"Listen to this with headphones" Causecast CEO Ryan Scott said in an email with a track called "I Love You" attached to it.
This was my introduction to 26-year old Christopher Mercer, known to most as Rusko, about a year ago.
It was unusual for my boss to bring up an artist, in fact it never happened despite the hundreds of music interviews during my 3-year tenure at his company. No real surprise though, considering Rusko's heavy influence of early '90s rave and hardcore, a scene in which Scott dabbled in a bit back in the day.
After several back and forth emails with his team, late last Saturday night I had the opportunity to get to speak with the now famous dubstep DJ who has worked with everyone from MIA to Britney Spears to Santigold and now Cypress Hill.
As I walked into the backstage green room of the Wiltern Theater I was greeted by a friendly Mercer with a little more than an hour before his 12:30am set time.
"Is it ok to have drugs in this interview?" he asked jokingly while rolling up a spliff of Cali's finest.
Los Angeles marked show 26 of 26 of the tour in what is now the former Leeds resident's hometown. About to perform for a surplus of family and friends, Mercer expressed some pre-show jitters as we began our conversation by discussing a mutual love for East LA and how he was going to be spending his time not being on the road.
Christopher Mercer: I have like 4 weeks coming up now at home. I'm probably going to leave the house twice. My studios in my house and so is my dog and that's pretty much it.
I could live in Mongolia and still do the exact same thing in my time off.
Brandon Deroche: Are you a night-time studio guy?
CM: No, best stuff is before 12. That is my prime time.
BD: Interesting. Why do you think that is?
CM: There's nothing else in my brain, I think that's what it is. You can power through it when you first wake up because your mind is clear and fresh and rested. I like to get up before nine. I get the real creative stuff done before lunch, and then usually after lunch is more of the tinkering kind of stuff.
BD: That's pretty fascinating, because you know there's a certain stereotype...
CM: There's a massive stereotype! Late night, 2 am, chain-smoking cigarettes, hunched over the laptop in a darkened room with no windows -- of course. I've been there, but I tried all types of different things -- I've tried beats naked, I've tried making beats drunk... you know you try every combination to try and get your perfect zone.
I've got a big window and a blue-sky sunshine to look out at, which is producer cliche number one, ruined. It's not a darkened, kind of padded-cell with no windows which is like most studios I go to. So yeah, I get lots of sunlight and I put my clothes on.
BD: Maybe that's the secret.
CM: Yeah I try and do a couple of hours before I even eat anything, just have a cigarette and a coffee.
You're getting me excited now! I've just been on the road for 5 weeks. Tomorrow I get to wake up in my own bed, in my own house and you know I'm going to turn on my computer and my speakers now! (laughs)
BD: Obviously you'll be working on music then, but what is next for you?
CM: I'm going to the UK for the second half of June and all of July to do festivals. In between then and now, over the next 4-5 weeks I'm going to pull together the 20 or so half-finished ideas I have and finish my album.
I've got a giant white board in my studio, so I'm just going to write everything out, make a big grid of how far along the songs are, and I'm going to go into full-on album mode.
I've just gotta be super duper focused. Its hard when you've got a lot going on every week, and you're at home for a couple days and then away for a couple days. The best way for me to get the ideas for the tracks though is for me to be on the road. The best tracks that are going to make it onto this second album are probably the ones from this tour.
There's no better judge than the kids down there in the crowd and the sound system speakers. That's the best test every time.
BD: You're announcing tonight about the EP you did with Cypress Hill. How did that come about?
CM: I met them out here and just really wanted to work with them and do a track.
We did one track, and then a week later they were watching some videos on Youtube where they saw a video of Skream from Radio 1 in the UK playing a new track of mine "Let's Go" that I gave to him. Cypress asked if I could send them the instrumental, and I said sure, just figuring they liked the track. Two days later sent it back to me with vocals, and it became the second track.
It just sort of progressed from there. Now we've got 5 tracks -- 4 dubstep and 1 hip-hop, but they're all straight party jams. No smoked out, kind of chill beats. It's all straight up party jams.
Tonight we have B-Real and Sen Dog coming out, and we're going to perform the first track we did, the best one. It's super heavy, and people are going to lose it.
BD: How does touring in the U.S. differ from touring in the UK?
CM: The crowd reaction is pretty much the same. The raves now are a mixed sex. When it was first kicking off in the U.S., it was all dudes. Same in the UK as well, it was a more male-heavy audience. Right now it's super 50/50.
The real difference is just scale. The shows in the U.S. that we've been doing are big theater shows, but there's just literally a higher volume of people. If say, 10 percent of the kids in the city would go to a dubstep show in a city like Chicago, that's a hell of a lot more kids than in a city like Leeds or Manchester. Still the same percentage of kids like dubstep, but in the States there's just a hell of a lot of people.
BD: Did you have any favorite dates on this run?
CM: I think the all ages shows. When you have the parents standing in the back and the 13 year-old kids flippin' in "Wake the Fuck Up" t-shirts going crazy in a mosh pit at the front, its even cooler.
I've decided the next U.S. tour I'm doing is going to be entirely all ages. I'm going to be super super strict. I've decided if the city doesn't have a venue that's willing to do an all ages show, we'll play a nearby city instead. The biggest shows have been the all ages. Literally the entire side of the room is parents with their arms folded, that's funny shit!
BD: Have you ever considered curating your own event?
