Features I by I 06.12.13

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

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

Solid Steel, the world’s longest running mix series is 25. 

Launched in 1988 by Coldcut’s Matt Black and Jonathan More [above], the groundbreaking show eventually came to include PC, Strictly Kev and producer Darren ‘DK’ Knott.

With Solid Steel’s 25th birthday set to be celebrated tonight at South London club Fire, with a line-up that includes Four Tet, Actress, Trevor Jackson and The Orb (more on the event here), FACT’s Joe Muggs sat down with the team behind the show, plus Ninja Tune label manager Peter Quicke. This is the definitive Solid Steel interview, accompanied with classic photography from the show’s vaults.

Matt Black:
Initially, at the beginning of Coldcut, Jon was already on Kiss FM, which was a pirate station, and he got me on. My demo was ‘Say Kids, What Time is It’. So around 1986 Gordon Mac offered me a show…

Jon More: The Matt Black Mastermix Dance Party.

Matt: Yes, it was called the Mastermix Dance Party, which was ripped off Kiss FM New York where I’d spent a formative few months before university. Jon had his show which was called Meltdown; now Jon before Coldcut was one of the most successful warehouse DJs in London. This is even before Norman Jay and Judge Jules – Shake & Fingerpop and Family Function – this is around about the early to mid 1980s. That was called Meltdown too, so the radio shows were a continuation of the parties but with a slightly different emphasis: less about dance and more about listening. Those parties were pretty good because you’d get a lot of variety of people there and we’d play a lot of variety of music. We saw ourselves as sort of funky John Peels, because Peel had introduced us to the idea that playing a massive variety of music together was cool.

Jon: As had Charlie Gillett, not forgetting him.

Matt: So we naturally turned to doing something like that, but on pirate radio and informed by the London music environment, which was very influenced by black music but had everything else in the mix as well. And eventually, as Coldcut formed, it made sense for Jon and I to amalgamate our shows, so we brought them together.

Strictly Kev: But there’s an important thing, which is that they were mixing – and that was quite a new thing for radio.

Matt: Yep, so there was the John Peel thing of acceptance and openness to a lot of different styles, coupled with the DJ aesthetic and technique: the New York mastermixing thing and hip hop scratching. We worked out we could have all of these different sorts of music and actually have them mixed together in a DJ sense.

Jon: Well, I wasn’t technically cutting and mixing by that point – more like slurping and sliding.

Solid_Steel_logoMatt: I was the one that got really into mixing early on. There was a time when BPM mixing was the province of DMC guys, but scratch mixing was a completely separate world – but to me it made sense to learn both of them, and there weren’t that many people doing that at that time. Whereas Jon was known for something different. I remember speaking to this other guy on the warehouse scene, Steve Romney – Wicked Pulse, his thing was called; I was finding out about Jon and I asked “Does he mix?” He said “No, but he does these cuts that are really good – like the other day he was playing this electronic record and just cut into an African record and it was perfect.” It is possible to segue from one piece of music to another and keep the groove without making a long-running mix. Jon also used to make little cassettes by taking the leader out of a cassette tape…

Jon: Out of a computer game cassette, a 15 minute one, because they were the cheapest…

Matt: …so it would start instantly, he could cue it, and he’d use that to record spoken word, little jingles and so on – which was a primitive way of having your own sampler in the mix.

Jon: When I first started mixing, I made it up out of necessity because I only had one turntable. I DJed mostly 7”s and I would just press a button, let off a jingle, change a 7”, put the needle back on and off I went. It was only later on that I could afford two turntables. It wasn’t based on trying to be like a Jamaican selector or anything, just it was all I could afford.

Matt: By coincidence I used to play at my school disco with the same kind of setup.

Jon: Anyway, it was when we amalgamated shows that it became Solid Steel.

Matt: This being 88 – there’d been a year of Coldcut going before we brought the shows together and came up with the name. And for quite a while then it was just Jon and me – we found a good way to collaborate, with Jon having this fantastic record collection and me more into the technical side of mixing. It was great being on Kiss, because at that point Kiss had all the best DJs in London. There was a building scene, and we had Jazzie B, Norman Jay, Tim Westwood, Rodigan…

Jon: Jay Strongman…

Matt: …Colin Faver, Colin Dale…

Jon: …Judge Jules before he went house…

“It was really James Bond-style but clunky… James Bond made out of cardboard.”

