Various Artists - Ninja Tune XX

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  • "I love Ninja Tune... well I used to Love Ninja Tune." As Michaelangelo Matos rightly started out in his recent review of Bonobo's Black Sands, downtempo has regrettably become "a term that radiates palms-up-shrug consensus." Prior to its slow asphyxiation in the beige quicksand of cafe-themed compilations, downtempo was largely defined by Ninja Tune—a DIY imprint born in 1990, the by-product of a major label's neglect. Soon enough, "Ninja Tune" began to serve as both noun and adjective for the type of mongrel crossbreed of electronica, hip-hop, and trip-hop mastered by Coldcut, DJ Food and Funki Porcini in the label's formative years. Perhaps because of downtempo's eventual dinner party connotations, Ninja Tune has been given short shrift by the wider electronic music community. While Warp has remained on its hipster pedestal, references to Ninja Tune still elicit statements like the one above, with nostalgic references to the good ol' days of Hed Phone Sex and Trouser Jazz, even though many highlights from the label's first decade—Kid Koala's trippy, vertiginous turntablism, DJ Vadim's pocked, hiccupping beats and Fog's folktronica blueprints—were some of its most experimental. It occurred to me recently just how short that shrift can be, even from a longtime fan like myself. At the local edition of the recent Ninja Tune XX Tour every square centimeter of wall space in the venue's sizeable lobby had been transformed into a makeshift tribute to the label's first 20 years; 12-inch covers from the entire Ninja Tune, Big Dada, Counter and N-Tone catalogues literally papered the walls. It was a striking reminder that the trajectory from Pest's criminally underrated Necessary Measures, to the neon swagger of Ty's We Don't Care, to Wagon Christ, Cadence Weapon, Ammoncontact and The Death Set was neither the easiest nor the most logical one. Some of the typecasting may be due in part to the sublabels themselves, which have all managed to steal a little of the ninja's thunder in their own way. NTone provided safe refuge for Hexstatic and Neotropic to get as resoundingly weird as they liked, and incubated future singer-songwriter pin-up Fink. Before Roots Manuva's own psyche haunted him into gloom, before Ty misplaced his awkward optimism and before Wiley's affair with pop crossover anthems and status jewellery, Big Dada was in its bashment-dwelling prime, occasionally diverting its attention from its mind-boggling crop of UK talent, to unearth acts like TTC and Spank Rock, each brimming with the energy of their own regionalised hip-hop subversions. In the post-everything era, Counter embraced guitars, pop melodies and graying-round-the-temples, accommodating both the retro glam pretensions of Pop Levi and The Heavy's dad rock inclinations. In its 20th year, though, Ninja Tune still continues to resist dewy-eyed retrospectives, building on the tradition thrown down by Xen Cuts, which collected mostly new material over four CDs in honour of its 10th anniversary. If that compilation was exhaustive, XX is... a word that's doesn't exist in my vocabulary. Bold in form (six CDs, six 7-inches, a book, etc.), but moreso in content, XX's hook is the vast crop of newly commissioned remixes that presents a fantasy wishlist of cross pollination, both within and without the usual Ninja Tune sphere of influence. Young Bristol whippersnapper Joker de-mustifies The Heavy, synth pop trio Metronomy coax Diplo's synthetic horns into rave-like punctuations on "News Flash" and the stomping industrial doom of DJ Vadim's "Terrorist" is given a grimy Gaslamp Killer makeunder with manic bursts of wireless static and jungle fury. The Kronos Quartet reduce Amon Tobin to a spooky union of glitch samples and molested string sounds, while Micachu's organic jumble of papery drum rolls and hissing, murmuring, piping sounds noises fuse in seamless harmony with Roots Manuva's booming timbre. Elsewhere, new tracks from Zomby and Dorian Concept provide precisely the kind of forward looking goth-step and dextrous funk that you'd expect from both. New Big Dada signing DELS fell short on his official debut, but lives up to the hype with "Eating Clouds," while Luke Vibert's contribution to Xen Cuts, "I Hear The Drummer," is almost recognizable, as Saul Williams, Vadim and Tunng amongst others tease even more layers of strangeness out of the arrangement. But still, if you rub your eyes, squint and lean in, the Ninja Tune of old is still reassuringly recognizable: Bonobo and Speech Debelle update the Herbaliser/Wildflower dynamic, and Floating Points reserves a spot as Cinematic Orchestra's predecessor with the first peek at his namesake ensemble. For loyal Ninjettes, the casual appreciator and for those who used to love Ninja Tune, XX will serve at least one common purpose: A reminder that a home crafted indie label can weather 20 years without losing grip of its identity, its unpredictable ninja stealth or its raison d'etre.
