Usually a hip hop documentary is based upon conflict and controversy, cussing and conspiracy but Noisey (Vice’s music channel) brings a more British approach. Less gangs and guns, more staying inside when it’s raining to make beats that celebrate the career of Hudson Mohawke so far. Whilst not the typical rapper-centric documentary of the genre, we are given insight into the world of djing, production and partying that the Glasgow native has encountered.
Very First Breath documents the rise of Hudson Mohawke; from Sub City Radio (Glasgow University) presenter, to DMC championship scratching entrant to collaborating with the likes of Kanye before culminating in a hometown gig for just a fiver. Coming in at less than thirty minutes in length we are taken on a whistle stop tour of this adventure. Though each stop may be brief the film exhibits depth in the experiences it shows. The fact that Hudmo and friends used Sub City Radio as a vehicle for launching parties and with it their own careers, helps to express an entrepreneurial DIY approach. This is compacted by Hudmo’s beginnings in production, utilising Music 2000 on the original PlayStation before being picked up by Warp Records that will launch a nostalgia fest for many. All of this alongside goofier snippets such as his dad’s American Football music release ‘Diamond Rap’ (it really couldn’t sound more 80s if it tried), leads to a light hearted tour.
The documentary musically characterises Hudmo well. By avoiding voice over narration and formal talking heads style interviews, the film manages to flow with natural conversations and phone calls that mesh with musically charged transition scenes. Virgin Abloh, an associate of Kanye, sums it up well “his personality isn’t as loud as his music is, the sound speaks for itself”. Indeed we find a very relaxed demeanour that in many ways is distinct from his musical style. Nevertheless we are given a sense of the calculation that goes into his production and how natural the relationship appears. A new sound from roots planted in vinyl seems to be what Hudmo is about.
Having never heard of Hudson Mohawke before I never felt out of place as the documentary effortlessly contextualised his position in music… it inspired me to listen to his music
At one point in the film it is noted that “Glasgow is very good at keeping your feet on the ground” and this seems to be the premise of the film; how down to Earth Hudmo remains. While it does appear true from what we see, clichéd sequences of looking through old photographs and visiting old haunts with friends labours the point. As if to constantly reinforce the point, the documentary repeatedly turns to interactions with Hudmo’s mother and to be honest lays it on a bit thick.
However, Very First Breath remains an enjoyable and fluent watch that succeeds despite my criticisms. Having never heard of Hudson Mohawke before, I never felt out of place as the documentary effortlessly contextualised his position in music, featuring cameo voice appearances from the likes of Mark Ronson, Virgin Abloh and Hudmo’s collaborator for TNGHT, Lunice. In fact the documentary inspired me to listen to his music. While limited in time and in the point it makes, Very First Breath is a genuinely interesting film. It will perhaps be lacking something for those well versed in Hudmo’s development but it operates very well as promotional piece. An extra thirty minutes would have gone down a treat.