LISTENING BETWEEN THE LINES
We meet the elusive Glaswegian artist — and a host of his close confidantes — to talk about his new album, how the Glasgow scene shaped his sound, the language of music, and much more...
Master of futuristic electronic sounds Rustie is back with a new album. Last time with 'Glass Swords' he changed the game, and his new one 'Green Language', featuring Detroit MC Danny Brown, grime maverick D Double E and electronic cohort Redinho, is set to make an equally large splash.
Rustie is frowning. He’s trying to find the words to describe language that has no words. “It’s weird,” he shrugs, before looking at the hotel table for more answers. “I can’t remember where I first came across the term ‘green language’, but it means ‘language of the birds’. Alchemists used it when they needed encoded language. It forces you to read between the language to speak to your higher self.”
The producer has now adopted ‘Green Language’ as the name of his second album on Warp Records. These are 13 tracks that take all his fizzing, psychedelic ideas and hurl them forward several steps. The original form of green language is obsessed with archaic messaging systems descended from the murky history of humanity that sweeps back through the mystics, ancient Egyptians, alchemists and beyond.
It reinforces the notion that music has the power to enchant. That music is a mechanism to get to the ‘otherworld’. “Sometimes it's called ‘original language’,” further divulges Rustie. “It was how mystics understood bird song and how it spoke to them directly. It’s a really interesting idea and it resonates a lot with music. You can have a song, and whilst you can follow lyrics it is the actual song that hits you physically and speaks to you directly. It has a physical affect on you. So what could be more of a direct language than that? What can create more of a response than this?”
It’s not a surprise that Russell Whyte is raising such questions. Notoriously quiet, he prefers to channel his communication into forging sublime music rather than talking about it. You get the sense that his patronage of green language is a hint that he’d prefer to chat through a series of veiled online symbols, or even better, some heavily manipulated snares and undaunted synths. “I started to get a feeling of inspiration from natural elemental forces,” he continues. “The vibe you get from energy storms, sounds of the jungle and the subtleties of bird song. That all started to creep in until it had formed the basis for how I wanted to present my album.”
The next significant detail about his latest album on Warp is his prominent use of rappers across four tracks. Detroit’s Danny Brown lines up alongside Gorgeous Children’s Face Vega, Washington DC’s Muhsinah as well as the UK’s D Double E and Numbers label-mate Redinho, who brings the vocoded ‘80s home to roost in signature style.
New tracks like ‘Up Down’ with D Double E and ‘Attak’ featuring Danny Brown meld Rustie’s machine-gun percussion, shimmering trance-like walls of synths and molten low-end drops with a barrage of ghetto vocals. No doubt this rap/electronic fusion will be ammunition for the library of idiots that spend their terrible lives dwelling in the online comments section of YouTube or Discogs to impart their ignorant opinions. Perhaps in this case they’ll deem Rustie to be just another US EDM clone. Or perhaps he won’t be making trap ‘properly’, or the filter on his kick-drums is too dry to be ‘real EDM’.
When we quiz Rustie how much of an influence on the trap scene he feels he was, then the Scotsman is typically humble. “I don't know if I had THAT much of an effect. Maybe it was going to happen anyway,” shrugs the 31-year-old. “People will have had the same influences as I did: old Three Six Mafia, Neptunes, Timbaland, that sort of stuff. I think trap was something that was waiting to happen anyway. I don’t think I had a major influence.”
Yet Rustie was chopping up rap vocals as one half of electro duo Voltaic in his live sets as early as 2006. Ask anyone from Glasgow where the fusion of trap rap (the original manifestation from the Southern USA) with more overtly electronic music might have started and they will point you to the quiet, diminutive producer along, probably, with his city cohort Hudson Mohawke whose TNGHT collaboration really went on to pour fuel on the ghetto tech fires. Both Glaswegians, both borne from the same crew, have paved the way for the wild fame of successors such as Bauuer, who we inevitably discuss.
“Put it this way: I don't get crazy booking offers from America,” laughs Rustie. “Not like Baauer or RL Grime or these types of people. They do trap/EDM festivals. Some of them cite me as an influence, but then Hudson Mohawke had a part to play as well.”
Ultimately pondering such a topic feels like a cosmetic discussion. You get the sense that Russell Whyte would be making whatever music comes out of his head regardless of location, age, season or relationship status. A point later reinforced by Richard Chater of Numbers, one of the Glaswegian pals from Rub a Dub Records that helped bring Rustie’s music to the world.
