March’s Campfire, hosted by ditto’s founder Mike Wilson, saw guest Rusty Egan, DJ, musician, club host and music mentor, sharing his influences and his impact on the UK music scene, past, present and future. We were treated to a private view of an exceptional career that has spanned 40 years.

‘Music is culture’ 

Rusty’s contribution to the New Romantic scene in the late seventies is a matter of historical record. Emerging from a post-punk backdrop of industrial turmoil, political polarization and economic decline, the Futurists offered an unashamedly glamorous and extrovert escapism. They captured the minds of the generation that would shape music, art, fashion for the next decade and beyond.

The Blitz Kids made the images that became the high street’ 

From his record shop, The Cage, in London’s Chelsea, Rusty began to sculpt the soundtrack to the New Romantic movement, playing records from the new music genre at the club nights he ran with Steve Strange of Visage fame. As these ‘Bowie Nights’ grew in popularity and evolved, an audience of unknowns, destined to become household names, attended religiously each week. This cultural genesis at the now mythical Blitz, exploded from a Tuesday night niche club scene into a worldwide phenomenon. In tandem was the creation of Visage – initially a concept rather than a band – by Rusty, Midge Ure and Strange. Their intent was primarily making music to be played at the clubs. However as the project progressed it rapidly a dedicated fanbase mushroomed, sharing their dashing imagery and style, and rising with the dawn of the age of music videos, Visage rose to the top of the international charts.

‘It was a wine bar, there were tables and chairs’ 

Rusty set the tone for the evening by introducing new videos to two of his songs, When We Were Young and Catwalk (Around the World). The first – an unmistakably 80’s inspired track – was cut by ditto’s own Damian Sung making use of period imagery and documentary footage.  We were transported back to the electronica magic of the Blitz era. Catwalk was co-written by Rusty with his son Oscar for the Sky Arts Blitzed documentary.  The video directed by Paul Linney celebrated the now iconic 80s fashion and the tribe who still carry the torch for style, individuality and generally making the world a more fabulous place. 

‘The Dancer was heavily influenced by NEU!’ 

Rusty then led us through tracks which paved the way for the New Romantics – milestones for synthpop rooted in Germanic minimalist austerity – pioneers like Neu, Kraftwerk and Wunderwerke. The decade saw the musical landscape redefined by technology. Rusty grasped the new ways to create with gusto. Synthesis and sampling – then seen as a weird niche activity for nerds are now unavoidable in pop, hiphop, and all dance genres.

‘I went to New York and Lady Blue took me to the Roller Disco and I met Afrika Bambaataa’ 

Highlighting the sheer pace of change in the 80’s, Rusty’s whistle-stop tour encompassed a dizzying array of connections and collaborations from Spandau Ballet to Ultravox via Yello and Afrika Bambaataa. He capped it off premiering Madonna at the newly opened Camden Palace with long time co-host Steve Strange.

‘Never sign a record deal, never sign a publishing deal’ 

Rusty’s passion for music endures – mentoring upcoming bands, developing new platforms for artists and reimagining the role of the record company. Having lived through the era of sharp business practices in all aspects of the music industry, his enthusiasm to right these wrongs makes a welcome change.

‘The music was yours, the club was yours, the clothes were yours’ 

In a Q&A that brought the memories flooding back as the audience shared some personal moments from their New Romantic experiences, we get a more tangible view on what is what like, how important it was and how relevant the music is today.