What does Hugo Kant sound like?
Downtempo trip-hop artist who makes stories from samples from around the world.
The review of Hugo Kant – The Seven Seas
I stumbled across ‘The Seven Seas’ last month and whilst the album came out in 2020, I felt like it could have been released last month too. It’s a superb concept album from Hugo Kant, a musician and producer who specialises in a mixture of downtempo and trip-hop beats with jazzy instruments and real-world samples. For ‘The Seven Seas’ the album takes a selection of spoken word pieces from ‘The Outlaw Ocean’ by Ian Urbina. It’s structured in a way to comment on life on the sea and the migration crises. Has the world moved on from pirate warfare?
‘The Seven Seas’ certainly makes you think but it’ll make you groove just as much. After the heady newscast speeches that open the album, Hugo brings out the beats and acoustic instruments that become the album’s sound palette. The title track has a breezy guitar loop with various chants and pirate or town cries mixed into the rhythms. Hugo’s beats are quite chilled but they are imbued with jazz elements. Tighter drums like cajon boxes make the feistier beats run faster and cleaner in ‘Lucky Number’. Here, the flute interplays with faded picked strings giving the song a Caribbean summer tone to it. It’s the lightest and breeziest track on the release by some margin.
Instead, Hugo Kant spends the majority of the album sonically painting feeling lost or enslaved. In ‘Drowned Under’, a slow meandering electric guitar and beat underscore an interview. It’s from an Indonesian woman whose husband paid a loan shark to get a job on one of the Oyang ships that then sunk at sea under avoidable conditions. The entire track is mournful, with a scorned undertone. ‘The Shadow Lands’ uses bleeps radar as a rhythmic pulse as some bombastic nu-jazz percussion, lonely vocal ‘aahs’ and sparse harp and flute evoke danger and isolation. The track is so evocative of dangerous Congo adventures or sailing into a shroud of fog – it demonstrates Hugo Kant’s sonic storytelling abilities perfectly.
Moving away from ships, ‘Cease Immediately’ turns directly to oil drilling and climate change. Using a speech from Greenpeace New Zealand, the sentences are chopped up and placed to work seamlessly with the music. Musically, the track reminds me of James Bond, if its theme had some light drum n bass beats in the background. The song speaks of peaceful protest and towards the end, other vocalists including Hugo join forces to demand that oil drilling cease immediately. It is a powerful moment and it slaps too. Rather than ending happily or in misery, ‘Fluid Borders’ is extremely ambiguous. The harps, guitars and woodwind all lean into curiosity and squirm like hidden snakes. Machine guns are used as snare drums and the sonic storytelling sounds like a battle for the seas and shores is taking place. Who wins? Who knows but it feels like Hugo Kant expresses that no one wins in a global sea crisis.
What impressed me most is that this is clearly a heavily political and environmentally driven album but it doesn’t feel tacky. That is so hard to do, especially when using speeches or sample sounds. Hugo Kant is extremely talented, as a sonic storyteller – not just as a producer. The percussion across this album is superb as it has swing throughout. Also, the flutes in particular have a curiosity to them that feels slightly sinister like a siren’s call. This is a uniquely fascinating album that deserves some love and feels very relevant in 2023 too.
Recommended track: The Shadow Lands
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