Ruf Dug is one of the good guys. A prolific and truly diverse DJ and producer, his extensive record collection has, over his long career, been dragged through Australia’s gritty squat rave scene and the idyllic French Caribbean, but now remains firmly rooted in his home city of Manchester.
His vinyl only label Ruf Kutz has a cult following among DJs from Pearson Sound (listen below to their joint podcast for Rinse FM) to Erol Alkan, and what’s more, he’s been involved in two of the North West’s best parties in recent fuzzy memory; the legendary Wet Play and now, his own no-nonsense soiree for house, disco, techno and weird stuff, Dancers Wanted.
The party returns to Soup Kitchen on June 26th with cult German producer Wolf Muller, aka Jan Schulte as a very special guest alongside Ruffy, who’s incredibly blissed out new record, 'Island', lands this month on Denmark’s Music for Dreams label.
We recently caught up with the ever thoughtful DJ to catch up on the new record and the purpose of the party, and to extensively ponder, just what is underground now anyway?
So, the album was recorded last year in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean?
My wife was over there working on a television show, and I knew I had this twelve week period over there with time to kill. I always planned to take the studio and there and make something, but making an album seemed a bit self indulgent and I didn’t really have an outlet for it.
But then Music for Dreams got in touch and asked me to make an LP early last year and so I had a lot of time to think about it before hand.
Is it a productive place to make music, and did you manage to meet any similarly minded musicians while over there?
People mainly go there on holiday, the industry there is tourism. It’s great, but only for two weeks, and my wife would be working sixty hours a week, so I knew I’d just be hanging round the house. One of the episodes of the show was set in a recording studio, pretty much the only studio on the island, so I got to visit. The population is only around 400,000 but the amount of music that comes out is pretty phenomenal really, given that.
For those unfamiliar, tell us about Music for Dreams as a label, and it’s place in the contemporary Balearic scene.
It’s run by a bloke called Kenneth Bayer, who was there in Ibiza, down in Amnesia in the 80s, a proper Balearic head. But just as Danny Rampling, Paul Oakenfold and so on brought that sound back to the UK, he did it with Copenhagen. Music for Dreams is his label, and together with International Feel and Aficionado, it’s one of the more established labels operating alongside the ‘nu-Balearic’ scene.
What’s your personal relationship with Ibiza and the sort of Balearic sound and aesthetic those labels are devoted to?
My folks bought an apartment in Ibiza in 1979, just a little one bedroom thing, and that’s owned by me and my brother and it’s still there. They weren’t clubbers or anything like that, but I’ve spent years there, always grown up with Ibiza. Then again, I’ve only been to Space once, four years ago, and it was shit. And I also went to Manumission in 1998, when Norman Cook was playing in the back room, and that was brilliant. But I’ve only been to San Antonio once in the past fifteen years, in the winter, when there’s just nobody there.
How do you feel about the supposed mystical qualities of Ibiza, as an island and that Balearic sound?
I like that about it. One of the most important things to remember about Ibiza, is it’s a fantasy island. Short of skiing or ice caving, you can pretty much do whatever you want out there, to indulge your imagination and live these wild dreams. So I think the source of this mystical, esoteric nature of the island is that. Because that’s not really the sound of Ibiza. The sound of Ibiza now is reverb heavy, minimal tech house, and that’s what they play on the radio. And that’s got it’s own particular charm. I mean, I’d go mad if I had to listen to it for an entire summer but it’s quite fun for driving around to in the car.
I suppose it wouldn’t have made sense to compose an album of raw club tracks in Guadeloupe...
One of the things I wanted to be sure about before making the album was that I knew who I was making it for. I didn’t want to make a record that was just a collection of club tracks, and then maybe a token hip hop track or beatless track. I knew it was going to be mellow as fuck, although some tracks are getting club play nonetheless, but that wasn’t the intention. I don’t know how many albums have the indulgent luxury of having been thought about in advance. I mean, there’s a story or a narrative already. I’m heading off to a tropical island to record for six months, so there are elements of romance and so on already.
You dip in and out of scenes but you seem to really ‘get them’, for lack of a better term? You understand the context, whether it’s a rave record from Australia, something balaeric or even something soundtrack based.
I think a lot about this myself, and without being too Polly Anna-ish about it, there can be clear lines drawn between what I like. I suppose I’ve just always been exposed to a lot of music, always played video games, always absorbed it, have always been encouraged. My Mum was a really good dancer, but just at school really.
Dancers Wanted is you setting out a stall in Manchester, having been back here in 2008, and takes place quarterly in the basement Soup Kitchen. What do you think is key to the success of that venue as a club?
