The year 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of the Ninja Tune label, founded by Matt Black and Jonathan More. There’s enough archival coverage on Disquiet.com of Ninja Tune — home to Kid Koala, Cinematic Orchestra, Funki Porcini, and the founding duo’s own Cold Cut enterprise — to allow for a full-on microsite, but here’s just a handful of past interviews:
We’re not for sale, end of story. Jon and I have tried being a part of working for the man, and it was most unnatural, and we nearly expired. It nearly finished us off. Not an experience you get to repeat. It might be fine for — other people can do what they want. We find it’s best to be independent and free. And I could name a million reasons to justify that but in the end people are going to have to check it out themselves. The music business is in no way different from the hamburger business, and if you want to be the best burger griller at McDonald’s, then go for it, but there is more, and being free is priceless, really.
Also in 1997, Patrick Carpenter gives a walk-through of his remix, under the DJ Food name, of a David Byrne song (“Anatomy of a Remix”):
[Regarding Byrne’s jittery vocal] The track I started working on was 136 beats a minute and it had a heavy swing. To make the vocal fit, I cut it up into syllables, but it sounded crap. I still had all these vocals cut up into syllables, so I put little loops in each syllable.
And three conversations with Amon Tobin, one from 1997 regarding the release of his album Bricolage (“Bric House”) — note that this is almost a decade before he put together a live band for the production of Chaos Theory – Splinter Cell 3 Soundtrack:
I wish I’d learned one instrument and become really competent on that one instrument, but I think that my instrument now is the sampler, and that’s what I’m focused on. I think there’s a lot more that can be done with it and I’m just skimming the surface, really. I’m not really interested in using live instruments at all. I could get session musicians in or whatever as well, and sessions to do samples for me, but I’m really quite into using sounds that come from other places.
… one from 1998 regarding Permutation (“Evolution & Permutation”) — it’s especially interesting to look back to a time when the use of a laptop was both cost-prohibitive and, in terms of power, somewhat unfeasible:
I’m seriously considering buying a little laptop the next tour I do, and maybe one of those portable record players too, maybe just doing some stuff on the road, that’d be wicked. I haven’t had the chance to do that yet, haven’t been able to afford a big enough laptop, a powerful enough machine to be able to run Cubase, whatever. In the future I’m going to do that, make tunes on tour.
…. and one from 2002 regarding Out from Out Where (“Psych Out”):
You can’t make people have a wider view of things than they do. I think only time does that. As each new piece of technology comes, and becomes oversaturated in the media, etc., then people become used to it. Everyone’s listening to electric guitars with not too much trouble, and they were having lots of trouble with it when it first came out, so I suspect the same thing will happen with electronic music.
The 19th (of 20) free giveaways from the Ninja Tune label, intended to celebrate its 20th anniversary, contains five tracks from Bonobo (aka Simon Green). The core of the gift is “Ghost Ship,” a bit of what might have been called acid jazz once upon a time, never before available — and with it come four remixes of tracks from his Days to Come and recent Black Sands albums. “Ghost Ship” is all looped tinkling pianos and other jazz elements turned into downtempo exotica. Also among the five tracks is an Aaron Jerome mix of “Walk in the Sky,” which has a similar feel but adds a vocal worthy of Eartha Kitt. The real keeper is a remix of “Ketto” credited to Kidkanevil, which is little more than the barest of rhythms being made as if on old soup cans with dull knives, amid a slowly swirling bed of synthesized sounds; it sounds a bit like if Konono No. 1 had taken a field trip to Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios.
Speaking of the Ninja Tune giveaways, the tracks have been coming too quickly to keep track of, since they’re available for a limited time. The Bonobo is only around for about another three days. You just missed an Amon Tobin piece, and before that was a great mix by Kid Koala that mixed up Henry Mancini and Autechre, Dan the Automator and Boards of Canada. Most of the source material for Koala’s mix was available in video form, so for kicks I put together this streaming video playlist/mixtape (which of course, by definition, misses the finesse and invention that Koala brought to his deeply transformed versions of the material):
Keep an eye out for the next and final Ninja Tune XX giveaway. Potentially it’ll be something from Coldcut, the duo that founded Ninja Tune, though they’re not exactly musicians who draw attention to themselves at the expense of their roster. Perhaps it’ll be a remix of an early Ninja track done up by a more recent artist signee. Given the choice, I’d appreciate some previously unreleased Up, Bustle and Out.
Used to be, the Ninja Tune label’s website was a fount of free music, a free-flowing stream of MP3 uploads. The label’s penchant for freebies seemed appropriate, given how sample-based is much of its music (from founder Coldcut to Funki Porcini to the later explorations into hip-hop). These days, the “free” section on the site’s downloads page is stagnant, but the Ninja podcast series — titled Solid Steel — continues apace, and it’s as always packed with tasty mixes, interview segments, and new Ninja goods.
Case in point, the most recent entry (MP3), which features a sprawling interview (dating from 2002) with remix figures Steinski and Double Dee, backed by a massive haul of classic, beat-driven, copyleft-crazed goods, from Dee’s own use of Led Zeppelin’s “The Crunge,” to Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” set in context alongside Grandmaster Flash (whose “Adventures on the Wheels of Steel,” also heard here, gave the Ninja series its name).
The duo recount numerous stories from life before mash-ups dance parties and lawyer-cleared sampling, back when audio appropriation, much like graffiti, was an outsider art just beginning to make its mark on pop culture. Full track list at ninjatune.net.
Once upon a time, the website of Ninja Tune Records, ninjatune.net, could be expected to serve up a half dozen fine MP3s at any moment. Then came digital retail, and MP3s went from promo items to merchandise. But now Ninja has revived its free-music program, this time in the guise of podcasts. The label has three regular feeds, one of its estimable Solid Steel radio show (MP3), another from label founders Cold Cut and a third from its hip-hop arm, Big Dada. More info at ninjatune.net/podcasts. To be fair, the Ninja site does host the occasional free download, but they tend to be from Big Dada rappers, not from the likes of Amon Tobin, Funki Porcini or Kid Koala.
Bonobo‘s song “Gypsy” is one of eight tracks that the Ninja Tune label recently posted for free download and streaming (MP3, Real Audio, Windows Media). Off the Animal Magic album, it’s a relatively downtempo electronic track, with some glistening sounds laid over a steady beat. Of the eight tracks, it’s the most highly recommended.
Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media
Upcoming • December 28, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation. • January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community. • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
Recent • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com. • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too. • A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)
Ongoing • The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
Background Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.