  • Tracklist
      CD 1 01. Two Fingers - Fools Rhythm 02. Roots Manuva - It's On 03. Toddla T feat. Ms Dynamite - Want U Now 04. Dorian Concept - Her Tears Taste Like Pears 05. Zomby - The Forest 06. Offshore - Jen at the Station 07. Emika - Double Edge 08. Toddla T - Sky Surfing (Benga Remix) 09. Big Dada Sound - Signs 10. Coldcut & Hexstatic - Timber (Seiji Remix) 11. Andreya Triana - Lost Where I Belong (Flying Lotus Remix) 12. The Bug - Catch a Fire 13. The Bug - Tune In (Version) 14. Eskmo - Cloudlight 15. Daedelus - LA Nocturne CD 2 01. Roots Manuva - Dub Styles (Micachu's M.A.T.H.E.S. Remix) 02. Diplo - Summer's Gonna Hurt You (Diplo 2010 Remix) 03. The Heavy - How You Like Me Now? (Joker Remix) 04. Stateless - Ariel (Rustie Resmak) 05. Diplo - Newsflash (Metronomy Remix) 06. PRDCTV - Metropolis (Dan Le Sac Remix) 07. Dark Sky - Leave 08. The Long Lost - Woebegone (Flying Lotus' Like Woe Remix) 09. Spank Rock - What It Look Like (Todd Edwards Remix) 10. Shuttle - Lion 11. Poirier - Get Crazy (Mark Pritchard Dub) 12. Jammer - One Over Me 13. Fink - This Is The Thing (EL-B Digital Edit) 14. Amon Tobin - Lost & Found CD 3 01. Lou Rhodes - One Good Thing (The Cinematic Orchestra's New York Quartet Version) 02. Bonobo & Speech Debelle - Sun Will Rise 03. Grasscut - Blink In The Night 04. Bonobo & Andreya Triana - Wonder When' 05. Quincy & Xen Cuts Allstars - I Hear The Drummer (Tunng Edit) 06. Yppah - Never Mess With Sunday 07. Jaga Jazzist - Endless Galaxy 08. Cougar - $64k Rainbow 09. Amon Tobin - Eight Sum 10. DJ Vadim - The Terrorist (Gaslamp Computer Killer Remix) 11. Roots Manuva - Witness (1 Hope) (Slugabed Remix) 12. Andreya Triana - A Town Called Obsolete (Mala Remix) 13. Coldcut - Man In A Garage (King Jammy Vocal) 14. Lorn - Soft Room 15. Loka - The Beauty In Darkness 16. Paris Suit Yourself - I'll Let You Know 17. Jono McCleery - Tomorrow (Edit) 18. Floating Points Ensemble - Post Suite CD 4 01. Eskamon - Fine Objects 02. The Bug - Skeng (Autechre Remix) 03. Emika - Drop The Other (Daedelus Fragments Into a Thousand Little Pieces) 04. Amon Tobin - Bloodstone (King Cannibal Remix) 05. Amon Tobin - Foley Versions (Kronos Quartet Interpretation) 06. Anti-Pop Consortium - Volcano (Four Tet Remix) 07. DELS - Eating Clouds 08. Mr Scruff & Kirsty Almeida - Pickled Spider 09. Jaga Jazzist - Toccata (Grasscut Remix) 10. The Death Set - Impossible (Shuttle Remix) 11. Daedelus - Trouble with a Capital D 12. Roots Manuva - Let the Spirit (Hot Chip Remix) 13. Mr Scruff - Believe 14. Bonobo feat. Andreya