As is all too often when writing almost daily for an online publication such as DV Magazine, it is our sad duty to write posthumous copy for those departing this world. The music industry has recently lost another luminary, a producer of electronic music that more than defined the word, pioneer. Martin Rushent passed away this weekend at the age of just 63.
Martin took the console for one of my favourite albums ever but I never really paid much attention to who actually produced it as a teenager. That album was ‘Rattus Norvegicus’, by the Stranglers. The band’s second LP, ‘No More Heroes’, was also produced by Rushent and their mix of electronic sounds, driving rhythms and powerhouse vocals gave an almost bizarrely anti-punk sophistication to an actual punk-rock band.
Martin’s former work had involved sessions as assistant and producer for the likes of Shirley Bassey (who threw a mic stand at the young engineer after he introduced himself), Marc Bolan’s T.Rex, Fleetwood Mac and David Essex amongst others. It wasn’t until the early 80s though that I started to really care about who produced a record (assuming I guess, that all artists just made their own records), and it was then that a track called ‘Homosapien’ by ex-Buzzcock’s vocalist, Pete Shelley grabbed my attention.
Never Mind The Buzzcocks
Aha, and you perhaps thought I was going to mention The Human League at this point? No Siree, because it was actually the above 12″ single (and subsequent album and XL-1 dub-mix cassette) that blew this young DJ away. The early part of 1980 saw Martin producing this track, that really does sound as futuristic now as it did then. No other record I’ve ever heard (and not even the soon to come multi-platinum ‘Dare) had drum sounds, sweeping guitar-synths and the overall dynamic that the grooves of ‘Homosapien’ possessed.
Soon to come then from Martin’s Genetic Studio’s production stable, ‘Telephone Operator’ contained more of the recognised Rushent signature, which not only nailed a sought after production style for label exec’s to target, but placed the ex-Buzzcock’s front-man, firmly in the forefront of the post-punk electronica movement in ’80/’81.
As so is often the documented case, label A&R heads seek out the current hot producer sound to help perhaps an ailing or under-performing band on their roster, and this is exactly what happened when a Virgin records boss heard ‘Homosapien’. Simon Draper head of Virgin A&R wanted that sound for the label’s band, The Human League. Phil Oakey and the rest of the band turned up at Martin’s studio anticipating re-mixes of their recent tracks but instead, Rushent started again from scratch, outputting the beautifully minimal, and rhythm heavy ‘Sound of the Crowd’ as the first fruits. Oakey initially objected to the Rushent philosophy of, “it’s my way or the highway”, but the environment of almost democratic dictatorship enforced by the producer held steady and continued from that day with all of Martin’s acts.
The ‘Dare’ album followed soon after and the history and achievements of that collection of tracks surely must be known to every reader. As a young DJ and wannabee producer (well, the production aspirations seemed a long way off at that point actually), the next wowsa moment from the Berkshire based genius was his work on the League’s ‘Love and Dancing’ LP. This was an album of dub style remixes of the majority tracklisting from ‘Dare’. Credited to the ‘League Unlimited Orchestra’, it featured Rushent’s audio stamp using techniques formulated for the Homosapien track, merged with inspirations from watching US DJ, Grandmaster Flash cutting up vinyl in 1980.
Martin took Flash’s display of extended rhythm breaks, doubling up beats and cutting in segments of vocals to introduce new parts, therefore increasing the audio energy levels in a (then) new way. The majority of this production process involved splicing up sections of analogue tape and blending with new dub-fx style instrumental passes. Although quirky as heck in comparison to today’s digital timings, those early experiments in beat-juggling still carry a certain charm and feel that would be nigh on impossible to recreate now.
After a bit of a run-in with the League’s Susan Sulley, Rushent ceased working with the band and moved on to pastures new – sessions with 80s popster’s the GoGo’s and Altered Images followed. In a perhaps surprise change of direction around 1984, Martin sold Genetic Studio’s and took on a consultant role for Virgin Records. This job entailed much international travel and the former producer ultimately gave this up and, as a single parent, retired from the music industry to have more time raising his children.
During the early 90s rave period, Martin returned to the music industry, promoting and running local events and again put on his production cap to return to the mixing desk in the early ’00s. From thereon, Rushent worked with a steady stream of both established and new artists and around 2006, he connected with fans and friends alike via the developing Web 2.0 world [and sites like MySpace]which put legends such as he available to contact via mortals such as us.
RIP Martin Rushent 1948~2011