Features - Interviews

Interview: Mr. Scruff


Ahead of his sold out show at Belfast’s Black Box on Saturday night, the insatiable, inimitable and encyclopedic Andy Carthy AKA Mr. Scruff chats with resident Thin Air Scruff fanboy Aaron Drain about the “necessity” of the arts, his influence (and influences), his legendary stamina for DJ marathons and more.

Win tickets to the sold out Belfast show here.

You used to work in retail (like me! Separated at birth? Probably.) and made the leap to producing music full-time in the mid 90’s. What gave you that boost of confidence that allowed you to pursue your passion? Was it an easy decision to throw yourself fully into DJing and producing?

To be honest, I was more than happy DJing & making music as a hobby. I was meeting people in record shops & handing out a few demos & mix tapes, but more because they were interested, rather that any attempt to get something released. One chap, Barney (who over the years has given probably half of the artists in Manchester their first break) got me one of my first regular gigs, and also passed my demo tape to robs records. within a week i was in the studio working on my first 12″.

What did moving from the smaller Rob’s Records imprint to the much further reaching Ninja Tune feel like? Was it important to you, at the time, to go for broke and commit to a larger opportunity? If so, what was the goal?

It felt like a natural progression. Rob’s were great, and I was already friends with the Ninjas via my involvement with Grand Central records. I was quite naive at the time, so was just enjoying the opportunity to release tunes, do remixes & DJ. It was a very memorable stage of my life.

Everything about your music, visuals and illustrations seems to be very organic. There is no pretence, no convolution, just what appears to be an inherent honesty. Does this ring true for you? Do you keep things simple for a reason, perhaps even to endure a music career or stress free existence?

I have just found a way to work that I enjoy, and people seem to be into the results. I suppose that the main aim is to keep the same buzz, enthusiasm and enjoyment that I had when it was a hobby.

That’s not to say you don’t work hard. Having seen you many times in Belfast and your sets going on for hours, is it difficult to find the motivation to play for 5 of 6 hours in one go? How do you prepare for such marathon shows?

I choose to play all night, because it suits my DJ style. I like to play the whole record, and cover quite a few genres. The most difficult thing is to stop at the end of the night!

Your style of music is more-often-than-not a positive listening experience. Happiness and optimism seems to be ingrained in your productions. Would you say that it was a natural occurrence when you “found your sound?”

Yes, I do seem to make cheery music, or at least have a twist of humour or positivity in there somewhere.

Speaking of which, who are your influences? I hear jazz, blues and breaks throughout your music, but to whom do you feel obliged to call your major influencers?

So many influences… Sun Ra, King Tubby, Fela Kuti, Mantronik, Larry Heard, Afrika Bambaataa, The Specials, Pigbag, Leroy Burgess, Roy Ayers, Moondog, Theo Parrish, Ron Trent, Ultramagnetic MCs, P Brothers, Kaidi Tatham. Believe me, I could go on for ever!

Your upcoming show is part of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter ‘Out To Lunch’ festival. Do you prefer being a part of something larger? For example, playing as part of a curated series of events or playing stand-alone shows?

I normally do my own stand alone shows. I do enjoy when I am part of something larger though, and this weekend is exciting because this is a new venue for me in Belfast, and there seems to be a great buzz about it.

Perhaps you’ve heard, at the moment in Northern Ireland, the arts are facing severe cuts in funding. Projects and festivals, much like the ‘Out To Lunch’ festival that you’re taking part in could soon dwindle to nothing without government funding. As a performer, do you feel that it’s important to actively take part in the arts? And related events? With the goal being spreading the word and maintaining a vibrant cultural scene?

I think that if you do something creative, then you are automatically taking part in the arts. I think that people with a need to create will do their thing regardless of funding. The Arts do seem to be treated as a luxury rather than a necessity, which is a shame.