All quiet, modest little Russell Whyte ever wanted was to be a resident somewhere and make a few quid. Then he made one of the most extraordinary albums of the year.
Words: Joe Muggs
Photos: Charlie Raven
Published in Mixmag November 2011
A sultry night on the Croatian coast. A ruined, 19th century fort on a hillside has been fitted up with a gigantic, state-of-the-art soundsystem. Inside, two young Scotsmen are melting people’s brains. The Outlook Festival is mainly focused on dubstep, drum ’n’ bass and reggae: great underground party music, but nothing particularly out-there... until Rustie and Hudson Mohawke go on. Their intricate, staggered beats, jazz synths, trance rushes turned up to 11, robotic r’n’b grooves, dark ambient interludes and huge bass bombs follow no kind of dancefloor logic we’re familiar with – but it works. Each time the crowd look bemused they’ll take another left turn into furious rave bedlam, and everyone goes batshit mental once again.
Back in London we ask Russell Whyte, aka Rustie, what on earth inspired the pair to do a set with so many unexpected twists – even by their unorthodox standards. He smiles, then looks at the floor, embarrassed. “We were pretty pissed,” he mutters, “it’s hard to keep track of where you’re going in a set sometimes.” That’s Rustie right there: he might have just made one of the most game-changing and dementedly brilliant albums of his generation in ‘Glass Swords’ and torn up raves and festivals worldwide over the past few years, but ask him about it and he’ll always bring you right down to earth.
Rus is 27 but could pass for a teenager, his unbrushed mop of black hair (cut severely short at the sides) and slightly bleary eyes completing the image. Sure, we’ve all met mumbling DJs and studio heads who prefer to “let the music do the talking” – and indeed at one point in conversation, Rus does say, “I hate talking about music really, I’m not really very good at communicating at all, in fact”. But this is something else. Scratch the surface and you’ll usually find their shyness is just inverted ego, but Rus is not like that: over a lunchtime pint he’s affable and dryly funny, but he seems genuinely ultra-modest, and unable to process why anyone would want to hear about him rather than just hear his tunes.
“I just wanted to be a resident DJ somewhere,” he says, when asked why he started making tunes. “Just play music and earn a few extra quid”. When he left school, he worked in petrol stations and became an apprentice park keeper, driving a lawn tractor around to pay his bills. But like any good Glaswegian, he was a keen raver – starting out with “just house and trance, whatever”, then seeing Derrick May at The Arches and “doing my homework, finding out about Detroit and Underground Resistance and all that”, and quickly getting drawn into the orbit of the legendary Rub-A-Dub record shop.
He’s never seen a real problem with liking vintage techno, trance, the r’n’b of Timbaland and Aaliyah and his mum’s collection of prog rock (especially the wigged out sounds of Yes). “It’s all music,” he says; “you can hear they were all part of the same thing if you listen.” He never set out to make futuristic sounds, either; or rather, he “just didn’t see the point of doing something that’s been done before”. Fortunately, he was part of a generation who would create a scene out of ignoring the boundaries between mainstream and underground, cheesy and extreme, classic and modernist: the Glaswegian party kids who would coalesce around the Numbers club.
Right from the off the madder his tracks were the more attention they received, until he was signed to the legendary WARP. While his Glasgow pal Hudson Mohawke, also on WARP, has reached the verges of the main-stream, even coming onto the radar of US r’n’b artists like Chris Brown, Rus moved to an emphatically uncool west London suburb with his girlfriend, rising electronica producer Nightwave (“I didn’t want to live anywhere with all that trendy stuff going on”) and slowly finished ‘Glass Swords’.
Fans and critics are wetting themselves over the album, and rightly so – but Rus is, predictably, philosophical about it. “I don’t know how well it’ll do,” he says, “though I’ve got plenty of gigs if I want them.” Does he ever have moments where he thinks, “fucking hell, this music thing’s going well”? “All the time,” he replies, totally deadpan. “I often think, ‘I use to pick up shit in the park for a living – this is pretty different’”. Not a bad philosophy for a musical revolutionary.
Rustie’s album ‘Glass Swords’ is out now. Read the review here.