segunda-feira, 28 de agosto de 2006

Success is a strange place

interview with Mr Scruff

Mr Scruff (aka Andy Carty), 33, started djing in Manchester more than ten years ago.

It’s not difficult to understand that to be a DJ requires a limited public exposition. The artist is encircled by a cabin most of the time and although his face may appear in the press, he usually doesn’t reach the masses - only a devoted minority. That’s what happened to Mr Scruff, when he sprang out of Manchester’s underground club scene to nearly stardom in 1997, when a small indie label released his debut album: ‘Mr Scruff’, re-issued in the summer of 2005. ‘Keep It Unreal’, his second album, became a landmark essentially due to the track ‘Honeydew’, featuring Fi.
In the fallowing interview he will say something which in these days sounds peculiarly transcendent: ‘I would not be comfortable being like a celebrity’.

Why did you decide to re-release your debut album?
The main reason was because a lot of people wanted to buy the album and couldn’t do it because it was out… I think it has been a lot of demand… And besides we’ve been thinking about re-realising it for about three years, because I’m not publishing any new material at the moment. This is a very good timing for the re-issue.

The original title was Mr Scruff. But now you’ve changed it…
No, the title is the same. It happens that some people call it Mr Scruff, and another people call it Mrs Cruff. It depends on the way the lettering is on the front cover.

Just a question of lettering?
Yes, it’s quite confusing, people call it different names, but I don’t really mind.

Reading some information on your website, people get the idea you have added new tracks to the album. Is that true?
There is no new music at all in the re-issued album, it has only been re-mastered. The music was the same. The original sound quality was not good enough and that’s why the new mastering process transformed the sound into something I think it is better now.

How important is for a DJ like you to release albums?
It’s very important, because, you know, I make music and djing is just a side of what I do. The album is the studio side of what I do. And both are very important for me.

Don’t you prefer performing live?
…No, I like both. It’s pretty much the same like when you enjoy drinking wine and coffee, but you don’t drink wine in the morning. I can enjoy many different things. A lot of people come to see me djing after hearing my record and when I dj I play things that influenced me when I was in the studio and when I go to the studio I remember how people behaved when I was djing. The studio work affects my djing, because it makes me think in a very scientific way, of how music is put together, and that makes me think scientifically when I’m djing. And then djing means I can exactly know how people react when I play my music and when I play other people’s records. So the next time I’m in the studio I can imagine how people would be reacting to this music.

When you hear your first albums, doesn’t it sound like an old-fashioned thing?
Maybe one or two things… If I was not pleased with my first album we would not have re-issued it, I think. But then again I wanted to release it keeping the same music on it, even if there were things which I think were not that good. I still think it’s important as a piece of history to present the whole thing as it was. I’m very pleased with the most of the album. Most people only heard about me when I released my first album on Ninja Tune [‘Keep It Unreal’, 1999]. This is a good thing to people that like my new music to go and say ‘Oh, I didn’t realise there was an album before 1999’. I think it’s good to keep everything, even if I think I should have done that different at the time. I still play those tracks when I’m djing.

What doors did your debut album open to you?
The doors started to open about 1995, when I released the 12 inch ‘Chicken in a Box’ [the track would be included on the debut album two years later]. That was the first step, a lot of DJs played the song. Then the album [‘Mr Scruff’] opened another door, and the Ninja Tune record opened another one. I think every record after 1995 kind of pushed me forward. Before then I was just a DJ in bars and in a few small clubs, and after this I started playing in a lot more nightclubs and around the country, travelling abroad to Spain, Sweden, Norway, Germany… Releasing ‘Chicken in a Box’ made a big difference.

But the most powerful record you did was ‘Keep It Unreal’, don’t you agree?
I think so… I’m very pleased with all my albums, they are very different, but especially for the people that like the Ninja Tune sound I think Keep it Unreal is the most similar to that. In the album after that, ‘Trouser Jazz’ [2002], I was trying a lot more different things… I like all the children the same!

