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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Baltimore Club, The New Dance Show, & Fresh Kicks: U.K. DJ Rushmore Speaks Out

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2015 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge rushmore_tour_1_.jpg
There is a small, but steadily growing global movement based around "club music" — no, not just music you might hear in a club, but referring specifically to a pumped-up, high-octane breed of electronic music that sounds something like the illegitimate son of house music, hip-hop, and hardcore (the rave style, that is). Fast, sparse, heavy on vocal refrains, and impossible not to dance to, the sound originated in primarily black communities in Baltimore, New Jersey, and elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic region. It remained a niche sound for decades, kicking off sometime in the very early '90s and remaining popular only within its native region. Fast forward almost 20 years to the present moment, the Internet era, where the world is flat and what happened yesterday on one side of the world is today's hot topic on the other, and "club music" (aka "Baltimore," "Jersey club," or just "Bmore") is becoming a worldwide sensation, thanks to a new generation of DJs and producers around the globe who are using the Internet to reach into virtual record bins in other continents. Rushmore, a DJ and producer from London, is at the forefront of this movement — writing his own club tracks, releasing them via his label Trax Couture, and showcasing the sound in London with his party House of Trax — and will be making a debut appearance in San Francisco this Friday night, performing for new party BREAD at F8. We caught up with Rushmore to talk club music, DJing, and sneakers ahead of this week's party.  

Are you from London?

I'm originally from Cardiff in Wales. I moved to London eight years ago this November.

How do you feel about London these days?

It's good, it's healthy. It all kind of depends on what your interests are, really. But for what I'm into, trying to be involved with, a lot has changed over time — but it's in a good place.

Why don't you tell me about your last trip to the States? That was your first time here, yeah?

Yeah. Me and my girl did a road trip from East to West, three weeks. I did do some DJ gigs on the way, but only New York and Chicago.

What were some of the highlights of the trip?

Pacific Coast Highway. That's definitely top of the list, by far. And weirdly enough, the things that really stuck out were the terrain — because we drove from the Midwest, from Chicago to San Francisco, and it's a crazy drive. There's a place called Rock Falls, Rock Springs? [Ed. note: Rock Springs, WY, seems to be the place referred to here.] The landscape was crazy there. Crazy patterns in the rock faces and everything. You feel small.

Utah, maybe?

Yeah, just before you approach Utah. That was on the stretch of the drive before we stayed in Salt Lake City. Driving into Salt Lake City from the east was also crazy, because you're driving downhill for ages, and it's only when you get to the bottom do you realize how far up in the air you were. The driving experience were some of the highlights for me, for sure. The DJing was pretty cool, as well. I played in Chicago — felt like an illegal sort of spot, 200 capacity, around the back of a warehouse, loading bay type. New York was sick — we started off staying five days there at a hotel in Brooklyn. I've got friends there, so it wasn't quite a home away from home, but close. We didn't rush around and do all the touristy stuff, so we had kind of a living experience, for a little while.

Where did you get exposed to your 'sound'? The music that you like, that you DJ? Where did you find it?

I don't know how far you want to go back, but — as far as club music, it was really through mainstream music in the mid '90s. When I started digging a little bit deeper, it was friends of friends who had the brothers who would be passing around cassette tapes — you know? Mixtapes recorded off the radio, or tape packs from early raves. So the first taste of underground music I had was, I suppose, jungle or old school rave, happy hardcore — all the rave genres, really. I was probably becoming familiar with that by the mid-to-late '90s. So, after it had already kicked off, the rave scene in the U.K. It was getting more established at the time, I suppose. Through that, it was more word of mouth—friends of mine bought turntables, and I got my first set of turntables when I was 15, 16. I'm 32 now, so I've been at it for awhile. [Laughs] But I suppose more recently, it's just through DJing, really. Part of being a DJ is to play new, fresh music, and to try and have a sound or certain style that you play, to create a certain sound, kind of thing. A lot more recently with the House of Trax stuff, the last 3 to 4 years, that's been through the internet, other label friends that I know — the guys at Night Slugs — being in London around that, when that's happening. I didn't really get too involved in the dubstep scene. I wasn't in London at that point. Living in London massively informed [my taste,] just in terms of what's available. Back in Wales, it was pretty limited. Not too much diverse music. London's a metropolis — it's a cultural hub, new stuff is bubbling through all the time, people are constantly evolving.

What I find really interesting about your sound, and that of the Night Slugs crew, is that you've borrowed a lot of styles of American underground club music, but really made them your own. I think that's something that's really started happening in the past five or six years, because of the internet — word spreads so quickly. Someone in London or in South Africa will hear something from Baltimore, from New Jersey, take it and make it their own, put their own twist on it, and spread that sound back throughout the entire world.