CM: I wanna do. I miss Fabric. It's such a staple in London and was a home for me and Caspa. I miss that there isn't something like that in LA. That's my dream. If I make the flippin' number one hit for someone and make a million dollars, I'd love to have LA's Fabric. Like, you just trust it. You don't even need to look at the lineup, you just trust it'll be curated properly.
That's the dream. I was going to open a little English cafe, but I've scaled up a bit now. (Laughs)
BD: What are the biggest changes in the scene you've noticed since you began?
CM: Dubstep fans are so, so crazy about dubstep. More than other genres, dubstep kids live and breathe dubstep. It reminds me of nu metal in like 2001 or 2002.
The biggest and craziest shows on this tour have been the all ages ones. My audience is like 14-21. It's super super young, and they're like obsessive! It totally reminds me of the 2,000 kids wearing Korn and Linkin Park t-shirts, it's the same kind of obsessive youth movement.
Guaranteed there's going to be a mosh pit, and there's going to be crowd surfers. I often think if someone came into a dub step show and they couldn't hear the music at all, they'd think I was playing heavy metal records the way the kids are getting down. If they could only see the crowd, but not hear the music I was playing they'd think I was playing punk rock records or something, you know? People just lose it.
That's great for me because it means kids are on Youtube, searching for new videos. That kind of obsessiveness is really cool because I'm playing songs that are like a month old, that have been played on the radio once, and half the room knows it because they're ob-sess-ive! Not just about my tracks, but dubstep in general. You get a really cool reaction, because people get geeky.
BD: Have you been getting asked more and more to write pop songs?
CM: With the Cypress thing we really took our time. We started in November and finished the last track about a month ago, so we took nearly 6 months to do 5 tracks. During that time it was like absolute prime time. I had to turn down so much, but I just wanted to focus on one project and not take anything else on.
A ton of material wasn't right for that, but is right for other stuff, so I've never had such a backlog of like half-tunes.
BD: A lot of people may not realize that you're a musician beyond just a DJ. Do you ever anticipate releasing music under a different name that is perhaps influenced by dubstep, but is not "Rusko?"
CM: All the pop work I do is credited as Chris Mercer, and I just try and keep Rusko away from it. But yeah, I have a lot of full songs, with full vocals that I wouldn't play in a set, but a dub step fan would like to listen to for sure.
I have a wicked friend called Jarell who writes amazing lyrics. So, all the tracks that I write for pop artists are 100 percent finished. The lyrics, the melodies, everything, and then I own 100 percent of the track.
I thought about that recently, actually, and I may well do it. It would probably be another project similar to the Cypress thing. We spent a few months together, and did 5 tracks. It doesnt sound like my dubstep stuff, its darker, has rock guitar on it -- its Cypress, and has a totally different vibe.
So, I think I am going to do it, but its going to be a project. It's going to be like 4 or 5 tracks with some kind of pop singer, or a pianist or something unusual. I'm more into the focused projects right now rather than a bit for this and a bit for that, which my manager hates. (Laughs)
BD: Do you have a dream artist that you'd like to work with?
CM: I've spent the last part of the year mainly working with other people. So I'm really just looking most forward to working with myself. Is that bad? (laughs)
I find that I always load up the same synths and use what I'm familiar with. I want to upgrade my software to the new version and spend time learning the new bits and pieces. As a musician I'm looking forward to spending a whole month of changing stuff -- finding some new drum sounds and just changing things up a bit. You've got to spend some time on yourself every now and again. I'd call it "musical pampering."
BD: Given this plethora of tunes you have backlogged, do you foresee continuing to put out music in album format or will you begin to release tracks more frequently?
CM: I think after this second Rusko album, I'm not sure there will be a third. I think that's Rusko. You know, like I'm going to do something else. I'm still going to be doing it, but I think its going to be a lot more live. I'm going to go into a lot more live stuff because that's what I really miss.
I think in terms of releasing albums of straight dance tracks, this one I'm going to get it perfectly right, but after that I'm just going to work on doing some cool live stuff and one-off stuff, and just being a bit more musician-y.
This records really important, I've got to get it right. That's why I'm not rushing it. I think as far as a full album of Rusko dance floor tracks, this is the last one.
BD: We have to wrap this up, so what's been the best story from the road on this tour?
CM: We lost DJ Switch (Dave) for three whole days, completely lost him.
We had a day off in Philadelphia the day before the show. It was halfway through the tour with myself and Major Lazer. Me and Dave were like "alright, let's go to the Four Seasons, we'll have the five course dinner, with the full wine pairings. We haven't gotten a night off, we've been living in squalor, let's have one night of luxury."
So we had the huge five-course meal and wine and cigars and whiskeys outside afterwards... full cheesy, like going in for the night kind of thing.
I went back to the bus and Dave decided he was going to get a room. I was like "yo I've spent enough on dinner and cigars and freakin' whiskey, I could do without another 500 bucks for a Four Seasons room, I'm going back to the tour bus where I can smoke weed."
Anyway, the following day was the show and as it was getting closer and closer to the Major Lazer set time, things were getting more and more hairy. The hotel couldn't get in touch with him, no one could find him. The show ended, the trailer was packed, everybody's on the bus, its time to go to Pittsburgh or whatever the next stop is... no Dave.
We ended up going 3 more shows before he turned up. He said he just got really ill and had to leave the hotel, then he can't remember the next day. That was his excuse -- he was so vague!
He just turned up 3 days later with a backpack, looking pale. He walked through the bus, packed everything into his backpack and went home. Didn't do any more dates. I have no idea what happened! I'm sure something really dark happened, right? It's never been spoken about again.
Something dark went down in those few days, I have no idea what.