Rudi Zygadlo doesn’t have the best luck. The Dumfries-born musician had a particularly bad run of it a few years back when, while studying Literature and Slavonic studies at Glasgow University, his hallway ceiling rotted and collapsed. Some weeks later there was a dust mite infestation in the kitchen, and then, two days before his first ever solo show, he received a call from his roommate: “Rud, you’d better come home, the flat’s been burgled, your laptop’s been stolen.” All his music was gone. Zygadlo was crestfallen. “I didn’t have much to be proud of on that computer, but at the time it felt like I’d lost my chance,” he says. To salve the pain he and his roommate went to the club night Zygadlo was due to play anyway and duly got trashed. His roommate eventually went home and Zygadlo received another call: “‘Rud, you better come home, the flat’s on fire.’ So I ran home and there were like 20 firemen there. It wasn’t a big fire—I left a towel on the storage heater—so half my room was melted.”
In a series of unfortunate events, the stolen computer ended up being a fortuitous one. He spent the next few years playing guitar in a band, reading dozens of books and deferring the rest of his degree in order to continue making music in his bedroom, resulting in a deal with venerated UK electronic label Planet Mu. On his debut album, 2010’s Great Western Laymen he fuses far-reaching influences—Zappa (the music, the satire, the politics), classical composers Janáček, Bartók and Schnittke—with schizophrenic synth-psychedelia and bass-heavy tectonics. Though the beats occasionally edge towards a dubstep wobble, any bloodline to that scene is faint. In fact, it’s kind of hard to dance to Zygadlo’s music. “I always feel like it’s a sort of charity dance, like, Aw poor bastard, we better make it look like we’re enjoying ourselves,” he says.
Bar a few tracks, the controlled maximalism on Zygadlo’s follow-up Tragicomedies sounds even less dancefloor-appropriate. On “Black Rhino” anxious violin seesaws are backed by the sounds of a robot ricocheting around inside a tin garbage can, while “Russian Dolls” layers alien-pop vocals with funked up electro and haunting piano loops. But perhaps the album’s greatest departure is the emergence of intelligible lyrics. Halfway through 2010, when Zygadlo left Glasgow for Berlin, he was nursing a broken heart and thus the opening lyrics of the cinematic “Melpomene”—Meanwhile you’ve fallen in love/ And it hurts me overseas—cuts brutally close to the bone. “Love seems to be the default thing to write about,” says Zygadlo. “It’s quite cringy actually. Even if I’m mumbling along trying to work out what to sing, the default vocabulary is lovey-dovey shit… I guess that’s a subconscious thing that was on my mind a lot of the time.”
Zygadlo’s misfortune is also fodder for his music. The halting, fragmented lilt of “Tragicomedy” finds him recalling a near-death experience: under the influence of hallucinogens, the 23-year-old had a slight altercation with the window of his ground-floor apartment. “I had to escape my bedroom and chose not to use the door,” he explains, lifting his shirt to reveal two raised oblong scars on his back. A passerby found him curled up and bleeding on the sidewalk and called an ambulance. “I can’t really remember much about it, but being in the hospital and not knowing what was going on and not being able to speak a language, let alone German, was an absolute nightmare. I was just so mortified. It was only a few days later that I thought, shit I really got out of this unscathed.” Perhaps his luck is on the turn.
Stream: Rudi Zygadlo, Tragicomedies (via Dummy)