Hot Sugar on His New LP, Betrayal, 'Broad City,' and James Van Der Beek
If Van Der Beek and Bow Wow were in a show as "cyber punk hackers protecting the mainframe from Cheeto-eating trolls," Hot Sugar would have just the score.
Hot Sugar’s personal anguish is our gain. The electronic producer (a.k.a. Nick Koenig) will release his next album, God’s Hand, on 2.24, and it’s a dark and melancholic collection of tracks born from “unexpected, disappointing life events.” That’s not to say that sonically it’s an surprising swerve—the music Koenig records as Hot Sugar has always had a bit of a lugubrious tinge to it—but on God’s Hand, the darkness is front and center.
The album, which Koenig is teasing with a Second Life-style video game (when you drive the car off a cliff his single "Not Afraid to Die" plays out), is a co-creation with his friend Paul Christophe and comes at the perfect time, as the name Hot Sugar has been popping up in conversations surrounding the hottest show on TV: Broad City. Koenig provided the show’s producers with some tracks from his back catalogue, more playful constructions than his current work, and it’s elevated the mischievous vibe of the show to another level.
With the inclusion on the Broad City soundtrack, Hot Sugar’s music has reached a wider audience than anyone could have expected. Anyone, that is, except for Koenig himself, who assures us he saw the success of the show coming when he signed up. He also explained that his ambition is not limited to a few successful TV shows: he wants to soundtrack every part of your life.
Noisey: The new album is noticeably darker in tone than your previous recordings. What brought about this change?
Hot Sugar: Despite the upbeat melodies, God’s Hand is the darkest album I’ve ever made. There’s nothing particularly evil or aggressive in any of the melodies, but a lot of the material I used as instrument voices sound bleak and sad. I tried to focus on the sadness in the mundane. “Not Afraid To Die” is a great example: the lead melody is the sound of a man across the street shoveling snow during a snowstorm (a futile, Sisyphean task in the face of nature). I had just dealt with a number of betrayals and unexpected, disappointing life events that made me very defeatist, so between the sad things, I chose to record and the happy redeeming melodies I’d turn them into. The whole thing feels bittersweet.
Is there a sound that you wish you'd been able to record or recreate for this album that just didn't work out?
No. That’s part of why the album took so long to make. I got everything I wanted. Though I’ve been legally advised to avoid elaborating, I’ve had a demo called Raining Stupid Normal Water since 2010. I couldn’t call it Raining Blood until last year. I also made an entire song out recordings from webcam videos fans sent me of themselves either blowing bubbles with bubble gum or crushing cans on their heads. Neither of those actions are known to produce melodic results, but conceptually, they represent classic western representations of boredom. The webcam audio was very lousy, so I spent about a year manipulating and mixing the recordings until they sounded like a mini orchestra. I tried to make them sound like strings, 808s, pianos, etc. but knowing that they’re all just webcam recordings of people “doing nothing and being bored” makes it special to me.
What would you say to the anti-sample crowd, with regards to your method of "associative music"?
When I first started experimenting with Associative Music a lot of my attention was focused on proving that “everything has a voice” and “anything can be turned into an instrument.” I would get upset by well-spirited compliments in reviews, stating, “Koenig can sample pretty much anything” because there’s a fundamental difference between “pretty much everything” and “anything.” In science, that “pretty much” is the difference between a theory and a law.
Associative Music states that literally any sound can be transformed and disguised into a more accessible sounding instruments. It’s a fact. It’s an easily achievable task once you learn the production methods and process. Associative Music isn’t a brag, its a conceptual understanding of sound that liberated me and all the other musicians I’ve met that are now practicing those techniques. The community of producers is expanding and some of the results other people have had have been blowing me away. I’m very excited to release some of those records in the coming year via my new record label, Noise Collector.
Where did the idea of teasing your album via a video game come from?
I’ve never been “good” at video games because I never focus on the objectives. When I first played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas at my friend’s house, he got mad at me because all I did was do wheelies on a BMX instead of follow the missions. I don’t care about established missions. I’m happier doing wheelies.
I decided I wanted to make a game that was fun and pretty to cruise through, but doesn’t necessarily have a goal. You can’t win in my game, all you can do is hang out and enjoy the music or die. In that sense it’s the most realistic game. To be honest, if you’re not afraid to die and you drive off the edge you end up hearing my new single. So basically if you die you win.
Sticking to video games for a second, do you take any influences from VG music? At times, some of your tracks sound like they could be dropped into fantasy games.
Oh, thank you! I don’t actually play video games, but I admire all the music that comes from them. I try to make music that allows the audience room to dream about an event or any accompanying scenario, so I’m always flattered when someone tells me they can hear it paired with anything visual. Also, some of the most universally appreciated songs of the past century come from video games. The Super Mario theme song’s gonna outlive us all.
Have any other shows reached out to you about working with them after your success with Broad City?
No. I don’t think so. My music gets placed in a lot of shows, but I don’t know if it’s because of Broad City. It’s fun because shows will only give you a couple details regarding the plot so you end up visualizing your own concept of the show before actually seeing it. Like right now I heard they’re using a song in a new TV show about “cyber crime” featuring Bow Wow and James Van der Beek [he's talking about CSI: Cyber], so I’ve already mentally solidified a storyline wherein James and Bow Wow are tag-team cyber punk hackers that protect the mainframe from Cheeto-eating trolls. If that’s the case and that’s what the show’s about, I think my music would work really well.
Are there any other mediums that you want to provide music for?
Of course. I want to do films and video games. I don’t care what form art comes in as long as it does something to me. I would score a GIF if it were pretty enough. Last year (as part of Peter Coffin’s LIVING exhibit), I scored theme music for plants. I recorded a bunch of plants and turned those recordings into a song that an art gallery ended up playing for those very same plants. Yoko Ono, Phillip Glass and bunch of other musicians also participated at some point. I discovered that plants sound like rain. But anyways, yes. I want to continue providing music for a lot of things that happen in life!
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