Mr Scruff can do no wrong. Or so it would seem, when prior to sitting down and having a chat with him, we did our usual temperature gauge with our friends. Without fail, every one of them waxed lyrical about how much they loved him – even those we assumed wouldn’t have heard of him. Such enthusiasm is not a common reaction if we’re perfectly honest.
The Mr Scruff (or Andy to his mates) story is not a common tale though. Having created a brand almost by accident, but very organically and fuelled by the love of playing good music rather than making money or achieving fame. “Until about 1999 I was playing guest DJ slots with residences in Manchester at bars and clubs, hip hop and funk nights. Then I got offered the chance to do my own night in June 1999 which was called Keep It Unreal, it just felt right because I’d been playing at so many different nights – breaks nights, reggae nights, hip hop nights, world music nights etc, and without being arsey I started to find those music policies a bit limiting. So the chance to get my own night was like wow, when I’ve got 5 or 6 hours I can play across all the styles without feeling like I’m rushing. “
“The next step was then to take that concept and apply it to every gig I played at so I stopped doing guest slots and started to play the whole night, it fitted the way I DJ and my approach to music and people seemed to really like it as well. I like creating a party atmosphere – starting with deep mellow music at the start to set the scene. I also enjoy playing more awkward and difficult tracks – that’s what keeps me entertained, what can I get away with here?”
And so Keep It Unreal was created, with its legendary genre spanning setlists, epic 6 hour parties and hand drawn visuals on screens (drawn by Scruff himself, he studied Fine Art at collage and the quirky line cartoons are now synonymous with his name appearing on flyers, poster and album covers). In a world where egos can reign supreme, it’s a refreshing and fun night out.
“Some of the things that happened early on in my career I found quite strange, the first Keep It Unreal I suddenly realised that people had paid to come and see me, they weren’t paying to go to an Electric Chair or Fat City night that I just happened to be playing it, they’d actually paid to come and see me. That felt a bit weird!”
“Over the space of 5 or 6 years, I’d cultivated a crowd or a following without realising. I’d heard other DJs talking about it and I didn’t really get what they meant. Then it clicked and that was quite strange – realising that I hadn’t just been messing around and having fun, I’d actually been building and creating something here”.
The dream of being a DJ is one that occurs to many during their formative years and whereas once it was a rite of passage to obtain dodgy beltdrive decks and a mixer to learn to beatmatch badly in your bedroom, basslines drowning out the protestations of your mum (just us?), advances in technology mean a laptop and some software is all that budding DJ’s require. “I play mostly vinyl with the odd CD. For me, it seems that I’m working on a computer so much that last thing I want to be doing in a club is staring at a screen. I don’t see a reason to change, I like the sound of vinyl better and that’s very important to me. I bring all my own equipment – turntables, table, lots of concrete, and records – I don’t travel light! But I know it’s going to sound great and that the records wont skip.
Transferring tracks to a laptop also seems like unnecessary hard work – I’ve got a lot of records and if I want to play something I can just pull it off the shelf. I like the physical aspect of vinyl and the memories it gives me – often I identify records by what the sleeve cover looks like. “
“I’ve nothing against people that play from laptops or use Ableton, that’s cool – each to their own – but I like the sound of vinyl and the restrictions of the medium. If you’re playing from a laptop the temptation to mess around and time stretch everything, possibly more than necessary, if a piece of music is perfect it doesn’t need interfering with. With vinyl, if you want to mess around with a tune, you’ve really got to work quite hard in order to do so.”
So a traditionalist when it comes to set ups, and also, drinks. His love for “a nice cup of tea” is renowned, not exactly the hard liquor you’d expect to see on a DJ’s rider but when you go to Keep It Unreal it fits the scene so perfectly that you wonder why you can’t get a brew in all clubs. The important question; how does he take his? “It depends. The most important cup of tea of the day is the first one, after you’ve just got up when you shouldn’t really be operating a kettle with your eyes closed. I like a nice strong English Breakfast with milk and no sugar, it’s got to be really dark – a brick red brew”
Famously it’s a refreshment you can find at his club nights, a tradition that started 13 years ago when he had a residency at Manchester club, Electric Chair. “I’d be DJing at all nighters and someone would put the kettle on behind the bar at 5 or 6 in the morning, it was the best thing ever. “
“I’d go and play at bars at 8 in the evening and ask for a brew and they’d say “oh the kettle is on the blink” and I’d think “that’s not on that”. So it was almost inspired by my disappointment at not being able to get a brew – I decided I wasn’t going to have the same thing at my gigs”.
He’s in Liverpool on Friday, bringing Keep It Unreal to The Masque as a guest of Chibuku. Appearing at one of the first Chibuku’s many years ago, there’s a friendship born between him and the club night and the varying venues he’s played at in Liverpool. “What I like in any city is to find people who I can work with again and again and Chibuku seem to be those people in Liverpool and it’s always a joy to go back – The Masque is such a great venue with the tiered dance floor, it’s intense but also intimate – it’s wide and shallow so you get a pretty good view of everyone in the room so it’s also cosy as well.
I like the room in Nation – that had really good energy. I’ve also played there for nights like Bugged Out and obviously seminal being home to Cream – it was quite odd early on in my career playing in a “superclub”. The Magnet is always fun to do. I’ve had many good gigs in there, it’s a legendary little venue. I’m a big fan of little clubs, as you progress in your career you get less opportunities to play the smaller clubs.”
And with the festive season fast approaching, what does he have planned for it? “I always wind down a bit at Christmas but I’ve got NYE at Band on the Wall in Manchester, I play there every New Years and it’s easy to get a cab home!”
“I love Christmas because everyone has got a bit of time off and it’s nice to catch up. I’m a big fan of socialising, usually when my mates are out socialising I’m off DJing so I really relish this time of year when you can just get together with people and have a laugh.”
Mr Scruff 5 hr DJ set @ Chibuku
Friday 23rd November
£12adv/£15, 10pm – buy tickets
We’ve got some tickets to give away to this Friday’s Chibuku event. Ace, right? Entering’s easy – simply retweet our tweet, or ‘Like’ our Facebook status and we’ll enter you for the draw to bag a pair of tickets. Winners will be picked and notified on Friday lunchtime.