Pointing at a Wiley poster makes me think that you’ve had a lot of idiosyncratic artists on the label, and on Big Dada and Brainfeeder as well. Who have been the most eccentric figures to work with?
PQ: “Wiley’s pretty eccentric. A genius.”
PQ: “Coldcut are eccentric [laughs]. Dunno. There aren’t really any outrageous rock and roll suicides on the label. Koala’s a lovely bloke, but he’s got his own style. Mr Scruff has got his own. But who’s the most eccentric?”
JM: “There’s certainly lots of room for psychoanalysis of obsessive-compulsive behavior in the workplace.”
PQ: “The Bug’s an eccentric man, I guess. Roots Manuva. I mean, they’re all lovely people. Blokes, mostly. But not all.”
How did Big Dada originally come together, and what relationship does it have to the central label?
PQ: “Big Dada is Will Ashon really. He was a journalist writing for Trace and Muzik, and he came to us and said, ‘There’s all this great hip-hop, would you be interested in putting it out?’. And as I said, hip-hop’s a really key thing, so we said yes. And that’s how it started. He signed Roots Manuva – that wasn’t his first record, but it was one of the key early things. New Flesh For Old. It’s part of Ninja Tune, it’s part of the same company from an organizational point of view. But it’s his vision as regards music.”
“There’s certainly lots of room for psychoanalysis of obsessive-compulsive behavior in the workplace.”
JM: “It’s important I think that if we tried to put pure hip-hop out on Ninja, it probably wouldn’t have worked. There’s always been in the hip-hop fraternity – I don’t know how to describe it – they can be quite narrow-minded sometimes. Which is weird, because it came out of Afrika Bambaataa and Kool DJ Herc, who are the most broad-minded people you’ll ever meet. But particularly within English hip-hop, there was a narrow-mindedness. I think, having a separate label with its own identity (and an identity that Will’s really good at honing and keeping clear), that we’ve avoided a lot of those internal UK hip-hop debates – and we’ve had a fair few of them in the past. It’s another brand consideration, in retrospect.”
PQ: “We’ve always fallen between stools all the way along, because when we first started people accused us of being ‘trip-hop’ and then quite shortly we weren’t ‘trip-hop’ enough. Then we weren’t ‘big beat’ enough. People thought we were ‘big beat’ and then we weren’t ‘big beat’ enough. Then, ‘were we drum’n’bass?’ – and of course we weren’t drum’n’bass enough, and any drum’n’bass we put out didn’t suit the real drum’n’bass. And again with hip-hop. Although we’ve had a lot of success, a lot of it sits outside of the 1Xtra idea of what hip–hop is. We’ve always sat outside. We didn’t really jump on the dubstep bandwagon, because a lot of it seemed really dull. So we’re kind of outside of that as well. So we’ve always been out, and it’s sort of willful and sort of just the way it is.”
It makes it all the more interesting that you’ve now got this affiliation with Brainfeeder. That hip-hop DNA you discussed earlier, sprawling off in all sorts of different directions – it seems that Brainfeeder is a sort of modern analogue for that.
PQ: “Definitely. Amazing label obviously, and FlyLo’s an amazing bloke. Amazing producer, amazing A&R man. It’s an honour to work with them. They need someone to help them along with the nuts and bolts, if you like , so it’s great to be able to work with them.”
Who have you got at the moment that you’re particularly excited about in the Ninja Tune roster?
JM: “There’s The Invisible…”
PQ: “The Invisible, we’ve just signed. We got the Lorn record coming out, which was on Brainfeeder. They decided they didn’t want to do a second one on Brainfeeder, so it’s on Ninja Tune which is great. The Bug’s got a very exciting new project coming up, he’s doing an Acid Ragga, acid, dancehall-heavy, nasty dark acid ragga…”
“Brainfeeder’s an amazing label obviously, and FlyLo’s an amazing bloke. Amazing producer, amazing A&R man.”
PQ: “…using acid 303s and 909s and 808s, that sort of thing, and his heavy Jamaican aesthetic, his rhythms aesthetic. So that’s going to be very exciting. Dorian Concept’s finishing his album, which we’re very excited about, and Raffertie is working on his album. We’ve got a Jeremiah Jae album coming on Brainfeeder. The Dobie EP on Big Dada is great, I don’t know if you know Dobie? He worked with Soul II Soul, and he’s put out records before, but this is really kind of great. It’s just a beats record, but really, really brilliant, out on Big Dada. What else have we got coming up? Lots and lots of stuff.”
A lot of these are quite new acts – FaltyDL, Slugabed, people like Emika as well. Do you think Ninja Tune is entering a slightly different era, compared to previous eras?
PQ: “Yeah, I think there is an extent to which we felt we came out of the Britpop era, and it felt a little bit like electronica music wasn’t as fresh, perhaps, or wasn’t so exciting. Although obviously there were some exciting bits. But right now, the last few years have been amazing. There’s an enormous explosion post-dubstep actually (although I was being quite critical of it earlier). That whole movement has blown the whole thing apart. There’s so many amazing artists now, and lots of really amazing labels. The music on Boomkat is just incredible, people like Demdike Stare, all those. Just amazing. It’s part of us being re-inspired by electronic music, if you like, and all the people we talked about.”
PQ: “And Offshore as well, who’s on Big Dada. He’s great. He’s actually half of Oscar And Ewan, who did that artwork. He’s a great producer.”
That’s an indicative night of the exciting new things the label have got going on. How do you see acts like Thundercat and Slugabed fitting in?
PQ: “Thundercat’s just an amazing virtuoso player and composer. That album is sort of an extraordinary mixture of something that could have been made 40, 30 years ago, and yet sounds like it’s really amazingly fresh. It’s a very inspiring thing. It’s great to have him there, it’s great to help Brainfeeder put his record out. The whole package really is all of our labels: there’s a Ninja, there’s someone on Big Dada, there’s Floating Points who are on a lot of labels but don’t do anything for us (we publish them as well, actually), and Offshore is on Big Dada. So it seems like a really great forward and backward-looking roster.”
JM: “Reminds me of a Stealth line-up. Flip those names around and put Squarepusher in there.”
PQ: “Put Thundercat and Slugabed together and you make Squarepusher. Maybe. Maybe not. I’m sure he’ll be terribly insulted by that [laughs].”
“The best thing is when someone sends you a tune. You get a new tune, and it’s just really exciting.”
JM: “I’m just thinking of the equivalent from the era of Stealth to now. What comes around goes around in some respect. That’s a great line-up. That should be a wicked gig.”
Considering we’re comparing Stealth and the Hidden Depths night: can you think of a greatest moment, or a real highlight that sums up the Ninja Tune journey?
PQ: “The 20th anniversary party at Ewer St. was…”
PQ: “It was amazing. There were so many great things there, and it was just a great achievement for everyone who works here. There was tons of work. It was brilliant, just such a great night, and it all pretty much worked out. There was the night at the Royal Albert Hall with the Cinematic Orchestra and Dorian Concept and the Amon Tobin thing – that was outrageous. Wining the Mercury with Speech Debelle was very funny. What else? Really the best thing is when someone sends you a tune. You get a new tune, and it’s just really exciting. You get something really, really good. Those are the best moments.”
Head to Fabric, London, on May 16 for Tiger Beer x Hidden Depths‘ Ninja Tune party.