Do you still play on the Music Box Club, in Manchester?
Yes, every month. I’ve been playing for six years now. The name of the night is still the same: Keep It Unreal.

Is that phrase still making sense for you? What do you mean by it?
I think it means ‘be yourself, don’t be afraid of doing something different, don’t be afraid of doing new things’.

Is that your philosophy?
It definitely is.

You often say you’re now in a position where you can play esoteric and unusual music. Was it hard to achieve it?
Yes, because when people come to hear a DJ they have some idea of what they would like to hear, it takes many years playing in the same places, over and over again, so you can be in a position where people expect you to play unusual records and strange pieces of music. When people have that trust in you, you can do whatever you want.

Are you referring to people who go clubbing?
Yes. In Manchester, in my residency, I can play jazz or soul records, African records, a lot of Latin music, as well as hip hop and house as well as things people expect to hear. I can play quite hardcore examples of those kinds of music. So the kind of jazz record I’ll play will be the same kind of jazz record that someone who only plays jazz would play. I don’t need to feel too scared to play a record, I can play anything I want. And that’s really, really good.

Do people have good reactions when you play new stuff, for example?
Yes, it takes a long time… You grow with the crowd and people who come to see you play, they come every month and now people are very used to my style, so I can be completely relaxed. The same way if you meet someone for the first time, your conversation will be quite simple and you will be saying ‘how old are you?’, ‘what do you do for work?’ If you know someone for ten years, then you can go in a very deep conversation.

The things people hear from you around the world, is it the same you play in Manchester?
Yes… A lot of people dj abroad and play very safe, big tunes, they don’t take risks. Because I dj for many hours I can take risks, and I think this style is very important. If I play a DJ gig and I don’t try things which I am maybe nervous about playing, then at the end of the gig I feel like I have not pushed myself forward. I think every moment you dj, you have to try something different. That’s what makes a venue unique or a night especial.

So, the conclusion is, when you dj abroad you only play for many hours because you want to play what you want.
Yes! If you only play for two hours and you feel pressured to keep the dance floor full and to get a very instant reaction from people… Well, sometimes you spend thirty minutes to create the atmosphere and then you will get a good reaction after that. If you only play for two hours, then it’s difficult to achieve that. For me it’s very important to play for five, six, eight hours, to take people with, and to play records which I think are really special.

Do people still get thrilled? Aren’t we living in a phase of drowsiness in dance music?
It depends on how you define dance music. If you think about house music that is played in clubs, a kind of very functional club music, it is lacking in innovation and new ideas. For me, soul music or rhythm ’n’ blues from the 1950’s are as much dance music as house. Jazz is dance music, African music is dance music… So think for instance, if there are no good house records this week, don’t worry, because I’ll play some old disco records. I don’t rely on playing just new music, because I can play music from old periods of history. If there is no new good hip hop on a week, I’ll play some old reggae. If a piece of music is good, it will sound good this week and also in forty years time. There is a lot of good music from the 1960’s and the 1970’s which the young people now never heard of. As a DJ I think my job is also to play music which influenced the music that is being made now. A lot of new music is made from tiny peaces of old music. And this makes it very easy to play old music near to the new one.

How popular you think you are in the UK?
…Quite popular, but only with people who are interested in what I do. I can travel around the UK and play in big venues for a thousand people and that venues will always sell out. But I can walk on the street and no-one knows who I am. For me, this is perfect. I can be popular without having to do anything in order to people enjoy what I do.

Mr Scruff is popular, but Andy Carthy isn’t it.
That’s a good way to say it… Some people say famous is when people recognise you, but don’t know what you do. If you know someone from the TV, you point to them in the street, and you say ‘that’s the person from the television’, but you might not know what they do… The only people that recognise me are people who know what I do and I’m very comfortable about that. I would not be comfortable being like a celebrity.