Rusty Egan Interview: A Love Letter to the Blitz Kids

by Christina Donoghue on 13 April 2021

Wild, dazzling and quite simply staggering, the Blitz Kids made dressing up cool. After watching Sky Arts' Blitzed: The 80s Club Kids' Story writer Christina Donoghue was left wanting more and decided to interview the man accredited with starting it all, Rusty Egan.

Wild, dazzling and quite simply staggering, the Blitz Kids made dressing up cool. After watching Sky Arts' Blitzed: The 80s Club Kids' Story writer Christina Donoghue was left wanting more and decided to interview the man accredited with starting it all, Rusty Egan.

'It's Tuesday night, and I'm ready for some fun', is how Rusty Egan's new song, When We Were Young, begins. It's also how I came to watch the Blitzed: The 80s Club Kids' Story Sky Arts documentary one Tuesday evening last month. My flatmate had gone out, and I was feeling lonely(ish) until I got a text from one of my dearest friends telling me I absolutely had watch a certain documentary about the Blitz Kids - 'It's right up your street - there's lots of Bowie in it.' I was sold.

Wild, dazzling and quite simply staggering, the Blitz Kids made dressing up - for want of a better word - cool. Their legacy lives on through the very notion that many of the original Blitz Kids are still doing what they've always done best, having fun (and an inexplicable amount of it). The truth is, whether it be designing hats for the most luxurious couture collections and making their name as one of the best milliners in fashion (Stephen Jones), lecturing, writing and featuring on any documentary that references the 20th century (Chris Sullivan) or even making regular contributions to SHOWstudio while holding positions as an editor, DJ and all-round socialite (Princess Julia), the young adults that frequented the short-lived Blitz Club in the early 1980s are still in the game, excelling at everything they do by using the fashion and music industries as their stomping ground. Their legacy has stretched far and wide, extending across the pond to a whole new wave of club kids in New York, nonetheless, club kids who ended up adopting a less creative moniker than their counterpart, naming themselves the oh-so-predictable New York Club Kids.

Directed by Bruce Ashley and Michael Donald, Blitzed! The 80s Blitz Kids' Story documents the emergence of the Blitz scene that paved the way for the New Romantics to fully take centre stage (and quite literally too, considering a lot of the documentary also tells of Spandau Ballet's rise to fame). Setting the scene, the documentary also provides context by looking to the socio-political background that dominated 80s Britain thanks to the Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher. Although an exciting insight into the wondrous world of clubbing in the early 80s, it's worth mentioning that no matter how interesting it may seem on the surface or to a newcomer, the documentary isn't exactly groundbreaking. Platform Electricity Club wrote in their review, 'While those not fully immersed in the history of The Blitz Club will delight in the 90 minutes of Blitzed, aficionados of New Romantic history will be disappointed to see many of the same old faces repeating variations on anecdotes told many times before.' The inclusion of the red-haired musician La Roux, due to her apparently 'uncanny' resemblance to a young David Bowie, is questionable, as is John Galliano's name being left out entirely - a regular Blitz Kid that many fail to recognise. Trying to get more of an understanding of the attitude, sound and style of the blissfully decadent Blitz era (a mass contradiction in itself when you take into consideration the 1979 Winter of Discontent and Thatcher's gloomy Britain), I decided to interview the man credited with starting it all, musician, DJ and record producer, Rusty Egan.

Admittedly, I was somewhat nervous about interviewing Egan. Our conversation in the run-up to the interview was rather one-sided and, least to put it, incredibly blunt. I've always been the kind of person to sound overly enthusiastic in fear of being labelled as 'mannerless' or 'dismissive' via email; I am *that* person that will overuse the exclamation mark symbol to the point where I no longer look polite but pathetic. Egan is not this type of person at all. And why should he be? He has nothing to prove, and I was just some sorry-twenty-something trying to get his attention like many other creatives (as he later made clear in our chat). Frankly, I didn't know what I was in for when Egan agreed to a Zoom call. I know I expected an element of snobbery, and I also know that I didn't plan for it to run over 3 hours. I was proved wrong by both presumptions because 1) Egan is one of the loveliest people I've ever had the pleasure to chat with, and 2) the conversation was long, very long. A confident talker who isn't afraid to share his honest opinion, Egan spent the first 20 minutes spouting venom about Rupert Murdoch and 'the rest of the press'. Almost within a minute of picking up my call, the music maverick admitted he 'never ever wanted to be famous; I think it's a really horrible and sad thing.' This is where I remind Egan that our mutual idol (David Bowie) wanted nothing more than for his name to be known, a whole decade pre-fame. Egan politely but boldly disagreed.

