How Hot Sugar Uses Everyday Sounds to Connect With His Audience

Don't let the name fool you. Hot Sugar's work can be considerably icy and bitter — at least nominally so. Track titles like "Addictions," "Trauma," and "Dead Inside" certainly seem to point to a darker section of the human condition, a running theme in his work.

But the actual sound of the Grammy-nominated NYC producer (born Nick Koenig) can be beatifically sweet. Carried by delicate melodic arrangements intricately constructed from field recordings and found sounds, it's precisely the type of contemplative, genre-defying electronica championed by the iconic Ninja Tune label, which released his breakout Moon Money EP in 2012.

Of course, Koenig has been nothing short of prolific since, dropping his debut long player, God's Hand, this year and even contributing music for the Comedy Central hit show Broad City.

Ahead of a decidedly unmissable headlining performance at Bardot on Friday, New Times caught up with Hot Sugar to chat about his associative music, dark themes in his work, and more.

New Times:
What did you grow up listening to? Which artists, records or general styles of music do you consider most formative to your own sound?

Hot Sugar: I was at the youngest end of the first generation to experience and partake in musical internet piracy. I took advantage of the fact that everything was up for grabs, and that exposed me to many genres. I had a ravenous compulsion to discover new music and, since it was essentially free for me, I would discover an artist's entire discography all at once. I couldn't tell you who was most formative to my sound because every other week I'd be obsessed with a new artist.

How did you first get into making music? Are you a classically trained musician, or did you pick up your chops along the way?
I started producing when I was about 13. I'd been taking piano lessons for years before then, but I wasn't attached to what I was playing until I first recorded it. The same way a location or subject might not look special until you take a photo of it, my computer microphone helped me put a frame around a recording and allowed me to consider it a work of art.

You're known for using associative music as part of your creative process. What exactly does this method entail and how does it apply to the music you produce?
Associative music involves the manipulation of field recordings, or any recording outside of a studio environment. It attempts to disguise recordings of things we may be familiar with in an attempt to trigger associated responses to them. I try to record sounds we're all familiar with and either re-tune them into melodies or run them through effects until they don't sound like that sound anymore. But ideally, they'll still feel familiar enough to leave us feeling like we recognize them. My goal is to have you humming a tune I made without realizing that the tune comes from a sound you hear everyday.

Your song titles can be quite dark — "Addictions," "Trauma," etc. What's with all the morbidity?
Maybe, I dunno. Me and all my friends are addicted to something. Me and all my friends have experienced some sort of trauma. Those are realities like any other, so I don't see the point in ignoring them.

Your most recent album, God's Hand, has been described as you darkest work yet. What can you tell us about your creative process and artistic intention behind this work?
I was very lonely when making the album, and feared that all my pursuits were for nothing. There's a certain type of solitude that emerges in a man after listening to recordings of wind for 40 days straight, trying to decide which moments are his favorite.

You've contributed music for the Comedy Central show Broad City. How did that opportunity come about? Did you have a particular approach to the sound you made for the show?
They hit me up before launching their first season, suggesting that my songs might work really well. I sent them a bunch of unreleased songs I was sitting on and before I knew it, my music was setting the musical tone of the show. Ironically, a lot of those songs are composed from actual sounds from the streets and situations the characters experience, so it fits perfectly.

So what can we expect during your show at Bardot on Friday?
My live show is very intimate and romantic. Hopefully everyone will feel in love with themselves.

Hot Sugar with Will Buck and JBZ. 10 p.m. Friday, June 12, at Bardot, 3456 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-576-7750, or visit Tickets cost $15 to $20 plus fees via
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Sean Levisman