Techno legend DJ Rush: "Manchester really wants to party"

A US techno and house pioneer, Finest catches up with one of underground dance music's most enduring and respected DJs ahead of his long-awaited Manchester return this week.

By Martin Guttridge Hewitt | February 23rd '22

House and techno originator DJ Rush plays Manchester’s Joshua Brooks this Friday

Whichever way you want to look at it, Isaiah Major is a bonafide music legend.

Born in Chicago, he went from degree in Computational Science, Anger Management, to regular sets at landmark 1980s venues Music Box, Warehouse (where house music allegedly picked up its name), and Powerhouse. Also known as DJ Rush, in addition to more soulful grooves the man in question was also mastering harder sounds as the decade progressed. Today, his reputation for breakneck techno — packing all-too-rare physical mixing — is arguably the most audible part of his mythology. Although, if this were 1998 you’d probably think the global dance floor hit ‘Motherfucking Bass’ was his biggest calling card.

 

All of which means when Finest found out Rush was making a long-overdue return to Manchester for a three-hour set at Joshua Brooks for Haus22 on Friday 25th February, we were eager to get him on the phone from his adopted home in Portugal’s Algarve. Not least to ask him what he thinks of our city. And that’s exactly where our conversation begins.

“You know, I haven’t been to Manchester often but when I’ve been there I was really taken by how the parties were. You hear so much about the UK scene and this is one of the cities I wanted to experience. When I did I was really shocked by the feedback I got from people – they really wanted to party,” Rush reassuringly recalls.

DJ Rush is one of the pioneers of both Chicago house music and techno

“I was really surprised by how many females were there going mad. Normally you see a lot of men at parties, certainly for a particularly type of techno. But there were a lot of women going crazy and I thought ‘Damn, now that’s what I’m talking about’. It was clear there’s a big scene there, with a lot of venues putting on good events,” he continues.

Explaining some of his most vivid UK memories are gigs in Leeds and London, Rush’s honesty quickly becomes apparent when he cites Britain as a territory which — for some time — didn’t offer regular bookings. A situation he explains he “doesn’t think too much about”. Which is understandable when you’re four decades deep into a notoriously fickle scene.

“Things change all the time, you have whole new generations of DJs and party people. Some promoters tend to pick artists that have a million followers and go by that. They think that’s what the people want,” Rush replies when we ask about the popularity contest of touring club DJs. “The old guys are playing with what they’ve done, what they are doing now, and what they see for the future of the techno scene. So as long as I get to play somewhere the people are happy, then I’m happy. All I can say is be prepared, you’re in for a treat.”

Perhaps ironically, Rush is now based in one of southern Europe’s most picturesque and — dare it be said — retirement-friendly destinations. And he openly admits that’s a potential long-term plan: “I ain’t moving until the government makes me,” with the move originally born from a need to reduce flights to European shows, and start taking the foot off the gas just a little.

“I started to try and slow down a bit. I’d been busy playing back-to-back-to-back for so long and wanted more personal time. More private time. But since the pandemic, everything has been cancelled and dates moved,” Rush tells us. “Now, it seems from April I’m going to be back-to-back-to-back again. Everyone wants this date, that date. So I’ve got to be ready for it. But I think I had a long time to relax and I’m pretty much ready to get back, see the people, see the smiles, put smiles on faces. And play some music, you know?

“I wanted to slow down a little because I felt like I’ve been doing this for so many years, decades now, non-stop, so when is the time for you to say you want some private time? To enjoy life, not just on a plane, hotels, eating different each weekend, then coming home tired and getting ready to do the same thing again,” he continues. “I got to the point where I was saying, if I only play two times a month I’m happy with that. Otherwise next thing your health isn’t good and you need time out.”

Haus22 hosts DJ Rush at Joshua Brooks, Friday 25th February 2022

Suffice to say, with such relentless touring for such a lengthy period, by now Rush has touched down in countries across the world. He also spent time living in one of electronic music’s most important cities, Berlin, after leaving Chicago, a city that claims at least part of modern dance music’s creation story. Taking all this into account, we can’t help but wonder what he thinks about the impact of multiple cultures and nations adopting house and techno. As our time draws to a close, he reveals some theory.

“I’d say at first you had the Americans coming and taking over the scene, everyone looked to the music coming from the US: house, techno. Then it was the Europeans getting a grasp on it and interpreting it in their own way, adding on to it, and that’s when the music became bigger than what it is. They took the backbone and made it their own,” says Rush.

“Then when the international artists came with their flair and mixed it with the locals it made it even bigger. For example, whenever I’m playing a house event I can hear the influence from Chicago, but a local way of interpreting what we did back then and what we created,” he continues. “I think that’s a good force, as the music will never die and it will never get bored or boring. It’s good more people are accepting it, taking the music and adapting it for the future.”

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DJ Rush plays Haus22 at Joshua Brooks on Friday 25th February 2022. Advance tickets are available.