'Bowie's work in the 60s had nothing to do with fame; it was about his desperation to stay true to himself and what he believed was him… when you connect with your clang, it brings something out in you, makes you feel at home. Bowie knew something was bubbling on the surface and felt he should've been a part of it; he became his interests, not many people can say the same.' Glad we got that cleared up then. After our small chat about Bowie, I go back to asking Egan why he hates fame only for him to confess his hatred for stardom has very little to do with fame itself and more to do with 'the freedom of speech more than anything. I do things today on social media as I would if I didn't have an online presence, yet so many people say to me, 'you can't slag off the BBC' or 'you can't slag off Rupert Murdoch.' What about your career?' And I just sit there and think the SCUM MURDERED SO MANY PEOPLE, I'LL SAY WHAT I FUCKING WANT.' Right, got it.

Rusty Egan: far right

Opinionated to his core (I don't think this trait of Egan's can be reiterated enough), the conversation was joyful and incredibly unpredictable. A fiery soul with a mind just as young as when he first appeared on Top of the Pops as a teenager with his band, Rich Kids, Egan revelled in his preconceptions about today's youth, casually commenting, 'all you lot probably go to study media at Birmingham while talking about how you're stressed about getting a mortgage and want to write for the Daily Mail.' He goes on to cry, 'I had my Malcolm McLaren, I had my disruptors, I had my people who created for the not-so-popular, the unpopular. The little record labels and magazines that started in bedrooms that never became commercial, the little club that happened, and then it went away.' Egan clarified that young people were angry in the 80s, they were fed up, and we should take a note out of their book. Somehow, I don't think he's wrong. Lest we forget we are in the middle of a pandemic, after all, so rising up to take control and have a voice is proving to be more challenging than usual.

The Blitz Club stood at the heart of an era-defining moment. A post-punk revolt for a generation that was just as much as invested in their attitude as they were in style. After all, Chris Sullivan, a regular Blitz clubber and friend of Steve Strange, adopted the motto that 'an outfit only lasts 24 hours' proving the yet-to-be-discarded thought of how fashion kids still run riot, scavenging their wardrobe to find something they haven't worn before, and will probably never wear again. They were trendsetters that went above and beyond to set the standard for what was considered 'cool'. Bowie? Hot, hot, HOT. Mick Jagger, on the other hand? Well, Steve Strange turned him away at the door (as documented in the program) due to his outfit simply not being 'up to scratch'. The Blitz Club provided a safety net for the 'weirdos' that weren't safe on the street, that would've been harassed by the police or members of the public if gotten into the wrong crowd. The David Bowie fandom who, come the 70s, were made to feel safer by openly embracing their eccentricity.

Although the 80s were way before my time, I've always felt like the Blitz Kids have been a part of my life, never directly as such but constantly influencing my interests, ideas and knowledge. The Blitz Kids and their Blitz Club in Covent Garden happened before I was born - both were at least 15 years my senior - yet I'd always connected with it. As an early teen, I couldn't afford to buy new clothes, so I would wear my mum's old clothes from when she was younger; although not a Blitz Kid, she most certainly was a Bowie head. (She has previously admitted to shaving off her eyebrows at the tender age of 14, trying to emulate the sought after and distinctive 'Ziggy look'.) I would wear her oversized multi-coloured blazers with shoulder pads that drowned my very narrow frame, I'd backcomb my already untamed frizzy mane, and I would also give in to the trends of my time - the indie years that made up my teenage years and the beloved 2010s. The Oxford style Doc martens shoe paired with fishnets and an 80s blood-red Donna Karan-style blazer, I'm sure you get the picture. After all, this was circa 2013 when bands like Peace and Swim Deep ruled supreme (and still do in many people's minds, I'm sure) but somehow, merging the two styles codes gave me a look of my own; I had a fearless look exemplified by the New Romantics coupled with the young, innocent and downright naive indie kid. Not knowing who Boy George was, I'd watch the music video for Karma Chameleon on the bus to school, I would dance around to Ant Music by Adam and the Ants in my bedroom in the evenings and, like many of the Blitz Kids themselves, spend the day (and the ungodly hours of the night) furiously researching the Blitz Kids' deity himself, the one and only Mr Bowie. (Or as Egan referred him in our correspondence emails, Mr Jones.) Then, I went off to study fashion communication at Central Saint Martins (where the majority of the Blitz Kids would spend their non-clubbing hours), and all I can say is, thank God I didn't know any of this. I was blissfully unaware of the 'Saint Martins legacy' and the endless stream of designers, artists and creatives the university pumped out, resembling more of an artistic factory rather than a college.