“Russell would have had his sound no matter where he lived,” affirms the label boss between sips of his lager. “It’s got nothing to do with Glasgow or London. It's just the sheer directness of the music he was obsessed with crashing into his personality.”
The rap fact stands though. Rustie is now big enough to attract big name rappers to his unique and colourful music, whether he was doing it covertly 10 years ago with pilfered acapellas or having vocals arranged through an elaborate network of global management deals doesn't matter. He does however harbour worries about what may outwardly seem a radical departure. “My main concern is that it isn’t as sugary and melodic as the last one,” he confesses gravely. “I’m worried that it might seem a little bit grey compared with ‘Glass Swords’. I just wanted to show another side to what I can do. Without alienating the fan-base that liked the first album. Not necessarily more experimental, something a bit more gritty… but with a different tone, a different aesthetic, a different palette.”
To some it may be a surprise that Danny Brown has popped up on ‘Green Language’. But Rustie had contributed several beats to Danny Brown’s album ‘Old’ in 2013. So how was working with Detroit’s wildest rap character? “Danny Brown is really down-to-earth and cool,” comes the astonishing answer. “He doesn't come across as some people think he would. I think there’s a Glasgow/Detroit connection where people have the same mentality. Danny Brown is really a decent bloke. He’s really normal.”
Rustie is greeting by my raised eyebrows. Danny Brown? Normal? He quickly responds: “Well! (laughs) Normal in a kinda Glasgow way. That probably means mental to everyone else!” Yet this Detroit/Glasgow point strongly resonates. There is a firm understanding between these two once-great industrial cities. Both carry a big attitude. Both lug their rusted industrial pasts, that still define their inhabitants' daily lives, and both enjoy a hedonistic disregard to the obvious poverty.
One parallel example is the Underground Resistance/Rub a Dub axis. UR are a shadowy and militant techno cult that emerged in 1989. They were a super secretive creative clique, preferring to communicate via seminal slabs of analogue techno and a ‘fuck you’ stance to any corporate bullshit. Below their leader ‘Mad’ Mike Banks were Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, DJ Rolando and Drexciya. Initially they never played gigs. They never showed their faces. They were the epitome of the underground.
Glasgow’s Rub a Dub Records was home to an equally militant (but far more white) bunch of Scottish techno obsessives. Aside from furnishing the scene with 20 years of the best records they have also run an ad hoc underground club night called Club 69, underneath a curry house in Paisley for the same 20 years. Despite playing host to the world’s most influential dance producers they have never really made a flyer, nor ever really made a poster. Their underground credentials completely tally with those of UR. In fact, when UR finally did accept a live booking in London about a decade ago, the then-active dozen or so UR operatives all flew over to Glasgow to play a secret show on the same trip simply to pay homage to the kindred mojo.
Club 69 is thus one of the true schools of underground electronic music in the UK. It should be spoken of in the same breath as other clubs that have helped progress underground music in the UK such as Wigan Pier, Manchester’s Hacienda, The End and Plastic People (both found in London) and Glasgow’s own house nucleus, The Sub Club.
Rustie recalls his first pilgrimage to this electronic mecca. “I probably didn't start going there until 2002,” he ponders, before giving a brief description of its shabby wonders. “It's a mad and amazing party in a basement under a curry house. Great soundsystem, it’s really dark and you can smoke, take drugs, you do what you want. But they have the best DJs from Detroit, Berlin, UK, whatever. Everyone would always get on a bus from outside Rub a Dub. It was a big deal. All the memories are hazy as fuck.”
Another direct influence on Rustie is Glasgow’s legendary after-party scene. The city council’s stolid policy of all clubs closing at 3am (or earlier) plus the scene’s penchant for munching recreational drugs has always ensured vast, hilarious and musically prolonged after-parties. Add into the mix the fact that most of the revellers densely dwell in the city’s west end, living in cavernous old tenement flats stacked on top of each. Then stir in the fact that most shared houses would be capable of fitting in up to 100 people, just into a lounge, and suddenly you have an explosive recipe for musical socialising.
DJ Mag sits down with a few key players from Glasgow’s modern scene to discuss how the city has progressed between Rustie’s albums. Alongside Richard Chater from the label Numbers we are joined by Sam Murray (who in fact started his now acclaimed club night Vitamins in two neighbouring multi-levelled residential flats), and he is joined later by Bake, a talented DJ who runs All Caps, an emergent label that has foregrounded his selector talents enough to be touted as an understudy to Hessle Audio’s main man Ben UFO.