…Manasseh, Paul Anderson – we had all bases covered of what was cool music then. The whole London scene, essentially, came out of this group of very dedicated DJs. Kiss at the time was a unique thing, none of this was represented on legal radio but the people wanted it, and we were providing that. Then Kiss got its license and became…

Jon: [drily] …what it is today.

Kev: [laughs] Ahhh it was good for a while though! It was ’99 when we decided to leave, it was definitely time to go but in the early 90s it was still a good station.

Jon: There’s a very good film of Kiss, that you can find on YouTube – my daughter just posted it on Facebook in fact – that has footage of Kiss in the early 90s, with footage of us, of the Dingwalls party [the launch of Kiss as a legal station]. That’s why Lily, my daughter, posted it in fact because there’s footage of me and my wife coming out of Dingwalls with her in my arms.

Matt: So Solid Steel was massively inspired by the Kiss thing as a whole, and Kiss was really strong at that time. The funny thing was that Jon and I were the first DJs on Kiss to achieve more mainstream success – as Coldcut – and because we were therefore more visible people came to associate us strongly with the station. I remember being in a cab at that time, talking about this and that with the driver, and he went “ahhhh Kiss FM, isn’t there supposed to be some men behind that with millions and millions of pounds? Some guys called Cold… cut?” [laughs] I think we knew there wouldn’t be any millions by that point though.

oldKissshotJon: I remember a funny time when it was broadcast from Walworth Road – it was really James Bond-style but clunky… James Bond made out of cardboard. It was in a builders’ merchant shop, in the basement, you’d go down then they’d built this tiny false wall with a space just big enough for a table and chair and actually you wouldn’t know it was there. That one survived for quite a while.

Matt: We had this incredible engineer called Andy, who created a microwave link to the transmitter.

Jon: Yeah, triangulation microwave, so they never found us unlike a lot of pirates.

Matt: We never had a studio bust because they can’t trace the microwave link. They can take the transmitter, but they can’t find the studio.

Kev: He was a wizard in fact. He wired up the Ninja Tune studio too.

Jon: The cloak and dagger was funny though. It’s strange looking back how little contact there was the audience. There were no phone-ins – on pirate you couldn’t do phone-ins anyway, you couldn’t have a studio phone, and there were no mobiles, and we continued that after Kiss went legal.

Kev: You wouldn’t really want to be doing a phone in at 1-3am anyway!

Jon: We didn’t really get any feedback from the audience, we’d vaguely know people were taping it and tapes were going here and there, but absolutely no idea of the extent of it, if that was just one person saving stuff or it was reaching a whole lot of people.

Matt: You’d get the occasional letter. “Katherine the Pirate Junkie” I remember writing in to say she loved the show but we played too much Fela Kuti.

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CC meets Juan Atkins tapes

Kev: The funny thing was that when the internet got going and people starting uploading stuff, you started to realise that people had been taping it over the years, and things started to appear. There were, in fact still are, little groups of people trading tapes. There’s a guy in Russia who’s almost certainly got more tapes of shows than we have.

Matt: Another guy, “Rob the Funky Human Being” wrote in one time, with a beautiful box he’d made as an artwork – this cut-and-paste box with all these interesting things inside – just as a thankyou to the show. I actually met up with him, and it turned out that him and his mates would tune into the show every Saturday night and trip their nuts off, listening to the show while mixing it live, adding their own shit and echo and stuff over the top!

Kev: I’ve met parents of kids that my kids are friends with at school who say they did the same thing. Well not necessarily tripping their nuts off, but listening with groups of friends, maybe driving home from clubs at that time of night…

Jon: Or I met one guy recently whose thing was to tape it then take it down to the beach.

Kev: You’d get letters from prisoners too, right?

