UK dubstep DJ/producer Rusko doesn't have to think too hard when asked the most beneficial thing he learned at prestigious Leeds College of Music. "To learn how to not give into the 'system' and make stuff out of the box," says Rusko. "Exemplified by me never going to class." It's an iconoclastic and wry answer from an iconoclastic and wry artist; a playful producer who also happens to be on the forefront of the UK electronic scene.
The cursory signs of a mischievous mind are there if you look for it: O.M.G., one of the most frequently used signs of shorthand for teenage girls, doubles as Rusko's 2010 debut album title. Song titles include the ominously hilarious "Lick the Lizard" and befuddling "Rubadub Shakedown." And a Google Image search of "Rusko" shows the producer eschewing traditional press shots in favor of 3 am, few-beers-too-many silly faces and a more official—relatively speaking—shot of Rusko, wearing sunglasses with fake eyes attached and covered head to toe in white powder.
Rusko may have, more than anyone, turned dubstep's frown upside down and made it more palatable to a more mainstream audience. But to call him the Clown Prince of dance music isn't accurate; he's more like Frank Gorshin's portrayal of The Riddler in that old "Batman" series: quirky, unpredictable and diabolically clever. "I definitely have a playful vibe," admits Rusko. "Anyone who ever meets me knows I'm very laidback." Asked how he would describe working with himself in three words? "Boom. Box. Smokey." Uh. Okay.
Id love to say that I sat down with this brilliant idea or message, but I just took what I was loving at the moment and made tracks.
Smokey or not, since he first appeared in 2006 on Dub Police with "SNES Dub," he's remixed everyone from The Prodigy and Kid Cudi to Little Boots, Kid Sister and Lady Gaga. But before that, tracks like 2007's "Cockney Thug" were appearing on mixes and DJ sets all over the UK before M.I.A. pegged the producer to collaborate on her third album Maya. The finished project yielded five Rusko-produced tracks, including "Space," "Steppin Up" and "XXXO" and was born out of both artists' desire for experimentation. (One example of many: Recording M.I.A.'s newborn's heartbeat for sonic effect.)
When it came to recording his own debut album, Rusko admits to not having much of a plan at all. "It was way more organic and spontaneous," says the producer. "I'd love to say that I sat down with this brilliant idea or message, but I just took what I was loving at the moment and made tracks."
O.M.G., the result of that spontaneity, sounds like the work of a sonic chameleon and a restless young producer who wants to do everything and do everything big. While tracks like "Rubadub Shakedown" and "Got Da Groove" (the latter featuring Gucci Mane) celebrate dancehall and hip-hop, respectively, O.M.G.'s strongest songs showcase the producer's ability to create rim-rattling dubstep and two-step. It almost seems criminal to blast the cavernous hook of "I Love You" on rhythm of "Kumon Kumon" on computer speakers.
And then there's "Hold On" featuring Dirty Projectors' Amber Coffman. The standout track pits Coffmann's ethereal vocals and mellifluous synth stabs against Rusko's heavy, club-friendly beats and ended up one of the best tracks of the year; a rare song that Pitchfork readers and Ultra dance compilation buyers could bump in unison.
The DJ won't divulge too much about his upcoming ID Festival set other than the generic answer of "playing a lot of tunes and just having fun," though with planned collaborations with Cypress Hill and his own follow-up to O.M.G. to worry about, we'll cut him a little slack.
Still, when asked about his dream collaborations, his answer could double as sonic influences to his own sound. "Squarepusher or [funk pioneer and Zapp lead singer] Roger Troutman, no question," says Rusko. "Huge fans of both. Would love to have hit the talkbox with Troutman and get on some next level bass manipulations with Squarepusher."
If things go according to plan, look for The Riddler to work with whoever he wants to in the near future.