Mr Scruff: 'I'd feel dirty if I played a song I knew wouldn't fit the mood'
Ahead of his Belfast show next month Manchester musician Mr Scruff tells Edwin Gilson why he's always striving to keep his audience happy
Andy Carthy, aka Mr Scruff, is jokingly drawing a line between his three-year-old daughter and his latest album Friendly Bacteria, produced in his home studio. "Maybe the album's a bit heavier because the rest of my time I'm playing with a toddler and I need that outlet," he laughs down the line from his native Manchester. "She actually joins me on stage sometimes, with her little CD player to help me DJ."
Carthy is used to seeing a varied audience at his gigs, with the "cartoonish and cheeky" elements of his early work in particular attracting all age groups. "Someone brought his mum with him to my set the other night. People at my shows don't bat an eyelid about standing next to a child or a 60 year-old - in fact usually the older people are better dancers than me!"
The DJ has been producing his own genre-crossing electronic music - often based around samples and loops - for 20 years now, and his marathon sets behind the decks have taken on legendary status. The five-hour treat he'll be putting on at Belfast's Black Box on January 17 is a pretty standard evening's work for Carthy.
"Most people have jobs that take up eight or nine hours a day, and then they come to my gig and dance for five hours, so that's far more work than me sticking a few tunes on," he chuckles. Carthy reckons he's played Belfast about 20 times before, but the Black Box is a new entity to him and he's done his homework. "I've been looking at pictures of the venue and it looks a lovely little intimate space. Belfast folk always have a great spirit about them, too."
Despite having seven albums of danceable material to his name that he could easily plumb for his DJ slots, Carthy opts for a more improvisational approach, to "keep myself and the audience on our toes".
"Planning a DJ set is like planning a conversation at the pub," he adds. "It sucks the fun out of it all. That's the challenge of playing all this weird and wonderful music - you have to respond according to the atmosphere in the room. I can't really say what approach I'm going to take in the Black Box. That's the spirit of it for me. I'd feel dirty if I played a song I knew wouldn't fit the mood of the room."
As Carthy alludes to, this year's Friendly Bacteria is generally darker and sparser compared to his hyperactive, schizophrenic earlier output. Rather than this new mood reflecting the DJ's everyday disposition, however, he puts it down to the presence of collaborator Denis Jones, who is "all over" Friendly Bacteria.
"Denis' own music is very foggy and mysterious, but also soulful and hypnotic," says Carthy. "We're so different musically which meant we didn't step on each other's toes in the studio."
I wonder if Carthy ever finds critics' use of the word "cartoonish" to describe his playful mishmash of styles a little backhanded or even offensive.
"No, I don't care about it. When I'm writing music I always assign a little cartoon in my head to each element of the tune anyway. I might imagine the drummer playing while pulling a face, and then the bassist looking across at him; these are completely fictional characters! So I can't really moan when the phrase 'cartoonish' is mentioned."
At any rate, his eclectic DJ sets invariably please fans of numerous genres - at least that's Carthy's own proud assertion. "I can pinpoint different reactions in the crowd, like: 'You four in the corner, you really liked that reggae song I played,' or 'That group over there loved the mellow jazz I played'" he smiles. "It's great to interact musically with other people like that."
- Mr Scruff plays at the Black Box in Belfast on January 17 as part of the Out to Lunch festival. For further details, visit www.cqaf.com