Included in the illustrious list of RMBA graduates, Manchester-based artist Ruf Dug launched the moniker after returning from a stint in Australia during the 00s. Since then, he launched Ruf Kutz – a previously vinyl only imprint which lead to putting the back catalogue on Bandcamp for free due to Discogs making the music inaccessible with the sky rocketing resell prices. His knowledge of music and the history behind it is far-reaching as his sets and productions are an exploration across Balearic, 16-bit, street soul and hedonistic disco. He is at the heart of the Manchester scene and renowned for being a class selector with dates at Pikes Hotel, Houghton, Love International and Gottwood Festival. Working closely with Bradley Zero’s Rhythm Section imprint, Ruf Dug’s latest release sees him collaborate with The Committee – a group that sits somewhere between fictional band and studio collaboration. The EP featured debut vocals from Bradley Zero and FYI Chris’ Chris Watson as well as Mali Baden-Powell, Natalie Wildgoose and sisters Sienna and Nadina Mustafa. It’s the first 100 percent in-house record for Rhythm Section, executive produced by Bradley Zero.
Around the release, we speak to Ruf Dug about the current Manchester scene, nostalgia, the concept of authorship and overcoming mental health battles.
Not getting your musical education from your parents, what were your first experiences with the dance music world? Who introduced you to it?
Growing up in Manchester in the early days of Acid House meant that I was always very aware of the dance music world even if I was a little too young or socially distanced from it to really involve myself in it; I would listen to Sunset and Buzz FM, the local pirate stations, and a couple of my school friends were real die hard dance music fans and were always making tapes of sounds that I would listen to.
I was always interested in electronic music long before I knew what an Acid House was – largely because I was crazy for computer games and science fiction and space and it was the futuristic, sci-fi aspect of electronic music that appealed to me the most. My hero was Jean-Michel Jarre, I had a video of his Houston ‘Rendez-Vous’ concert that I must have seen a thousand times. I can hear and see it in my mind right now! Bring me my laser harp!
What are your go-to methods about learning more about the community? Do you dig through labels, read specific magazines or conversations with friends? Or all of the above?
I’m interested in what you mean by ‘the community’ – as if it is one contiguous whole. Increasingly I’m realising that while it’s convenient and seemingly intuitive to visualise everything as one big universal scene that we are all part of, the truth is much more nuanced. There are lots of little communities everywhere – even within the same city or nightclub or record shop. As a touring DJ I have the privilege of being able to engage with many of these communities on a more direct basis than most people, and I have to say that these sort of direct, personal, engagements are to me one of the most fulfilling aspects of this profession and direct personal contact is my ‘go-to method’ for sure.
I’m not afraid to make the first move, to reach out to people. If there’s a scene or sound or party I’m interested in I will just straight up find out who’s involved and contact them. A good example is the connections I forged with the Dream Catalogue crew some years ago; they seemed to everyone to be this super-anonymous, ultra-cyberpunk faceless collective but I knew there had to be SOMEBODY behind it all so I just fired off a Soundcloud message, to begin with I think and before I knew it I was talking to a human and not long after that a really nice collaboration eventuated.
The secret with finding and approaching new people/ideas/ concepts is to just remember that it’s always just some normal person behind it, someone who’s just like you, and to start from that premise of simple, humble equality. Music is communication at its most primal – we’re all just trying to make connections.
Being based in Manchester, what’s your favourite parts of the scene there and do you think it’s in a healthy place at the moment?
We are in a very interesting moment in Manchester right now; the scene as it exists is in a super healthy state with plenty of parties, venues, shops, DJs, producers, radio stations – and most importantly a large population of people who are eager for all the output that these entities create.
In many ways it’s always been like this in Manchester but right now we’re attracting a little more attention than usual, and the city is in a period of significant development and focus – many people are now moving to Manchester to be part of what’s happening, and I’ve never really experienced this behaviour in my lifetime, and I have to admit I’m slightly worried about this!
It always used to be that Manchester wasn’t a place where people moved to ‘make it’ – you would be in Manchester and do your thing and if you really REALLY wanted to make it you’d go to London or wherever. Now, this sort of behaviour suited me fine because it meant that all those neurotic ultra ambitious wannabe types wouldn’t give Manchester a second look and would go and pollute the vibe of some other city with their self-aggrandisation.
Now that Manchester is changing I just hope that with all this development we don’t start to attract that overly-ambitious type because our parties have a really good vibe and don’t need to be diluted with the wannabes. Please can they all stay in London / Berlin / LA – the weather is much better in all those places and ur Instagram selfies will look much nicer than in Manchester!
What do you think the next nostalgic trend will be?
This is a good one! I wonder if we’re ever going to escape the meta-trend of nostalgia? In twenty years’ time will there be reissue labels specialising in reissuing long-lost reissues? Music From Memory From Memory?
In the nearer future, I’m hearing more and more video game music in DJ sets but I also feel that what’s really about to pop is the late 80s/early 90s digital reggae b-sides. There are millions of them in London’s record shops, loads of it which aren’t on Discogs and there are only a few diggers that are really getting super deep into the sound (shouts Hampus Time!!!) – the prices are still nice for great stuff so there’s still time to jump in before ur having to hit the trust fund to make it as a Digi Reggae B-Side DJ…
How did the idea come about for your latest release, The Committee and having it as a fully collaborative affair?
