Number Three in our occasional series of record label profiles (following the Thrill Jockey and Merok features) is all about Ninja Tune. For my entire time in the business Ninja Tune (and its various offshoots including hip-hop-centric imprint Big Dada and rock subsidiary Counter) have enjoyed a fast track to the top of the CD (or MP3) pile when the post comes in, simply because they’re allergic to duds.
However alien the name might be on the front, you can guarantee the contents will be decent, or at the very least interesting. There’s not many labels with that kind of cachet; even Warp signed Maximo Park.
The electronic/hip-hop/d’n’b/proto jazz/whatever-but-most-of-all-progressive label has been at it for twenty years now, since DJs Matt Black and Jonathan More aka Coldcut formed the business), and have been hauling gems from the underground since way before t’internet. These are their top picks right now, all completely exclusive.
Major Lazer – ‘Hear The Bassline (Toddla T remix feat. Serocee & Mr Versatile)’
First up, their newest signing, big-haired fast-talking boyfriend of Annie Mac, DJ and producer genius and all-round nice guy Toddla T. Poached from 1965 (who put out his genre-shredding debut ‘Skanky Skanky’) Toddla is putting out his next three albums on Ninja. This retooling of the Major Lazer classic is the kind of reserved reworking you’d expect (ahem) and sees Toddla’s skit buddies Serocee and Mr Versatile reprise their chatty roles from the debut.
Andreya Triana – ‘Lost Where I Belone (Flying Lotus remix)’
If you subscribe to the Ninja Tune worldview you’ll have heard Andreya Triana by now; her wispy vocals have floated across the output of Mr Scruff, Flying Lotus, Theo Parrish and Bonobo at various points recently. Her debut album ‘Lost Where I Belong’ is produced by Bonobo (who threw live strings, brass and drums into the mix). It’s one big inbred happy family there, it seems. But then if six-fingered spawn sounds this good we’re not ones to judge. Remix of the lead single comes courtesy of Flying Lotus.
Emika – ‘Double Edge (Pinch remix)’
Emika is one of the more interesting dubstep artists at the moment, and this second single sees her combine edgy beats with softly paranoid vocals (recorded apparently and unsurprisingly on a cold day in Berlin) to eerie effect. The mix comes from producer Pinch, who runs Bristolian label Tectonic.
Jaga Jazzist – ‘220V / Spektral (FINAL mix)’
Norwegians Jaga Jazzist have been subverting things since Casiokids were in nappies and between the nine of them have pretty much owned Nordic electro-jazz for the past fifteen years. Their latest album ‘One Armed Bandit’ came out in January and this funky 80’s schizo is one of the highlights.
Jammer – ‘Max Not Mininum’
Jammer, meanwhile, is a producer and MC on Big Dada with enough ideas burtsting out his head to make Dizzee blush, if the latter wasn’t so concerned with his kingdom coming these days. His new album ‘Jahmanji’ (nice) sees everyone from Skepta, JME and Frisco to Newham Generals get involved on vocals and Toddla T working behind the desk. This is an exclusive album track.
Paris Suit Yourself – ‘Craig Machinsky’
Suitably strange for such a pioneering label, Paris Suit Yourself are a French / US hybrid and by all accounts abrasive trio that peddle polyrhythmic-propelled post-punk and stream-of-conciousness-with-added-dick-reference lyrics across Berlin’s finest squat parties. It sounds terrifying and probably is. There’s an in-depth feature on the Big Dada signings on Interview magazine’s site, of all places.
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Spokes – ‘Daisy (Demo version)’
Ninja Tune set up their rock arm Counter in 2006 and have used this branch to release material from the likes of Cougar (free download here) and The Heavy (again, free download here). Spokes are yet another band freeing Manchester from Courteenersitis and deal in pastoral indie with a post-rock veneer that builds to glorious climaxes. Their first album on the label is just over the horizon.
Ninja Tune are celebrating twenty years (XX) in the business on 20th September, with a three-case XX box set that will include umpteen new tracks and specially commissioned remixes as well as a hardback book on the label and loads more. You can buy it already here. They’re also lining up some nights in Paris, Berlin, Brussels and London to mark the occasion. Head over to their site to keep up to date with it all.
What do you think of the tracks? And what labels should we feature in the future?