When it comes to turntablism, there are few individuals in the UK who have the skills of former Scratch Pervert’s member Mr. Thing. Having won the UK DMC championship back in the year 2000 as a solo performer and the world championship the year before as a team with Scratch Perverts, he is renowned worldwide for his skills a cutting, mixing and scratching records of many genres be it hip-hop, soul, funk and everything in between. Having now departed from the Scratch Perverts, Mr Thing regularly tours the UK and will be playing at The Doctors Orders 10th Birthday in London ay the end of the month, not to mention also at Mint Club in Leeds and at Camden’s Jazz Café. We caught up with him last week to talk about the art of turntablism, his time in Scratch Perverts and DJ technology.
Hi Marc, how you doing? Hi! All good here, thank you!
As Mr Thing you have been mixing records in a very unique way for over two decades. How many years did it take you to learn these skills to a standard that you felt you could perform at?
It took me a long time of practising indoors with friends before I really started going out and playing in public. Two of my good friends from school had decks before me but I had adpated various hi-fis at home so I could learn to scratch, my friend taught me how to beat mix, count the bars and very basic scratching and when our local youth club got 1210s you couldn't get us off of them, every week we would go there and practice, this was around 1987-88, something like that.
My first gig was late '89, but it was pretty basic mixing stuff at that stage, I was working at the local supermarket while at school to save up for my own decks, and then it was really on! Was also looking for records in the local newspaper ads, couple of local DJs sold their collections and the usual record fairs and car boot sales so we were able to find stuff for cheap and then just learnt the rest on my own from records, DMC videos, anything i could get my hands on until I met First Rate who was from the next town over from me in Kent. He had heard about me and we battled, he kicked my ass of course and then he took me out DJing with him mid-90s and showed me how to put stuff together with more confidence, I enjoyed the learning part, the whole trial and error and having to cope with horrible mixer/dj set ups early on, makes you better!
During your earlier days mixing you will have used the standard tech setup for every DJ at that time, that being two turntables and a mixer. When you perform today do you still prefer to use vinyl or have you taken advantage of the advances in technology?
Still only have a very basic set up at home, just two turntables and a mixer, and a basic Rane mixer at that and all my records, which takes up most of the house haha! I've been doing a nice balance of vinyl and Serato based gigs lately, since my Boiler Room set a lot of people like to book me for 45s or vinyl set and for a lot of the club nights I do or for a lot of travelling the Serato is a great thing. I really enjoy putting a box of records together, but with a lot of the new music a great deal of it especially exclusives and edits, things like that are just simply not on vinyl so it's a must for doing mixes without having to go and get a carver/dubplate cut (although I have done that as well with some of my own stuff I haven't released yet!).
This also leads me to ask about younger DJs today who have grown up with technology. Simply mixing records and even learning the art of turntablism is becoming much easier as corners can be cut using software and features on CDJs that take away a lot of the experience and skill needed to do it. What are your thoughts on this?
It is much, much easier to DJ with Serato, with the cue points, pitch bend and even the dreaded "sync" button on other programs, but I honestly think you still need a good deal of human feel and music knowledge/ability to be able to DJ well, but the technology has made it a lot easier. I'm definitely glad I learnt in the era that I did, the limitations forced you to be more creative, but the advances in tech and what you can do with it now are pretty mind-blowing as well!
Many people will know you as a former member of the Scratch Perverts. How did you meet Tony Vegas and Prime Cuts?
I met them both through trips to Mr Bongo record shop when it was in Lexington Street in Soho, that was a great meeting place for DJs and artists, even more so when it moved to Poland Street. I used to go there with First Rate and quite often my friend Mark who know does Madina design. I Got chatting to Tony about breaks and DJs we liked and I had no idea he was a DJ at all, just thought he was into records! But Joel Prime Cuts had a name round Kent (he was from there too), and it turns out we were at a lot of the same parties late 80s/early 90s but we didn't know each other until maybe the mid 90s through the shop. First Rate talked me into DJing with him at a showcase when Bongos moved to Poland Street, Tony DJ'ed there too and the idea for the crew was loosely formed around that time!
What are the integral differences between playing on your own and as part of a group when it comes to turntablism?
Totally different kind of discipline, when you're on your own practising and working out routines and ideas you can start again and it's all on you, but with the group it's great to have everyone there with ideas and suggestions and input, but you also have to be pretty patient while everyone learns their parts in the routines and things like that. I learnt that even more DJing with DJ Vadim on tour when we had a few different line ups with Kela, and also the band too, you can't just cut anywhere or anytime, it has to fit and have it's place, I enjoyed that and I applied that to putting club sets and mixtapes together, how to make it flow and not be messy!
Fabric Live 22 was one of the most integral releases for Scratch Perverts during your time in the group. The series is still going strong today and is now one of only a very few mix CDs out there you can buy. Do you think this is a format that should never die?
I wasn't involved in the Fabric CD at all i'm afraid as it was after the crew had disbanded, I'm not actually sure who put that together! I do think it's a great series and has had great longevity, I think legal mix CDs are a great idea but from experience a lot of the time licensing in the digital age can be a tricky thing!
Do you have any plans to record and release another mix CD anytime soon?
Currently working on a new Strange Breaks & Mr Thing compilation for BBE which will have the mixed version on the CD, got a few other mixes i'm working on as well but they'll be more for my Mixcloud page.
You have a number of dates coming up in the UK, one of the standouts being The Doctors Orders 20th Birthday at The Scala in London, where you’ll play alongside Jazzy Jeff, J Rocc and Kutmah amongst loads of others. What does it mean to be playing alongside Jazzy Jeff and what can we expect from you here?
DJing with Jazzy Jeff is still a huge deal for me, he's hands down my favourite DJ and was a huge inspiration when I was learning and coming up, when A Touch Of Jazz came out that was the record that really triggered my love of finding original samples and putting them into DJ sets and when I heard Live At Union Square I rewound that tape and studied it and studied it, it still blows me away to this day. I've played with him quite a few times now and it's always good, really nice guy. As for the set, no idea just yet, panic usually sets in the week before when I'm at home going through ideas!
Interview by Josh Plews Photos courtesy of The Doctor's Orders