Mr Scruff is the 15 year DJ veteran renowned for his 6 hour mammoth DJ sets, eclectic back catalogue and his love for cups of tea. His dj sets delve into many genres including Soul, Funk, Hip Hop, Jazz, Reggae, Latin, African, Ska, Disco, House, Funk, Breaks, Soundtracks & loads more. His production work over the 6 studio albums he has produced reflects these diverse tastes as he lets his vast range of influence shine through.
Always creating and absorbing music, Mr Scruff (Andy Carthy) is a legend in the DJ world and has been a staple signing to the Ninja Tune label, which recently celebrated 20 years of releasing music (If you haven’t seen the Ninja Tune XX box set, you should really check it out here). With 6 studio albums, 5 hugely sought after mixtapes, his own brand of tea (just because he loves it so much) and unmeasurable influence on music today – we thought it was best we had a chat with him.
So on a rainy Thursday afternoon, I gave him a ring to chat about what’s next…
Hello there, hows things?
Good good, just had my home phone repaired, so glad to see its working.
So what is going on at the minute? What’s on the horizon for Mr Scruff?
I’m not sure really, hopefully ill have my next album finished soon which i’m enjoying working on the moment between touring and that. So just another month of touring and then back in the studio to finish the album in January. I’m not one for trying new wacky things, just getting my head down and doing work, i’m just enjoying the process as much as possible.
Is the new album going to be coming out on your imprint label Ninja Tuna or is it out on Ninja Tune?
It will be out on Ninja Tune, the imprint was just an imaginary label really for the Ninja Tuna album, I had so many singles off that album that it would have clogged up Ninja’s release schedule, so they gave me my own pretend label for the album.
Would there be any interest in you continuing the Tuna label and releasing other people on it as well?
That was litterally it for the album really. I’m defiantley not looking to move into A& R and all that kind of thing. I dont get as much time as i want to record and work anyway, so looking after other artists would be far too much, I don’t get that much sleep as it is. I’ll leave it to Ninja who are dead good at the label thing. I’ll just concentrate on getting my own arse in gear.
Ninja Tune have of course just celebrated 20 years in business, do you think that’s an achievement in the current music industry climate?
Its testement to the way they run the label and the artists, producers and musicians they get involved with, they have a very diligent approach to it all. In terms of artwork, everything has always looked great and had tight control over it. I think in this throwaway age of music, having a real quality to the musicality and artwork really helps. I think when people take care over something it shows through. Which is most evident on the box set, which is incredible. I think they have stuck at it for so many years and have such a varied and interesting approach to music, that they are constantly looking forward. The whole 20th celebration wasn’t a “oh haven’t we done well, aren’t we good” it was more, look what’s next! I think it was great as a way to introduce a load of new signings to the label like Toddla T & Eskimo and people like that, its an exciting time.
I read a comment from you recently where you had mentioned you only get chance to skim about 5% of new music, because there is alot of crap out there.
It depends. It all started a few years ago with iPods, you can have 50,000 tunes on it, you can download all this stuff. I think nowadays people are getting all this music, like Dj’s can always get loads of stuff before its released, and its because people are skipping the label step, just getting all this music out there anyway they can. Which means there is just so much stuff out there, and for someone like me who has his fingers in a lot of musical pies, where do I start? 10-15 years ago I’d be getting 40 or 50 records a week, today I’m getting hundreds of emails every week with links to MP3’s. Which I listen to and then if I like it, I have to email back to try and get a WAV version, because I don’t play Mp3’s. Which a lot of the time people cant get you, unless its the producer themselves.
I hate MP3’s so I cant play most it anyway, there just crap. Anything I like, I end up buying the record anyway, for the vinyl sound. The actual act of cutting the music vinyl corrects alot of the mistakes that these inexperienced producers are making in the studio. A lot of MP3’s and even WAV sounds very harsh and unpalatable and vinyl sort of corrects that.
Are you bothered about getting all this new music then?
I don’t have to play the game and be the most upfront person and have it all before its released, I’ve got loads of 40 year old records that no-one else has got, kind of thing. For me it’s like if I’m gonna play a record, I am gonna be careful with the choice I make. I want to be playing that record in 20 years time.