Asking Egan about today's equivalent of the Blitz Club, or if he thinks there even is one, he quietly states, 'I don't want to upset you here,' before starting with a story about how, quite simply, 'no one gave a fuck in those days as they do now'. Taking me back to the very early days, Egan reminisces a scene when 'Clive from accounts trying to get Tracey drunk' (it wasn't made clear who Clive or Tracey actually were) before he breaks into a tangent, 'When I went to see these people, there was some bloke who had a Burberry mac on too, I just thought, "I don't care if you fucking hate this, I'm going to do what I like."' Clarifying that music was at the centre of it all, Egan told me, 'When I was 19, and we were dancing in a club, if the record changed we left the room. People attracted a certain type of crowd through music, and they still do, but nowhere near the same extent. Half the fun was that I knew the Saint Martins art school mob were arriving, the London College of Fashion kids were arriving and everyone was dressed to the nines and then I could just put on Roxy Music, and I could even put on a live album - which is very rare in clubs - but we really did do whatever we wanted to, there's a freedom in that.'

He went on to describe the decor; kitsch and elegant. He tells me the Blitz Club was a '1940s semi Parisian-style cafe with white and red checkered tablecloths and wine bottles with string dripping down, and sitting in the corner would be someone who would look as if they were straight out of Le Chat Noir, smoking as you do and drinking a glass of wine'. He pauses for a couple of seconds before saying, 'And most importantly, they'd be really enjoying the music.' Egan turns giddy, like a school child who's been given too many sweets. 'I'd play German music, French music, Swiss-Belgian there wasn't any of that Oops upside your head crap, there wasn't any Ladies night, there wasn't anything you'd heard on the radio, maybe the odd punk record. Nowhere played music like us.' Egan pauses for a moment, 'What I'm trying to describe is an attitude. You know you get people that say "I don't like your attitude"? I think that's bollocks because what they're really saying is, "you don't like what I'm telling you, it's not my attitude, it never is."'

Unfortunately, much of our conversation was wholly irrelevant to the subject I had so desperately wanted to ask him about, and then it suddenly dawned on me. Of course. The Blitz Club was successful for its fashion and glamour, music and attitude, but over anything, there was passion, and there was life, two tropes that Egan is clearly not letting go of anytime soon. The over-excited manner he kept up throughout the duration of our 3 hour-long conversation, the (many) song recitals, the change of subjects that would happen so swiftly I'd barely have time to blink; from Elon Musk to his teenage band Rich Kids. It's downright obvious, slap-in-the-face, eye-rolling kind of obvious that Egan is undeniably passionate, overtly so. I realised that passion is what made the Blitz Kids so unique. Together, they had a collective need and desire for expression that was so strong, their passion will continue to live on, long after many of the club's original members will not. Throughout much of the interview, an off-the-beaten-track-tangent-at-best, I'd try to interject by asking him about the different guests. Marilyn, David Hola and Stevie Stewart of Body Map, Robert Elms, Steve Dagger and Midge Ure... all were such influential creatives and regular 'Blitzer's yet only half, if any of them, ended up in the documentary. My attempts to swing the conversation's direction would be met with a response that saw Egan revel in his appreciation for the entrepreneur, Elon Musk. I'd try to ask about the period of the Blitz Kids, the style, the relevance to now - but as the conversation unfolded, I realised he was giving me the answers I needed, maybe just not as literally as I'd perhaps lazily expected. If anything, Egan made me realise topics such as the Blitz Kids don't always have to be intellectualised in such a way for them to make sense to modern critics; the spirit of the Blitz Club is individuality, something that, in the age of social media, has become increasingly hard to find.

Before parting, Egan leaves me with a succinct and inspiring message for me to ponder: 'Art will live forever,' he says. 'My Fade to Grey hit will live forever, I will pass but my work and the work of all the others will surpass us and live on, it will stand the test of time. It's not about how much money you make, it's not about Justin Bieber not even writing his own songs because no one fucking cares, none of that matters, your own work is what counts. We will remember the Renaissance, we will remember Paris in the 20s, we will always look back and cherish the people that created our world. These kids made the Blitz Club what it was, they created my world and I'd love to end with telling you that I was only the DJ, those people that came to the club, those Blitz Kids and all those kids that weren't featured in the documentary but should've been, should be credited with starting it too, I owe it all to them.'

The music featured throughout the documentary, is all from Egan's latest work 'Blitzed OST Sampler' which is available now to buy now.

Interview by:
Rusty Egan



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