Jon: Oh I got a lot of prison letters actually yes, and on legal radio you weren’t meant to mention the fact listeners were in prison, but I didn’t care about that – or probably being more correct I probably just didn’t know about that – so I’d give them mentions, and we got a lot of love from people in prison. Some right crazy letters from people in prison too, but it gave them something to look forward to.

Matt: Certainly now it’s a whole lot easier to get a sense of who and where your audience is.

Jon: Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is a whole other discussion in itself.

Matt: It’s strange how much we operated inside this little radio bubble. It was intense. DJs on Kiss wouldn’t get paid in the pirate days – in fact sometimes you’d even have to pay because the transmitter would have been busted and we’d have to get another one, which was expensive. It was edgy, because if you got busted the DTI [Department of Trade & Industry, who regulated radio] could confiscate all your records as well as your equipment – that was the worst fear. But realising over the years – even much later – that all that was worth it because there was an audience out there and that some of them were quite fanatical about it made it worth it.

DK, Food SS Bristol Xmas 2007 record giveaway (Ph. Elisa Parish)Jon: But it kept changing, and we kept it evolving in how we played.

Matt: There was a certain time in the early 90s when we moved into a kind of mix we called the Sphinx – and then the Alien Sphinx. You remember Fortean Times magazine? One time they had this article about the Alien Sphinx – the “face” on Mars – and I just thought it was a wicked concept. Around that time we met Patrick, PC, via a guy at Kiss called Neil, who said “I’ve got this mate, he’s working at a sausage factory, he’s really having a terrible time, but he’s an excellent DJ, do you think you can find anything for him to do?” So he came in and started assisting on the shows, but was also a music head and as it turned out a brilliant mixer and scratcher. This was a little bit before Kev came along too. I was really into the Church of the SubGenius at that time, too, and they did these things called Media Barrage shows on radio – I bought a couple of their tapes, and thought, OK this is really far out, we could do something like this, take it away from being a conventional radio show and more into the real of an anything-goes montage, two hours…

Jon: …with no ads. We’d get special permission once a month to do it with no ads because I think people didn’t realise they weren’t getting much advertising support anyway…

Kev: …and there’d be minimal talking, if any, but lots of spoken word recordings.

Matt: We’d have a studio set up with mixing desks and instruments, some decks, keyboards, effects…

Jon: …toys…

Matt: …yep, toys – and a sampler. It’d all be done live, in any case you couldn’t edit together something two hours long in those days, there was no digital editing, it was just straight to DAT. You’d go “RIGHT!” and just fling it down. They were great to do, we’d get…

Jon: …quite indulgent [giggles]…

Matt: …and do it, and it was a real trip. That was definitely a different stage for the show and a great opportunity to throw a lot of different stuff into the mix in a new way. The first real musical guests we ever had on the show was when we did The Orb vs Coldcut, in Kiss’s studios. We didn’t actually know Alex and Thrash that well, though they’d had parallel careers to us, getting signed to Big Life…

Kev: …getting shafted by Big Life…

Jon: …surviving Big Life…

Matt: …two pairs of leftfield misfits getting shafted by Big Life. Take two!

“Aphex didn’t exactly, though, he just played some Satie then went into musique concrète, like “NRRRRGNNNGGG”, not very fluffy – but fuck it, that’s him.”

That was a really good show though. I remember we played a load of unreleased Coldcut material, and Matt realised we should put it out, so we put out ‘Eine Kleine Hed Muzik’. Also The Orb were playing The Tape Beatles which is a great CD of montage stuff, really wild and out there stuff, and we instantly went “what the fuck’s that, we’ve got to get that” – that was another big influence on the whole media barrage Alien Sphinx thing. That was a really fun show, very important in the evolution of Solid Steel and the expansion of what we could do with it.

Kev: That was, when? Christmas of ’91 I think?

Matt: And then Kev joined.

Kev: 20 years ago!

Matt: What happened was that Patrick went off to build a hospital in Africa, so we thought “well done mate, terrific”. Now we’d already met Kev through Mixmaster Morris, and Kev and all his art school mates were putting on these Telepathic Fish parties in Brixton.

