The city of Manchester and its border towns have played a significant role in the history of popular music and its cultural impact over the last century. A culturally diverse district with a working man’s ideology embedded deep within its origins, Manchester has contributed its fair share of cultural stepping stones and cultural icons to the world. From musical anomalies like Northern Soul, acid House, the Hacienda, Factory records, New Order, Stone Roses, the Smiths, post-punk and yes, of course Oasis, its prominence on the world music stage cannot be taken lightly. A vivid heritage pulses through the veins of the region with a myriad of outside influences informing a very distinct cultural identity in the city. “It’s very rich and very nuanced and we’ve got a massive cultural vocabulary”, says Simon Mcruff Al-duggleston from his home in the city.
Simon is perhaps better known by his Ruf Dug alias; a producer, radio host DJ and label owner who has been releasing music on Unknown to the Unknown, Klasse Werks and Süd Electronic as well as his own Ruf Kutz imprint and plays regularly for international audiences, especially from his monthly NTS radio show. Born in Manchester, with summers in Ibiza and stints in Australia, Simon’s music and sets favour a similar nomadic pursuit to his lifestyle. His NTS radio show can go anywhere from the Balearic isles to the cyber-soundtracks of video games while as a producer he similarly eschews the borders of music for a fluid approach across genres and styles in pursuit of a fleeting individual flavour. Co-owner of the ‘outlandish’ Hi-Tackle record shop in Manchester and playing sets regularly all over the UK, Simon is championed as the “original tropical cyberpunk” by his peers for his eclectic and eccentric approach to music, an approach he shares with the diverse musical heritage of the city he calls home.
With his proximation to the city and his own diverse musical inclinations as well as his experience, we called Simon up to talk about the future of the Manchester sound – if such a thing even exists. We asked Simon to pick five tracks from the city that has or ultimately will make a large impact on the future of music in Manchester.
When the digital bubbling ringtone of Skype cuts out, Simon is on the other end of the call in his home in Manchester. He is currently putting the finishing touches on a record that looks to one of the UK’s more obscure musical anomalies. “The idea was to make a Street Soul record” for the newly launched Rhythm Section label in London says. Utilising the radio show/label’s newly established London studio to record a host of vocalists, from obscure classical artists like Hannah Jones to accidental voices like Bradley Zero from Rhythm Section, Simon went into the recording session trying to seize upon that spirit of the Street Soul era. Using little more than a sampler and a microphone, Simon “wanted to capture that collaborative way of making music” with a “modern” touch and by the time I call him up he believes that has at least “two or three absolute belters just from the raw takes.”
Bó‘vel – Check 4 U
Street Soul has played a prominent role in the heritage of Manchester and came about during a time when “there was a lot of racial division and crime” and as such “the music remained very underground” according to Simon. It had persisted to be quite obscure and was almost lost to the world, but with a recent focus on that style of music through labels like Trilogy Tapes, “it’s a sound that is starting to get more popular now.”
“Check 4U is one of the grails” of the Street Soul sound for Simon, and although his intentions were to just get a copy of the record from the artist, a few friendly enquiries to Matt Black, a Street Soul original, lead to an introduction to Bô’vel; a request for a remix; and a re-issue of the record on B with records.
What drew you to the track initially?
It’s a perfect union of quite a few core elements that I love in music. Really beautiful soulful female vocal, but it’s a really minimal electronic production. It’s also got a really heavy reggae soundsystem quality to it, that big 808 sinewave kind of thing.
Simon “has been into street soul for a while” and has been playing Check 4 U on his NTS show regularly, which always has “an amazing reaction in people”. I’m surprised to find out the track is over twenty years old, and Simon believes that’s because “it’s a really timeless tune” with a very UK sensibility at its core: “That’s what’s so good about street soul music is UK music made by people with a soundsystem mentality that want to make pop tunes.“
Bô’vel’s soulful vocal floats with an arresting grace over the sub-bass wave anchored in the oscillating, looping beat. The singer’s voice progresses through an arrangement that stays largely stationary and lends much from the UK’s soundsystem and dance music cultures.
DJ Absolutely Shit – A night at shelley’s Laser Dome
Although Simon grew up in the city of the Hacienda, Factory records and Acid House his own relationship to club- and subcultural dance music is far more fractured than that. “Fractured is a good word” he says. While he’s “liked electronic music from an early age” it wasn’t the sound of Acid House or Techno that first caught his attention but rather the sound of some fictional future. While songs like Giorgio Moroder and artists like Pet Shop Boys had certainly caught his attention on Top of the Pops, it was the music from TV and video games that would be Simon’s first electronic love.
