Mancunian Andrew Carthy aka Mr. Scruff is many things. A father, a DJ, a producer, a cafe manager, promoter, and illustrator. So having the chance to pick his brains, in the run up to his appearance at El Dorado festival 2016, really does open the floor up to a wide discussion.
I think as an adult, no matter how much you enjoy your work, you can get a bit serious and caught up in stuff and you don’t really need to.” – Mr. Scruff
Growing up listening to Andy’s music, there was somewhat of an existing connection already there going into our interview. And my assumptions of Andy as this rather nonchalant, carefree personality were somewhat solidified by the fact he was taking the interview whilst at his daughter’s football match. Taking this as a rather fitting starting point, I quiz Andy on the experiences of becoming a father.
“I think the fact that kids are so much fun, and I’m quite a playful person anyway, both with my music and generally, that I think it’s just been constantly inspiring. I think as an adult, no matter how much you enjoy your work, you can get a bit serious and caught up in stuff and you don’t really need to.”
“I’m part of a lineage of geeky, middle class, white hip hop DJ’s who chucked a load of other stuff into the mix.” – Mr. Scruff.”
And both ‘seriousness’ and ‘music’ can all too often come hand in hand (a topic I had the pleasure of discussing with Lakker). As a very profile driven career, you often have to develop a persona, an alias, or even a brand. Mr. Scruff is certainly a recognisable one at that – through the illustrations, and distinct sound that all tie into one another. I was interested to find out from Andy if this was an intentional or planned thing.
“No. It’s purely me. (Music and illustrations) they all came from the same place. I didn’t position myself at odds and associate with serious artists. I mean a lot of my favourite artists are very serious ones like Jeff Mills, Underground Resistance. But then also you kind of realise after a while, that artists like Mad Mike, Moodymann, they might come across as very serious and anonymous – so it gets shoved into that serious/ secretive, militant sector. But they are actually some of the most entertaining people I’ve met. Mad Mike especially. He is one of the most lovely people i’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, which is totally at odds to the kind of black and white, military style presentation that their music paints. But you know, that image they paint is alluring, and makes people want to get to know more about them. But you know, I guess I’m part of a lineage of kind of geeky, middle class, white hip hop DJ’s who chucked a load of other stuff into the mix. But you know, Afrika Bambaataa was doing the same thing in the 70’s, playing Kraftwerk and Mikey Mouse records all together.
Interviewing Andy is especially insightful just based on the grounds of how long he’s been in the game for. Following a string of radio shows through ‘88 to 1995, a turning point for Andy was the release of his remix for the DJ Food Megamix in 1996. This then opened the doors to Ninja Tune and in turn a platform to showcase some landmark releases, such as Keep it Unreal (1999) and Trouser Jazz (2002).
“I think the good thing about learning my craft in the 80’s was that a lot of the DJ’s played across the board. They didn’t pigeonhole themselves into genres. People went into specialist music shops, and bought multi-genre records. It was open. I think starting off from a position where you routinely find lots of different music and use your creative skills to pool it all together was a good start. And then you spread outwards from there.”
And Andy has explicitly accredited radio as one of the defining early influences to his introduction to music. In our conversation he shared with me some interesting opinions on how radio has developed, especially in light of the current surging movement around internet radio.
“The 80s was quite a fertile time for radio because there was a lot of large commercial stations that all had specialist shows. So even a bland station would have 8 hours a week of American dance music. And obviously there was no age limit to listen to radio either.
I think radio is more democratic now. In terms of if you want to do a radio show and you have the energy and time, then you can absolutely do one. And the good thing about a lot of these new stations is that they’re broadcasting all day. So how maybe a few years ago online radio was more like an on-demand service with pre-recorded shows and not enough content, now you’re seeing 24/7 independent broadcasters.