Kev: Ambient parties, basically, all day on a Sunday, post-clubbing – we’d have people like Aphex Twin come down, Brian from Future Sound of London, the Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia turned up one time! Matt came and played the first one, though as a VJ – I only found out recently that it had actually been his very first VJ gig.

Matt: A truly epic party, Tunstall Road, Brixton, a squatted venue, Aphex came down, Morris played an incredible set.

Kev: Aphex didn’t exactly, though, he just played some Satie then went into musique concrète, like “NRRRRGNNNGGG”, not very fluffy – but fuck it, that’s him.

DJ Food jsjMatt: And that was the start of the London ambient, chillout scene really. Now, we started noticing that all the flyers had this certain aesthetic to them, which turned out to be Kev, and then we discovered he DJed – so we asked if he’d like to come and do some stuff on the show. He was pretty raw to begin with…

Kev: …literally learning in public.

Matt: We’ve always been learning in public though, that’s our story. So Kev became part of the team as well, then when PC came back there were four of us. We kept rocking and kept doing the shows, and actually the four of us were then the crew that did Journeys By A DJ – which had a direct relationship to Solid Steel, because we said we want to capture what we do, refine it and condense it and make it into a mix CD, because the other ones on Journeys By A DJ were crap…

Kev: Woah, woah, they were just one-dimensional. They were house or techno and that was that. But yes, we decided, let’s take what we do on radio and put it onto a CD, and it has to be the best mix we’ve ever done.

Jon: That was a pretty good bar to set.

Matt: We should say, we weren’t at the height of our popularity at that point. And we thought we’ve got this opportunity to show we’re alive and kicking. And vitally, there was so much incredible, strange, avant-garde music at that time, but we never wanted to stroke our chins over it – because we came from that warehouse thing where it was about getting down and having a good time, but not having it narrow, keeping it as broad as possible.

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Kev: Our mission at that time – which we continued with the Stealth nights too – was definitely to bring this varied, experimental music out of the back rooms and on to the dancefloor.

Jon: We were pretty militant about it too. No four-to-the-floor at all, but still dancefloor.

Matt: And this is where it all comes together really, because in that sense, of having that mission, then Solid Steel, Coldcut, Ninja Tune and Stealth were all one thing.

Kev: It was all about four decks, too, and what we could build on that. And we started having guests around this time too. So we might have Squarepusher jamming over us mixing on the radio show – then we’d get him to come to the club and do the same. Generally, though, the guests would be Ninja artists, or related, people like DJ Vadim. Then towards the end of the 90s we started doing interviews, we interviewed David Axelrod, Ken Nordine, Double Dee and Steinski and people like that, but those would be one-off specials.

Jon: That was because there was some pressure to have some radio content as such as well – but also we always wanted to change it up and do different things.

Kev: It’d be a constantly changing dynamic – we’d have gigs to go to at the weekend, so it’d be different configurations of us, one or two people in combination, on a Friday preparing and doing the recording. If it ever was all four of us it’d be quite an occasion.

Matt: But then we resigned from Kiss – at the point where they sacked Manasseh, who had put himself at considerable risk by allowing Kiss to broadcast from their council flat in East London, which they could have gone to jail for. When commercial Kiss sacked Manasseh, we resigned in solidarity, and we were without a home for a while but then we got picked up by Radio London.

Kev: Well, after Kiss, we never stopped, because that was the time we started broadcasting on the web – this is just around 2000, broadcasting in Real Audio.

Matt: Of course this is something we were into anyway – I’d started PirateTV.net in the 90s, with the idea you could be a guerilla TV and radio station just using the internet. These people called Interface provided the facility to stream.

Kev: God knows how many people heard it, or what the quality was like…

Jon: It was the same feeling in a way, though: there was this open channel and we could go “BLUAARRRGGHH” with little idea whether anyone was paying attention, but we didn’t really care, we just got on with it.

Matt: Exactly, it was put out there and people could find it if they were paying attention, that’s all we needed really. It was nice getting on to Radio London though, I still have my BBC card – I still carry it in fact.

Solid Steel 2004 - Luke Vibert_elisaparish
“When commercial Kiss sacked Manasseh, we resigned in solidarity.”