When Rhythm Section first moved into their space and had the plan of opening a studio in there I was immediately reminded of Morgan Khan’s Streetwave label – he’d started the label (I think) by licensing US boogie and electro to sell to the UK and after a while set up his own studio, took out an advert saying ‘if you have a tune come to our studio and we’ll make it’ and pretty much kickstarted the UK soul/dance/electro scene with this activity.
So I wanted to make something in that spirit – to use the Rhythm Section studio to make a Rhythm Section record with Rhythm Section people. That was the beginning of the concept. Bradley was into the idea immediately and that was that. A call was put out to ppl associated with the label and we just had the studio door open for two weeks, people were coming and going and we were essentially doing slightly structured jamming, all ideas were welcome. It was great!
Did you learn anything new from these collaborations? What did collaborating with these specific artists allow you to do?
I’m always learning! It was great to work with and direct vocalists, to see old friends do new things and to be present for some very special moments in the studio.
You mentioned in the press text that authorship is a strange concept at the best of times, could you elaborate on this?
Think about how you reacted the first time you realised a big tune you loved is basically just one big sample of somebody else’s tune that’s just looped in a really simple way and maybe just got a mega kick drum underneath it. There’s a bunch of differing reactions you might have had depending on your position at the time and none of them is any more or less valid than the other, really.
I find that if I hear a tune that samples an old tune where I know the source that I tend not to like the new tune. But if I hear a tune that I like and I don’t know the sample source, and then I later hear the sample source then I like the new tune AND the source. And I know that my appreciation of the music is affected by my foreknowledge (or lack of) the source.
So something that has nothing to do with either the new tune or its source – something that the creators of both have neither knowledge nor control over – has a profound effect on my appreciation of the music.
And this is before we even discuss the provenance of the sample source! What if it’s a cover? What if the songwriter nicked the chord progression from somewhere?
See how complicated it gets super quickly? And all we’re talking about here is my personal, individual appreciation of a piece of music – we’re nowhere near anything resembling objective critique of the track.
And it’s all tied up with authorship. SO yes. Authorship is a very strange concept and I could literally go on for the rest of our lives about this so let’s get on to the next question ASAP…
You’re also cited as a ‘game freak’, are there any game soundtracks that have inspired you? What are your favourite games?
The single most inspirational soundtrack to me is the Monkey Island series. The music is ultra atmospheric but also the Monkey Island games were the first to feature a dynamic score – the music would change according to how you were playing the game – and so I think it was probably the first soundtrack that totally drew me in. Other big shouts to Paperboy, Streets Of Rage, Monty On The Run, Robocop and of course the Grand Theft Auto series (which is probs my favourite game also)
Having scrolled through your Instagram, you wrote a really honest post about a depressive episode you were going through and how you hated everything you were doing. If you don’t mind me asking/talking about it, how do you overcome those episodes? Do you have a routine or plan in place that you know helps overcome it?
I’m always trying to develop my coping strategies and am learning more about CBT as a technique for managing times when depression sets in. I’m fortunate because nearly always I’m able to see ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’ or at least be able to remain confident that the light will return. Experience has also taught me that after these bouts I tend to have a good period of creative activity – I often make a piece of music I really like afterwards – and it sometimes helps me to visualise these periods of depression as ‘labour pains’. An old friend once reminded me of St.Augustine’s words – ‘The light is darkest before dawn’ and I can’t tell you how many times I have clung to that phrase – and how the dawn has always come. Even writing these words, however, makes me feel somewhat fraudulent when I think of those I know whose battles are much more serious than my own. Depression is something that colours nearly all our lives and especially in these days of heightened Instagram showing-off and virtue-signaling it feels like even mental illness is something we can leverage for more likes (as long as we are beating it!) and it’s just not like that. So check in with yourself and those you love, regularly.
Do you have any preventative steps? Perhaps signing off social media, focusing on exercising and eating well or not gigging/attending parties as much?
Yep all these things – the algorithms are designed to make you depressed because when you get depressed you’re slightly more susceptible to advertising. These fuckers are messing with your brain so that you will spend more money. (And yes as someone who uploads to social media I’m complicit in this behaviour which is in itself a conundrum I’m not certain how to resolve.) As for my own ‘good mental health regime’ goes, well I don’t have a personal facebook account anymore and I turned off all the notifications on my phone, most importantly the little red circles saying how many unread emails you have (apologies if I didn’t answer ur email yet anyone).
I am on the whole careful with my diet these days, trying to eat fresh and healthy as often as possible, and I exercise regularly. I quit alcohol 13 years ago and that’s the single life choice I made in my whole life that has had the greatest beneficial impact. The next biggest impact comes from trying to ensure I get as much sleep as possible – a lesson I learned from my amazing wife (who deserves much more sleep than she gets).
What is it that keeps you going with music?
Hahahaha I have no idea how to answer this question! I didn’t realise there was any choice in this! It’s me and music till the end, there’s no question about it. I’m here till the very last note and not a moment before.
‘The Committee’ by Ruf Dug is out now on Rhythm Section – buy here.