What was it about TV and video games that caught your attention?
All the big TV shows like Night Rider and Airwolf, had this kind of mega synthy kind of intros. Synthesizers were just spacy, science fiction devices for me.
And how did you eventually get into the club music thing?
My first real exposure to club music as such, would’ve been early 808 state. There were a couple of kids at school that would be into really cool music, and they would give me tapes. Growing up in Manchester, I was aware of the role Manchester was playing in Acid House, but I was a bit too young and too suburban to really access that properly. Because it was electronic music and I was into electronic music through computers and things, I was sort of paying attention to it, but never really engaging with it.
It wasn’t until I was at university, around the age of 21 that would go to my first House music night and heard all this amazing House music – I don’t think it was actually very good when I think about it now, but it blew my mind at the time… And then I started taking ecstasy and then it all fucking happened. (Laughs)
The music Simon had previously dismissed had found a new favour with the burgeoning artist and he started frequenting Techno clubs, and eventually found Theo Parrish and “it was all good.” Another significant factor in Simon’s musical development was also the game Wipe-Out which featured Chemical beats by Chemical brothers. Later, at the relatively mature age of 29 he would buy his first set of decks with all these influences eventually staking a claim in his DJ sets and productions today. “It’s a wiggly line”, he says about these factors, “but it’s still a line you can draw all the way through.”
DJ Absolutely Shit’s a night at Shelly’s Laser dome harks back to that era of broken beats and rave influences of the nineties Simon would’ve been introduced to this music and although a contemporary track, it seems to carry the entire of UK subcultures with it. The Housy gospel vocal and hoover synth stabs and most significantly the broken beat track arrangement has a UK sound ingrained in its DNA.
The artist behind the track is Il Basco, who runs Red Laser Records and is a “Manchester stalwart” in Simon’s opinion. An one-off release under a fleeting alias dreamt up “ at about five in the morning one night” by a mutual friend Lucas, the track was only pressed up in fifty copies for Hi Tackle and sold out immediately, in part due to current “renaissance” hardcore and breakbeat are enjoying at the moment.
Finn – Sometimes the going gets a little tough
For many producers coming out of Manchester the hardcore genre and broken beat arrangements have given new life to the stoic dance floor genres that have resigned themselves to pre-existing formats and lifeless four-four beats. Everybody from Hessle Audio to Manni Dee are exploring those genres today, scouring the history of UK music for inspiration with their own unique interpretation of current musical tropes, and with the internet at their disposal the variety of influences can be very textured.
For Simon the young artist, producer and DJ known as Finn is such a conduit. One of the producers at NTS in Manchester, where they only broadcast over the weekend on NTS’ second channel, Simon believes Finn’s “sound is a distillation of everything coming through NTS Manchester.” With a very diverse selection of DJs passing through the NTS Manchester studios, “the variety of music you get on a given day is ridiculous, and it’s changing every two hours“ and Finn appears to have channeled this into his own productions according to Simon.
Finn pitches everything up in the recording studio in a process the young Mancunian producer calls “accelerating”. It gives his music a unique character and Simon believes it bares some resemblance to Northern Soul. “If you got into your time machine and went back 30 years to the wigan casino, you might confuse people, but I think people would get it and it would peak.”
You mentioned Northern Soul there, but do you think that Finn has any relationship to that music as a younger artist, born some time after its existence?
Yes, well that’s the next question; does Finn even hear the Northern Soul link in his music? Is aware of it, and is consciously doing it, or have I just missed the mark completely and I’m hearing something that isn’t there at all? I don’t know.
Do you think Finn is one the artists that will define the sound of Manchester for a future generation?
Yes and No. It’s quite shameful, but I think Oasis are probably the closest you’ll come to defining a Manchester sound, if there’s a Manchester sound. Finn is going to be massive and he’s already got over a million plays on Spotify. He’s got everything it takes.
Manchester is in the spotlight at the moment and there are people like iamddb – she’s a commercial R&B artist coming through and she’s my pick for the next absolutely massive Manchester phenomenon, but Finn will also be big.
