DJ, Producer and Illustrator Mr. Scruff has been playing records for over 30 years, and has been releasing music for over 20 years. He’s been signed to Ninja Tune since 1998, and his all-night vinyl DJ sets span a multitude of genres.

His Keep It Unreal night continues to be a cornerstone of the Manchester music scene, and his international profile remains as strong as ever. So how does he do it?

A master of his craft, here Mr. Scruff shares his tips for DJs.

Research your genres

Any modern genre, electronic or otherwise, can be traced back decades. Get to know the roots and ancestry. It will really open your eyes, and give you more authority to put your own stamp and style on what you do.

To mix or not to mix? 

Let each song or track tell you how to present it. A killer intro may benefit from a dramatic pause beforehand. The order of the tunes is far more important than how they fit together. If you have to mix all the time, then slip in some tunes that change tempo (lots of older, live tunes do this), or chop quickly to a slower or higher tempo. 

Try polyrhythmic mixing to get from one tempo to another. Perhaps a 160 BPM 4/4 tune over a 120 BPM tune in 12/8. You can use triplet delays for the same effect. Set a triplet delay for the first tune, and then cut the tune, and use the tempo of the triplet as a metronome to set the new tempo.

Early doors set? Keep it quiet!

Give the night some dynamic and yourself somewhere to go by holding back the volume if the room is not full. Playing too loud in an empty space will mean that people will hear the harsh reflections from hard surfaces more than the direct sound from the PA. 

Push the volume as it gets busier. Bodies soak up the sound, tighten the bass and reduce the reflections. Pull people in, don’t push them away with excessive volume. And watch closely. If people have to lean in to shout into each other's ears, it’s too loud.

Learn the equipment

If you play in venues, make friends with the sound engineer. Find out what they do, maybe even see if you can help out or shadow an engineer for a while to see what goes on behind the scenes. Or, to be exact, to see what happens to your music after it leaves the mixer! DJing requires some element of sound engineering knowledge. Learn the language! If you can communicate and work alongside the venue crew, you’re much more likely to get a better quality of sound.

Know your music inside out, but…

Planning the order of tunes in a DJ set shouldn't be necessary. Think of it as a conversation, not a speech. You may have one or two killer combinations, but resist the temptation to plan too much ahead.

"Planning the order of tunes in a DJ set shouldn't be necessary. Think of it as a conversation, not a speech."