LSD Magazine interviews Joe Rush (Mutoid)

Issue Three – Weapons of Mass Creation – 23rd December 2009


What do you get if you cross a post apocalyptic robotic dreamscape with a pile of military scrap and throw in pure smile soaked freedom. Well you get the Mutoid Waste Company. Showmen, visionaries, a right old laugh, and pioneers of creating a  free space wherever life takes them, their parties, their vivid imagination and their sheer outrageous lunacy has left a legacy of creativity in their nomadic wake. Founder of the Mutoids Joe Rush, one of the most scorchingly original underground artists in his own right took some time out from the now legendary One Foot In The Grove Exhibition to speak to us.

Can you tell us how the Mutoids started out

Well we started back in 1984 in London using whatever bits and pieces of scrap metal and plastic we could find to build and create bizarre and unusual sculptures based on the concept of mutation. That’s why it was so important to use scrap and cars and whatever had had a previous form or a previous life and mutate it into something entirely new. It turned into a collective of talented like-minded people, and took on its own life as pure underground sub-culture. We’d take over abandoned warehouses, live in them, decorate around us and then throw massive parties plastered with all our sculptures and mutations. I remember walking into this old canteen with about 5000 people inside it, and there was just this vibe, this atmosphere… you know the place was rammed and they were playing “Can You Feel It” and all that and a new feeling had arrived. But after that we just convoyed off to Europe and landed in Amsterdam and the story continued over in Europe. The last big party we did in England was in Battlebridge Road and it’s sort of gone down in legend, but some of our crew stayed behind being chased around 3 counties by helicopters. We had sculptures taken away and the police were going mental. They took a giant robot made out of a motorbike and confiscated it, calling it a “Rave Advertising device”. And they chased the LS Diesel boys (part of our crew) across 3 counties and then ploughed them into a field while they slept so that they couldn’t even move the truck; they just ploughed all round them. By that time we’d been once around Europe and  got back to Berlin after the Wall had come down, we’d set up and we were building “Stone Henge” out of tanks on the former no man’s land between the walls, Spiral Tribe just sort of turned up after having escaped after Castlemorton. I actually came back for Castlemorton. I drove an East German Army truck and siphoned all the way from Berlin to get to there, But yeah they all turned up and that was the start of the, not so much the Acid House but the Hardcore sort of techno thing.

How important is nomadic-ism

We are travellers basically. The whole essence of Mutation is about living in a state of constant change, of flux and the only way to do that is to be a traveller. Also we found that it was easier to move between scrap piles and take everything with you than it was to move the scrap piles to you. It made sense to live that way you know.

What made you decide to come back now?

Ladbroke Grove is where we started; Portobello road is where the Mutoid Waste Company began. Shepherds Bush – all around there is where I started out as one of the first punks and the fellow I’m working with, Garfield Hackett, he was a sort of part of the early Graffiti scene when it started – the hip hop scene all started down Portobello Road too. The freak scene, the hippy scene, the vegetarian scene the you know the Harmony health foods , The Body Shop, so many things started there.  Carnival, the first integration where the West Indian’s fought for their right to be in this country you know everything happened around this area and we just found that space empty and we wanted to come back and pay our respects to where we started.


How come it has taken two years to get Mutate up and running

Well because in the old days we would have just cut the locks off and gone in there with the trucks and worked within the three month space between us getting in there and them getting us out. But times have changed, we want every last minute in there and so we’ve had to play the game, we’ve had to apply for licences and crack some deals you know.

So when did you decide you were going to start making massive fire breathing sculptures?

Almost straight away really, almost as soon as we started. It’s funny we haven’t really changed that much what we do – we’re getting better at it, but a whole new generation of people that have never seen it before.

They truly seem to have characters of their own don’t they

They do seem to, yeah. It’s not intentional and I don’t set out after this character or that, but I sort of watch the characters emerge – you just see that glimpse in there and then you just follow it through. It’s quite independent of me really. I just observe the accident where suddenly the thing is alive and then you do whatever it takes to fix it.

