Rusko brings innate pop chops to dubstep
When he moved to Los Angeles from his native England in 2009, Rusko (aka Chris Mercer) appointed himself dubstep’s first ambassador to the United States. With his penchant for torrid synthesizer riffs and all-consuming bass tones, the 25-year-old has something in common with the guys of the French duo Justice: he’s an elegantly scruffy rock star who just happens to make electronic music.
The genre’s first crossover artist, Rusko is, inevitably, widely reviled by purists, who tend to prefer the style in its moodier germinal form. The producer steers clear of that debate, pointing out that dubstep, like drum ’n’ bass before it, has become big enough to encompass several variations in form.
“Initially it was very much chin-stroking music, more dubby and minimal, and that’s still a very popular strand now,” says the producer, reached at his Silver Lake home. “When I started, I set out to make jump-up tunes, just straight-up party music. A lot of dubstep is almost angry and noisy, which means it attracts a lot of guys. You can be hard without being angry; that’s my whole production ethos. You can make girls dance to hard-core shit; you just gotta make it nice and fun.”
Given Rusko’s innate pop sensibility, it’s not surprising to learn that he’s been asked to contribute tracks for new albums by Britney Spears, Rihanna, and T.I. After doing production and mixing work on M.I.A.’s abrasive last album, Maya, the Leeds native says he’s particularly excited to be writing songs for Cody Wise, a 14-year-old Interscope-signed singer who sounds like he would have fit in nicely with the Jackson 5.
“A lot of the M.I.A. project was putting distortion on stuff, taking the chords away, and stripping everything down to the drums,” he offers. “After that, it’s been nice doing something shiny and melodic.”
Whatever happens on the pop front, Rusko continues his reign as the premier maker of big-room dubstep, a title he’s consolidated with this year’s O.M.G.!, an album-as-genre-primer that links the style to its roots in frantic U.K. hard-core and slinky two-step garage.
The release of O.M.G.! was somewhat overshadowed, however, by his much-publicized run-in with the Canadian pop-trance producer Deadmau5. The Toronto native, it seems, took issue with Rusko smoking a joint backstage at a concert earlier this summer, leading to an altercation and a subsequent Tweet-war, which climaxed with the Englishman vowing to snap his rival like a twig, among other unpublishable niceties.
“I’ve never witnessed anyone with an ego as big or someone as rude as that in my musical career,” says Rusko of Deadmau5. “I’m a positive guy; it’s the first time I’ve ever put out anything negative into the world, and it travelled a long way. We had a show planned for New York in October but he’s just kicked me off the bill. So the feud is still kind of going on.”
Rusko plays Venue on Sunday (October 3).