INTERVIEW

ENJOY YOURSELF: For all his acclaim, as he tells David Zammitt, Rustie wants you to have a good time whenever his maximalist dance music is played in your club. And yours. And yours. And yours.

rustie

It’s not uncommon to encounter a musician who’s a bit weary at the end of a ‘press day’. Enthusiasm for an album that’s been years in the making can evaporate in a matter of hours as questions are repeated and poses are requested ad nauseum. The sort of reluctance I sense from Russell Whyte, aka Glasgow electronic maverick Rustie, however, is endearing. He seems genuinely – and surprisingly, given the impressive rise in his popularity – shy, and he speaks of his music and its success with a string of qualifiers (“I’ve had a bit of success and people kind of know who I am”) that makes him instantly likeable. Not that it matters, of course, when the music is this good. Anyway, he isn’t too bothered himself. “I make interviewers really awkward,” he grins.

Dropping his second album at the age of 31, Whyte is somewhat of a late bloomer in an industry where youth is seemingly prized above all else and pursued with fetishistic zeal. He says: “I don’t know what it is, especially with the music and media worlds. They just seem to be fascinated with having young artists. I guess it’s because they see more longevity in making money out of them. It kind of worried me for a while but actually not so much now that I’m in my 30s. I don’t really know why.”

Whyte was still doing night shifts in a BP garage when he got the call from Warp Records, and the break came more as a relief for an artist who, in his late 20s, was struggling to get by on the fruits of his labour alone. It’s a remarkable story that has played out over the last four years. “I was running about my room – jumping about – when I got the first email from Warp asking me to do a remix for one of their artists, Jamie Lidell. I was just so excited to be doing something for the same label as Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Autechre, Boards of Canada, all those artists I fuckin’ loved. It was really surreal for me.” But even that didn’t mean he could hand in his notice at BP. “I was just doing whatever I could for money. And I kept doing that for a while until I started getting decent DJ money.”

That was the easy bit. Making his first album, 2011’s ‘Glass Swords’, was a tough process for Rustie as he found himself having to prove himself to a label for the first time. “I was sending versions of the album and they were like, ‘We don’t like these tracks,’ or, ‘These tracks are not dancefloor-friendly enough.’ This time it was a bit more enjoyable and I had a bit more space and time to get my own message across without it being diluted or dictated by the label. I guess they had more faith in me because the last album did kind of quite well.” Kind of. ‘Glass Swords’ achieved universal acclaim, picking up the Guardian’s First Album award and made it on to the shortlist for the Scottish Album of the Year.

That overwhelmingly positive reaction went some way to allaying any fears he had when starting out in the industry. “Maybe I’m over-confident from the success of the last album but I’m not really bothered about it anymore,” he says. And since crossing that looming 30 line, he has reached something approaching Zen.

“That’s definitely what happened,” he nods. “Once you get there – you’re worrying about it, that it’s all over – and then you get there and it’s not as bad as you think it’ll be. Just coast it out. Fuck it.”

While that personal milestone passed without fanfare, ‘Glass Swords’s’ resounding achievement means that the pressure, like it or not, is now on like it never has been before. “It was quite a big surprise, how positively received it was,” says Whyte. “Especially with the whole Warp history and stuff like that. The album was pretty poppy and a bit cheesy, maybe, so I was kind of surprised how well critically received it was.”

In 2011, anything was a bonus for the DJ in the petrol station; today there is the sense that Rustie has something to lose when the public get their hands on ‘Green Language’, released August 25. “It was a bit daunting because I’ve gone in a bit more of a – I don’t really know what the word is – but maybe a grainier focus. It’s not quite so melodic as the last album so I’m a bit worried that it might fall short of previous listeners’ expectations.”

Listeners, quite clearly, matter. Rustie has said in the past that he’s the kind of DJ who wants his audience to enjoy themselves instead of just playing what he wants while looking down at a sea of blank expressions, and he doesn’t see the point in restricting himself to a niche. “It is important for me to reach a wide audience,” he says. “Without wanting to sound as if I’m having delusions of grandeur, you want to touch as many people as possible and connect.”

Rustie opens up a little, touching on his own life philosophy.

“I think the world is at a bit of a turning point. A lot of people are waking up and stuff like that. I think something’s happening where… I dunno, people are realising that we’re having more power than we’ve been led to believe. There’s something special about being human and being alive and I think music can awaken that. So it’s important to touch as many people as possible in that way.” He trails off in embarrassment and laughs, eyes flitting downward. “I dunno…”

In striving to achieve his goal, Whyte has added a host of playmates to ‘Green Language’. He hasn’t held back on the roster, with Danny Brown heading a bill that also features Redinho, Gorgeous Children and D Double E across its dazzling verses and muscular choruses. ‘Glass Swords’ took the same hip hop-influenced electronic maximalism made popular by the likes of Hudson Mohawke, Lunice, Night Slugs and Fade To Mind, et al, and injected a helping of quirk (the sounds of computer games jump out around every corner) and shining, synthesised technicolour. But for all its brilliance it was never going to trouble the charts. This time, it’s easy to imagine Rustie going viral.

By pairing glittering arpeggios and synthlines to massive, speaker-melting percussion, Rustie’s music hits you between the eyes, but when I ask him what drew him to this unique sound, he’s circumspect, careful not to paint himself as existing outside the dance music lineage or as any kind of revolutionary. “I think dance music’s always been like that. It’s a necessary part for it to be fairly loud and primal and rhythmic. The loud aspect gets your adrenaline going and the rhythm makes you dance, I guess.” When he puts it as simply and as eloquently as that, it does make the question seem a little redundant.

Lead single ‘Raptor’, a pummelling four minutes of in-your-face melodies and pounding snare drums, picks up where ‘Glass Swords’ left off, drawing from the Detroit techno palette of Drexciya and Underground Resistance and a sprinkling of ’90s trance magic dust. He could have released one of his big-name collaborations to announce his comeback, of course. “But I kind of don’t want to play my best card first,” he says. “Where can you go if you put out the best track first? It’s kind of a hype enough track but I think there’s still better tracks on the album to follow. It continues on from ‘Glass Swords’ or the ‘Slasherr’ EP, so it seemed like the right one to do first.”

One thing ‘Green Language’ doesn’t feature is Whyte’s own vocals and he laughs at the suggestion. While taking the mic was necessary three years ago, there was a queue of vocalists this time around. None of what listeners will hear is the product of a studio collaboration, however, with everything on the album a product of interactions across the internet. “All of the ones that made it on to the album were just email-based or direct message sort of things. I did go into the studio with a couple of people but those tracks didn’t really work out. It’s not something that I’m used to so I’m a bit more uncomfortable with that.”

Having moved back to Glasgow (“A little bit because I missed it, but the main thing was the money. It’s cheap as fuck, basically.”), after a flirtation with London, Whyte’s life is now shifting more and more on to the road and the coming months are looking hectic. America, Australia, and Asia are all on his list of promotional stops, but while he knows that it’s much bigger than anything he’s undertaken in the past, Rustie isn’t quite sure what the itinerary is. “I think I’m doing maybe two tours in America. Australia is early next year. And I think I might be going to…” He trails off, as though he’s forgotten what the question was. “Fuck, nah. I’ll fuck it up – I can’t remember!”

Glasgow hosts the Commonwealth Games this summer, and since Fuck Buttons had their music plundered by Danny Boyle for his London 2012 opening ceremony, I ask if Rustie has been approached to soundtrack the event in his home town. “I think I might’ve done actually,” he smiles and I’m not sure if he’s taking the piss. “But who wants to be part of the budget Olympics?”

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