Tell us a bit about Tankhenge and Carhenge

In Berlin it was tanks. We did a car one in Glastonbury in 1987.  Basically the Russian army had collapsed, the East German Volks Army had crumbled and the place was the biggest scrap heap on the planet. We were cracking into the back of Russian Army camps and there was scrap piles that went on for kilometres with tanks, helmets, cooking stuff, pictures of Lenin, bullets, bombs you know everything it just went on and on and on. It was also rammed with trucks so we just started taking trucks, putting our own number plates on them and just hauling this stuff into the middle of Berlin on big armoured personnel carriers. We nicked 2 Mig 21 fighter planes from the East German Air force, dragged them into the middle of Berlin and we built this Henge out of all these tanks and war machines.The Berlin wall was actually two walls and there was a gap in the middle that was all spot lit and full of dogs and razor wire and mines – the works, and people used to try to run across it.That piece of land was where we settled – right opposite the Reichstag and all the traffic coming in or out of Berlin on the train came past our site so it was a huge absurd bit of anarchy really.


So how did the public respond to that?

They loved it or hated it really. Some of them thought we were making a real mess but then it became clear that we were just dragging this out of the countryside.  And then they really went for us for stealing these Mig fighter planes and we were in danger of some quite serious prosecution because the planes were still listed as war weapons within the Warsaw pact even though they were wrecked when we got them. It was looking pretty hairy for a minute and the police surrounded the site.  But then the public went, well hang on, how can a load of artists who have come from England in their trucks just go into the countryside and pick up two listed military war planes and drag them into the centre of Berlin and set them up next to the Reichstag and no one’s been able to stop them or said anything about it. At which point, they all descended into in fighting about whose fault it was and we ended up with the planes but they were quite mad times you know.

How about Carhenge at Glastonbury 87. That was even before dance music wasn’t it?

Nah nah there’s always been dance music you’re showing your age there, Nah there has always been dance music, there’s been good periods and bad periods of it but the 80’s was a bit of a dead period for music like but this is why we used to bolster the parties up with so much to do but you know there was some good dance music about. No there was like Sweat sound system, there was Surface Irritant. We predicted the dance scene building Stonehenge out of cars, because in 1985 the old bill completely destroyed the hippy convoy going to Stonehenge so we decided that if we couldn’t go to Stonehenge, then we’ll make Stonehenge where we are. So we built it out of cars, tonnes and tonnes of scrap we moved on and what happened was, we used to drum the Mutoids on these big Burundi style drums made out of plastic bins so we just started people drumming and the next thing there was like 5 or 6 hundred people drumming on every bit of metal on site and it went on all night and it was called the Zombie beat and it felt like people were desperate for something to happen and it was immense, really strange. It’s all actually in Julian Temple’s “Glastonbury” film you can see it all in there.


And so when the Acid House scene landed?

Well we were doing the parties, but we wanted to get out of London, we wanted to get out of England because we were on our world tour for one thing,and we had illegal vehicles and we were sick of getting chased around all the time and we wanted to get out and about in the world really. It was almost when the house thing came in – I sort of realised that with that and the ecstasy, people didn’t really need these big environments, all they needed was the music and the drugs and a couple of lights so really it was a good time for us to leave. What the Mutoid Waste Company was, was the gap between the peace convoy getting smashed and the acid house, rave thing started. We were like the inner city one night free festival really that’s what our role was and that’s what it became so it was so it was time for us to go really – we weren’t needed at that point.

Did you always do free parties

There was no middle ground in the 80’s. There was Margaret Thatcher and the police running riot and I’m a punk from the 70’s. There’s no middle ground you were either for the system or you were against the system, you couldn’t be hanging on the side being alternative and making money out of it. It was clear cut, you were either for it or against it. We never made anything out of the parties. Even now we have parties and we’ll we’ll put out a lot of money out of our own pockets to do it and we’ll be lucky if we get that money back and if we do get it back then it’s a free party cos it hasn’t cost us anything to do it and that’s basically the way it goes.


What collaborations really stand out to you

Mutate Britain, Collaborating with Cordy House in Shoreditch suddenly brought all these graffiti artists, all these great graffiti writers and really brought the paint thing on and we’re collaborating with a group called “The Treatment Rooms” who do all the ceramics, these mad anarchist ceramics . Loads of different crews but too many to mention.

And was that a conscious decision to join up with other artists?

Conscious decisions aren’t really something – we do we just go along with something…we mutate. If it’s positive and creative and the vibe’s right then we do it.

Are you going to take the show on the road?

