On “Where My Money,” Royce da 5’9 asks a provocative question: “Now who gives a fuck about who bars the hardest/When the DJs think they’re bigger stars than the artists?” There is no clear answer to this question, but its premises are useful. Royce thinks that DJs are stepping out of line and becoming too self-important. That might be true, but given the reception of TNGHT’s recent performance at Webster Hall, the recent growing popularity of DJs seems to be less of a collective shift in DJs’ egoism and more of a collective shift in what fans actually want to hear (and do) at concerts.
“Fans of what?” you may ask. This is precisely where TNGHT gets tricky. Though the duo is signed to Warp Records, the members – Lunice and Hudson Mohawke – have affiliations with LuckyMe, Night Slugs and G.O.O.D. Music. They also have roots in the underground scenes of Montreal and Glasglow, their respective cities of origin. Finally, making things even more complicated is their role in popularizing the revival of trap, the formerly waning and currently vibrant musical aesthetic of early 2000s Southern hip-hop. Because they sit at this peculiar intersection of disparate scenes and sounds, the only way to genuinely answer who their fans are is tautological: fans of TNGHT are fans of TNGHT.
A woman next to me asked, “Is this hip-hop?” Yes, but it’s also something else. Lunice formerly claimed that the aim of TNGHT is to dive “straight into mainstream rap music,” but there’s no way to comfortably call what they’re doing just hip-hop. The fact that the question is even posed speaks volumes.
Their music speaks volumes as well. Many volumes, in fact. Their set is characterized purely by peaks and troughs. Dancing to their music is like interval training on a stationary bike. “ACRYLICS,” their latest single, embodies this mark most vividly. The song oscillates between dreamy twinkles and explosive synths and bass. “Explosive” is the key word here because there is no real build-up: the peaks just happen. The only thing that sustains you in between these highs and lows is pure anticipation. It’s interesting to see this play out live. Anticipating the highs, people stopped dancing and longingly stared at Lunice and Hudmo for direction. They really didn’t know what to do! Other people complained: they wanted to dance non-stop. (Translation: they wanted to hear what they wanted to hear)
Their complaints weren’t unheard. TNGHT loves to play with the audience’s expectations, but they were not authoritarian. If anything, they were fairly obliging. Although the songs they make embody the disparate traditions that they skillfully patch together – “Higher Ground” is the example par excellence – they were willing to please their constituents one demographic at a time. While Lunice’s “Panera Bread” pleased the hip-hoppers at the expense of everyone else, it was balanced by a later nod to the EDMers, with “Treat Me Right” by Keys N Krates.
While the music spoke and the audience spoke back, the stars of the show were rather mute. Sure, Lunice occasionally got up from his swivel chair – yes, he had a chair – and madly directed the crowd like some sort of crazed classical conductor, but there was no further communication; Hudmo was behind his computer the entire time. They probably didn’t even have microphones. Still, they were the main attraction. This kind of self-effacement stands in direct opposition to the DJs that Royce mentions and perhaps that’s why TNGHT is so damn likeable: at the end of the day they’re all about the music. There were no audio watermarks saying, “TNGHT made it” or some other quickly annoying phrase. Their trademark is simply the music itself. And that’s precisely why TNGHT has made it.
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