Yeah, totally. Maybe you could pinpoint it specifically to when broadband kicked in, or something like that — when internet connections became literally household utilities. I grew up where a couple of [my friends and I] would go to to a friend's house on a Saturday, because they were the first to have the internet — the whole dialup scenario and all that — it was a lot harder back then. Right now, it's like the floodgates have opened, and connectivity between people has spread. It's a bit crazy.

So you didn't come out of the dubstep scene, correct?

No, I didn't. I didn't really get too involved in it, yeah. I wasn't in London at that point. When I moved to London in 2008, the whole Night Slugs thing was just kicking off, really. So I've really sort of come up through those guys. I became friends with L-Vis [1990, co-owner of London record label Night Slugs] almost immediately when I moved here, because I worked with his ex-girlfriend at the time, and we just kind of hit to off. Started going to their parties, and you know the rest.

Their sound is really interesting because it's very similar to dubstep, but it's clearly not dubstep — at all.

Yeah. I suppose with dubstep, it was more of the reverse — like [it was a] British genre, and lots of American artists made that style of music — whereas with [the Night Slugs sound] it's heavily influenced by a U.S. [style,] with a U.K. twist on it.

Is this sound still big in London? Still happening in London?

Yeah. It does feel like it's in a good place, still growing. There's younger generations of people coming through our parties. Word is spreading.

Are you familiar with the Janus guys [Ed. note: a group of Americans living in Berlin making "post-regional" club music] from Berlin?

Yes. I've chatted with Lotic a few times. I'm familiar with what they're doing. Those guys are pretty shit-hot, and they've carved a space out for themselves perfectly in Berlin.

Would you consider what you're doing on the same wavelength as them? I feel like there's a really interesting global scene popping up — because of the internet — that has to do with people like you, like Night Slugs, like Janus in Berlin, like Kingdom and Fade to Mind in L.A. It's an interesting new take on a club sound that has not much at all to do with house or techno.

That's true, yeah.

It's taking influences from hip-hop, from all these different genres, and coming up with a new sound that has no "place," because it was born online. Do you ever think about this? Is it something you're working towards, consciously?

Yeah [laughs]. I made the switch to working on music full-time last year. And it's been a big positive change for me — for something I've been doing for so many years — I've been DJing, putting on parties since I was old enough to, since I was 18. So [the last year] has been kind of a pivotal moment for me personally. My career before [I started working on music full-time] sort of plays into this as well.

How so?

Having worked for Puma as a global product manager for the top tier ranges of footwear — for me, it's all about trying to bring all of my interests and acumen and references and whatnot and try to push them forward, bring them together. With my personality behind that. And to relate that to what everyone else is doing … well, I think it's important to do whatever you can to push things forward, really.

I think what you're saying is absolutely right. This sound that you're working with, all these producers that we've been talking about — all of their influences go much further than just music they're referencing. It's kind of like a "lifestyle sound."

Yeah, and you know what — you can bring this all back to broadband. [laughs] Do you know what I mean? By being able to have all these influences, because of the accessibility of information, to find things out, to watch things. It's all there.

Who are your primary collaborators musically? Either production-wise, or DJ-wise.

Well, I DJ quite a lot at my parties with Fools, who I run House of Trax with. His name's Benedict Bull. We DJ together quite a lot, and have for years. We've been doing parties together for years. So that's an easy, unspoken working-mates kind of relationship.

And you're tight with the Unknown to the Unknown crew, right?

Yeah, Rupert, DJ Haus, he's a close affiliate, a good mate. I met him through Ben, Fools. We all get on, speak on the regular. I put a release out through his Hot Haus sub label end of last year. I'm going to be doing a followup to that this year. Can't be too open about timeframe, but it'll happen later this year. And as far as forthcoming releases, I've got stuff coming out on Nervous Records, an old U.S. house label. A digital release. I was very stoked when they hit me up, asking for tracks. But I've been on kind of a more straight house tip these days. Not really straight house, but compared to what I was making in the past, it's more straightforward, jackin' Chicago or Detroit style.

Tell me more about Unknown to the Unknown. It's an interesting label that occupies a unique sphere.

It does. [Rupert] manages to cover a lot of bases while still keeping everything at a high quality level. And it's all very fun and bold. That's pretty much a representation of what he's like in real life. A pretty true representation of his character. And Fools does quite a bit of artwork for them now.

Tell me about House of Trax.

It's the club night that Ben and I run. We set up a label together in 2013 — Trax Couture. Since I started doing music full-time, I've taken control of it, so it's kind of my baby at the moment.

What's the vibe for House of Trax? What's the aesthetic?

