There’s always been something funny about Hudson Mohawke. You see the Scotsman’s surreal humour in his face-melting, body morphing videos and in his preference for bizarre memes. And you can hear it in his genre-mutating electronica, which he’s not afraid to smother with an indulgent layer of cheese.
And so Hudson Mohawke and US comedian Patti Harrison are a match made in heaven. Harrison, if you’re unfamiliar, is known for her outrageously weird stand-up, her writing on Big Mouth and absurdist comedy series I Think You Should Leave as well as her role as Ruthie in the series Shrill. She’s also dipped her toes into music – her standup routine includes obscene parodies of Dua Lipa, Charli XCX and Kate Bush – so her and HudMo have more in common than you may think.
Harrison is the star of the video for Hudson Mohawke’s new single Bicstan. The track is taken from his new album Cry Sugar, his first solo full-length since 2015. The album, which was inspired by “apocalyptic” film scores like the late Vangelis and John Williams, but features all the hallmarks of his trademark hi-NRG maximalism, has been described in the press notes as a “demented OST to score the twilight of our cultural meltdown.”
Co-directed by Harrison and Adult Swim filmmaker Alan Resnick, the Bicstan video features bad dance moves, a 1v1 basketball playoff, some spidery superpowers and (spoiler alert) a whole load of shit.
THE FACE connected the two for a conversation, with HudMo dialling in from LA (where he lives these days) and Harrison talking from Edinburgh, where she’s doing a month-long stint at the Fringe festival.
Hudson Mohawke: So you’re doing the Fringe at the moment, where are you performing?
Patti Harrison: It’s this place called the Pleasance courtyard. I’m performing at a theatre on the top floor of the student athletics centre. There’s a rifle range, an archery range and three different gyms and boxing gyms. My green room is like a dojo. It’s divided by a big mat but it doesn’t block the room completely in half, so I can hear other people on the other side lifting weights.
When was the first time you each became aware of one another’s work?
HM: I bought tickets to your I’ve Been Eating My Own Shit tour show. I think that was the one that got cancelled. But I remember we spoke briefly after that – I approached you as a fan. And I had no idea that you were aware of me, or anything. But since then, I was like, ‘Fuck, we have to do something together.’
PH: It was insane to see that you had in any way interacted with any of the stupid, rancid shit that I was doing. When I was in high school, I exclusively listened to metalcore, deathcore – trying really, really hard to be different. And then in college, I’d walk into parties and would hear something that you had worked on or produced. Cbat was a song I put on a lot of playlists – and TNGHT [HudMo’s project with Lunice]. I was like, ‘This is everything’. And I mean this earnestly, I’m not whacking you off. One of my favourite ever remixes is the one you did for Björk, Virus. So yeah, it was crazy to have you message me. And you also post a lot of really funny stuff, you have a really good sense of humour.
HM: There’s this older comedian from the UK called Stewart Lee, he’s been a cult stand-up since the early ‘90s. I remember seeing him talking about early Joy Division shows from that era, where often a lot of bands’ support acts were stand-ups. There was this synergy between music and comedy. Both were being appreciated as serious art forms, even though they’re primarily about having fun. I feel like there’s much less of that interaction nowadays. But I think so many of the things you’ve worked on are so appealing to me because it’s not the exact same audience, but it feels like there’s a definite throughline there between what we’re both aiming for.
PH: I talk a bit about this in my show – my live show is a lot of comedy music, and it’s music that I produce and make. I’m a huge music fan. I talk about there being this symbiosis: I think professional comedians and professional musicians have this obsession with each other because they both want to be able to express themselves in the way the other can. So it’s this weird ouroboros where it’s like, I would love to express myself earnestly and make honest music, but I deeply dread the vulnerability of that. Some musicians have really funny stage banter and I talk to musicians who are like, ‘I think it’s more vulnerable to make a joke, because you’re like, if it doesn’t go well, or whatever, people think you’re stupid’. I actually think it’s more vulnerable to put something out there that comes from your heart. Because when people think that’s stupid, it’s like shooting you in the head.
What were your entry points into comedy?
HM: There used to be used to be a bunch of BBC comedies in the ‘90s and early 2000s that had this approach where – and I often try to do this with my own work as well – it comes from a culturally-informed stance, but it isn’t afraid to be dumb as fuck at the same time. I always think that’s the golden ratio.
PH: [I Think You Should Leave’s] Tim Robinson talked about this one time, it was much more articulate and I don’t even remember what he really said, but I’m going to make up some of it and attribute it to him. That humour gets called stupid a lot or, like, dumb, when actually it takes a lot of acuity to understand it. You have to be able to take all of this context and distil it into this thing that feels shockingly stupid, and that’s where the laugh comes from. Especially now in comedy, though, I have felt just so bludgeoned with the label of being transgender. But also I don’t want to erase that part of me as a performer because that is a huge part of my life. And also as a transgender person it feels cool when you see other transgender people doing well because it feels like the possibilities are more accessible. But I’ve always wondered how music can – because your music is instrumental for the most part, right? – distil your emotional POV or political POV into it.
HM: I was talking to someone about this yesterday; there’s a gap between my solo albums and I think a lot of that’s because, to express yourself in the fullest sense you have to be willing to go to the parts of your psyche where it’s kind of unpleasant, and not really where you want to be dwelling. But where that pain exists is where notorious art comes out of. I had a long period of feeling like I should do a record, but also not being in a state where I’m comfortable going to this part of my fucking brain where I’m probably going to be like, fucking crying in the middle of making a song. It’s not an escape, but it’s definitely a means of dealing with difficult shit in your life.
PH: On that note of the dark stuff, when me and Alan [Resnick] were talking about anything that was going on in the video planning or the edit or whatever, we’d be like, OK, so when the scary part happens. So in the scary part of the song. The spooky part. OK, so when the spooky part drops in, it gets, like… Because otherwise [the track is] like, really sexy, fun.
What was the starting point for the video – HudMo, did you give Patti a brief?
HM: Honestly, the starting point was, I love what Patti does. It’s kind of rare for me because usually I’m such a control freak about every sort of visual accompaniment to my music, but I really had a firm belief that what Patti would come up with would surpass anything I would give as a brief.
PH: There was a moment where I was like, I feel like Ross has passed away. We had so much creative control that I thought something was wrong, that Ross was getting skinned somewhere on a boat where there’s no maritime law. No, it really felt so rare. When people try and do comedy music videos, they often drop prioritising the aesthetic or making it look cool. I didn’t want it to feel all like ‘ha ha ha’ because the song has these layers to it – like I said, it’s a flirty little song and then it goes into this place that implies, I don’t know, something.
HM: One of the guys who shot the video yesterday was talking about using a million dollar camera to shoot people just being sprayed with shit.
PH: I know it sounds like I’m giving an Oscars speech but Alan Resnick is a living genius. He always has the coolest ideas on the fly and is so smart and resourceful. He was like, there’s this crazy new camera I was looking at that is super expensive, but you can rent it. It’s like, ‘the Dark Knight of cinema cameras’ or some shit. I wish there was BTS [from the shoot], like I wish someone was filming them film. Because Brandon [Winters] and James [Trevor] were literally running around with us in a way that was like: the athleticism.
HM: By the way, we have to make some music together.
PH: Absolutely not. Any work relationship I have with you ends here. You’ll never fucking hear from me again. I think the biggest punishment on Earth for me would be if you listened to the tracks that I have produced and mixed myself, and you hear how uneven everything is and how over-compressed and treble‑y and all of that. I think it would be a brutal experience for me that I, you know, cosmically deserve.