MANCUNIAN DJ Andy Carthy is probably best described as a DJ, producer, cartoonist and tea guru – and not necessarily in that order. After his wispy bum fluff earned him his nickname, Mr Scruff set about gradually establishing himself as one of Britain’s finest DJs. Known for his varied styles of music, his marathon six-hour sets, his quirky cartoon artwork and love of tea, Andy has won a legion of fans over the years and is heading our way. Rob Moore spoke to him about the new album, likening DJ sets to school exams and good old fashioned cuppas.
You are playing at the Days Like This festival and six other venues across Australia, are you looking forward to the trip?
Definitely. I’ve been on about five tours Down Under and performed at loads of festivals there. I try and get out there every two years and am really looking forward to it again. You can’t beat three weeks of sunshine in the middle of a Manchester winter.
You’ve devoted a lot of time recently to making new album Ninja Tuna. Are you happy with the results?
I’m really pleased with it. It was six years since my last album and I’d just done tons of gigs, so after dusting off the cobwebs I spent about three years in the studio and it was great fun. I feel it’s a really strong body of work and it’s nice that it has been received well. My albums have always covered a wide range of styles, tempos and moods. You can tell it’s one of my records but I’ve taken the sound a step further. There is a bit of everything on there whether it’s mellow, base-heavy, with vocals, just instrumental, hip-hop, soul – there is a real melting pot of styles.
Your DJ’ing spans a huge range of musical genres, do you get bored with people sticking to one style and wonder why they don’t diversify too?
You can’t always apply your own viewpoint to other people’s music. Some people do a purist style of music very well, although most don’t. But I certainly look to the pioneers of each style for inspiration. If you add enough of yourself to a certain sound, that’s when it gets interesting. If not then it all sounds the same. But music is fine as it is – there will always be pioneers and always be followers.
Do you need plenty of stamina to DJ for six hours straight?
I’m very careful when I take gigs that the right sound system and technical stuff is in place and all I have to worry about is playing records for six hours. The time does fly by. The only time I check my watch is to see how long is left, like I’m writing an exam. You need to be structured so you can end on an exclamation mark, rather than the sound being turned off halfway through your last tune. I put so much time and consideration into my performances that I rarely have a bad, or even an average, gig. 98 per cent of the time I play exactly what I want to play and am always sad when it ends.
Did you have any struggles in your early days as a DJ?
Any time you start DJ’ing you take whatever jobs you can get and I was in four different bars a week. But it was a really good mix for building your skills, character, style, resilience and belief. One night you’d have a bar full off Asian students and the next it would be a load of drunken football fans. I was once playing some mad jazz tune from South America and a guy from Honduras came over to tell me he’d listened to it as a kid. To pick a record and connect with a man from halfway across the world was amazing.
Was there then any moment where you thought you’d cracked this DJ’ing lark?
Yeah. The first night of my monthly Keep It Unreal residency in Manchester was also the launch party for that album and was the first night people were charged just to get in and see me. I was used to performing for other people’s crowds and thought it would only be my mates there, but it was packed and we are still doing the same thing 10 years later.
Do you ever feel drained by the travelling and party lifestyle?
You have to make sure you don’t lose sight of what you got into music for in the first place. These DJs who do two shows a night and moan about it, you just want to shake them and say ‘didn’t you start doing this because you love it?’ If people pay to see you, you’re in a position of responsibility. If you accept a gig in a rubbish place, then it’s your fault if the sound is rubbish. You need to represent yourself well. That’s the only way to build a reputation.
Your artwork has become synonymous with your music. How did it come about?
I’ve always done drawings and had done a fine art degree, so it made sense to design my own flyers and record sleeves. My style fits nicely with what I do and lets me express myself.
Your gigs feature tea rooms to quench the thirst of parched punters and you also have your own website selling your teabags (makesusabrew.com). Why tea?
Me and a few mates were just chatting about how good it would be to have a tea shop in the back of a club and it just snowballed from there. It was just a daft idea which grew because whenever I’d been to a big all-nighter or a festival, yes you have a couple of beers, but it gets to about 6am and you think ‘I’d love a nice cuppa’. So if you have access to it, suddenly it becomes the best thing in the world. And it seems a lot of people think similar thoughts.
I just try and think about what I look for when I go out – I want a good sound system, no flashing lights, space to dance, a good toilet and bar and a nice cup of tea. It creates a simple but unique event where you feel comfortable to party.
The standard of tea over here isn’t exactly up to Hyacinth Bucket’s standards. Will you be bringing your own?
I’m not one of those people who travel the world with baked beans and tea, so I can cope without it for a few weeks. There is enough good wine and beer in Australia to keep me occupied. We’ll be making good use of our time to see an amazing country, so we won’t be sitting in bars drinking all night – although I’m sure there will be some of that.
Any new year resolutions? What’s next?
I’m not a big one for resolutions or targets, but I do want to get back into the studio as there are so many ideas I’ve not yet fulfilled. But I’m very happy where my life is at the moment.