Just as likely to be found working with Ex-Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra as Black Uhuru vocalist Junior Reid or the Fall’s Mark E Smith or indeed Queen Latifah, Coldcut's Matt Black and Jonathan More are that rarest of beasts, artists who do exactly (indeed only), what they want. TM-O's Andy Basire looks at their twenty odd year association during which they have created smash dance hits, released the best DJ mix album ever, unleashed groundbreaking audio/visual protest songs (watch anti-industrial logging song ‘Timber’ ) and, as if that wasn’t enough, been the guiding hands behind Ninja Tune one of the best truly independent record labels around (i.e. it releases, often bravely experimental, music that actually even makes money).
Matt Black and Jonathan More first met in the Reckless Records store in London’s Soho where More worked and bonded over hideously expensive 12” vinyl imports prompting Black to thrust a mixtape made for a Capital Radio mix competition into More’s hand, beginning a collaboration that culminated in their debut single 'Say Kids, What Time Is It?' in January 1987 and later in the year cut and paste masterpiece 'Beats + Pieces' (both released on their own Ahead Of Our Time label and sold, in great numbers, through the record shop).
It would however be a remix of hip hop duo Eric B. & Rakim's 'Paid in Full', also released in 1987, that really pushed the duo into the public domain stitching an Ofra Haza sample amongst various other vocal cut ups and looped rhythms into the ‘Seven Minutes of Madness’ mix which actually then ended up being promoted as the single in the UK and became a breakthrough hit for Eric B & Rakim outside the U.S. Rightly regarded as a remix classic the mix was itself regularly sampled (as on number one hit ‘Pump Up the Volume’ by MARRS), and became something of a staple of the breakbeat genre. In very short order Coldcut, as they were then known, had gone from crate digging enthusiasts to chart bothering cut and paste alchemists. Surely it couldn't be this easy?
Apparently so as a link up with management company Big Life swiftly followed and 1988’s ‘Doctorin' the House’ became a top ten UK hit with follow up, Northern Soul classic ‘The Only Way Is Up’, given the Coldcut treatment (although released as Yazz and the Plastic Population), and promptly peaking at number 1. Hits featuring Junior Read (‘Stop This Crazy Thing’), and Lisa Stansfield (‘People Hold On’) followed and debut album What's That Noise? Was released in April 1989 (again on Ahead of Our Time but now distributed by Big Life Records). But whilst it was critically well received and certainly sold well due to the hit singles Black and More confused many a dance enthusiast, and indeed their management, by featuring vocal contributions by post-punk icon Mark E Smith, refusing to toe the accepted (dance) party line and giving due notice of more experimental leanings to come.
Given their wilful nature the bubble was always going to burst and at the beginning of the nineties, although still ostensibly busy having signed to Arista Records, they began to lose the creative control they so obviously craved and albums Some Like It Cold (‘90) and Philosphy (’93), whilst still displaying flashes of brilliance failed to live up to expectations, prompting More and Black to head back underground and create their new label Ninja Tune – although in the process they briefly lost the rights to the name Coldcut which was still owned by Arista. The move was just what they needed as their next major project, the compilation Journeys by DJ - 70 Minutes of Madness released in 1996 is still widely regarded as the best DJ mix album of all time, and their next album release Let Us Play! (’97) was a mad, genre mashing critical smash that also included CD ROM software (long before most people had any inkling of what a CD ROM actually was) featuring an interactive toybox full of games and videos. Yet another class act, Sound Mirrors, would follow in 2006, proving the guys could, if they so chose to, do accessible, and their label has simply gone from strength to strength releasing brilliant albums by the likes of Roots Manuva, Amon Tobin, The Cinematic Orchestra, The Bug, The Qemists, Mr Scruff, Grasscut, Jaga Jazzist, The Herbaliser, Kid Koala and many, many more.
Ninja Tune is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary with a massive, beautifully designed, box-set which, in typically perverse style, eschews the usual career retrospective approach of these things and includes only new and unreleased music. Yazz was wrong, where Moore and Black are concerned ‘the only way is forward’.
The Ninja Tune XX boxset (released on 20th September) consists of 3 hardback cases packed in an outer box and includes 6 x CD's, 6 x 7” singles, 2 x posters, 20 stickers and the hardback edition of Ninja Tune: 20 Years of Beats and Pieces book - buyers who register using their unique code for membership of Ninja Tune VIP will also receive two free 12" singles and a free download of King Cannibal's landmark mix album The Way Of The Ninja plus free music and promotional goodies in the future. Only 3500 Ninja Tune XX box sets have been produced .