Well yeah we’d like to Mutate Britain really and not just London. We’d like to go to other capital cities and other cities in England to do the same sort of thing. Then we are going to do the Burning Man in America and my mate’s got a free music studio in Bogota and I’ve got to go to that. So there’s a world out there and Mutate Britain is the same as we’ve always done which is just get a place and just start working and get creative energy wherever we find it and get a chance to be creative in that area and that’s what becomes Mutoid Waste Company or becomes Mutate Britain, it doesn’t really matter what it’s called, it’s a hothouse of creative energy.


With Mutonia the permanent site in Rimini, would you say things are freer in Italy than they are in the UK

In some ways they have more liberty but in others, British people are freer in their heads. I mean I’m glad to be back really, I don’t know how long I’m going to stay back here. British people, English people are the best party firm on the planet I would say throughout my experience. They enjoy a party more and they will party in any circumstances. They are the funniest fuckers at a party and you know they’ll party when the police are kicking the door in and they’ll party when the place is part flooded with water, every possible party and it’s that character which I love and respect. That’s why Britain is always inventing new ideas, coming up with new styles and new music and looks and everything because we’re inventive and we’re exciting people.

Will you always work in warehouses or would you consider galleries

Tricky. I’ve personally been approached by a gallery for my smaller stuff but they have always shied out at the last minute or got scared but I think Mutate Britain is not far off being a gallery itself anyway and we are actually trying to sell stuff at fairly reasonable sort of prices to keep that artists going. But I don’t know, I don’t really like the gallery thing you know I just don’t like it. I’ll tell you what it is. We’ve always looked on what we do as entertainment first and foremost not as art even though we don’t undervalue what we’ve got. We look on it as an event, as entertainment where people come and children come and they see what they see and they are not being fooled by some deep philosophy behind a fucking squiggle on a canvas you know they see what they see and they can jump on it and if they can get away with it they can climb on it, so first and foremost we’re entertainers and we’re showmen and secondly we’re artists.


So how did you nurture your skill in creating these metal sculptures?

The metal and stuff I just started on the road – just doing it and people showed me how to weld along the way and my welding when I started was really bad and things used to fall to pieces and people would just go nah nah, try this and I’d just sort of do it. So the metal stuff is sort of self taught at but I learned my skills as an artist partly from my mum and dad who are both artists and from a mate of mine Darren Scott who I started running a squat with round at the Acropolis hotel in the late 70’s. It was total punk and he gave me a lot of inspiration. Brett Ewins is my cousin’s husband and he was drawing 2000AD comics right in the heyday of Judge Dredd so I used to watch him and his mate Brendan McCarthy draw and that inspired me a lot. I was out of school at 16 and  homeless –  well I don’t call it homeless because I was squatting. Homeless is just an attitude, squatting is the same thing with a different attitude. If you think you are homeless then you are homeless and if you think you’re squatting then you just go and create your home.

So I didn’t get to go to art school, but my sister’s boyfriend ran a little scenery company in Richmond in an old fire station and I went in there one day and he asked me if I could paint. And I went, ‘I don’t know, give us a brush and about five years later I had learned to make moulds and do wood work and carve polystyrene and all that sort of stuff and that’s where I learned all my skills and that’s also where I learned, working on film sets about building these huge environments. I used to look at these film sets and think fucking hell we could get loads of people in here and have a party and it would be mental. But what happened was that as soon as the camera stopped rolling, people would just rip it to pieces, put it in skips and just go home. So I used to go out to the skips and rip all the stuff out and take it off and set it up somewhere and that’s where I got the ideas for spaces. So I usually have the overview of the event cos I’ve got that special side of my head and I can see how to make a big area balanced and work.

So nothing is by chance – everything is planned out

No completely wrong. Everything is by chance. I like that because we can spot the chances. That’s what mutation is.

You’re obviously highly competent engineers. Have you ever thought about maybe going into engineering…

What and make Stannah Stair-lifts?  Nah I don’t think so. Big walking fire breathing dinosaurs are a bit more fun and they tend to get you laid a bit more if you know what I’m saying.

And what about the vehicles

Well we have got a basic knowledge. We’re not mechanics of a very high degree but we understand how things work so we sort of mutate vehicles into our vehicles –  we change them about and chop them back and  of re-build them and you’ve got to have a basic understanding of how things work in order to mutate them. The essence of what we do is fun. It’s fun to do and it’s fun when you present it and you make a little bit of money out of it or you have a big party which fills up with pretty girls and fills up with party people… It’s all about fun really. A lot of people are labouring under the illusion that you’ve got to do something that you don’t like to make a little bit of money and with that little bit of time that you’ve got left for yourself go and desperately try to have some fun and we’ve never bought into that. We just believe that you put your energy into going and having some fun.