Years back a radio license was an extremely expensive thing, which is why pirate was in existence. People with the money to afford the licenses in large commercial radio stations weren’t serving the community. So people would then just setup their own pirate stations because they weren’t provided with the music they wanted. And now of course it’s a lot less expensive to setup a station. And because they’re less commercial constraints, you can just have really good selectors playing really interesting music. On daytime radio nowadays you’re extremely unlikely to hear a DJ who has chosen their own music. At worst it’s scripted and playlisted, but at very best it’s still playlisted to the hilt – but the presenter might have some personality. But it’s so different to daytime radio.”
“But it is a very simple formula. Once you get too many people in the club, the toilets can’t cope, the air con can’t cope, the bar can’t cope, there’s no movement on the dancefloor, and it all grinds to a halt.” – Mr. Scruff
I found the idea of the curator an interesting point to call Andy up on at this point. With both of us being curators, him of music, myself of content, I thought it would be a rather fitting avenue to take in the conversation. With the internet facilitating large masses of new information to be jetted around the global network, audiences these days are becoming overwhelmed, and we’re seeing a large focus now on the curator. Andy follows:
“I think there has always been a role for the curator. I think initially when music started coming online about 15 years ago, and you had companies saying “ahhhhh millions of tracks on your Ipod” and it’s like too much choice. You need people to choose stuff for you. That’s the whole thing. People get sick or overwhelmed with the amount of music and we need selectors. I think there will always be room for quality selectors.”
At this point I chuckle to myself a little as I’m reminded of something I read from a previous interview Andy had, where it emerged he owned over 25,000 vinyl records. He tells me how he still finds records that he didn’t realise he owned. To Mr. Scruff though, the number means nothing. It’s the quality of the records. He knows professional DJ’s that own less than 500 records, but are all amazing releases.
“Whether people dance with mates, or by themselves with their eyes closed, the dancefloor should be a place that allows and encourages that.” – Mr. Scruff
I then veer the angle of the curator towards events, which Andy has insurmountable experience within. I’m really keen to find out from him: ‘what makes a good event?’
“Yeah, I mean the whole feel and shape of the room is important. You can walk in to the room and know straight away (if it’s good). You need a space to feel comfortable in. Whilst the sound system is important, the acoustics are equally as important. Obviously It needs to be run well by staff, but who are also treated well. Don’t pack the room too much, because once you start bumping into people it just creates a bad mood. Just having decent A/C. Nice and dark. Decent facilities. Just making sure there’s nothing to moan about, and if there is nothing to distract you from the music, then you can get lost in the music. If people keep bumping into you on the dancefloor, you’re constantly getting distracted and knocked out of your groove. And whether people dance with mates, or by themselves with their eyes closed, the dancefloor should be a place that allows and encourages that”.
Andy’s enthusiasm builds around the subject, as he continues…
“You know promoters or venue people being greedy is where these things go wrong. That’s it really. And you know, just let a hundred people less in, and everyone will have an amazing time. And then just charge a little bit more and less expensive guests so you won’t need to fill the club as much. You’ve got to create the right environment. But it took me years to learn that. But I make sure that I have as much control over that as possible. No one comes to my night and has anything to complain about because that’s not what I want when they walk away. It’s just essentially repeat what I’ve seen at other people’s nights. But it is a very simple formula. Once you get too many people in the club, the toilets can’t cope, the air con can’t cope, the bar can’t cope, there’s no movement on the dancefloor, and it all grinds to a halt”.
Andy draws for a moment of reflection, and then continues…
“And you have dynamics between the venue owners and the promoters, where the owners might want a busier bar, while the promoter wants a quieter night. So there’s often different forces at work. But you have to be really on top of people, otherwise someone is going to take the piss for a few extra pounds. And then you turn off the people that you most want in your club, which is the peaceful, open, happy, real dancers. They’re the ones that care about that space on the dancefloor and who contribute most to the atmosphere as well. And the phones in club man………. But that’s a whole other conversation (laughs). Once you stop getting lost in the music, you start looking on Ebay or taking photos of your mates, and you might as well be at a bar”.
Words by Peter Malla