Scottish Producer Hudson Mohawke on His 'Watch Dogs 2' Soundtrack

Glaswegian DJ, producer explains process of creating a game soundtrack and reflects on the role games play in his work

Producer Hudson Mohawke, who's worked with Kanye and scored Ubisoft's 'Watch Dogs 2,' has a long history with video games. Credit: Getty/Mike Windle

Hudson Mohawke, born Ross Matthew Birchard in Glasgow, Scotland, got started with music early. At just 15, he became the youngest ever DMC DJ championships finalist in the UK. At 23, he signed to illustrious British label Warp Records, where he's released two solo LPs, as well as the TNGHT EP with collaborator Lunice. In 2012, Birchard began a series of collaborations with Kanye West, signing with West's GOOD Music as a producer, working on two tracks for West's 2013 album Yeezus ("I Am a God" and "Blood on the Leaves"), and contributing to much of West's The Life of Pablo. He has since worked with a number of hip-hop and pop artists, including Drake, Pusha T, and Future, and helped shape Anohni's 2016 HOPELESSNESS, which is already starting to pile up "best of 2016" commendations.

Most recently, Birchard scored Ubisoft's Mr. Robot-inspired open world action adventure Watch Dogs 2, which he packed full of triumphant synthesizers, thick, bruising drums, and glistening digital textures. We spoke to HudMo about his first experience creating a game soundtrack, the social norms of studio life, and Rare's classic Nintendo 64 game Banjo-Kazooie.

How'd you initially link up with Ubisoft to work on Watch Dogs 2?
Well, it was a weirdly ironic situation. To me anyway. When I was my early teens I'd entered a TV competition to win an N64 from Ubisoft – which I think is the only competition I've ever actually won. I vaguely put the word out that I was looking to expand into a couple of different types of projects; I've never been tremendously taken with the idea of having to make big banger hits all the time, so the opportunity to make a soundtrack was something that was very appealing to me at the time. But yeah, as far as this project, it was pretty organic.

What was the process of creating the soundtrack like? How'd it differ from your usual process?
It's great to be able to experiment and not have to think about [whether] it works on a dancefloor and has a drop in it. I've occasionally found myself in situations where those people are naturally expecting those types of things. Rather than making these sketches and songs and putting them to the side, it's been a chance to get them into a project. It was kind of liberating for me. For every track I release, there are seven or eight that I don't release because I don't think they fit alongside these other songs, or maybe they're not "hits" within my sort of lane or genre. It actually felt like less pressure than making a record. [Ubisoft] really gave me a lot of creative freedom to experiment. Having done a number of commercials and trailers, quite often you're not given that freedom. They were very open to my vision.