“It’s amazing, blimey, gosh, insert amazement, shock and awe!” smiles Ninja Tune’s Jonathan More, on the news that the imprint has nabbed the public vote for Best Label in our Best Of British 2010. “You’re darlings, thank you very much!”
But it’s not really surprising. Scattering sonic shuriken stars in every direction, dashing sub-bass smoke bombs, then sinking into the night without a trace, Ninja Tune appears a deadlier and more insidious presence now than at any other point in its long and storied history.
No mean feat, considering that the record label run by the aforementioned More and Matt Black (who record and DJ as Coldcut), alongside business partner Peter Quicke, celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2010. And rather than sitting back and getting complacent, the stealth assassins commemorated the occasion with a welter of covert activities, putting on underground warehouse parties in London, shaking the city’s Royal Albert Hall to its foundations with live showcases epic in their scope, and throwing club nights in Osaka, Montreal, Berlin, NYC, LA and Brussels, among others; 20 parties in all, in fact. How very zen.
“We had a fantastic party at Ewer Street [London], wandering around and feeling like it really was 20 years ago, with a real warehouse vibe,” remembers Jonathan More. “There was a crazy bunch of people in Osaka in Japan, that was awesome.”
“The gigs have been totally enjoyable, all of them have been 10 out of 10 I’d say,” adds Coldcut compadre Matt Black. “The London gig was the one we were most hoping would be epic, because it’s our hometown. It’s all very good rocking Paris and Belgium, but you’ve got to rock London if you want your peers to take you seriously. We did it, basically!”
And as if that weren’t enough to cement their reputation as one of the UK’s finest independent imprints, they also released a box-set, ‘Ninja Tune XX’, that packed in six CDs, six 7”s and plenty more in its kaleidoscopic overview of Ninja artists old and new, with all the tracks either new or previously unreleased.
Ninja bagging Best Label 2010 is the icing on the cake, ending a year that has seen them raise the benchmark dangerously high. Remaining consistently relevant and consistent where others have fallen by the wayside, Matt Black believes that the label’s strong aesthetic and values have held them steady and allowed them to prosper in otherwise turbulent times for the music industry.
“With Ninja, there’s a very passionate fire that’s founded on a love of music, but also a certain belief in a need to be an alternative to the mainstream,” Matt rallies. “Being a rebel is a good gig if you can pitch it right and not get too fucked off and frustrated and keep sticking the finger up to the mainstream. Ninja Tune is a war against monoculture and that keeps us going.”
It’s perhaps Ninja’s enviable roster that has kept them so consistently razor-sharp. Always moving and reacting to the microsecond musical shifts that happen so consistently in dance music, and using their subsidiary imprints Big Dada and Counter for more specialist sounds, Ninja has continued to make astute signings while cultivating their core artists with album deals, watching many of them bloom into some of the most exciting artists operating today. You really can’t argue with a label that counts Roots Manuva, Cinematic Orchestra, Bonobo, Mr Scruff, Coldcut and Amon Tobin on its books. And looking at the acts they’ve recently brought aboard the good ship Ninja — everything from the maniacal fizzing weird electrofunk of Dorian Concept, to the majestic symphonic soul ‘n’ boogie of Floating Points, via the bleep-ridden knockabout dancehall of Toddla T looks like the perfect snapshot of the best future music on the planet, striding fearlessly into the new decade. Though the artists on the label may be all different, there’s a certain quality that unites them all, a unique aesthetic that binds them.
“They’ve all got a strong character. And it comes through. They’ve got that ability to transfer it into a record. And there’s a great love of hip-hop, in the old skool tradition,” Jonathan believes.
Far from exhausted, the XX celebrations have galvanised the Ninja massive, and in 2011, they’ll be upsetting the rhythm again, with a new Toddla T album, new Coldcut material, and even a new mix from them, which Jonathan jokes will be a prequel to their legendary ‘Coldcut Journeys By DJ 70 Minutes Of Madness’ blend.
“We’re working on a new Coldcut mix CD, which will inevitably be compared to the JDJ one. But we’re grasping that nettle and seeing if we can take the idea further. A lot of people are going to want us to reinvent the wheel. We invented it already and now we’re gonna use it, but I’m very focused on making that as out there as possible. If we can push it just a bit more this time that’ll be good,” concludes Matt.
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The Other Nominees
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