Rustie: The Appliance of Science
The Science Museum on London's Exhibition Road strikes as a particularly appropriate place to meet Glasgow born, London based producer Rustie. Encasing a wealth of hi-tech antiques and hyperfuture light displays is the Alfred Waterhouse designed exterior, a grand neo-Victorian face fortified with Grecian pillars and glazed with heavily buffeted stone and terracotta. Beyond the 'Space Explorer' exhibit, featuring scale replicas of the Sputnik satellite and the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, is a cafe (which, by a stretch, is the most aesthetically arresting area of the entire place, with its fluorescent rows of tables and glowing midnight blue walls) where Rustie sits down to explain how the gestation of his debut album, Glass Swords, mirrors the museum's curious melding of the past, present and future.
"I tried to listen to a lot of older stuff, not just electronic stuff. I don't want to just be influenced by something that's been influenced by something... do you know what I mean? I like to go to the sort of root of... I dunno, I guess... music genres and stuff, when things are bubbling off and starting out, like in the 80s when lots of musicians had big studios and stuff, and they're real musicians and they're discovering all of this new electronic equipment, synths and stuff. Whereas now, you're getting people who are sort of, kind of getting programs that do everything for you, so there's less of a musical input. Whereas like... em.... yeah... I dunno what I'm trying to say here..."
Rustie – short for Russell Whyte – is often at pains to find the best way to articulate himself over the course of the interview. Answers usually begin with tentative pauses, and if a response proves especially tricky, he bows his head and feels for the back of his neck, a gesture that betrays both shyness and an aversion to excessive scrutiny. Glass Swords, Rustie's second Warp release following the 6-track Technicolor headrush of last year’s Sunburst EP, finds the softly-spoken Glaswegian in a far more expressive vogue, imbued as it is with a dazzling and disparate array of 70s, 80s and 90s references.
Even so, the majority of Rustie's releases, from his seminal Jagz The Smacks EP for the now-defunct Stuff Records to his last release for Warp, are heavily foregrounded with broad, primary coloured strokes of legendary Detroit electro outfit Drexciya, the kinetic melody of Underground Resistance founders Jeff Mills and Mad Mike Banks, and a selection of key 90s hip-hop producers, among them "Darkchild, Timbaland, Neptunes, Richard Harris, even the RZA", he says.
"I guess it was something different from everything else that was going on... the musicality of it as well, especially the Detroit stuff. There's a lot of jazz and soul influences, and it's really quite musical, compared with a lot of other electronic music. I guess the same with the hip-hop stuff, big R&B productions. There's a lot of music and chords and soulful sounds, synths... it kinda speaks to me."
Glass Swords is also informed by music that pre-dates, and in many cases directly influences, hip-hop and techno. Rustie cites prog-rock pioneers Yes and the jazz fusion of Allan Holdsworth as pivotal (you can hear the latter's imprint all over the album’s titular opening track, an intoxicating perfume of flutes and chopped choral vocals that swirl around a naïvely epic, pedal-heavy guitar solo), as well as the pejoratively titled genre of 'yacht rock', as Rustie puts it – a "sort of smooth, sort of jazzy sort of rock from the 80s" – of which Michael McDonald and the Doobie Brothers were prolific practitioners. (Fun fact: Warren G's Regulate is a direct lift of Michael McDonald's soggy-tissue break-up anthem, I Keep Forgettin'.)
Some of Rustie's landmark singles – namely, his remix of Zomby's Spliff Dub, the title track from Jagz The Smacks, and his collaboration with Joker on their Play Doe/Tempered 12" – have kettled him somewhat into the procession of mid-to-late noughties dubstep and kinda-dubstep producers, and the notable absence of half-step and sub-bass on Glass Swords gives weight to the suggestion that Rustie's 140bpm outings were more flights of fancy than deliberate artistic statements. He is decidedly ambivalent about being considered a dubstep producer.
"I think if you go look for my records you'll still find them in the dubstep section. It's something that you can't avoid really; it's just something that's stuck. Anything that's electronic and not 4/4 is just getting called dubstep now. It doesn't really worry me – there's nothing I can do about it. Even the stuff that's getting considered dubstep now, it's so far away from dub music, like Skrillex and stuff like this, that's what people in America think dubstep is... I dunno."
A faintly dismissive laugh gives lie to the logic behind Rustie's reluctance to peg himself as a producer of a particular genre. Beyond the creative freedoms it affords one of Warp's most sonically pliable artists, might it be the case that by ploughing a particular furrow for a prolonged period, he fears that other artists (ones such as Skrillex, whose highly polemic take on dubstep, if one were being kind, sounds like Robocop having a nervous breakdown) would rip off and exaggerate elements of a sound that he may have inadvertently and indirectly helped to define?
"Yeah. I guess so, I kinda hear stuff like that already. For the past few years I've been hearing stuff that sounds like mine, but sort of a pumped-up and just a bit over-exaggerated version of stuff that I've done... not mentioning any names. It's a bit annoying at first and then you just sort of get used to it. I'm not gonna go out and start fuckin', sending out hate mail or shit like that."
Rustie is one of a small group of producers manoeuvring with little effort across contemporary strains of dance music while still retaining a distinctive artistic identity (Cosmin TRG and Falty DL also come to mind here, if we're talking about peers in the immediate vicinity); when asked of the sort of record he'd like to produce in the near future, he says: "I guess I'd like to experiment more with the next record, [having] less bright synthy sounds, and do something a bit more understated."
He'll certainly have plenty of time and space to do that. Far removed from the distractions of the goldfish bowl of Glasgow's 5am afterparties, he says that his relocation to West London, where he's lived for the last 18 months, has afforded him all sorts of advantages.
"It's good like, it's nice to get a change, just ‘cause I've lived in Glasgow all my life. It's bigger, there's more stuff to do, just easier to focus on doing music as well. I'm way out West in London as well, so there's not loads going on. I'm away from my network of mates and family, so there's less stuff to get in the way of the music. I was going out a lot more when I was living in Glasgow, ‘cause of all my mates; it's more tempting to go out. Also, it takes 45 minutes, up to an hour to get to East London from West, so there's less incentive."
Given the quality of Glass Swords, the move has evidently done the erstwhile Glaswegian a power of good, though he reveals that the process of assembling the record was not the product of an insular, studio-bound ingénue, but something altogether more inclusive.
"I've been working on this album for quite a long time; doing live sets and just DJing early versions of the tracks, getting to road test the music and gauge crowd reactions and change the record, while constantly getting feedback from the crowd – basically tweaking the record to get the maximum reaction."
Upon exiting the cafe, Rustie passes the satellites and rockets of the Space Explorer exhibit with little interest, instead diverting his attention to an old supercomputer encased in glass on the second floor of the building (we're looking for some photoshoot locations, at the behest of the photographer). The Mechanical Analogue Computer is a large and indelicate object with exposed pulleys and fixtures, the functions of which look pretty unremarkable, though its very presence implies that it was a precursor to something more significant. He stands obligingly still for the photographer, as his inquiring gaze reflects off the surface.