Morning shows, to me, are some of the most personal, tell-all radio programs people could listen to on a daily basis. The way I see it, they are literally the first couple of voices you hear in the morning before moving on with your day– very similar to the first bits of sound you hear when coming out of the womb: they shape they way you are for the next couple of years. Though, I’d curious to see how a baby would turn out if the first sound they listened to was a Rinse show.
The hosts of these programs are supposed to keep the listener entertained and amused, all-while maintaining a personality that’s likeable, or sometimes even unlikeable. They have to keep up a strong relationship with the “morning driver” or commuter. And there’s a reason why they’re called morning shows– listening to them at any other time of the day would feel just a bit awkward and might direct you to change the dial, or put your iPod on. That’s why it was somewhat difficult for me to go sum up the time to listen to Scratcha’s show, clocking in at 3 hours, which for a U.S. morning show would be a little short (most shows here in Miami are about 4 hours).
In my city, we’ve got the Paul & Young Ron show, that airs on 105.9, the classic rock station. They go for four hours and they talk about things current topics, whether it be sports-related or political chatter. They remind me a lot of those typical “your Dad’s drinking buddies” whose conversation topics are easier to muster when younger (you don’t know any better), but become more offensive and upsetting to listen to as you get older.
You also have DJ Laz on Power 96, who along with others have conversations about celebrities, and top those with prank phone call gimmicks. A couple of years ago, I interviewed Aziz Ansari at my radio station and he was hanging inside my office and he spoke to me about his schedule that day (he was in town to perform stand-up at a couple of comedy clubs). He said earlier that day, he was at the Power 96 studios for the DJ Laz Morning Show and the hosts brought out one of their interns half-naked, covered in honey, and being told to dance in front of Aziz. They were obviously going through many lengths to make Aziz laugh, but it didn’t work, and Aziz said to me he really hated DJ Laz and the whole situation. I’m bringing this up because this is the kind of relationship I have with morning shows, and sorta my views of the “morning show” format.
But I want to make notice that these are the preconceived notions I had before jumping onto Scratcha’s morning show, which, to me, is actually the most entertaining show on Rinse, and probably one of the more appealing morning shows.
I downloaded Scratcha’s podcast off of the Rinse site, and like I said before, it’s very strange to listen to a morning show during the daytime, but Scratcha really walks a fine line between your average Rinse FM mix show and the stock morning-show format: hearing it felt more like a charmingly disastrous late-night BBC Radio 1 show.
For this particular episode, which had Machinedrum guesting and mixing, there wasn’t as many antics as I’ve read there to be (burials, prank phone calls, fucking-with-bootleggers), but Scratcha’s personality really comes out in full-effect.
Scratcha is a pretty well-known, respected contributor to the Grime/Funky scene in London, and he’s been at it for a while. He’s got a ton of releases from both the Hyperdub imprint and his own DVA label, as well as being a really good live DJ. One thing that struck me most interesting about him from reading interviews is that he’s very much a producer who consciously follows music movements as they kinda natural progress in UK. Though, he doesn’t necessarily start them. Yet, he’s seen as one of the best/most unique producers within the scene because he tries to break away from each sound’s norm (usually with the idea of putting vocals on genres that started off with a no-vocal policy).
He started out producing jungle with Terror Danjah, then running into more grime-centric, synth-based productions, and then sorta getting into the whole UK funky thing. I think we live in a culture that cherishes the sacred and pure, and that it’s almost frowned upon for a producer whose associated with specific sound to then decide to jump on a sound that’s more relevant. Cardopusher used to make straight-up dubstep, but lately he’s drawing more from house and Latin-American sounds. Kode9, as well. Tons of producers do it.
I come from an indie-rock background, musically, and if a band changes up their sound like that and fails, the consensus becomes that the band followed what’s popular to stay relevant. If it succeeds, it’s considered an evolution in sound.
Scratcha succeeds mainly because he moves the sound into more off-kilter territories.
Scratcha recently had a write-up on Wire Magazine by Joe Muggs. In it, Muggs kinda gets at the fact that Scratcha has gone from scene-to-scene trying to do new things, namely Grime.
DVA’s experiments with harmony, unusual time signatures and singers (in common with Terror Danjah, his ally from the early days of Grime) didn’t sit well with Grime’s conformism. So he was happy to escape spending night and day with ‘boys with their hoods up, stinking of weed’ into the more celebratory UK Funky scene where he again tried to fit in.