Manchester City FC – Funky City
Even though it’s hard to pinpoint the exact cultural roots of anything like a Manchester sound, there’s a strong cultural heritage running through various aspects of cultural life in Manchester and one intrinsical part of that life is football.
Manchester City had just won the premier league before our conversation, “so you gotta get that in there” says Simon with a snigger. Recorded by Godley & Creme before they became known as cricket-loving band 10cc, this track is a soulful instrumental track recorded in 1972 as part of Manchester City FC single, but confusingly (or happily) doesn’t feature a single footballer on the record.
Although Godley & Creme might not have liked cricket, they certainly loved football, and from Noel Gallagher’s Manchester City FC rivalry guitars to Baddiel and Skinner’s “three lions”, there’s a fascinating connection between football and music throughout that region.
Is there a strong relationship between those two aspects of Mancunian culture for you?
You’re getting a lecture now that you’ve asked that question… In Manchester, the cornerstones of our culture is football, music and clothes and there’s strong historical reasons for that.
We were the first industrialised city in the world. We were the first city to have a working class. The you’ve got education, you’ve got mass congregation, and all the things a city will bring. You’ve got an urban culture and football is one of the things that will come with it, because you can get together in large teams, with significant support around them. Manchester United for instance began as Newton Heath Locomotive, a working man’s railway club.
The first process to become industrialised was the spinning of cotton and that was happening in the hills around Manchester. People would bring their cotton to the city to sell it and that’s where Manchester kind of started. And because you have all this cotton in the city a secondary industry springs up, the garment trade and ever since people have been mad for clothes. Manchester’s got it’s own look and its own trends today.
And the final bit is pop music, because people have a degree of education and there are pianos everywhere, but they’re not interested in opera or classical music, because it doesn’t tell their stories.
A burning question for me has always been, how does a person decide to become a Manchester City fan over a united fan?
I had no choice, my grandad was Manchester City Fan. He grew up in the east of Manchester so he was a city fan his whole life and when I was born there was choice.
I have a very vivid memory of staying at my grandparents’ house and wearing a red dressing gown. Because I looked good in this red dressing gown I went down stairs and told grandad that I was going to be a united supporter. I can hear him and I can see him now saying: “you are not”, and that was the end of it.
Brenda Beachball Ray – Skip Hop to Bop
Simon might be Manchester City fan since birth, but he spent his summers in Ibiza growing up and you can certainly detect something of that balearic strain through his own music on albums like Island, even though he admits, he never frequented he clubbing district on the Island. It’s something that makes it into his sets too and Brenda Beachball Ray’s Skip Hop to Bop is a very curious example of this kind of track. “It’s so rhythmic and so textured and so delicate at the same time”, says Simon who also mentions that he “play(s) it in club sets a lot”.
Brenda Beachball Ray is an artist born out of the post-punk scene in Manchester, who has piqued the interest of the balearic scene “because the Aficionado guys put out an EP from her a while ago”. Dancing through the night on the indie label Music from memory is another “mega” track for Simon who describes Skip hop to Bop as the “one to play when you’ve played like a good solid twenty minutes of Techno.”
Would you play that at the end of the night?
No man in the middle, right in the middle. (Laughs) I DJ’d with Midland at phonox recently all night. He’s got different playlists and they are all sort of mood playlists. One of them is just called ‘and breathe’ and this is what this track is.
Midland says and breathe, but for me it’s like you’re on a rocket ship, and it’s this moment of weightlessness at the top of the curve. It’s like when you take off from Manchester and it’s sunny for a second and then you pop back down again. That’s how it feels for me.
You mentioned you’re fairly acquainted with Brenda B and you often swap emails and besides Godley & Creme you seem to have a personal relationship with all these artists and their music. Did you pick these tracks because they were close to you?
I wasn’t conscious about it. It’s only now that I’m aware of what I’ve done, I wasn’t aware of it. Except in the case of Finn it’s music first and friendship later.
So what between all these tracks speak to you as n individual?
It’s the root I took to get to this music. I only got my first turntables at 29, so it took me a long time just to get to the beginning of other people’s DJ journeys. It doesn’t feel that different to me, I could have put together five much wackyer tunes. But at the end of the day, none of these you would be able to say are from Manchester unless you knew of them.
Except the Manchester FC track?
(Laughs) Except the Manchester FC one!
* Ruf Dug joins Øyvind Morken this Wednesday for Untzdag.