Triana - Eyesdown (Floating Points Remix) 15. Shuttle - Tunnel CD 5 01. Floating Points Ensemble - Almost in Profile 02. The Cinematic Orchestra - Familiar Ground (Solid Steel version) 03. Bonobo - Stay The Same' Welder remix 04. Bonobo feat. DELS - Eyesdown 05. Coldcut - Sound Mirrors (Grasscut Dub) 06. Jaga Jazzist - Synchronise Your Watches 07. Kyle Hall - Golden Moments 08. Roots Manuva - The Falling (Doomed remix) 09. The Herbaliser - Something Wicked (Roots Manuva's Haunted House Dub) 10. Roots Manuva - Shake Your Money Maker 11. Fink - See It All (Scuba Remix) 12. DJ Food - African Rhythms (Tom Middleton Remix) 13. Coldcut - This Island Earth (Joe Goddard Remix) 14. The Qemists - Don't Lose It CD 6 01. Roots Manuva - Witness (1 Hope) (Modeselektor's Troublemaker Rmx) 02. Coldcut - True Skool (Zomby Remix) 03. The Bug - Poison Dart (Prefuse 73 Broke Moog Version) 04. DJ Food - Dark Lady (Alix Perez Remix) 05. Blockhead - The Music Scene (EL-P Remix) 06. DJ Food - 20/20 Rhythm 07. Clifford Gilberto - Deliver The Weird (Dorian Concept Remix) 08. Shuttle - Rotten Guts (Gold Panda Remix) 09. DJ Food - Dark Lady (808 State Remix) 10. Coldcut & Hexstatic - Timber (Super Sargasso Orb Mix) 11. King Cannibal - The Grind & Crawl 12. Wiley - My Mistakes (JME Remix) 13. DJ Vadim - Yea Man They Listening 14. Roots Manuva - Join The Dots (Cut Chemist Remix) 15. Blockhead - Ugly Brown 16. Cedell Davis - Been Through Some Stuff (cLOUDDEAD Remix) 17. Kid Koala - 3 Bit Blues 18. The Heavy - What's So Good Bout Goodbye 7-inch #1 A Bogus Order - Chillin With My Zen B Bogus Order - Zen Bones 7-inch #2 A Kid Koala - Skanky Panky (Wrongtom Dub) B Coldcut - Boogieman (King Jammy Dub) 7-inch #3 A King Geedorah - Snakecharmer (feat. Kurious as Biolante) B Daedelus - Impending Doom (Rustie Remix) 7-inch #4 A Two Fingers - Bad Girl (The Bug Dub) B Spank Rock - Sweet Talk (Matthew Herbert Remix) 7-inch #5 A Mr Scruff - Wriggle B Toddla T - Pum Pum 7-inch #6 A Wagon Christ - Sloth Gets Paid B Coldcut - Not Paid Enough (DJ Kentaro Turntable Mix) 12-inch #1 (ZEN160XX1) A1 Roots Manuva - Witness (1 Hope) (Modeselektor Remix) A2 Coldcut - True Skool (Zomby Remix) A3 Stateless - Ariel (Rustie's Pentagram Remake) B1 DJ Food - Dark Lady (Alix Perez Remix) B2 The Herbaliser - Something Wicked (Roots Manuva Dub) 12-inch #2 (ZEN160XX2) A1 Pop Levi - Blue Honey (A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Mix by The Amorphous Androgynous) B1 Coldcut - More Beats & Pieces (United States Of Audio Remix) B2 Flanger - Psy Sound