Soup Kitchen has grown up in the time I’ve been back here, I think the guys bought it and the first thing I went to was Kyle Hall in 2009, and it’s been amazing since. It’s been nice growing with them, and I’ve played there so many times, upstairs and down, in so many guises. I’d stopped being involved in Wet Play about two and a half years ago now, and it went from there.
You’re back playing with Wet Play for the the first time next month. But you seemed to depart the crew and the party at the height of it’s impact. Why was that?
Because it was more than just a party by that stage. It was the decor, the magazine, the promotion... The music was brilliant, but it almost felt like the last part. And we’d been doing it monthly, and pouring that amount of energy in just takes it’s toll. But it was a beautiful, delirious situation. And I was meaning to do other things and getting gigs elsewhere, so it was time to stop.
But then after six or seven months, I got itchy feet, and then came Dancers Wanted. And I’d wanted to just do something really simply by that point, having played at a club called Rhythm Section in a pool hall in Peckham.
And that’s a very different thing, but you seem to have captured the spirit of what we hear in the North about that night…
Yes, shamelessly! That whole vibe is really nice. Vinyl only, red light, no photos, you know? And the idea of simplicity had been there all along, just for the sake of my own mental health. I knew it had to be at Soup Kitchen, with just me and somebody playing all night long. And I decided to book people I already knew, so there’s been Bradley Zero from Rhythm Section, Luv Jam, Jack J and other. And the name of the party, Dancers Wanted, places focus on the crowd.
I think all that does a lot to cut the unnecessary fat off a club night, to give it an underground feel, for lack of a better term right now.
I was thinking, what is underground now? What does that term mean? It’s vanished from the lexicon! Twelve or fifteen years ago, it was all about underground. I’d put on nights when I lived in Sydney for a dozen people in a pub and people would say it wasn’t underground!
Records kept only for shops, white labels, a world before Discogs, that kind of underground, it doesn’t exist. Or maybe it does and I don’t know what it is anymore? But I think that what’s happening is a reaction that strips thing back and keeps things focused on the dancers once more. I mean, I’m sure to a lot of people I’m underground, but I don’t feel it. And I don’t lament it. I just wonder if there’s no real way to link house music or any dance music with the underground any more because it is such a mainstream thing right now.
So that the moment you engage within the paradigm of that culture, the moment you buy a record, or put on a DJ set or the moment you might choose to take ecstasy, there’s nothing underground about that at all. Because one of the facets of club culture is the sense of being cool, whether that’s how you dress or what you listen to, that’s a currency to bandy around. What’s underground is something else entirely, like… knitting? Actually, knitting isn’t underground now!
Well, I don’t necessarily view you as underground, but I’d say you’re a purist without being particularly puritanical. Nights like yours or Rhythm Section are inclusive, they’ve got an upward route nowadays. I suspect in this day and age that it’s too much hard work and fuss to be properly underground or mysterious, surely it gets quite tedious?
You know where it still exists? Berlin. There’s still people there DJing who’ll tell you that they don’t have a Soundcloud, or that they don’t bother finishing tracks. That’s how you stay underground these days. You just have to not finish anything.
How do you think Manchester’s club scene is looking in the face of somewhere like Roadhouse closing down, along with the loss of a club like Hoya Hoya?
There’s loads of good stuff coming through. It’s been what, ten years of Warehouse Project now? I was living in Sydney when that started, and we heard about it even there, and everyone thought it was great. But then Electric Chair closed down around the same time, and it felt like Warehouse Project scooped up a lot of acts. People didn’t really know who to book, and that’s actually sort of what Wet Play sprung out of, along with Hoya Hoya. They managed to carve their own sound that people really responded to.
As a DJ, more so off the back of your label, Ruf Kutz, and given your reputation as a knowledgeable selector, you’ve played a lot of gigs across Europe in the past few years. Among the obvious cities, where have been the real highlights and unexpected scene you’ve encountered?
The Dusseldorf scene, there’s this whole rotating gang at the club called Salon. Obviously there’s a real good history of the art and music scene being intertwined from Kraftwerk onwards, real strong links. So in the art museum, these guys rent the bar every Friday and Saturday from 11 until 7 in the morning, and it’s loose as hell man.
When I played we didn’t get until about 115 bpm until 6 in the morning. People ask if the music is going to get faster, but most people are just so into it. And I don’t drink, and there was no order, you just play tunes until you get shoved off, but it was really nice! Jan Schulter is from Dusseldorf, and he must only be 25, but has access to all these old cosmic records. The stuff he makes is great too, all bells and drums, it sounds like amazing library music, and so the next Dancers Wanted is me and him playing all night long.
Talking of library music; You’ve obviously got a connection in the film and TV industry, so when are we going to hear some of yours?
I’m actually just writing my first soundtrack! I actually have to write some trance music, which is an interesting challenge. But obviously I love Tangerine Dream and Jean Michel Jarre, he’s the reason I got my D-50 synth.