Remembering Rusty Egan's Blitz Club: a place to 'avoid the mob and the homophobes', where the New Romantics were born

As he releases new vinyl boxset, 'Blitzed!', Wallpaper* meets DJ Rusty Egan to talk about London's scene-building Blitz club – the antidote to the late 70s punk scene and a hot-bed of experimental fashion

New Romantics outside The Blitz Club in London by Sheila Rock
(Image credit: © Sheila Rock)

It was the London nightclub where, for 18 giddy months four-and-a-half decades ago, the DJ was intent on “inventing the sound of the future” with a playlist heavy on art-rock, synthpop and obscure European electronica. Where the habitués dressed like the future, too – a riot of homemade fabulousness, punk and post-punk tribalism, accessories galore, fashion student iconoclasm and a little bit of pirate.

And on whose dancefloor the pop stars of tomorrow posed, plotted, preened and performed. This was The Blitz Club, a short-lived sweatbox with a long-tail influence. Boy George worked the cloakroom, Spandau Ballet performed their first gig there, Sade was a regular, the co-creators found themselves with a hit single by way of their day job as members of Visage, and a glamorous new subculture emerged from the cramped floor of “a dusty old wine bar” within the dilapidated environs of the old Covent Garden market: New Romantic.

Blitz Club London

(Image credit: BBC)

Forty-four years on, one of those founders, DJ Rusty Egan, is celebrating he and Steve Strange’s hallowed venture with an epic boxset. Blitzed! comes as a deluxe, 66-track, four-CD package featuring five hours of music plucked from Egan’s 1979-80 sets. Or there’s a 36-track, four-LP version on 140g vinyl. Not enough rare edits, extended mixes, Human League, Roxy Music, Grace Jones, David Bowie, Amanda Lear, Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder and Throbbing Gristle for you?

Rusty Egan at the Blitz Club

Rusty Egan at The Blitz Club

(Image credit: © Peter Ashworth, Terry Smith Archive + Sheila Rock)

Try Egan’s accompanying Spotify playlist. It features all those, plus the tracks for which he couldn’t secure permission to include on the boxset (Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, we’re looking at you). It weighs in at an eye-watering, eyeliner-smudging 259 tracks and 21 hours – although it obviously lacks the physical formats’ evocative array of unseen photographs of the clubgoers who became known as the Blitz Kids, shot by period luminaries Peter Ashworth, Sheila Rock and Terry Smith. The Blitz formed “out of this underground world that had yet to happen,” recalls Egan. Still, at, 66 a jobbing DJ and musician, he’s beaming in from Cannes, his latest pit-stop in a summer Euro-run that’s also taken in Ibiza and Copenhagen. “It was a lot of punks – but the original, fashionable, student-aged [music fans] – and we all connected in London at gigs by The Clash and Siouxsie and the Banshees. But when punk exploded it became violent – like, football terrace violent.

Dancers at the Blitz Club 1979

(Image credit: © Peter Ashworth, Terry Smith Archive + Sheila Rock)

As Boy George said [at the time], he didn’t feel safe going to gigs anymore. So we said: why don’t we start a place where we can go? I’d play the music, and Steve would make sure the right people got in. So, it was an oasis, a place to avoid the mob, the drunks and the homophobes.” The cutting-edge tunes – 12-inch mixes where possible, “because I wanted to keep people dancing – were matched by bleeding-edge fashion. “Steve would champion young talent like John Richmond,” Egan says of his friend and collaborator, who died in 2015. “He’d say, ‘look at me, I’m wearing Willy Brown,’ who Bowie wore as well. Then everybody went to Willy’s shop, realised they couldn’t afford it, but decided: ‘I can make my own version.’”

Boy George at The Blitz Club

(Image credit: © Peter Ashworth, Terry Smith Archive + Sheila Rock)

There was, naturellement, a competitive element to the peacocking. By day Strange also worked in a Covent Garden boutique called PX. “One day Gary Numan came in and bought the new range that had just come into the shop. Then, when Gary turned up at the club wearing it, Steve wouldn’t let him because he hadn’t had a chance yet to be photographed in it!” Still, in such a full-on demimonde, playful rivalries were to be expected. When I ask Egan how apparent was the pre-Culture Club Boy George’s talent, he splutters, laughs and says affectionately:

Rusty Egan Blitzed! vinyl boxset

(Image credit: Rusty Egan)

“Not at all! I had no idea that George was anything other than annoying!” The sleeve art of Blitzed! comprises a recently rediscovered Ashworth photograph of Egan in action at the club in 1979. “Peter went on to shoot the first Visage album cover, and album covers for Soft Cell, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Eurythmics… But I love that picture. I think someone’s showing me a magazine: ‘Look, you’re in this!’ And you can tell by my face that I’m going: ‘So what, I’m DJing here!’”

Rusty Egan Presents Blitzed! (Demon Music) is released on 28th June

London-based Scot, the writer Craig McLean is consultant editor at The Face and contributes to The Daily Telegraph, Esquire, The Observer Magazine and the London Evening Standard, among other titles. He was ghostwriter for Phil Collins' bestselling memoir Not Dead Yet.