So do I, I’ve got mine in my wallet now, it feels like a get out of jail card.

Kev: It was very professional there, the studios were very lavish, there was a security guard…

Jon: At first, you could get breakfast at any time of night, that’s what impressed me.

Matt: Then one of the periodic waves of reform swept across the BBC and they decided that talk radio was the thing and we got shoved off again.

Kev: It was a great lineup for a while, though. Ross Allen, Dr Bob Jones, was Patrick Forge there too? A really good early noughties sort of scene going on there.

Jon: We got 80 to 100 letters of support at the end, which was a lot really.

Kev: We changed it up again for Radio London, too: there was a lot more talk on that show, and by this time Darren – DK – who’d arrived at the end of the 90s had installed himself in a kind of producer role, so we’d have more guests in a more structured way.

Jon: That sounds a bit forceful – I think we were only too glad to have someone who could take the helm and organise it a bit. So he’s been producing the show ever since, and of course he’s a really wicked DJ too, and does shows with Kev, and they’ve evolved their four-deck mixing together.

Matt: But yes that was the team formed, and it hasn’t really changed since then.

Jon: We went on Resonance FM for a bit, after Radio London, up until the mid-noughties I guess. They’re an important channel, not necessarily numerically, but really one of the most important things going on in London full stop. Great radio station.

Matt: And also the show was syndicated quite successfully by this time; we started finding there were fans in other countries who were in a position to put the show out on other networks.

Jon: A lot of student radio in all kinds of places…

Matt: We were on about 30 stations all together, some taking half an hour, some taking the whole thing.

Kev: Some would even put us on at drivetime, which was just bizarre.

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Jon: It was very strange – and we’d turn out in some obscure little town somewhere in Europe and there’d be absolutely shitloads of people out to see us. We’d scratch our heads, then it’d dawn on us they were fans of the radio show.

Matt: Again, it was great knowing that these vibes were disseminating, even if we didn’t know exactly where, we knew they were getting love from people’s ears. By this time the internet was taking off properly too, and the idea we no longer needed a main physical radio station to be anchored to was very liberating. We had been on to that quite early, and it just made sense to reclaim the freedom to do what we want, and that’s what we’ve done ever since.

Kev: We started the Solid Steel club in London too, in 2004, as a direct extension of the show. Just downstairs in the Ruby Lounge in the West End, three quid to get in, one or two special guests each month, unadvertised, very very secretive, just a digital online flyer with the date and nothing else, with me and Darren as residents, always on four decks. Just come down and you might see Four Tet who played the first one, or Steinski, or Rob Da Bank, Ross Allen, Morris, Amon Tobin, Bonobo… or one of Diplo’s first European DJ sets if not the first. It was the night before he met MIA at Fabric, in fact, he was in town, he’d just signed to Big Dada so we just grabbed him and went “come down and play!”

DJYodaandDiplo SS boat party--_

Jon: Hilarious that I’ve just seen him gigantic on a billboard on Hollywood boulevard, and he would come down to play in a basement for us.

Kev: A little basement, 300 people, full of after-work drinkers who’d clear out about 10, then we’d take over. It was in the round, DJ booth in the middle of the dancefloor. I remember Kentaro doing an incredible scratch thing, Steinski just turning up and doing it, these two guys [Coldcut] coming in straight out of the studio having just finished the one with Roots Manuva, ‘True Skool’, it was an amazing night and all for three quid in a basment in the West End.

Jon: So that was completely the ethos of the show, just translated into a different space.

Kev: At the same time, Darren was giving it more structure, where it had all been very amorphous up until that point – he pushed for the guest mix to be a regular thing, starting with half an hour then going up to an hour – and made it more professional. He was very good with the promotion, with getting the syndications, sorting out the web stuff; I can’t remember when Soundcloud launched but we’ve been on there for a good while now.

Jon: It always had structure, but Darren’s very good at crossing the ts, dotting the i’s, tidying it up, moving the shit around that was there, and making it a better form really. When it was all of us mucking in, it took up quite a bit of headspace, so that was another reason to bring in more guests – as well as the fact that we just wanted to show a broad selection of what was going on

“Four Tet had filled his mix with DJ edits, so he ended it with a DJ edit of John Cage’s 4’33” and the Soundcloud comments were all “WHAT THE FUCK?””

