I met Derek Rush in the flesh at Tulsa Noise Fest back in May – it was pretty clear that he had a lot going on. Rush was facilitating a set by anonymous rhythmic noise project Compactor, recording high-quality audio of each set, taking pictures, and slinging merch. If you spend enough time talking to Rush, you realize pretty quickly that underground music and subculture is his lifeblood, and he’s willing to put in work to document its happenings.
That’s just an example from one festival – Rush’s efforts go much deeper. His label Chthonic Streams has been releasing material since the late-90s, including his work as Dream Into Dust, but his creative work goes back to the early 90s.
August 2019 also sees the first Chthonic “batch drop,” which features tapes from long-running death industrial luminary Murderous Vision, a power electronics split from Pollutant and Straight Panic, and New York industrial darkwave project Octonomy, all of which are worth picking up.
He let me bend his ear about what makes him tick.
Jordan Reyes: How did you become interested in underground music – abrasive music, dark music, industrial music. What about it attracted you? What’s kept you involved?
Derek Rush: I had already been making my own weird music for a few years when I came across the RE/Search Industrial Culture Handbook, which blew my mind. I didn’t know until years later when I actually heard Throbbing Gristle, Non, SPK and the like, how similar my own recordings were to some of what they were doing. I was just making sounds that I found interesting at first.
DR: I was attracted to increasingly darker sounds and genres as I learned what was out there. It felt like a reflection of my own feelings, and a form of validation, to be able to identify with the work of others. Listening to and making such sounds is a way of exorcising those feelings. That keeps me involved as well, because I’ve grown as a person, but that part of me is always there; the part that knows so many things in the world aren’t right and wants to see that expressed.
JR: Do you have any background training in the arts? You seem to be good at basically everything haha – photography, engineering, graphic design, etc.
DR: I have a degree in Graphic Design, though by college I was more into making music. I’ve only had a few lessons on piano and recorder as a kid. I’ve never had any training in music engineering – that’s all been gleaned from reading magazines and books, using the hardware and software, and just getting better over time. As for Photography, I took one class in college, but that was old school B&W film stuff. Mostly I’ve just been shooting a lot of pictures and learning about bringing out the best in them through judicious editing.
JR: Tell me a bit about your archival efforts. A lot of what you do – photography, curation, etc – seems to be done with archiving in mind, not to mention you record so many sets. What is the importance of archiving you think? Do you feel as though it needs to be especially conscientious in underground communities?
DR: I’ve become a bit obsessed with documenting music shows in still photographs for the past few years as my abilities in that area have improved. I’m fortunate to have been born and raised in New York City, and living here provides an embarrassment of riches in terms of events happening every week. There are millions who can’t see what’s happening, and some of these artists will never make it to a lot of other places to play. Some people are doing really great things and I want everyone to know. Especially if it’s in some DIY space that maybe only 20-40 people were at.
DR: I don’t always record everyone’s sets because I don’t always have access to the main mixing board, or a lot of disk space. But at certain fests I make an effort because I’m sure the artists would want a record of what they did. It’s better to just make sure something is captured. You never know what’s going to be a classic moment until it’s passed.
JR: How did you first start making music? How has this changed over the years? Are there particular sounds or instruments you find yourself drawn to these days?
DR: As a kid, I was interested in making my own music before I understood there were genres and rules. I used an out-of-tune piano, some African drums, “bonus beats” DJ records on a kiddie turntable, and a few borrowed cheap tape recorders, which I recorded noisy experiments with. I kept upgrading the recording setup over time with each bit of money I was able to scrape together. I still record and mix in a weird way, capturing things on an old analog board, going into a hard disk recorder, and then dumping tracks to an outdated laptop to edit things. So, while the actual gear has changed, what hasn’t is that I use what I have and just deal with making it the best I can. The sounds and instruments I’m drawn to are things that have a more unique sound, and maybe have been or can be modified from their original design.
JR: What spurred you to release as a “batch” this time? Do you think there are overlapping concepts in the releases? What links them outside of simple genre lines and your engineering work?
DR: In the past, I’ve mainly released very short runs of specially-packaged albums that are to some degree handmade. That’s enjoyable, but also exhausting. The copies also sell out fairly quickly and then it’s basically done, after all that work. I’ve noticed other small labels seeming to have success with batches of releases, so I wanted to try that. I definitely chose these three albums to be released together very carefully. Chthonic Streams has never been about one particular sound or genre, but a series of related sounds, flowing together from different sources. I can’t really speak for the artists in terms of similar concepts, I feel we’d have to have a roundtable with all of them to see what they think. But from my point of view, besides what you mentioned, there is a definite anti-establishment streak in all of us as people, that comes out in the work.
Photos left to right: Murderous Vision by Pauline Lombardo, Octonomy by John Rohrer, Pollutant, Straight Panic
JR: How did you become in contact with the folks who you’re releasing for this batch?
DR: I’ve known Stephen Petrus over the internet for over 20 years, since the days of the Malignant Records e-list. We finally met for a show in 2001 and have been involved in a few projects together. We’ve been fans of each other’s work for a long time, so it was kind of inevitable that we’d work more closely on a Murderous Vision release.
DR: Heidi Lorenz also lives in Brooklyn, and we’ve booked each other’s projects for shows before. We have several mutual friends and frequently end up at the same places. I could hear what she was doing was pretty incredible, but I didn’t see a lot out there as far as definitive recordings, so I wanted to help.
DR: I first started hearing of Thomas Boettner when he was still living in Alaska and working under the alias Fire Island, AK. I finally met him when Straight Panic first played New Orleans in late 2016, and we’ve been in touch a lot ever since, meeting up at various noise fests around the country. I’ve never met E.N. of Pollutant, but when Thomas offered the split material to me, and talked about its themes, I could tell this was quality stuff I could get behind.
JR: What all is in the future for Derek Rush and Chthonic Streams?
DR: I want Chthonic Streams to continue to be about curating great underground dark sounds, representing them in live events, on releases, and in photographs. There are a few albums in the pipeline for the future by Wilt, Morher, Turing Heat, and the long-delayed official release of my collaboration project with the late John Binder (Arkanau, Exhuma) called Mortuary Womb. I’ve been helping edit, arrange, and add instruments to the upcoming Theologian album ‘Contrapasso’ which will hopefully finally be out in 2020. I’ve also been working on mixing tracks for STCLVR, and have been approached by a few others to do the same for them. I continue to work as SysAdmin for Compactor, and there are a few live shifts coming up, most notably Northeast Noise Fest, NorCal Noisefest, Sustain/Decay 48-Hour Drone Fest, and Peaked Signals. New Compactor documents are forthcoming on Sonic Terror and Ohm Resistance, which I’m pretty excited about.
JR: Anything else you’d like to say?
DR: If underground music means something to you, please support it. Everyone may do this for love or other non-monetary reasons, but we live in a real world where things cost money, from instruments to merch to the rent for venues. Beer is great, but if you want to keep having places to hang out with good people and drink it while experiencing good music, make sure to save a few bucks for those who make that happen.