This July, Manchester-based DJ and music producer Mr Scruff is due to play one of his famous marathon-length sets at Garden Festival 2010 in Croatia. Mr Scruff is known for his unique blend of hip-hop and dance music that takes influences from numerous genres. His diverse style has proved popular with fans of various types of music. He is also well-known for his artwork and his tea company Make Us A Brew. He recently took some time out from his busy schedule to talk with Room Thirteen about Garden Festival, the tea company and his work with Ninja Tunes and Roots Manuva.

R13: In July, you’re due to be performing at Garden Festival in Croatia. Are you looking forward to it?
MS: Yeah. I’ve played there a few times before and it’s just great. It’s a gorgeous part of the world and it’s very relaxing. Lots of my friends go there and we always go for at least a week. I’ve got a five-hour set outdoors on the Sunday, which is always my favourite time to play. It’s kind of my traditional slot now. Really looking forward to it.

R13: What is it like playing festivals in that part of the world?
MS: Great. I’ve only ever played a couple. The Garden Festival a few times and I’ve played at Sziget in Budapest as well. Festivals are always good. Very hedonistic people, just a bit more free because they’re outside, really. Good crowd, lots of dancing, lovely scenery, sunshine. Stuff we don’t get very much. It’s just nice to be able to dance outdoors for five hours without having to wear a coat or something. You get quite a lot of British people at Garden Festival so, culturally, it’s not that different from a British festival, but the setting is incredible. It’s not in a field, it’s in some bizarre, old holiday complex with an old Sixties-style nightclub and it’s great. Amazing outdoor stage, great sound systems and you’re right by the beach. There’s very little not to enjoy there.

R13: What can people expect from your set?
MS: A good mixture as always, I suppose. It’s Sunday evening, so I’ll start off mellow and get a bit more hyper as it gets dark. A good mixture of soulful music. It’s one of the sets to close the festival, so it’s nice to round it off with a real celebration of different kinds of music.

R13: You’ve previously mentioned that you like to take risks when making music. Why is that so important to you?
MS: I think that if you don’t, you just repeat yourself and you end up just going through the motions; and then you lose inspiration and get bored. If you take risks you’re constantly keeping yourself in a state of mind where you’re always learning. You don’t learn if you don’t take risks or try new things. Whether it’s when you’re DJing or whether you’re in the studio, you’ve got to try new stuff. I always get excited by hearing new music, hearing new sounds and trying new things out in the studio. It’s about holding onto that playfulness that you had when you were a kid. It’s about being curious and getting excited about music. I still buzz off of it the same way I did thirty years ago, when I started getting into it. When I lose that, it’s time to do something else. It’s good to keep pushing it and giving yourself little challenges. It’s like, tonight, I’ve got this really weird record and if I don’t play it, I’m not doing my job properly.

R13: Would you describe your last album ‘Ninja Tuna’ as a risky record to make?
MS: I think that my music’s got a very definite sound, but that last album was about trying to find a kind of happy medium between programmed stuff, synths and live musicians. It was about trying to get a middle ground where it didn’t sound live and it didn’t sound programmed. It was something in the middle, like some bizarre cyborg. That was the whole approach behind the last album. There was a lot of stuff I’d tried for the first time on tracks like ‘Whiplash’. I was working with musicians a lot more than I have done in the past and that, for me, was something quite new. As a piece of music, it didn’t particularly sound risky, but I think it’s more about pushing yourself personally. I played a lot more music myself, rather than using samples. It’s about making sure you don’t repeat yourself.

R13: How’s the tea business going?
MS: Yeah, really well. We’ve had the tea company for about four years now. I’m not sure exactly how it started, apart from just selling the tea in clubs and then getting a bit out of hand. We’re getting really good distribution in the UK and it’s selling in America now. It’s getting out to Hungary and it’s doing really well in Denmark. It’s quite freaky, because it just started off as a daft idea, just selling a few cups of tea in a club and now people really like it. Both, people who associate me with tea from coming to my gigs and people who’ve never heard of me but look at the box and go: “That looks jolly, I like that cartoon and the tea’s nice as well”. It’s something bizarre, but then again, I quite like the way the whole thing’s gone, where it starts off as a laugh and, years later, you’ve got a tea company. On the face of it, a DJ and producer with a tea company seems like a bit of an odd combination, but it’s great fun and it’s just something new to learn about and experience. With the packaging, it’s the first time I’ve ever had to consider commercial requirements. Normally, I just do a bit of a scribble and that becomes an album cover, but with this, I have to think about it a bit more when there are EU regulations and all that kind of stuff.

