On Ninja Tune
A lot of things have happened since a young Andy Carthy started answering to the name Mr Scruff, making a name for himself under the shadow of Manchester's mid 90s club scene. Releasing three critically acclaimed albums, selling over half a million records worldwide and playing countless tours and club events has cemented his now legendary DJ status; this is a DJ that can sell out the 1600 capacity London KoKo armed only with his records, some turntables and a few spare packets of teabags.
More than that, Scruff has established himself as a general guarantor of quirkiness and quality, so much so that when his range of speciality teas were launched they became the 5th best selling grocery product in the long and illustrious history of Selfridge's Food Hall (see www.makeusabrew.com for more tea shenanigans). His 'CUP' tea shop in Manchester packs in the punters and the now legendary travelling tea stall is a firm favourite at Scruff gigs & festivals all over the UK. Meanwhile, his wobbly potato people adorn t-shirts, brollies and even people's bodies worldwide (Ninja Tune has been sent documentary evidence of this phenomenon...)
But who are we to tell you the full-story? Over to you Andy...
Greetings! I am Mr. Scruff, DJ, Producer, Cartoonist & Tea Drinker. As a DJ, I play across the board, including Soul, Funk, Hip Hop, Jazz, Reggae, Latin, African, Ska, Disco, House, Funk, Breaks, Soundtracks and loads more. I make music that draws on these influences, with a large dose of cheek and good humour. There follows a rambling overview of what i have been up to for the last 20-odd years...
The event that first sparked my curiosity about music was in the early 1980's when, as a young 2 Tone fan, I discovered a stack of my father's original Blue Beat 7"s, including several Prince Buster songs that had been covered by my then favourite band, Madness. I suddenly realised that the new music I had been listening to had roots that reached far back, and this knowledge inspired me to explore the wider musical world which had just been revealed to me.
I encountered mixing as a 12 year old in late 1984, when a friend of mine played me his uncle's electro records, notably the Streetsounds' LP 'Crucial Electro Volume 2'. At first, I assumed that the reason for there being no gaps between the songs was to fit more on the vinyl, it didn't occur to me the mixing was a creative part of the presentation, and had been carefully thought out.
Soon after I was constructing my own crude pause-button mixtapes, inspired by the Electro compilations and various radio shows on stations such as Piccadilly, and Radio Lancashire & Southside. These shows exposed me to a wide range of dance music, which at the time was a blanket term to cover anything from electro and hip-hop to soul, reggae and early house music. Back then there were far fewer records being released each week, so DJs had to be versatile and play across the board.
As an enthusiastic young music fiend in Stockport, these stations were a lifeline to quality new releases, and exposed me to a lot of older music that I had missed. Little by little I was building a collection fuelled by this knowledge, all the while improving my DJ skills. By 1987 I was proficient at turntable mixing and editing, although I was still using primitive home hi-fi gear. In the summer of 1988 I had my first mix played on Waxmaster's show on the Manchester pirate station WBLS.
Fuelled by this exposure, I took a part time job at Kwik Save and ploughed all my earnings into vinyl. By this time I had a good knowledge of electro, hip hop, house, & 80's soul, and was busy expanding my knowledge of blues, disco, funk, soul, reggae, jazz, African and Latin music. More pause-button mix tapes followed, as did demo tapes of my own early productions. My first break came in 1994, when I met Barney Doodlebug, a DJ/Doodler who was originally from Bristol, and now runs the international Doodlebug events. He gave me my first Manchester gig, in Dry Bar on a Sunday night, and he also passed a demo tape of mine to local label Rob's Records, which resulted in them releasing my first 12" single.
I gained regular bar gigs, as well as a short stint at Manumission alongside fellow Stockport lad Treva Whateva. Following on from this, I became a frequent guest at Headfunk, alongside residents Chubby Grooves & Tom Simba (who went on to form Groove Armada with Andy Cato). This night mutated into Eardrum, a DJ/jam night that I was resident at alongside Chubby, Mark One and Andy Votel. Other Manchester residencies included One Tree Island with Stefano, Guy Morley, Jah Conguero and Funk Boutique; and Dubism, with Guy Morley and Dom from Blood and Fire.
On the recording side, I released further singles for Rob's Records subsidiary Pleasure, as well as sides for Echo Drop, Grand Central & Cup of Tea. My work for Grand Central with Mark Rae inspired some 4-deck club performances, including friendly 'battles' with DJ Food, which introduced me to the Ninja Tune fold. My first remix was a DJ Food megamix for their 'Refried Food' box set in 1996. Then more gigs followed.
Some of my first DJ gigs abroad were with Grand Central in the mid to late 1990's, and following my signing to Ninja Tune in 1999, I did several European tours with the likes of Roots Manuva, The Herbaliser, Dynamic Syncopation & Mixmaster Morris. The release of my Ninja album 'Keep it Unreal' also kick started my Manchester club night of the same name, borne of a desire to play exactly what I wanted, rather than having to fit in with the music policies of other club nights. After a short stint at Planet K, the night moved to the Music Box, where it remains to this day. The success of this night inspired me to take the idea on tour, so that instead of turning up with my records and playing the standard 2 hour guest DJ slot, I would recreate 'Keep it Unreal' in different venues, and play for the whole night. A similar situation occurred in Brighton, where after 7 years of regular gigs with Tru Thoughts' Robert Luis, we started the monthly Etch residency at the Concorde 2 in 2001.
Another logical step for me was radio. It was such a vital part of my own musical education that I jumped at the opportunity to guest on shows such as First Priority's late night function on Kiss 102 in the mid 1990's, as well as the many RSL stations that had one month licences. It was on these that I joined forces with Treva Whateva to present the 'Hot Pot' show. The show then progressed to the national Student Broadcast Network for a few years, and then onto Manchester's Key 103 in 2002 for an 18-month run, as well as a year long stint on the Virgin Trains onboard radio channel.. I am not doing a regular radio show at the moment, although my mixes do feature regularly on shows such as 'Futureboogie' on Kiss 101, and 'Unfold' on Juice 107.2.
I am now in a position where as a DJ I can play a lot of esoteric and unusual music, as playing for the duration of the night enables me to create a very relaxed atmosphere, before increasing the energy levels at my own pace, taking in many kinds of music along the way. Over the course of a night the music can include blues, jazz, soul, funk, 60's R&B, disco, boogie, deep house, reggae, ska, rocksteady, dancehall, electronica, electro, hip hop, african, latin, drum & bass, breakbeat, and any combination of the above. The only real criteria is that the music has to have soul!
Although I am a fairly technical DJ, it is vital to remember that the most important skill for a DJ is to play great records in the right order. Each record must complement the one before, and introduce the one that follows. Beatmatching is an obvious way of linking records, but there are other common factors, such as lyrical themes & complimentary keys that a DJ can use to aid the transition. Each piece of music has a mood and an energy level, and orchestrated carefully, you can create an atmosphere where every record that comes in is precisely right for that moment.