Martin Rushent, 1948-2011

Martin Rushent died over the weekend.

Martin had a knack for taking "outside" music - electronic or punk - and making it not just fit on radio, but making it a smash hit without losing what made it unique.

Rushy engineered for some of the 70s biggest and best acts: T. Rex and Fleetwood Mac are the first ones that come to mind.

You know him best for his groundbreaking work with The Human League: he produced "Dare", their breakthrough album featuring "Don't You Want Me". He also worked with many other important bands of the 80s, including The Stranglers, XTC, and The Go-Gos.

I knew Martin best for the great job he did with Buzzcocks. He produced their legendary and perfect  albums, including the essential "Singles Going Steady", the masterful "Love Bites", and the arty "A Different Kind of Tension". When I first heard these, they were all I listened to for about 3 months.

But the record that really blew me away was Pete Shelley's "Homosapien", which fused electronics to strummy acoustic guitar, rock beats to dance beats, and was able to be poppy like Buzzcocks but sounding unlike anything else.

This sound, this idea...that was all Martin. And that was the record that caught the ear of the Human League. Because they knew Pete Shelley couldn't play synth, and Martin couldn't play what was doing all that? It was a sequencer! And yet it was clearly a pop song and radio-friendly, not like the proto-industrial dirges they'd been writing. And The Human League started wondering what they could do with Martin...

"Don't You Want Me" was a big deal because it had tons of keyboards and a drum machine (all electronic, in fact), but it wasn't some novelty record. It was electronic music but not cartoony space robot music. It was a perfect pop song like any other that just happened to be synthesizer-based.

What few people did know about Martin was that he suffered crippling depression coinciding with (and possibly caused by) some issues with the bands he produced. In his words:
"I ended up a virtually bankrupt single dad with three kids, and had to sell my home and studio to pay off my bills…I didn't know what clinical depression was, but that's what I had. I could barely make a cup of tea and for a year I drifted like a soul lost."
This was a man who felt things. He understood the record business thoroughly. I desperately wanted him to produce The Pants' first album, and we were in discussions about having mix a track on our new record when he passed.

For better or for worse, there is a direct line from Martin's work to today's shiny pop music, including enabling technology to take over without anyone caring or batting an eye. Green Day owes their career to him, as do their totally denatured copycats Blink-182, Sum 41, and just about any other bunch of kids with colored, pointy hair and buzzsaw guitars, or a bunch of blinking lights.

I miss him already. I hope wherever he is, they have a kettle on and fresh tape on the reels.