Now it’s opened up and it’s a pretty decent who’s who of the scene. If you look at recent guests… [rapid-fire] Four Tet, Skream, Norman Jay, Robot Koch, Goldie, Tim Healey, Company Flow, Jackmaster, Z-Trip, Steinski, Seiji, Pearson Sound, Toddla, DJ Kentaro, Freestylers, Hudson Mohawke, Diplo… it’s pretty decent actually!

Jon: We’d have done a lot more like that at Kiss if they’d ever given us the budget, actually. Matt and I wanted to get live bands in and record them, I’d be going “think about it, you’ll have the most incredible fucking archive” but they just wouldn’t do it. It’s been a story of lost opportunities as well, I suppose, but we just hung on.

Matt: And we influenced. When we meet people on the scene and get them in, they’ll often say they listened to Solid Steel, it got them into producing or whatever, and that again adds to the continuity. We may never reach audiences of millions, but our audience tends to be switched-on people who are doing their own thing.

Kev: The audience has gone right up this year, though, with the 25th birthday stuff – pretty much doubled, in fact. It’s been a shot in the arm in fact, so many great mixes from so many people. Creative mixes, not just basic blends of new tracks.

Jon: And if we didn’t like it, it didn’t get played.

Kev: We did actually turn down Paul Oakenfold. He sent us a two-hour mix and it wasn’t good.

Jon: Wellll… the mix was fine but it’d already been broadcast, he’d given it to some aeroplane channel too. And I think that shows the attitude we have – if you can’t make us some fresh love, then we’re not interested in your second-hand…

Matt: Oh I don’t know, I’m sure we’ve palmed people off with second-hand things before.

Jon: I dunno. I think that rightly, we can be quite snippy about it, and that’s because we’re passionate about it!

Kev: There have been ones we’ve turned down because we just didn’t like them too.

Matt: But if you look at the range of what we HAVE accepted this year, it’s a perfect illustration of the range of the show. Laurent Garnier’s mix was excellent, cinematic mix of mainly obscure French stuff.

Kev: Kirk Degiorgio did a totally ambient mix.

Solid Steel club line up 2004Jon: I was unbelievably happy to get someone from Throbbing Gristle [Chris Carter] to do a mix because I’ve been a fan from day dot.

Kev: It’s pushed what it can be – getting Peter Serafinowicz who’s known as a comedian was a great move. Letting Four Tet have the full two hours was something we’ve never done before. Those were two of the most popular. The themed mixes, like Coldcut’s ‘Love’ mix…

Matt: That was a big one for us, as we’d had the Journeys By A DJ mix hanging over our heads, and we decided that there was no point doing a big Coldcut mix unless we could be at least as intricate as that. There’s a huge mind-map of how we laid out what should be in it, the influences feeding into it and how it should work… And I think that’s the best mix we’ve done since Journeys By A DJ.

Kev: And the album deconstruction ones like the ‘Paul’s Boutique’ one which has had 90,000 downloads so far, and the ‘Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos’ one, ‘Three Feet High and Rising’ all deconstructed down to the original samples.

Matt: And we went back to the past too – we did Coldcut vs The Orb again, we went into the studio with Alex and Youth, and got quite “enhanced”, recorded a load of stuff then edited it… well, Kev had the job of doing the edits, and that came out quite well.

Jon: We know we’re doing fine, essentially, because we still wind people up. I did an ambient half hour and I did push it close to the edge – there’s one part with a single note lasting almost three minutes, and It was enough to wind somebody up enough to get in touch with some “IS THIS WHAT I PAY MY RADIO LICENSE FOR” message.

Kev: And Four Tet had filled his mix with DJ edits, so he ended it with a DJ edit of John Cage’s 4’33” – just a slightly shorter bit of silence obviously – and the soundcloud comments were all “WHAT THE FUCK?”

Jon: As long as we keep doing that, Solid Steel is fine, basically.

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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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