Ace production pair on Azealia Banks, Nazi hecklers and the snowballs of hate
Canadian beat maker Lunice and Glaswegian future-tech prodigy Hudson Mohawke may seem like worlds (continents, even) apart in person, but the two are a match made in hip hop heaven as production duo TNGHT. Their self-titled EP debut for Warp features five pulsating tracks of samples scattered across a relentless sway and strong percussive foundation.
There’s a chopped-up female vocal that sounds uncannily like Grimes in ‘Top Floor’, while a stunted byte of a crowd yelling, clapping and drumming plays muscle to the backbone of a pounding bass line on ‘Goooo’. Then there’s dancefloor hit ‘Bugg’n’ and its hollow metallic rhythm, softened by the repeated motif of a baby cooing. At times it feels like all this unruly energy threatens to collapse under the weight of its own frenetic movement, but the essence of every song is a steady core, which could be construed as restraint if we didn’t know any better.
It’s funny, because that very tension between agitation and calm can also be seen in the contrasting personalities of its producers. A conversation with the collaborators, otherwise known as Lunice Pierre II and Richard Birchard, brings boastful anecdotes and urban slang from the former, and business-like sobriety from the latter. So, while in London to perform a live set on the eve of their EP’s release, Lunice talks Azealia Banks, snowballs and Nazi hecklers as Birchard calls him on the details.
How do you each work individually?
Lunice: When we work on our solo stuff? For me it’s like…
Ross Birchard: It works because we don’t get too tied up in obsessing about the little details and being really critical, whereas if you’re working together you’re sort of…
L: You’re more spontaneous…
RB: Yeah, There’s less thought in it. It just flows rather than it being that you’re considering what you need to do, where things needs to be added and what needs to be added.
L: It’s like a jam, almost.
RB: It’s more like how a band would work or something like that, rather than solo or electronic.
Lunice, when you play live you’re mixing it live as well, aren’t you?
But Ross, you don’t do the same thing?
R: It’s a bit of both, basically. I have two different types of sets; a normal DJ set and then more of a live set, which I’m doing more of now.
Lunice, from what I can tell you’re more of a performer than Ross?
RB: Yeah, he’s like a dancer and I’m just like a DJ.
L: Yeah, I’m just a straight back-up dancer [laughs]
Is that a good match, the fact you both bring different elements to live performance?
RB: You don’t necessarily know when you’re going to break into dance.
L: Not at all, it’s not like at any point during the day I start dancing [laughs]. It’s really in the moment.
RB: You never know what’s going to happen at the shows. It’s more spontaneous. If there’s a good combo at one point… he’s playing a drum move and I put in a melody and I’m like, ‘holy shit, this totally works out’, then you’re going to see me wilin’ out, that’s for sure. If it gets me excited.
If I go to a show and you’re not dancing, is the crowd to blame?
L: Nah man, I wile out for myself.
RB: Even if the crowd was all sitting on the floor he’ll put on a show.
L: I’ll flip that table. I don’t give a shit, my nigga. I just go crazy. I don’t care. I played for two people at a pool table.
RB: And one of them was a Nazi.
L: And one of them was a Nazi, yeah! I was like, ‘I don’t care man. If you ain’t gonna fuck with his shit then watch me going fucking crazy. So y’all can go back home and be like, ‘Who the fuck was that black kid going crazy on stage?’ You may not like my shit, but you’ll remember me.
What do you mean, ‘one of them was a Nazi’?
L: [laughs] He asked me to play something less black.
RB: He actually told you he was a Nazi?
L: Well, I would assume he was a Nazi, saying ‘play something less black’ [laughs]. But yeah man, I just ended up playing Lil B for an hour and a half.
Where was this?
L: In a town in the middle of nowhere in Canada, with a population of, maybe, ten thousand or less.
Why were you playing there in the first place?
L: We were touring Canada for this Red Bull Music Academy thing. Just like talking about it to the people who wanted to join up for it and all that. It was definitely cool to see all those little towns that I’d never seen in my life. Totally seeing another side of Canada. It was definitely worth it.
You talk up your dancing and attitude and stuff, how did it start? It sounds like a defensive act, in a way.
L: Straight up, Straight up. I’ve had some haters for sure, man. What I do is like, ‘Oh, you’re hating huh?’ Dance the fuck out of their faces, yo, play the fuck out of my set. It motivates me to play harder. If a motherfucker throws a bottle, I am in hard, like ‘Nigga I’m on stage, where are you at?
I played this festival where people were throwing fuckin’ snowballs at me because it was like, I didn’t even know, it was an all ages thing [laughs]. They didn’t tell me, they just booked me for that shit. I appreciate the dude wanted to put me on for a more general crowd but shit was fucked up, man. People throwin snowballs and shit. I didn’t care. I went on stage and was like, ‘yeah!’
RB: Was that at PaleyFest?
L: Nah, it was this Quebec shit, man. But I was having the time of my life. ‘Oh, you doin’ that man? Alright, I’ll piss you off even more.
So you got booked for this all ages show, did they give you any stipulations about language?
L: Here’s the situation. It was really badly organised in the sense that I went on at 10.30 and then parents went out there with their kids. Ten-thirty! I’m like, ‘Fuck you guys, I’m playing swears and shit. I’m not censoring shit!’ [laughs] It’s their problem if they’ve got kids out there at 10.30 outside. What the fuck they doing there in the first place? Not my problem.
Was it the kids throwing the snowballs or the parents?
L: Nah, it was just probably like these rowdy teenagers is all. Or like, I don’t know who the fuck threw that shit. But all in all they remember who the fuck played there, that’s all.
Do you talk much when you perform?
L: I talk on the mic, yeah, but I don’t sing [laughs].
RB: Or play the flute.
L: No, I don’t play the flute. [laughs]
With that kind of attitude you should be rapping.
L: I wish I could. I understand the whole thing about flow and everything. One thing about rap is… say if I work in the studio with a rapper, I could definitely give them an idea of how they should flow on my track, but when it comes to me trying to rap? Forget it. [laughs] I can’t. I just can’t. I try hard. I try to practice but it’s just, clearly I can’t rap.
You’ve worked with Azealia Banks, and it feels like you both share a similar ‘tough guy’ attitude.
L: In the studio it’s just mad trill. She’s like one of the people I’d work with in a minute, in terms of getting the job done and getting it done quick and amazing. We went in the studio and she literally was like, ‘Yo Lu, I got three flows for this track.’ And I was like, ‘Word? Three flows?’ and she dug it straight up; one take, second take, done. That blew my mind.
Do you think you’d both work with vocalists more?
L: Yeah, yeah. That’s been my goal this year.
RB: We’re both in it for this project. We’re aiming to have some MCs at some point. It’s more meant to be like a production duo; for working with MCs rather than as an act in its own right. There are some people in the pipeline that are going to be on a couple of tracks.
Anyone you could share?
RB: No, we’re not saying.
L: Yeah, not until it comes out.
RB: We’ve got some fairly major people who have expressed interest but we’ll never know until it’s actually going to happen, so we just don’t really talk about it.