Electronic Sound: Under The Influence – Rusty Egan

(First published in Electronic Sound magazine #76, April 2021)

UNDER THE INFLUENCE

Complex time signatures, Alan Vega, German electronica and DIY thrift shop fashion. Rich Kids, Visage and Blitz Club legend Rusty Egan is as passionate as ever about his formative influences 

Interview: Bob Fischer

JAZZ DRUMMERS


“When I was 14, Richard James Burgess – who was later in the band Landscape – was playing with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. My Mum and Dad had a band, and he would show up sometimes and say ‘I’ll get you a practice pad’. And Mark Wallace, who lived on my street, could play the same three chords that Status Quo played! So he said, ‘You’re a drummer and I’m a guitarist – why don’t we get together?’ He came over and we’d go ‘dun-dun-dun-dun’.

“After a week, I thought ‘This isn’t exactly pushing my limitations…’ But I’d see Jack DeJohnette in my dad’s record collection, listen to him and think, ‘Oh, my God’. Then I answered an advert in the paper from a band who said, ‘Influences: Egg and National Health’. The main guy was a librarian in Pinner, the guitarist was a chiropodist, and they liked Chick Corea. So I used to practice time signatures. And I bought two big cabinet speakers, an amp and a WEM Copicat tape delay machine. I put my record player through the amp and played along, but because I couldn’t play as fast as these records, I used the Copicat to create delays. I was listening to things like Billy Cobham’s ‘Storm’… he created a storm with his drums.”

DIY CLOBBER  

“Back in 1976, I had little arguments with The Clash because I was still in love with my Wranglers. And they had their own clothes made for them: sweat shop bollocks with Letraset, gaffa tape and car spray all over them! Their clothes were all from Bernie Rhodes and Malcolm McClaren. McClaren dressed up the Pistols and The Clash because he wanted the clothes on the high street to change. His angle was fashion, the band’s angle was music, and they put the two together.

“So that summer, The Clash said to me: ‘Get down the King’s Road, get some clothes’. I said ‘It’s alright for you, I’m on the fucking dole!’ But I went to these shops: Granny Takes A Trip, Seditionaries, Acme Attractions. And down the Portobello Road market, and into all the thrift shops. Cutting up clothes and making my own. Defacing Oxfam clothes and turning jackets inside out. And then I’d go out clubbing and see Marco Pirroni and all these other people wearing the clothes I couldn’t afford! I was a poor bloke living in a squat, and suddenly I was supposed to be a fashionable person…”

EARLY ELECTRONICA

“For me, influences are people that make you investigate. ‘What is that? Who is that?’ Brian Eno with Roxy Music on The Old Grey Whistle Test was possibly the first of those. Even though I’d already heard music made by machines, it was what I considered novelty music: Sparky’s Magic Piano and ‘Popcorn’.

“In 1976 Kraftwerk played at the Roundhouse, but I wasn’t that interested in seeing them. Or the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, who were supporting. They were nerdy, studenty bands who read books, and I was into Iggy, Roxy and Bowie… and there I was, that summer, banging the drums in rehearsals with The Clash.

“But then Suicide supported The Clash, and I thought Elvis Presley was onstage. Alan Vega, singing ‘Dream Baby Dream… oh yeah!’ It was only three notes. I thought ‘Wow!’ And the audience were saying ‘What do we do? We’re at a punk gig! Do we pogo, do we go crazy, or do we just stand here?’

“And then it was ‘E-Musik’ by Neu!. And Harmonia. And Conny Plank and krautrock. And I went to Düsseldorf and met Ralf and Florian, I had a whole evening with them. I was young and suave and cool… I looked like I should have been in the SAS!”

DAVID BOWIE’S LOW

“‘Sound And Vision’, ‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’, ‘Warszawa’… it’s Bowie and Eno travelling through Eastern Europe, meeting Kraftwerk and getting to Berlin. And although Heroes is the bigger album, the influence of what they’d been listening to and who they’d been talking to is felt more on Low. It’s still got that funkiness – listen to ‘Breaking Glass’ – but it’s the beginning of the amalgamation between Eno’s ambience and pop music. As Kraftwerk said: ‘It is very good to hear the English making pop songs from this music!’”

STEVE STRANGE

“There are lots of conflicting stories about how we met – mainly from me! Steve came to London to follow the Sex Pistols, going down the King’s Road to Vivienne Westwood’s shop. And I was on tour with Rich Kids in 1978, and we went to the Stowaway Club in Newport, Wales. And he showed up there as well. So somewhere between the King’s Road and being on tour in Wales, I ended up with him saying ‘Can I borrow your sofa?’ One night was OK, two nights was OK… three nights, you’re paying half the rent, mate!

“Steve had clothes that I wanted. Fashion was his thing. And he’d met Chrissie Hynde, and he already seemed to know Glen Matlock and Steve Severin. He got me kicked out of the flat after a big party, but it gave me the genius idea of taking that party into a club. So we went to the sleaziest place and said we’d fill it up – and that was Billy’s.”

THE BLITZ AMBIENCE

“Eno, Fripp, Moebius, The League of Gentlemen, Thomas Leer, the Human League’s ‘Circus of Death’… I played all these weird records. Creating this whole sound in a bombed-out 1940s bar. People looked like they were in a film noir, but there’d be Jean-Michel Jarre playing in the background. It was just a weird place! You’d walk in, and there’d be a girl straight from a movie. She’d be blowing smoke as Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Hamburger Lady’ was playing. You’d walk over all suave, and she’d say [broad Yorkshire accent] ‘Alright, love! Ah’ve come from Doncaster, ah’ve ‘eard it’s amazin’ here!’”

Rusty Egan Presents BLITZED, the soundtrack to the new Sky Arts documentary, is available now from Future Music.

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