Page 1 of 10


Way back in 1990 two young dance producers, disillusioned by their recent experiences with the mainstream music industry, decided to set up their own record label, one free of any overt commercial agenda. Their names were Matt Black and Jon Moore, better known as Coldcut, and they called their label Ninja Tune.

Twenty years on and Ninja Tune has evolved into a national institution. With core acts such as The Bug, Mr Scruff, Amon Tobin and Bonobo, the label has garnered a reputation for releasing consistently high quality electronic music, and an admirably flagrant disregard for fashion. In 1997 it gave birth to Big Dada, a separate label created to focus on the experimental hip-hop of artists such as Roots Manuva, Ty, cLOUDDEAD and Spank Rock, and nine years after that the Counter label was set up to release the alternative rock of artists like Pop Levi and The Heavy. Yet despite the variety of acts under the Ninja Tune umbrella, which range from the restructured Polish jazz of Skalpel to the audio-visual pioneering of Hexstatic, they are linked by a consistently unorthodox approach to music-making.

In the years that have passed since the label’s inception countless dance music scenes have come and gone but Ninja Tune has somehow managed to maintain its position at the centre of the leftfield, observing developments in mainstream music from the sidelines. While it has been associated at various times with nu-jazz, trip hop and broken beat, the range and wealth of the artists on its roster have ensured that the label has weathered the fickle tides of music trends. Recent signings like Jammer, The Qemists and Toddla T exemplify a label that’s as committed as ever to providing a platform for innovative music.


01: DJ FOOD
‘DARK LADY’
(from JAZZ BRAKES VOLUME 4, NINJA TUNE, 1993)

DJ Food encapsulates the ethos behind the label better than any other act. Originally a an alias for Coldcut, the DJ Food project was an attempt to provide ‘food for DJs’ in the form of the Jazz Brakes series. These were collections of breaks and samples for DJs to include in their sets, although they soon became respected as listenable albums in their own right.

Patrick Carpenter of the Cinematic Orchestra was later roped in to help with production duties and as Coldcut dropped out the DJ Food moniker was adopted by Strictly Kev. Yet despite this fluctuating line-up there has been a remarkable consistency in the output of the fictional DJ. This is the haunting but naggingly funky standout track from Jazz Brakes Volume 4.

Loading Video…

;hl=en_GB” />Loading Video…

;hl=en_GB” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”>

02: ONE SELF
‘BLUEBIRD’
(NINJA TUNE, 2005)

One Self is a collaborative project between DJ Vadim, his wife and vocalist Yarah Bravo and rapper Blum Rum 13. With ‘Bluebird’ Vadim takes full advantage of Bravo’s unique mixture of rapping and singing by draping it over a languorous funk bassline to produce this perfect slice of summertime neo-soul.

Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” />Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”>

03: CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA
MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA
(NINJA TUNE, 2003)

Look beyond its dinner party aura and you’ll see Man With A Movie Camera for what it really is: an accomplished and a moving suite of atmospheric orchestral jazz. It’s the soundtrack to a re-released print of Dziga Vertov’s 1929 silent film of the same name, and arose from a live commission for the opening event of Portugal’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2001. Its backbone is a series of reworkings of tracks from the Cinematic Orchestra’s previous album, Every Day; ‘The Awakening Of A Woman (Burnout)’ is its grand, sweeping highlight.

Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” />Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”>

04. AMON TOBIN
‘FOUR TON MANTIS’
(from SUPERMODIFIED, NINJA TUNE, 2000)

I’ve always thought of Tobin as the brooding older brother in the Ninja family. Whether viciously dissecting and rearranging MC Decimal R’s vocal on ‘Verbal’ or composing the score for Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, he has an incredible propensity for filling his productions with a sense of dread and unease. Taken from the excellent album Supermodified, ‘Four Ton Mantis’ is an ominous chunk of moody, jazz-tinged hip hop with a beat heavier than a pregnant elephant.

Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” />Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”>

05: MR SCRUFF
‘GET A MOVE ON’ / ‘UG’
(NINJA TUNE, 1999)

The closest thing that Ninja Tune has to a signature tune, ‘Get A Move On’ quickly reached saturation point after it featuring in a number of adverts and TV shows. Despite its overfamiliarity, its status as an ebullient pop anthem is hard to deny. WB-Side ‘Ug’ would warrant inclusion in this list in its own right: with a mischievous bassline riding a rhythm that conjures up images of shunting pistons in a Victorian factory, it’s as effective as it is simple.

Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” />Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”>

06: KID KOALA
SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE DJs

(NINJA TUNE, 2003)

The first North American to be signed to Ninja Tune – back in 1996 – Kid Koala a.k.a Eric San has made a number of contributions to mainstream hip-hop culture, guesting on Del Tha Funkee Homosapien’s Deltron 3030 as well as opening for both the Beastie Boys and DJ Shadow on high-profile tours. In 2003 he emerged as a master of turntablism with the album Some Of My Best Friends Are DJs. My favourite track on there is ‘Skanky Panky’, which finds the dextrous Canadian cutting and scratching an array of ancient samples into the shape of his very own ska tune. Inspirational stuff.

Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” />Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”>

07: WAGON CHRIST
RECEIVER EP
(NINJA TUNE, 2001)

A superb EP from the ever-versatile Luke Vibert in one of his numerous guises. The title track hovers somewhere between big beat, drum’n’bass and outright abstraction, Vibert chopping up bombastic Bond-style horns and unintelligible vocal samples over a scurrying breakbeat: the result is nonsense, but delightful nonsense.

Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” />Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”>

08. THE BUG
LONDON ZOO
(NINJA TUNE, 2008)

Before being signed to Ninja Tune Kevin Martin had already garnered a formidable reputation via his fine releases on Rephlex; on London Zoo Martin took the dubstep template and threw dancehall and industrial electronics into the mix to create the album of his career. Most of you will be familiar with the rave-smashing immensity of ‘Poison Dart’, but the album is best taken as a whole. Perfectly reflecting the chaos, claustrophobia and confusion of inner-city London, it’s perhaps unsurprising that London Zoo was released on the third anniversary of the 7/7 bombings.

Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” />Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”>

09: COLDCUT
‘AUTUMN LEAVES’ (IRRESISTIBLE FORCE MIX)
(BMG, 1993)

Its first proper release came via Arista but this single is central to the Ninja Tune mythology, and a bona fide chill-out classic (not the most attractive accolade in 2010, granted, but there it is). Its haunting, elegiac vocal and lapping synthesizer waves are instantly memorable, the sound-world of mist and mellow fruitfulness that Mixmaster Morris creates utterly immersive.

Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” />Loading Video…

;hl=en_US” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”>

10: COLDCUT & HEXSTATIC
‘TIMBER’
(NINJA TUNE, 1998)

This is one Ninja Tune release that has to be watched rather than listened to. Created as part of the Natural Rhythms Trilogy in collaboration with Greenpeace, the idea of a dance tune with an eco-message (not to mention a hefty Jean-Michel Jarre sample) is slightly cringeworthy but this combination of music and synchronised visuals was groundbreaking at the time. The video clips of timber production overlaid with the mournful faces of Amazonian Indians act as a powerful rallying cry against deforestation while the music itself incorporates sounds from the clips while still remaining surprisingly danceable. Stuart Warren Hill and Robin Brunson a.k.a Hexstatic have since maintained a position at the forefront of VJ culture, taking their performances onto the streets of London for a series of guerrilla gigs and more recently moving into the third dimension.

James Waldron

Page 1 of 10
Latest

Latest

Share Tweet

Privacy Preference Center

Required Cookies & Technologies

Some of the technologies we use are necessary for critical functions like security and site integrity, account authentication, security and privacy preferences, internal site usage and maintenance data, and to make the site work correctly for browsing and transactions.

gdpr, woocommerce_cart_hash, woocommerce_items_in_cart, _wp_wocommerce_session, sucuri_cloudproxy_uuid_*

Site Customisation

Cookies and similar technologies are used to improve your experience, to do things like:

- remember your login, general, and regional preferences
- personalize content, search, recommendations, and offers

Without these technologies, things like personalised recommendations, your account preferences, or localisation may not work correctly.

wp-settings-*

Personalised Advertising

These technologies are used for things like:

- personalised ads
- to limit how many times you see an ad
- to understand usage via Google Analytics
- to understand how you got to our web properties
- to ensure that we understand the audience and can provide relevant ads

We do this with social media, marketing, and analytics partners (who may have their own information they’ve collected). Saying no will not stop you from seeing our ads, but it may make them less relevant or more repetitive.

_ga, _gid, gat,_gads,_fbp