With a new album and a new alias, the Croatian nu-disco don is spreading his musical wings…
Anyone with even a passing interest in nu-disco will know the name of Ilija Rudman by now. A native of Zagreb, Croatia, he's been turning out 80s-inspired mirrorball grooves since the late 90s, racking up four albums to date and working with some of the biggest names on the scene.
But Dead Horse Gang is a name you're probably not familiar with. Under this new alias, Rudman has been exploring a much wider range of musical territory, and you can hear the results on the debut Dead Horse Gang long-player Where Wild Horses Go, which came out on Friday.
The album was made exclusively on real analogue hardware – as, it transpires, is all of Rudman's output. That explains the album's sound palette, but doesn't in itself explain his motivation for producing a long-player that ranges from chilled-out downtempo/Balearic bizniss (We Hold The Light, Broken Home), via narcotically paced Italo/boogie (After The Goldrush, Demon's Race), to scorching, industrial-tinged techno (Devils On Horseback).
For that, you'd need to talk to the man himself. So we did.
Let's start with the obvious question: why is this a Dead Horse Gang album, and not an Ilija Rudman album?
"Dead Horse Gang was an idea I had for a long time as a concept in my mind and productions. I’ve always written music I was keeping aside, and was looking for the right moment for me to present it, when I will felt like it was complete statement. And now that I've been releasing records under my real name, I feel ready for this change.
"The music is different from my usual output, as anyone who's familiar with my discography will notice. There's still a strong Ilija Rudman sound signature, but it's coming from another level and angle. Hidden grooves that set trends rather than following them. There's an LA funk attitude, raw 12-bit raw sounds, and it can get quite cinematic in places.
"For me as as a producer the most interesting thing was to get deep into my feelings and to create something completely free, not worrying too much about standards."
Does the name 'Dead Horse Gang' have any particular significance?
"Yes, for this alias I was feeling the vibe of 80s motorcycle gangs, surfer gangs. That kind of atmosphere took me to the DHG name. Creating something that is completely free, in these days we are living, is definitely like crossing the line to another world. So Dead Horse Gang is fighting for the light from another side, doing something different, contrary to all standards."
You're releasing the album via Bandcamp first, with physical releases to follow later on. Why did you adopt that strategy, and when might the physical version be available?
"After 20 years of being almost a slave to the vinyl, I wanted to do something different! As the whole album is a complete twist, I wanted to put it out there and make it available to anyone, to new audiences. But Bandcamp will be the only digital platform where it will be available. I don't have any desire to spread it to worldwide platforms – the idea is to keep it exclusive. I think that way there's a great connection between artist and listener."
"Physical versions will follow in 2020 – vinyl, cassette, CD and a limited-edition reel-to-reel tape."
As Ilija Rudman you've worked with the likes of Faze Action, Greg Wilson, Pete Herbert and The Revenge, to name but a few. Are there any collaborations on this album or is it a strictly one-man affair?
"Yes, I've collaborated with many like-minded producers over the past 20 years, and that makes me very happy. It was great experience and I feel lucky about it, but this adventure with the DHG album is strictly a one-man affair . I think it is the most honest to present it that way. The key thing was, I wanted one specific mindset and I wanted to keep it untouched."
Did the process of making the album differ in any way from how you went about producing your four previous long-players?
"Very much so. Usually I like to have access to unlimited sound sources when I am making an album. That gives you a wide palette and there are no boundaries, so it can lead to a great things, but it can also lead to huge confusion.
"For this album though, I was very specific: I selected only a few instruments from that mid-80s era and kept it very simple from that angle. The idea was to extract the maximum creativity from less sources than usual. It was very exciting, and I had a great time writing and producing it."
There are some proper squelchy 80s analogue sounds on there… are you a collector of vintage hardware, or was it all done in-the-box via plugins and VSTs?
"Defnitely a collector, as a lot of equipment has found a home in my studio! All of it selected very carefully, so today I feel like I'm in some kind of museum. But I'm not in that hole of collecting each and every piece of gear I see – I don’t even follow what the industry is putting on the market. I'm very satisfied with the sound signature I've developed with my existing hardware.
"So in that respect the DHG album is like all my other records: all made on hardware with no use of any VSTs whatsoever. I don't actually have any VSTs installed on my system, and never have."
How do you see Dead Horse Gang going forward: is this the new you, a one-off, or an ongoing side project?
"An ongoing side project, although I feel at the moment it is my main focus. I'll develop it further and write new albums in the future for sure, but most definitely I will continue making records as Ilija Rudman, too."
Will you be doing any live shows or DJ gigs as Dead Horse Gang to promote the album?
"Yes, I will be doing DJ gigs as Dead Horse Gang, to bring this sound closer to the audience. But they will be shorter sets than I usually do, as the music is more intense and needs the right environment."
Finally, what else is going on for you right now – either as Dead Horse Gang or Ilija Rudman – that iDJ readers need to know about?
"I've had a couple of 12-inch releases out just recently – Tears To Sound on Imogen Recordings with Ron Trent mixes, as well as a new 12-inch for Leeds label Beyond Paradise. There's a Dennis Kane remix of that one coming soon, too. I've also been doing some remixes for The Brand New Heavies, of tracks from their new album The Funk Is Back. That's coming out early in 2020.
"And DJ-wise December is busy with gigs, mostly here in Zagreb, but also at the famous Kasheme in Zurich on 27 December. And in 2020 I'll be playing in the UK for Cosmic Slop and the Love International festival."
Words: Russell Deeks
Where Wild Horses Go is out now on Bandcamp, with a physical release to follow in the New Year