I think that’s important to mention when talking about Scratcha, especially with his radio presence and the present-day state of UK House and Bass. And that there isn’t really a strong UK bass identity at the moment, so producers are sorta just doing whatever they want really and not being able to pen it as anything, since it doesn’t really sound like anything that came before them. It’s kinda the perfect time for Scratcha to be making music.
That’s just Scratcha as a producer. As a radio host–with the idea that you sorta know his sonic footprint in the UK underground– his show’s music format is pretty all-over-the-place, which feel like the traces of his creative elasticity. Dubstep, funky, garage, grime, footwork, broken beat, house. Seriously: everywhere. Which is great because, at least for this show, he doesn’t really try to mix/beatmatch much, so his selection choices aren’t constricted to just a single BPM range. He plays whatever the hell he likes really. If you follow him on twitter, too, he’ll tell people to send him his soundcloud so he could play their tunes.
He starts the show off with a lot of just unsurprisingly excellent tunes and comes in at 15:00 to introduce the show:
You are in tune to your regular program. Regular like Roll Deep! Regular occasion like brushing your teeth. Regular like Big Mac and Fries at Mcdonald’s. Grimey Breakfast! EEYYY!
Not only are these the first words you hear at the start of the day, but it’s also the first to be uttered on Rinse every Monday-Friday. Listening to this even in the afternoon, like I’m doing now, makes me feel as refreshed listening to it in the AM.
He plays tunes and goes back on-air at 32:45, which is when you hear an alarm going off. The building’s fire alarm went off during the music and Scratcha is yelling at the alarm. “STOP!” “You don’t know how loud it is”. All of this going on while a pretty playful, jumpy Roska tune plays on in the background. He IDs the song and then interrupts himself and yells “SHUT UP!”
This kind of situation reminds me how irritated I’d get if I grab my keys and accidentally drop them, bend down to get them, but drop them again, and repeat the process one more time. It’s this repetitive frustration that makes you personify the situation and has you communicate with it. “Fuck off, you fucking bastard!” is what I’d probably say to my keys. Similar situation that pretty much exemplifies how comfortable Scratcha is with his personality and his listeners. Any other host would’ve just kept playing music and not even go on-air to begin with. But, instead, he went on-air and shared his personal frustration via brilliant slapstick. To me, that’s confidence and comfort with his own show, which he been doing for close to about 2 years already.
His guest, Machinedrum, comes in at 1:01:00 and chats with Scratcha. Incredibly casual conversation between the two– as if they were hanging out all night, got along really well and Scratcha asked him to come play on the show at 8 AM. Machinedrum tells him he’s from North Carolina, and Scratcha refers to it later as “Hillybilly Land”. That was good 5-minute laugh for me.
Machinedrum’s set starts at 1:07:00, and it’s actually a really great set, starting out with some Low Limit and Salva tunes– strict 808 rhythms with like Southern Rap synths. Pretty steady 135-140 bpm vibes and then as the set progresses he out-of-nowhere goes into footwork/juke waters, then going into proper jungle tempos. Pretty multi-rhythmic set overall. Scratcha even mentions how scared he is to change up tempos the way Machinedrum does. It’s nice to hear stuff like that, especially since I go through the same fears as a DJ myself. So, yeah, cool.
I’m trying to picture myself driving to work and listening to this set at 9 AM, and depending on if I got a good night’s sleep (which doesn’t happen as often as I’d like) I’d keep my dial tuned. But on a drowsy, sluggish state I might want to go into something slower. For a Monday morning? It’s not a really digestable set. Though, since I’m taking this set in on my own time: it’s really smooth head-bobbing vibes.
It’s taken me a couple of days to analyze my notes and write this whole thing up. And on the car-ride to buy my Dad his gift for Father’s Day, I came to the realization that I really liked Scratcha a lot. Before I took the initiative to write this critique up, I had no clue who Scratcha was, besides his releases and output. With the stuff I’ve read about him, and really hearing his voice–intense London accent–from my car-rides around town, I feel like I know him.
A good radio host consistently selects and mixes, sure, but also unveils small bricks of their personality and life outside of the radio show. You wanna be comfortable with the host, enough that you’d wake up early in the morning to have a chat with them. And Scratcha doesn’t host a program, he chats with his listeners.