R13: You mentioned your artwork a bit there. Is that something that has always been important to you?
MS: Yeah, in a kind of daft, relaxed way. I’ve never really looked at it as a career or anything. It’s more just something fun that I do that happens to illustrate the music, pretty much. I know people really like it and it’s part and parcel of what I do now, but I don’t particularly take it seriously, although I do really enjoy it. I’d probably do more artwork if I wasn’t doing music. I did start off doing an art degree and I’ve always doodled. I’ve been asked to do exhibitions and things like that, but I wouldn’t put myself in the same category as people who do that sort of thing full-time. I’d feel a bit cheeky doing an exhibition, because there are people who far more deserve a gallery space than I do. I just illustrate my own little world and do a few other bits and bobs. It’s another way to let off steam, to draw like a drunk five-year-old.

R13: You’ve previously done a few tracks with Roots Manuva and you’ve mentioned that you’d like to record an album with him. Is there any news on that project?
MS: Not really. Neither of us are going anywhere, so I think it could happen in the future. I’m sure that’s something that Ninja [Tunes] would be really into as well. It would be great. He’s a real character, he’s got a very individual vision and he’s very unpredictable. Someone like that is great to work with, because you don’t know where you are going next. (At this point in the interview, he is interrupted by a phone call from a promoter in Greece, who is concerned that a gig might be affected by the flight cancellations caused by the volcanic ash from Iceland). I really like the music [Roots Manuva] produces, as well as his vocals and lyrics. In terms of someone whose career I’ve followed for fifteen years, he’s always coming up with new surprises and trying new bits and bobs. Lyrically, I think he’s in a world of his own. The kind of language he comes out with is very visual. I’d love to work on more than the occasional track with him. So, we’ll see what happens.

R13: What other artists are you currently listening to?
MS: I just got the new Ron Basejam album, which is really good. Untold is another very exciting producer. He’s making crazy, minimal, freaky music. He’s a very brave producer in terms of what he leaves out of the music. That also goes for David Kennedy, or Ramadanman and Pearson Sound is also what he records under; he does a lot with very few sounds. I admire their restraint. There’s so much good music coming out at the moment that it’s pretty hard to keep on top of it.

R13: Are we likely to see you on any UK festival bills this year?
MS: A couple, yeah. Big Chill and Camp Bestival. I tend not to do too many festivals, but try and spend the whole weekend there rather than run around trying to fit everything in. I prefer to go to festivals as a punter. I’m playing Montreal Jazz Festival, Detroit Electronic Music Festival and a few other bits overseas.

R13: Can people expect a new album from Mr Scruff anytime soon?
MS: I’m not sure when there will be an album, because it’s the Twentieth Anniversary of Ninja [Tunes] this year and they’ve got quite a hectic release schedule already. Hopefully, there will be a single pretty soon. I’m gearing up for getting quite a few bits of music out again. I’m really excited by the new stuff; just me attempting to play quite wonky music, but it’s come out really well. I’m just kind of finishing a few tunes every month and testing them out when I’m DJing. Hopefully, that should pave the way for a lot more new music.

R13: You mentioned that it’s the 20th Anniversary of Ninja Tunes this year. Do you think Ninja Tunes have had an important place in British music in the last twenty years?
MS: Yeah, definitely. I think, along with labels like Warp, they’ve had a very wide and interesting roster of music and, I suppose, they periodically come in and out of favour depending on what’s fashionable. But, they’re consistently working hard. Everyone who’s signed to the label is very well respected in their field, whether they’ve been at it for a very long time or whether they’re a new signing. Coldcut have always been very across the board musically. It’s only fitting that the label that they started carries on that mantra. They just put stuff out that they like and I think that’s definitely the way to go. For me, as an artist, it’s nice to be involved in a label where they’re putting out loads of crazy, different stuff. It’s good to be surrounded by people who are pioneers in their own sound. It’s fantastic, so hopefully we’ll be celebrating Ninja’s Fiftieth in 2040.

Garden Festival 2010 takes place 2-11 July in Croatia. To check out the website go to:
Garden Festival 2010