Rustie aims for the stadium with Green Language
As Rustie returns with his towering new album Green Language, he discusses his quest for vocalists, the influences on his latest beat work, and his love for playing to gigantic crowds
For a producer routinely cited as one of the world's best and brightest, and with a fanbase now spread across a good portion of the globe, Rustie (aka Russell Whyte) is still disarmingly modest and prosaic when talking about his own music. This, in part, is what has inspired his new album, Green Language. The concept is of a language that is 'non-dualistic, that speaks directly to your emotions without the mind interfering with the message,' he explains in the album's press release, adding: 'Music is like that for me.'
If directness and a wish to present a musical statement that reaches beyond the murky glass of translation and interpretation are the defining characteristics of this new approach, then he fulfils this ambition admirably on tracks like Raptor, a relentless series of crescendoes and drops that channels the feverish peaks of mainstream EDM's repetitive, impact-driven force majeure, and the considered, artful sonic sculpture of Daniel Lopatin in equal measure.
But this is no concept album – to couch it in those terms would undermine the directness of the 'green language' in which the producer has sought to speak. “The concept definitely evolved after,” he is keen to point out. “I didn't start off with the concept and then write the album, it was more that as I started to get towards 60 or 70 per cent done, I started to tie things together, and get a kind of message or feel for the direction of the concept.”
Asked if he was intentionally trying to construct something that could do battle with the immediacy and enormous riffology of stadium trance on this project, Rustie admits: “I've always liked big, over the top, sort of grandiose production and sounds. It's a big part of my taste.” Playing stadium-capacity shows has fed into this taste: “I guess a lot of it was influenced by touring and doing bigger shows, festivals and stuff like that. That has been such a big part of my life for the past two years. It's hard not to be influenced by that environment.”
The album is also notable for containing two of the most infectious MC cuts of the year, with Newham Generals veteran D Double E delivering a fiendishly simple and effective lyrical hook on Up Down, and Danny Brown absolutely smashing it on the appropriately-named Attak. “The collaborations were done over email, sending files back and forth. I didn't get into the studio with anyone – no-one that made it onto the album anyway,” he says, hinting at collaborations still in his back pocket. Nonetheless, he was immediately impressed by Danny Brown's contribution, given in exchange for the beat work Rustie had contributed to Side B (Dope Song) from the Detroit rapper's chart-smashing album Old.
“I've always liked big, over the top, sort of grandiose production and sounds” – Rustie
“I didn't really request anything, or give him direction – I sent him two or three tracks to pick from, he picked his favourite and just did his thing,” says Rustie deferentially. “He came back really quickly with those verses, no hook at all, just straight verses over the whole thing.” His verse really captures the energy of first-wave grime – is there a sense Brown was channelling his love of early Dizzee Rascal on Attak? “Definitely, yeah.”
Another featured rap comes from Gorgeous Children, aka duo Gila Monsta and Face Vega. “I didn't really know much about them – they put out a mixtape on Jacques Greene's Vase label, and while I was looking for various vocalists, they were one of the groups that came back with something,” says Rustie. “I didn't know too much about them, apart from that mixtape for Vase.” The duo have delivered a FACT mix, and the mixtape he mentions – ICE – in the past 12 months, showing once again that Rustie has an ear for up-and-coming rappers.
Where does he look for new beats and rhymes? “I guess what I'm looking for are DJ sets, I always like to check out new mixtapes on DatPiff, or what's on Hot New Hip-Hop,” he says. “I'm looking for stuff to play in clubs and at shows. There have been a lot of good new hip-hop producers that I've been feeling. I like 808 Mafia, Young Chop, and I like what SKYWLKR does – he's one of Danny Brown's main producers.” Rustie's preference for more club-aimed, ratchet-style rap certainly makes for an album with some searing highlights, and it's interesting to note his preference for more in-your-face, party-time fare like Brown and classic grime than for the smoker's beats and abstract lyricism of the LA beat scene, where his tracks are viewed with a degree of reverence.
He downplays the grime influence on Green Language, reticent to talk about any kind of UK grime revival. “I haven't been listening to more grime than usual... I'm always on the lookout for new music in general,” he qualifies. “I'm a big fan of Darq E Freaker, and some of the Scottish grime stuff that's happening like Inkke and some of those guys, Preditah and stuff like that. But I'm not super up-to-date on it.” Name-checking Inkke, whose crystal-clean, epically fierce rhythms have been some of the best electronic music Glasgow has produced in recent years, shows he still has a keen eye on the scene in his home city.
Given the success of Glass Swords, did he feel pressured to come up with a sequel that would have just as much impact? His answer indicates a groundedness, a confidence, that the young producer perhaps lacked in the immediate aftermath of his debut. “I'm quite happy where I am at the moment,” he says. “I try not to worry too much about success in that way. I'm more worried what fans will think – if they'll think it's too different from Glass Swords. This album's a lot less cartoonish, not quite as over the top, as what they've come to expect from me.”
Asked if TNGHT, the duo comprised of his LuckyMe labelmates Hudson Mohawke and Lunice, were an influence on the bigger, more expansive sound of Green Language, Rustie becomes somewhat guarded. He's unwilling to speculate on the likelihood of their return (“I don't really know what's going on with them...”) and argues that they were more influenced by his production than he has been by theirs. “It's more influenced by rap music in general – rap's something I've always been into. There are elements of this sound on Glass Swords already, which came out before TNGHT – the track City Star in particular could have been a TNGHT track. So I wouldn't call them an influence.” There is a pregnant pause. “I guess from an outside perspective, you see the similarities without knowing the background...”
Certainly, the sound of Green Language is more dynamic. There is more space, more of a sense of structure and progression, on these beats. “That's something I've learned over the past couple of years,” he agrees. “I think Glass Swords was a bit more frantic, it didn't have so much space in it. Touring with Glass Swords, playing it to an audience, I realised it can get a bit too much for people if there's so much going on. I guess I learned to let things breathe a little bit more.” Does he feel he has progressed significantly since his first EP release? “I hadn't really been making music for very long when I released Jagz The Smack,” he says. “I've been lucky enough to be able to release stuff and learn in the process.”
Now returned from London after two years in the English capital, Rustie currently resides in his hometown of Glasgow. He has been back for 18 months, on and off, using the city that raised him as a base of operations for his globe-trotting lifestyle. Had the city changed while he was away? “It seemed different at first, but now I'm back into the swing of it, I'm used to it,” he says. “It's more grounding living here, and being near your family and old friends you've known for years, stuff like that. It's definitely good for me to back here. It makes you feel a bit more normal, after you come home from touring.”
Are the LuckyMe crew still people he sees regularly? Yes, he says, but only when their schedules allow – nearly everyone involved in the label is now “really busy,” with their beats in heavy demand. “I see them here and there every now and again,” he says. “It tends to be when we cross paths at a show, or when we're booked on the same bill together. But I still speak to them on email quite frequently.”
Rustie is about to head out on the road to promote Green Language, starting with a string of large-scale US dates. “I am definitely looking forward to going back to the States,” he says. “I'm out there for a couple of weeks. There are always people I know there now, and I'm taking my girlfriend with me this time, which makes it a bit nicer than travelling back on your own.” But it is Glasgow to which he will return – he promises he'll be back here as soon as the album is out for some homecoming gigs. After all, this is the city that knows his name, and speaks his native language most fluently.