What part of the process do you get the most out of?

The partying , but making the work is my meditation and it gives me so much pleasure and if I don’t do it I start to go mad. I started doing it because I had gone mad and it was the thing that got me out of a complete mental breakdown. Once you start to be creative and just by making some things it got me out of it and the next thing I was flying and that’s why we want to present it to people in a way that everyone can do it, everyone can have a go at it because it’s a healer. Being creative is a healer like dancing is a healer; making music is a healer playing drums is a healer you know. Being creative is a healer for your soul and it’s vital and people don’t get a chance to do it. People don’t get a chance to feel they are getting better at something they don’t get a chance to surprise themselves at how adept they are at something they don’t get a chance to get any milestones in life to show that they are getting anything out of it, and that’s why people are unhappy.

Can you tell us a bit about your time with Spiral Tribe

We travelled together. After the Spirals came out, I personally really got on with them and we decided to take one of these Mig fighter planes down to the Czech Republic and we took all these painted up Russian army trucks and trailers and generators and we took this huge convoy out of East Berlin and into Czech Republic and started the first Hostimice free festival which is a techno party that is still going on to this day. It goes on every year and it’s a huge techno festival. And again there was no financial benefit to doing it- it cost us…you know we worked our nuts off through a freezing Berlin winter on a toxic no mans land and siphoned our way down there or bought diesel off the Russian army and dragged all this shit down there. It was the best fucking adventure but you know, you couldn’t buy an adventure like that – you couldn’t buy memories like that. You couldn’t buy solidarity with your mates like that. That’s it you can’t buy it.


What’s your take on Burning Man

The first time we went was a couple of years ago and we wanted to do something really progressive but we hardly had any money and it was only three of us that went over Alex Wreckage, Ruby Blues and myself and the whole theme of the festival was the American dream and that’s sort of what happened. We arrived as three Europeans with not much money in America with this dream of making this giant horse and trailer and we met our mate Scotty Collins and we found this scrap yard and we ended up building this huge great V8 horse all built out of car panels really real pulling a pioneers wagon we built as well with bespoke wheels and barrels in it and a sound system and just roared across the desert in this whole rig. And they went mad for it and they asked us to represent the festival in the Nevada state parade. I don’t think they had realised how far you can cut into a vehicle before you started to rebuild it and they were very generous and very gracious about it. It’s a brilliant festival. It is the best festival I’ve ever been to in my life. It’s immense.

What does the future hold

I can’t see the future but I can’t see myself changing either. I don’t desire a house and I’ve never had a place where I’ve desired to settle down and I don’t really feel that I have time to do a quarter of the things that I could do but you know just go and do stuff just make people smile and make things happen and I love it . On a Saturday night here at mutate Britain when all the fires are going off , the machines are walking, and all the walls are glowing with the brilliance of the art work on it and the superb lighting job that the boys do and people are just smiling, everywhere you look just smiling that’s really important. I ain’t saying that I don’t get tired cos we were doing Trash City in Glastonbury with my former partner Rudy and we had had an outrageous party…I mean a really brilliant party but it sometimes does wear the fuck out of you cos we are artists and then suddenly we are in a role where we are producing and we are sorting out meal tickets and transport and drainage and all this sort of stuff and it wears you down every now and then, but I usually get through by promising myself that I’ll retire at the end of it. But then what happens is that at the end of it is a fucking great party you know and I’m looking from a helicopter and I’m looking at this whole field full of happy people and I’m re-vitalised then and I can’t wait to do it again.

And you’re living in the helicopter now then?

Yeah. I saw this thing as a kid called the Double Deckers it was about these kids who all lived in this yard under the railway in a double decker bus and I think I always wanted to live like that and my dad always lived like that anyway and even at one point we lived in a gypsy cart down on the Romney marshes and it’s in my blood really.

Where can people get hold of your art?

We are trying to get a website shop up which we cocked up a bit but it’s pretty close to coming now so if you go to the Mutate Britain, One Foot in the Grove web site you can buy prints off that.




Issue Three – Weapons of Mass Creation – 23rd December 2009