Andy Carthy began releasing music under the Mr Scruff moniker in the mid 90s after starting out as a DJ in 1994. His second album, Keep It Unreal, was named after his eclectic Manchester club night and marked the start of a long and productive relationship with the Ninja Tune label, also home to the […]

Andy Carthy began releasing music under the Mr Scruff moniker in the mid 90s after starting out as a DJ in 1994. His second album, Keep It Unreal, was named after his eclectic Manchester club night and marked the start of a long and productive relationship with the Ninja Tune label, also home to the acclaimed Trouser Jazz and Ninja Tuna albums.

Just as well known for his marathon DJ sets of up to eight hours, which cover a wide variety of genres and styles, Andy is a versatile and adventurous musician with a sense of humour – something sadly lacking in much of the music industry today. I spoke to Andy ahead of the release of his new album, Friendly Bacteria, and his UK tour in May and June.

Your new album Friendly Bacteria is out next month. By all accounts it’s a bit of a new direction for you. Tell us about the writing and recording.

The initial writing was how I usually work, getting loops, beats and ideas together, and then fleshing them out, either at home or in collaboration with the other artists on the album. Some of the collaborations were at my house or in SSR Manchester, and some were done online. It was a real mix of stuff coming together live in the studio, and working with a couple of people remotely on the same tune, so that I was getting sent different parts from people who didn’t know what the other musicians were doing, which meant that the results ranged from harmonious to downright odd, which is fine by me.

There seems to be less sampling involved. Was that just an artistic decision or is it harder to get samples cleared now than it used to be?

A bit of both. Sample clearance is a real nightmare nowadays. There seems to be less money going round, so often people will ask for way more writing/publishing for sample usage than they would have done 15 or 20 years ago. Not everyone is like that, but it does seem to be the general approach, especially with major labels. I still have that ear for a sample, but now tend to record my own sounds and treat them as a sample. The boundaries are blurring, which creates many more possibilities.

Your new single ‘Render Me’ with Denis Jones came out recently and a few others on the album feature him. How did you two end up working together and what do you think each of you got out of it?

I met Denis when he was supporting Amp Fiddler in Liverpool a few years back. His last tune was ‘Beginning’, and at the end of it, when the parts were still looping, he put down his guitar and sprinted down the aisle and out of the venue, before ambling back on stage about five minutes later to pack up. We got chatting at the bar and then a year or two later started working together regularly. I find Denis a very curious chap, in that he comes from a different musical background to me. He has a great ear, is very playful and inquisitive, and we have a very good success rate with the work that we do together. I think that we both learn a lot from our work together, and we have only just scratched the surface.

What about the other guest spots from Vanessa Freeman and Robert Owens? How did they come about?

I know Vanessa from her broken beat tunes, as we share a lot of mutual friends. A real soulful powerhouse and a joy to spend time with. She is really versatile too, so I can present any ideas to her, and she will come back with some magic. With Robert, I wrote the music for ‘He Don’t’ and immediately envisaged him singing on it. His music has been a big part of my life ever since his first records in the mid 80s, so I got in contact and we recorded the tune in London.

What’s the most important aspect of DJing for you?

Good sound quality, a thorough knowledge of the roots of the music you play, and good selection. Good sound quality means that you can play more adventurously, as bad sound requires you to play things that people are more familiar with. Knowledge gives you the authority to do your thing well. The selection is good records in the right order, in a way that suits the atmosphere in the room. This is the foundation. Mixing, EQing and effects are all seasoning.

Is it harder to keep on top of your game as a DJ when people have greater access than ever before to vast swathes of music? Do you think the role of the DJ has changed in that respect?

No, I think you have always had to work hard sourcing music as a DJ, and regarding access to music, there has always been too much music for any one person to listen to, both pre and post internet.

For your longer 5-8 hour sets, do you have to plan them out, so you’ve got plenty of options but you’re not carting around hundreds of records?

No, I cart round hundreds of records, and spend a long time packing them to make sure that I have a good variety of styles, tempos and moods to play with. I make sure that odd, awkward records have some slightly more outgoing records as companions, so they sit better in the set. I make sure that everything is set up properly for the gig – all the equipment is checked, lights, soundcheck – so that once the doors open, all I have to think about is playing some of my favourite records to people. Every night is unique and I have a lot of confidence in the music that I play, so planning mixes or sets seems irrelevant, almost like planning a conversational agenda for a night in the pub. It is important to know the music, be in the moment, and play the tunes in an order that feels right.

I know that radio was really important to you growing up. With so many taste makers these days, do you think it still holds the same importance? Do you still listen to the radio?

I might listen to some BBC6 while washing up, but the rest of the time I am either working on music or listening to records. I do feel that there is still a place for quality selectors on radio, mixes or podcasts, maybe even more so with the incredible volume of music being released. There are plenty of people who can be relied upon to consistently provide an inspiring selection of music.

You did an art degree back in the day. Apart from giving that visual consistency across your album artwork and live shows, is it an important part of what you do?

The art is a bit of fun and I am very pleased that people seem to like it. It is important to provide an edge of light heartedness and humour, especially in what can be a very nerdy and specialist environment. Take the music seriously, but not yourself!

mrscruff.com
Photo by Jim Dawson & Ray Chan

Sam Walby