“I met Rustie in someone’s flat, maybe Jackmaster’s, maybe after Numbers. I can't remember really,” says Chater as he shakes his head and smiles, who along with promoting some of the more audacious artists over last decade also worked at Rub a Dub for years. “We would have just been sitting round getting wrecked with each other, as you do. We were just likeminded people in the same place. Everyone that is into good shit in Glasgow will naturally gravitate towards each other, but there’s no way I could tell you exactly when or where that meeting was. What I do remember once is Rustie setting fire to my leg in Barcelona on our friend Spawny’s stag do. That memory has remained!”
Sam Vitamins picks up the point.
“The after-party scene is key. People end up at each other’s houses every single weekend. Everyone’s taste feels ahead in Glasgow. There’s always a queue of people trying to put on songs at house parties. It’s fierce to get your songs heard sometimes.”
Rustie is quick to point out that between the release of his two albums Glasgow has once again become obsessed with house and techno, moving slightly away from the abstract experimentalism that Numbers purveyed. Bake All Caps concurs. “In Glasgow it’s easier to see the changes as it's so much smaller, so between the albums of Rustie I’d say that there’s a lot of kids coming through with very high levels of education. There’s a lot more younger folk coming through listening to older music, like old ‘Mad Mike’ records, like old techno. I’m 22 but there are kids even younger than me listening to jazz or more head music, getting really into weird music. It’s not all about club music, there’s a lot more risks getting taken even just on headphones.”
To understand the full context of Rustie in the modern day it’s important to rewind around eight years to analyse a few of the forces that surrounded his rise. On top of the institutions already mentioned there is a scene where young promoters have always been audacious. An opening up of many small basement venues in the Merchant City area in the mid-2000s allowed 100-odd friends to start pooling their money to run hyper-advanced, fairly exclusive nights to serve an intimate audience the most futuristic sounds.
From this promotional model emerged the influential Ballers Social Club, with Rustie and Hudmo often at the centre of their gigs. LuckyMe developed around 2007. The bass-heavy Electric Eliminators crew started importing dubstep stars from London slightly earlier, choosing to host Skream’s early sets to just a dozen people in a derelict shop unit, selling their own local tipple of Bucky Punch.
These clubs roughly coincided with a spate of small labels emanating from the lads working in Rub a Dub Records. A tangled web of imprints such as Wireblock, Dress 2 Sweat, Stuff and Point.One reverberated with the city’s sound alongside live electronic bands like Marcia Blaine’s School for Girls, Magic Daddy, Rustie and Martin Patton’s Voltaic collaboration, Sleepless Crew and of course Hudson Mohawke.
This saw a young but bolshy network of music obsessives taking a lot of risks across performance styles, venues and even labels. As Chater sums up, “We all worked at Rub a Dub, we all had labels, we all became friends with Rustie, so it made sense that we started to put his records out.”
Sam Vitamins chips in with a story of personal salvation borne from this organic time of extreme growth.
“Well, when I was 15 or 16 I was listening to a lot of shit indie music,” he confesses firmly. “Then two main influences were The Ballers Social that Rustie was heavily involved in and Dress 2 Sweat, which was Jackmaster’s Baltimore label that introduced me to people like Deeon and all the Dance Mania records. But Ballers Social was a great night! It was so good at introducing me to new music. LuckyMe and Numbers emerged at the same time, it was really exciting.”
Glasgow has always had an audacious club scene. From the birth of acid house to the modern day, it's been a proud, if insular outpost for the refinement of electronic music. And its crowds week in week out would soak up some of the most fucked up music thrown at them. Rustie and I remember an Autechre gig we both attended where the Warp Records duo played in pitch dark, causing strangely poignant, completely hallucinatory experiences for most of the people present. I suggest that Rustie at his most outer points of experimentation could broach a similar territory.
“I do like that territory but I don't want to make music that is only for art critics,” he counters. “Nor do I want to make music just for the middle classes to stroke their chins over.” He frowns again. “Although I do love Autechre, I guess their music confuses your brain so much that it stops trying to understand it and that is what gives you that feeling and that space. I guess I want a wider reach and something that is more honest to me and connects to me.”
After a long pause, he continues whilst attempting to boldly sum up his entire focus and drive to produce and share music. “But I guess that is what every artist is trying to do, in their own way, to overwhelm the listener. I’m not trying to do it in the same way; I’m not trying to confuse the brain with intricate patterns.” Then he smiles shyly before rounding off. “I’m more just trying to show something as beautiful as I can, so that the brain gets confused instead by the beauty. I want to present something truly beautiful.”
WORDS: Matthew Bennett
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