Its probably me just been old and grumpy now, but I like vinyl, I don’t wanna spend my time burning cdr’s, because I like finished articles. I want a cd with a cover, it helps my tea addled brain remember what’s on it.
So bit of a moot point this next question maybe, but what is your current DJ set up? You on vinyl still or are you tempted to maybe switch over to a laptop and Serato/Traktor set up?
Mainly vinyl and cd’s, alot of the cd’s are my own stuff, cut up or demoed. Or its older records i’ve transfered to cd to protect the original. I like using cd’s for alot of the old stuff, its gives me easier looping etc, It makes mixing the older stuff, which often has very varied tempos, with new stuff which has more accurate tempos, much easier.
I’m not tempted to switch, I just don’t trust computers. One stray drink, or drip from the roof of a sweaty venue will end the night. Whereas you get a drink on your turntable, you whip a cloth out and wipe it down, shake it about. I just like hardware, plus I don’t have time to transfer it all over.
My dj set up is all my stuff, I bring it all to every gig, it’s all hi-fi. Modfied pre amps, tone arms, carts & homemade eq’s etc. To me sound quality is so important, I’d rather lug 7 boxes of records and spend 4 hours sound checking each night, than rock up with a laptop and some crap MP3’s, the sounds terrible and people cant get into the music.
You say you take all this gear, but often play 6 hour sets, that must be piles of records to ship about?
Not really, in 6 hours you can play about 80 records, which if you choose properly, is one box and a cd wallet. It’s not too bad really.
Are the 6 hour sets something you want to maintain, something that’s vital to the Mr Scruff experience?
Yea, with the exception of festivals and maybe a few odd occasions. Especially if its one of my keep it unreal nights, I’ll play for the whole night, I really enjoying playing the mellow bit at the start. Generally if someone else is playing before me, they will be playing heavier music than I will in the main set. I really enjoy playing the really odd mellow stuff. If I create atmosphere, I can then work with it, adapt my set to what I’ve created. I’m just a control freak, I want the long soundcheck and all my own gear, but when I start playing that’s when the unpredictability comes in. What music I’ll pick instead of is the gear gonna mess up or is the deck gonna skip.
You’re on tour at the moment and you’re nearly at the end of the stint?
Yea, got a couple left in Denmark and maybe 4 in the UK. I like having short bursts of touring. You just get into it, you get really on it with your dj’ing. If your just doing the odd weekend, it can be difficult to adjust your body to dj times. It’s good to be on the same body clock for a set month. I have a big crew as well, so it helps to be able to schedule them as well.
Been a good tour so far?
Yea, really good. Because I’ve been so particular with things like venue etc I’m not really having bad gigs. We have a formula where its going to look and sound good and that’s deff been the case.
Been a favourite gig of the tour so far?
Koko was great as always, great venue and a great sound system, but I did a gig in Hull last Sunday and that was brillaint in a different way. It was an intimate Sunday gig, which I like, it’s in sharp contrast to the big Saturday night gigs. We like to keep it varied, if they were all tiny gigs or all big gigs I’d get bored.
When you say intimate? How intimate do you like to play?
Well like the Hull date was like 200-250 people. But in contrast to that the London date was 1500-1600 people, so it’s great.
Has there been a one tune that’s defined this tour? Something that’s got such a great reaction? Or one you’ve enjoyed the mix on?
Not particularly. What’s been really nice about this tour is that I’ve been digging out a lot of the old Ninja releases that I haven’t played for 10-15 years. One of my new tunes ‘Pickled Spider’ I’ve been playing quite alot, and some unreleased bits. There is about 10-15 tunes I might play every night, seen as this is part of the Ninja XX celebrations. Its been nice to drop some of my older stuff & some late 80’s Coldcut stuff.
There just isn’t one record, because I play for so long each night, over a weekend I can play for almost 20 hours.
It’s been great chatting to you, your a wealth of knowledge and I’ll speak to you soon…
Mr Scruff has a new as yet untitled album next year, but you can check out the aforementioned ‘Pickled Spider’ tune below. Or check him out at Chibuku in Liverpool this Saturday for another Keep It Unreal night. (Flyer Below Video)