All night party animal
Among those in the know, there is palpable excitement in the air. While most of Johannesburg and Cape Town go about their business blissfully unaware, a handful of like-minded people have been spotted jumping up and down with excitement at the news.
Mr Scruff is coming.
Mr Scruff, the man who melds jazz, reggae, dub, downtempo, psychedelic rock, electronic noodling and much more into something completely different. Mr Scruff, the man responsible for Get a Move On, the biggest-ever hit from British experimental electronic label Ninja Tunes, which has played in countless adverts and is even a surprise killer on the dance floor among deep house enthusiasts way down in Mzansi. Mr Scruff, the man who draws the cartoons on his album sleeves himself, and has invented his own colourful cartoon world to complement his audio collages. Mr Scruff, who even designed his own flyer for his Cape Town gig. It is exceptionally difficult not to love Mr Scruff.
The man’s mish-mash of styles is as tasty as his favourite food, the freshly baked, home-made pies that constantly crop up in his artwork. To those who like their beats interesting, Mr Scruff, or Andy McCarthy as his mum calls him, is a small-scale legend. He is also exceedingly deadpan and relaxed, talking on the phone from Manchester. Unsurprisingly for a man famous for playing incredibly long sets, Mr Scruff does not like to rush. “It’s my first time playing in South Africa and I don’t want to be in and out. When I go to a new place I like to hang around long enough to experience it. I want to take some time to see the sights, eat the food and shop for some records.”
Particularly the latter. Mr Scruff is the ultimate crate digger, a true music fanatic. I ask him about South African music. “I’m by no means an expert, but I do have some great South African records I love to play, including a lot of Abdullah Ibrahim. What’s great is that when I’m down in South Africa I’ll meet tons of music enthusiasts and I’ll get some people to show me around and take me record shopping. So I’m hoping I’ll leave with a lot more knowledge of South African music than before.” Mr Scruff demonstrates that he knows more about our artists than he gives himself credit for when he mentions Felix Laband. “He has a very unique take on the whole downtempo thing. He stands out for me as having something special, which is hard to define, something beautiful.”
Apart from his music, Mr Scruff is also famous for his marathon sets, which have been known to go on for up to eight hours. It is a bit mental playing for that long, isn’t it? “Not at all. Before I got to this stage in my career I would play two-hour sets after some pumping house DJ and it didn’t really fit. I like to take my time, build up a mood, get into a groove and run with it. I play a lot of different styles, including slower stuff that you couldn’t play at two in the morning, so I eventually build up to the more energetic tunes over a long period of time. It’s very important for me to create a whole evening rather than rushing. A lot of DJs play these instant two-hour sets of very similar music without much progression, and that’s really what I’d like to avoid.”
He adds that “it was par for the course for the DJs in the 1970s to play all night, but back then they were considered part of the staff, no more important than a barman, so they would end up having to sweep the floor after the gigs. Since DJs are treated so well these days I have the added bonus of not having to sweep the floor after I play, which is nice.”
But how does he explain his obsession with marine life? Each of his albums has some bizarre experimental tracks featuring stories about fish and whales. “It just happened, really. I just noticed that in my record collection I had an over-abundance of fishy, wet and slippery sounds. It could just as well have been tracks about donkeys or giraffes but for the fact that I just happened to have plenty of aquatic sampling material.”
Okay, then. And why do you like pies so much? “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. When it comes to my cartoons, I focus on everyday things that people enjoy, like pies and tea. And it just so happens that if someone’s just baked a fresh pie I’m going to want to taste it. I think that’s only normal.” Mr Scruff’s closing advice is suitably solemn. “Never under-estimate the power of pastry,” he warns.
Mr Scruff is playing with Blunted Stuntman at Loaded in Johannesburg on September 29, and with Goldfish at Rhodes House in Cape Town on September 30