and then we make something out of it, as a jam.
What’s your favorite part of collaborating with each other?
Mohawke: It’s a very intuitive, tuned-in process. The overall humor and personality of it comes across because it’s an instant-fueled process from beginning to end.
Lunice: I really love the way we verbally communicate. It’s a lot of grunts and giggles. There are no real words spoken in the studio [laughs].