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25 Years of Solid Steel: an oral history of the world’s longest running mix show

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  • published
    6 Dec 2013
  • words by
    Joe Muggs
  • photographed by
    Credits on Page 5
  • tags
    Ninja Tune
    Solid Steel
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And more words from…

Solid Steel producer Darren ‘DK’ Knott:

Solid Steel was an influence on me before I ever met the Ninja guys: it was a reflection of my first clubbing years, when early house and techno sat comfortably together with hip hop, funk, jazz and reggae in one club room before the scene splintered. Solid Steel just emphasised how you can mix all these different styles and now many more on a radio show in a coherent and seamless flow.

When I joined, I was very flattered that they felt confident in my ability to steer the show it in the right direction. I think my early mixtapes in the Ninja Tune office showed that I already shared a similar passion for the music that was reflected in the show and of course it was incredible to hear my first mix broadcast on Kiss FM.

We always maintained a radio presence around the world through our syndications, but with events changing for us on radio in London we were quick to embrace an online format alongside any FM broadcasting. This opened up a global audience that were previously restricted to swapping tapes of the show (unless they lived near one of our syndicated radio stations) and ultimately gave us more control over reaching our listeners.

I think that, like Ninja Tune, the show has always been about offering something a bit different to the mainstream. Prepared to be adventurous with musical choices and this has always been the case from the days of broadcasting on pirate radio to downloading the podcast in iTunes. I don’t expect regular listeners to enjoy every show, some weeks they are challenged with music they don’t normally listen to and other weeks it ticks every box for them. But hopefully they trust us enough to tune in each week to see what’s in store for them.

Ninja Tune label manager Peter Quicke:

When i joined Matt & Jon at Ninja Tune in 1992, they would spend Friday preparing for the Kiss FM show – often with  a two hour long awesome Sphinx mix, as they called it. There was one in December 1992 shortly after i joined that blew me away – I don’t remember the name – but I’ll never forget the dizzy feeling of being in the Ninja office room one my own with Matt & Jon and PC next door putting together a supremely inventive mix of hip hop, house, jazz, ambient and techno and soundtracks with lots of spoken word. Honestly I was floating around thinking how amazing it was. That shit didn’t happen back in the early ’90s – homogenous house music was the order of the day in club music so seeing so many styles twisted into one pot was thrilling, really.

There wasn’t a direct formal connection between label and radio show other than it being the same personnel – of course, Jon & Matt would play the new Ninja releases on the show but it was never a big commercial plugging opportunity. The real connection was that the same free, artful, playful, experimental aesthetic existing in both label and solid steel radio show.

It remains semi-detached from Ninja Tune, as Darren produces the show fairly independently now. Of course we talk to him and he gets all our releases early – although often as not we’re trying to get him not to play new tunes too early! The relationship is a little more distant perhaps because Darren doesn’t work out of the label office but we see him regularly and its a solid family-type relationship. So as ever, really label and show are separate but run along side each other – the label’s activities and release are noted on the show but don’t guide the show particularly.

It is harder now in some sense, of course, as are so many mixes online now – but SS is consistently rewarding and high quality. It’s the way it’s kept its character despite all the big changes that makes it strong. Consistency, longevity, diversity and breadth (“the broadest beats” innit!) And the future for Solid Steel? More mixes from more different people… Better consistency, longevity, diversity and breadth!


Solid Steel celebrates its 25th birthday tonight in London. For tickets and more information, head here.

Photo credits: 

Page 2, middle: DK & DJ Food, Solid Steel Christmas Showcase, Bristol in 2007. Photo credit: Elisa Parish
Page 3, top: DK, Photo credit: Sarah Jane Webb
Page 3, middle: Luke Vibert DJing at Ruby Lo in 2004. Photo credit: Elisa Parish
Page 4, top: PC & Strictly Kev. Photo credit: Alexis Petridis
Page 4, middle: DJ Yoda & Diplo, Solid Steel Boat Party. Photo credit: Elisa Parish
Page 4, bottom: Solid Steel Club Lineup in 2004. Photo credit: DJ Food


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