Rusko talks Major Lazer tour, roots and dubstep

Modern dubstep is heralded as the only relevant heir to drum n' bass, pioneered by artists like Burial, Caspa, Joe Nice, Skream, and more recently, Rusko. The punk-haired kid from Leeds has been called the king of the electro spin-off of this dark genre that slows the tempo to a crawl and fills in wide spaces with skittery synth lines, apocalyptic bass and wonky wobbles. But, as is usually true of most artists, Rusko (aka Christopher Mercer) doesn't mirror his genre in regular life: We found him to be exactly the opposite of ominous and one of the friendliest interviews ever. Giggly, even.

Though tour bus problems delayed our interview by more than an hour, Rusko picked up the phone with the cheeriest of hellos on a day following a "most insane" night on the tour he's opening for UK fidget phenom Switch and Mad Decent label owner Diplo (the two together as Major Lazer). Signed to Mad Decent himself, we were intrigued by Rusko and wanted to know more about what to expect from Sunday's show at First Avenue, when the bass will peel the paint from the walls.

How has the tour with Major Lazer gone so far?

We had the longest drive we've had on the bus last night - like 600 miles - so I had a shitty night's sleep, but overall it's been really cool! I work with Switch and Diplo a lot, so to have them on the bus is cool, but it's the rest of the people that drive us crazy. We've got Skerrit Boy and Mimi on the bus -- they do all the dancing and MCing at the show -- and then the merch guy, the guy doing lasers, the tour manager... it's just so many people.

What's been the craziest moment?

Oh my gosh, that's a toughie. It's kind of strange because we've been playing band venues. I'm a DJ, so I'm used to playing 1:30 'til 3 a.m., but now my sets are something like 9 to 10 or 10 to 11, which is kind of cool! That means I can play my set, and by 10 p.m. it's PARTY TIME! Ha! I can do way more partying, way more chilling, and meet way more people than I would at a regular Rusko club show.

We have a big dubstep scene here, so we better get the word out.

I know! In some cities they've had to push it all back late, especially in dubstep cities like Baltimore, one of my regular stop-offs in the U.S.  Some of the cities I've played have been definite dubstep cities. At one of the Major Lazer shows, they started chanting during their set for Rusko to come on and play more songs. I felt so bad! It was the funniest feeling, half of me was like, "Oh no, that's terrible, I feel so bad" and the other half of me was like "AAAAHAAAA! I'm the WINNER!!"

You're now part of the Mad Decent crew. Do you feel that's a good fit?

Yes, and they're a really obvious choice becuse of Switch, as  he and Diplo really run the label together and Switch is like my big brother. We grew up near each other, so whenever anything happens in my music career, I can always sit down with my big brother in the music industry. It's widely known Mad Decent bring out the best people in the party! I don't want guys with their hoods up bobbing their heads and smoking weed in the back. I want girls in day-glo bikinis and people with glow sticks, you know?

What's your favorite remix you've done and why?

The Basement Jaxx one was fun, but I don't know if that circulated worldwide very well. My favorite one in the States is the Kid Sister "Pro Nails" remix, which more people seem to know of me in America than some of my bigger tracks like "Woo Boost" or "Cockney Thug." Kid Sister and I are playing together at Webster Hall Friday and Saturday night as well. She's going to play and then we're going to do a Kid Sister and Rusko little mini-set in the middle and then I'm gonna play. We're gonna freak! Live on stage!

Can you remember the first time you heard dubstep and what went through your mind?

I grew up around the dub reggae soundsytem culture which is really prevalent around Manchester and Leeds. They have the most humungous West Indian population and soundclash culture. It was Mala from Digital Mystikz's first ever set that wasn't in London, it was at the Leeds West Indian Musc Center. I was just a dub regaae producer, but I was making kind of electro dub. When he came on and played a dubstep set, I was like "That's what I'm mainly doing! How is he doing that!" It wasn't really anything back in those days, I don't think it had really formulated into being called "dubstep."

What's your biggest influence aside from Mala, then?

Probably the Iration Steppas. They basically invented digi-dub as it's called in Europe, which is completely digital dub reggae but with like dance music drums. Some of their music from '94 and '95 sounds like current dubstep today - it's crazy. I play it today and people freak out. Squarepusher is also my main main, you can't touch him as a record producer. I've seen him play solo bass shows for like 200 people. I'm just a mad geek on Squarepusher. Take some reggae people from England and take Squarepusher and mush it all together, and then smoke a bunch of weed and you've got Rusko. Wheee!

Do you notice a difference in the dubstep fans here and in the UK?

I notice a difference in the fans and the music too. Totally. I play a different DJ set in America than I do in London. They like it harder and dirtier in America while England is a bit more ravey: Old School hard core, piano synths. In America, they just like it as hard and dirty as I can do, which is good for me because I make hard and dirty music. I suppose it's a bonus! American fans are wicked because they're way more vocal, you can people yell "YEAH! COME ON! YEAH RUSKO!" It's funny. I love that though, it's really cool for me. It's a good thing when you can hear everybody shouting.
You have a cool dress sense. Do people ever say anything about your 'hawk?

People don't think I'm a DJ. They think I must be in a punk rock band because of my hair. Death By Stereo are a punk rock band on Epitaph and the singer I've brought out to do merch on tour. I am actually a punk rocker, I love punk music. The energy - its like bang! It's simple and it really speaks to me. This is the kind of style I go for with my hair and spikin' it up. I get drunk, I jump up and down, I yell. It's just my attitude.

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