Hudson Mohawke lets music do the talking

Review: EDM artists Cashmere Cat and Hudson Mohawke performed focused sets in the Schine Underground for the first show in University Union's Bandersnatch Series.

Once upstart beatsmith Hudson Mohawke settled in behind his production board — his MacBook perched nearby to his right — and started mixing monolithic basslines and glitch synthesizer beats, he never once stopped to exchange banter with the audience. He simply let his music do the talking.

Mohawke, a Scotland-hailing producer phenom linked to Kanye West’s GOOD Music label, headlined Wednesday’s Bandersnatch Concert Series show, presented by University Union. Cashmere Cat, a shaggy-haired, similarly quiet-behind-the-stand DJ, joined Mohawke as the show’s opening act.

Photo: Angela Zonunpari
Norwegian DJ Cashmere Cat opens for Hudson Mohawke, a DJ and electronic music producer from Scotland, at Syracuse University on Wednesday.

Cashmere Cat started his set with a flourish of ethereal synthesized piano notes that rapidly gave way to a mélange of orchestrated blips and rollicking snares. Despite punctuating his performance with computerized handclaps and rollicking snare drums, occasionally giving way to club banger basses and four-on-the-floor dance rhythms, Cashmere Cat’s crafty beats were hard-pressed to get the crowd dancing. Several concertgoers, still filtering in from the cold air outside, stood around and chatted idly during the producer’s set.

Not that Cashmere Cat particularly minded — standing tall over his board, the DJ appeared lost in his array of lush sonic tones, ranging from pulsating Theremin-inspired synthesizers to thumping bass beats. The stage lights fluctuated to match Cashmere Cat’s eclectic moods, shifting from cool blues when the producer aimed to chill to fiery reds when he aimed to thrill.

Cashmere Cat saved his most danceable mixes to close out his set; chopped-and-screwed reimaginings of Ace Hood’s smash hit “Bugatti” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank)” stood out as the two most recognizable numbers in the producer’s repertoire. What the DJ lacked in stage presence, he made up for in technical prowess, inserting keyboard flourishes and imaginative 8-bit beats when it suited him.

Once the opener exited stage left, stray shouts rose from the crowd, calling out Hudson Mohawke’s name. The transition between DJs — always a necessary evil in a live concert setting — sapped energy from the crowd, but the crowd’s enthusiasm level spiked when Mohawke stepped behind his production stand.

Opening with a hefty drone that sounded like a Boeing taking off, Mohawke captured his audience’s attention early with some goliath, room-rattling bass beats. The DJ was in no particular rush to get to any of his more accessible material, framing his set with some crushingly atmospheric vibes, reliant on snare rolls and ambient drum beats. The lighting in the Schine Underground was equally subdued: The crowd was bathed in hazy black light.

But once Mohawke set the tone, remixes became a heavy staple of his set — the producer wore his GOOD Music colors with pride. The DJ laid a bleating synthesizer overtop Kanye West and company’s summer chart-topper “Mercy” and a mournful, low-tempo retooling of Yeezus cut “Blood on the Leaves.” Though his set was as eclectic as his production credits might illustrate, Mohawke still orchestrated some mammoth, crowd-pleasing bass drops to keep the energy spiked.

Though Mohawke himself wasn’t a kinetic performer — the most the DJ moved was to lift his hands up from the board to raise them in the air — his beats were close to palpable, and the crowd had no problem head-bobbing, swaying and clapping along to his chirpy synthesizer work. Mohawke showed off a deft hand for production, neatly layering his effects, indulging in brash spasms of orchestral flair and weaving lush soundscapes.

When Mohawke let his music do the talking, that’s in the most literal sense of the cliché: sampled vocal snippets included looping refrains of “Do it right,” “Go hard,” and, most comically, “You look like sh*t when you dance.” The audience took no offense to the subliminal insult, dancing feverishly anyway.

Though eschewing traditional stage banter from his performance, Mohawke’s silence was golden: mostly because his bone-rattling decibel levels of beats spoke volumes instead.

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