It's basically built for people that want to dance [laughs]. Kind of sounds obvious, but I've seen and experienced plenty of club nights where that doesn't quite fit the bill. It's about having fun. Letting go. Just having a good time. Everyone there is super friendly, it's a mixed gay/straight crowd, everyone's really up for it. If we've got a lineup that's leaning more towards a vogue kind of sound, we'll have a bunch of dancers come down — vogue dancers from London, that always adds extra vibe. They're shit-hot. Really, really good. The New York [vogue] scene is amazing, obviously, but these dancers are good.

How do you curate the lineups?

The lineups are a mixture of returning guests, some who might be touring around Europe, and maybe we'll book someone specifically who isn't touring. Sometimes we bring folks over from the U.S., or from Australia. We started off by going through people who just weren't booked over here. But since we've been putting on the parties, people [we book] seem to be touring more, other people are booking them elsewhere, so it's great to see these people coming over on a regular basis.

What was your inspiration when you started the night?

The New Dance Show. It came after The Scene, and it was from Detroit. After Soul Train. Early evening kind of show. Yeah, I'm just obsessed with that program, man. Super obsessed. The music, the style, the clothes people wear. People dressed up to the nines, and everyone can dance real good [laughs]. The colors are great on the eye — maybe it's a '90s nostalgia thing for me — but the music is just sick, just perfect. And we wanted to try to recreate, in the best way possible, the vibe from that TV program in the club. So that, literally, is the ultimate inspiration for the club. There are, of course, other influences, you know, but that's really the main one.

What are you trying to bring to American audiences when you're over here?

I'm super keen to understand the reaction [to my DJ sets]. Specifically in the West Coast — it'll be my first time. New York and Chicago, when I played last time, it was received well. But I've been putting together lots and lots of new stuff to test out, my own productions as well. I made a mix for Bread, did this different sort of selection — some of the influences and sounds might differ from [West to East] coast, but it's kind of the same vibe. I've made a couple of tracks, Jersey-club style drum tracks, with G-funk influences in it. The high-pitched sounds. It sounds corny, but I love West Coast G-funk, boogie, and rap. It's nice to try and bring that sound in. I'm looking forward to testing those tunes out. And obviously loads of forthcoming stuff from Trax Couture. Just being able to play all this music that I'm helping to put out, playing that, pushing all the artists on the label to everyone in the States. Gonna mix it up with some US stuff as well. I'm heavily influenced, as you know, by US club music, so it'll be nice to play the music that I make that's inspired by the US out there.

Kind of bringing it back [to the States], yeah?

Yeah [laughs]. Repackage your product and come and deliver it to you. Hand-delivered.

What's in the future for you in terms of your music?

Well, I'm planning some Trax Couture showcases in the future. Start closer to home first and then take it on the road. On the label, introducing some new artists, having some artists return and do followup EPs. More expansion on the clothing side of things, too.

You make clothes, too?

Yup. We did a small pack of four tees last year, or the year before, and I did a small drop at the end of last year of two shirts and a motocross jersey. I'm looking to work with performance fabrics — sports-type fabrics.

How is this working out for you? Do they sell well?

I'm only selling direct at the moment, and producing super small numbers — so I'm just trying to build responsibly from a really small scene, rather than trying to spunk my load and do the collection of the century and have nothing to follow it up with. [laughing]

I think that's a really interesting way for a record label to survive in this day and age, because people don't buy music like they used to. But record labels are really good at honing an aesthetic, and a feel — so it makes perfect sense for a record label to make clothes, too.

Yeah. It's a tough battle, you know, because you tend to lean more one way than the other. But I'm gonna try and do it at a level where both barrels on both sides are firing equally. And, you know, my career of working in products and footwear, apparel, I'm going to put those skills to work. We did something for Record Store Day where we worked with Puma, and I customized a short run of footwear, and launched a record with it at the same time. I'm actually doing the same for my trip to New York — it hasn't been announced properly yet, but I'm doing a Trax Couture popup shop in Brooklyn. There's a spot on Broadway just two blocks from the end of Bedford Avenue and my friends there have got it for a month, so I'm going to jump in for five days or so. There's an EP that drops on the Wednesday I'm in New York and I'm going to do a launch event for the EP, and going to customize 24 pairs of a Puma shoe — spackle the midsole, paint some of the uppers, flip the packaging—and do that, sponsored by Puma, 6-to-10 kind of affair, and sell the shoes during the day. I've also got 3D printed USBs that I'll sell the music on as well. I've got physical formats people can buy the EP on.

That's a killer idea. That's great.

Well, yeah, it's just bringing the concept of sneaker launches — putting it through the music lens. I know it, I've lived it, I've been a consumer of it — I know how it works. So, let's just bring 'em together.

Rushmore plays BREAD at F8 this Friday, May 29.
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