Blame it on the internet. Blame it on postmodernism. Blame it on the rain.
“Curation” used to be the province of experts. To “curate” something implied a certain educated discernment, and the word itself tended to only pop up in art world contexts. These days, “curating” is just a slightly irritating way of saying “pick some stuff out of a bunch of other stuff.”
Hyper-customization has taken over. It’s all about you—your preferences and your taste. And, forget the art world. Anything can be curated nowadays. At Subway, they may be the sandwich artists, but you’re the sandwich curator.
Taking old-timey curators down a peg isn’t the worst thing that ever happened. Historically-speaking, the tastemakers who did all the enshrining of goods tended to be well-off European dudes venerating the work of other well-off European dudes. We could probably all do with a few less “canons” and “masterworks,” but I’d like to defend the professional curator for just a moment.
When it comes to music, your lovingly assembled playlist may be just as good as the next gal’s, but there’s a limitation inherent to being you and only you. Unless you’ve spent the better part of your waking life crate-digging with the best of them, you are going to have missed a jam or two—maybe even the jam that changes your life or, at the very least, accompanies the Hard Day’s Night-style tracking shot that opens your biopic. (Is that just me?)
There’s no real way around it. We need some goddamn professionals up in here if we’re ever going to discover anything outside of our tiny parcel of demographics and upbringing, and a Pandora algorithm isn’t going to cut it. Experts are experts because they’ve spent a heck of a lot of time studying their subject matter of choice, and when it comes to popular music—soul, R&B, deep house, funk, afrobeat, hip-hop, reggae, techno, jazz—there’s one selecta who has played them all, and his name is Mr. Scruff.
Stateside, you may know Mr. Scruff (aka Andy Carthy) from his 1999 hit “Get a Move On,” based on Moondog’s “Bird’s Lament (In Memory of Charlie Parker).” (Even if the name of the track doesn’t ring a bell, if you’ve seen a car commercial in the last decade, you’ve heard the tune.) But, Scruffy’s most dazzling work is, in my mind, his Keep It Unreal club night, which will celebrate its 16th anniversary on June 20th.
I’ve never made the transatlantic flight to attend said club night, but Mr. Scruff regularly posts his legendary marathon sets on his SoundCloud page. Typically six hours in length, Scruff’s sets are genre-hopping journeys that unfold over the course of an evening and are always suffused with joy.
Mr. Scruff has brought more great music into my life than any other single source. Thanks to Scruff, I could mourn Terry Callier’s passing, take a deep dive into Phil France’s solo work, and discover the unexpected pleasures of Quincy Jones’ earliest attempts at rapping. In celebration of Keep It Unreal’s anniversary, I’ve posted some of my favorite Scruff sets below, but dig around on his SoundCloud page.
You’ll find something there you never knew you needed.