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Rusko: "Getting Kicked Out of School Was the Best Thing for Me"

Rusko

Rusko


Rusko | Skyway Theatre | Saturday, November 11
Born Christopher Mercer, the 29-year-old producer and musician known as Rusko was one of the first English pioneers of dubstep to bring the European trend across the pond to Los Angeles. Having already released three full-length albums and countless dancefloor singles, Rusko is on track to release the third part of his ! EP by the end of this year -- a body of work unlike anything he's ever created, relying on his own intuition rather than looking to make club tracks.

Tomorrow Rusko's ! tour will bring him to a stop here in Minneapolis, where he will be performing alongside local dubstep heavy-hitter Vaski at the Skyway Theater as part of the Zombie Pub Crawl. Gimme Noise spoke to the man about ! and his newly developed creative formula -- one which may manage to surprise, satisfy, and disappoint fans all at the same time.

See also:
Zombie Pub Crawl announces 2014 music lineup

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Gimme Noise: When you were in school getting your music degree, was this career the plan you had for yourself?

Rusko: I went to a university in England. They kicked me out after about five months of the first year, and they've spent the next ten years advertising everywhere that I got a degree from their university. I didn't leave; they actually threw me out. I didn't even make one year, and they've been treating me like their star pupil for ten years.

During that time were you making and producing music?

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That's really the reason that I got kicked out -- because I wanted to stay at home and work on my own music. I didn't want to go in there and learn how to put mics on a drum kit and record a drummer, because I was learning how to use a drum machine and a keyboard. I was like, "Oh my god," I have weeks and weeks and weeks free to make music right now, so I just used it as a year of making music.

Of course, if you don't go to college for a year, they kick you out. Which is the best thing they could have done, really. When they kicked me out, I had no qualifications. I couldn't even get an office job. Literally all I could do was make music and sell weed, so that's what I did. The best thing that ever happened to me was getting kicked out of university.

Was there a pivotal moment where you felt things really begin to manifest?

The main tipping point for me was releasing my first vinyl at the end of 2004. It wasn't until I actually had a record out around the whole country... but even then it didn't really kick in. I feel sorry for the modern-day producers who don't have that pleasure, because it wasn't until I physically saw the black ring of the vinyl, and held in it in my hands -- that was the moment. I'd still say that was probably my favorite day of my whole life. It still remains my career highlight.

I do prefer the modern way, because when you're releasing vinyl, the actual time it takes from finishing a track to having it in the shop is so much longer. I like the immediacy of having the music I just made online.

You moved to L.A. several years ago from England. How was the transition?

I was quite lucky. I've been here for six years, almost. I was quite lucky because at the point which I left the U.K., that was right at the end of the sort of dubstep explosion. That was 2005, 6, 7 and 8 -- that was the initial first explosion of dubstep. The point at which I left London was when this was starting in America.

I rode the European wave, and then I was lucky enough to be one of the first over here to ride the US wave. Of course I was the only original dubstep artist -- I think I'm still one of the original dubstep guys who doesn't live in England.

Do you miss it?

No. I don't miss it at all. I love America. One day, when I don't have to tour anymore, I won't leave America ever again. I wouldn't miss England if I could never go there again.

What is it about America that you like so much?

The positivity. If you have any kind of success in London everybody hates you, and no one wants to be your friend anymore. In America, if you have success, people support you - not in a hangers-on, cheesy kind of way, you know - people are generally just more positive about things. They generally moan a lot less and are a lot more positive. I just find that a lot of the musicians I work with in the US and people I collaborate with have a more positive outlook and are more driven.

I don't know if the U.K. takes it for granted that everyone looks at them for new music. I think maybe sometimes British people can get a bit too happy with that, and maybe people over here are making a more conscious effort. The people I work with this side of the pond are positive, and that's how I am. Living in California is not bad. I'm an Englishman that got rained on for 25 years, so 5 years of sunshine right now is pretty good.

Another great thing about being here is, in 45 minutes I can be at the beach, or I can be at the mountains. You almost feel like you're in a different country by going to a different state, which makes touring here such fun as well. My family just had to accept that they'll have to visit me. The rule is, if you want me to visit, then book a ticket and come see me in California. They do that a lot, so I get to see my family quite a bit.

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It's good to be in a place where you feel productive and driven.

Next year's going to be really different. The entire year of 2015, there are no Rusko shows. Not one gig. You will not see me the entire year, because I want to take a year off and make music. It's kind of an experiment, really. I want to see if you can make dance music and make a living off of dance music without doing gigs. I'm going to try it for a whole year.

I'm going to release way more music than I ever have any other year of my career.

How old were you the last time you went a whole year without playing a gig?

I'd say probably 14 or 15.

I forget sometimes that 90 percent of my fans listen to my music on their phone or their computer. They're not going to my shows. 90 percent of my audience aren't in the audience at my show, and I have to remember that. A year of releasing loads of music, I think, is more beneficial than playing in every city in every country in the world.

I can't think of one producer in my game that only produces and doesn't play shows. I'm going to see if I can make it work. Obviously it's only one year, and in 2016 I'll be back -- I can't live without making music. Just instead of writing music in between shows, I just wanted to have a whole year to work on it.

Hence the major tour you're on right now. You're touring to support both parts of the ! EP...

The third part of the EP is just about finished, and that comes out at the end of the year. The idea was to have each track be a completely different tempo, speed and style. If any of the tracks sound like any kind of genre too much, I scrap it. If it sounds too much like house or dubstep, I scrap it. The idea was to make something that doesn't fall into any genre traps.

There were a lot of awesome tracks that people would probably love, but no one will hear them, because they sound too much like something else. It was a strange selection process.

What has the reception been like, playing those songs out on tour?

Good. Mixed. For a long time I was making music for the dance floor. It's all about big build-up, and catchy vocals that people can sing along to. I haven't done any of that. There are no vocals at all. It's so much fun now that I have all this stuff, because the set is... there's isn't even ten minutes of dubstep before I'm playing at a different speed and different style.

It must feel really good to be creating solely for yourself now.

Sometimes, especially if I've been playing a lot of heavy, big-drop stuff, when I play my newer stuff in between that, it doesn't have the same amount of impact. I'd rather have a room of confused people going "Oh my God, what is this?" than a room of happy people going "Oh my God, I love this."

As a DJ, it feels good to play songs you know the crowd will love. Every five or six songs I try to throw in something that I know they won't like as much. I can play tracks they know, but I try to challenge them. If I'm up on the stage and I challenge my audience, then the job is done.

Rusko performs at the Skyway Theatre. Zombie Pub Crawl 2014. $30-$80. Saturday, October 11. Tickets.

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