Multimedia Ninja DJs

Coldcut has made a career out of breakbeat pastiche, experimenting mostly with hip-hop, ambient dub and jungle sounds.

ninjas 88 (photo credit: )
ninjas 88
(photo credit: )
In the early Eighties, Jonathan Moore was an art teacher and Matt Black was a computer programmer. When the two first met in London, they were both looking to join the ranks of the budding electronic music revolution. Their first collaboration was an independently published underground DJ mix that Moore sold to Black, who spliced in his own flavors. Soon the duo were calling themselves Coldcut, spinning at warehouse parties and hosting a pirate radio show called Solid Steel. After some success with their first single, "Say Kids, What Time Is It?" (one of the first English turntablism releases), Coldcut followed with "Paid in Full" - a remix of a track by Eric B and Rakim. "Paid in Full" reached the top 10, thanks to Coldcut's funky flair and a prominent Ofra Haza sample. Building on the work of American turntable real-time cut-and-pasters like Grandmaster Flash, Coldcut has made a career out of breakbeat pastiche, experimenting mostly with hip-hop, ambient dub and jungle sounds. But Coldcut's experiments in other areas - including software projects, art installations and their own record label - make the Moore-Black team especially noteworthy. After all, being godfathers of electronic music is a complex and multi-faceted task. Over the years, Coldcut has released many hit singles as remix producers, and several "original" full-length albums considered among the classics of experimental electronic music, including the brand-new Sound Mirrors. With explorations in orchestral ballads and instrumentals, bubblegum dance pop, rap, techno, jazz, psychedelia, hard dance and blues grooves, the new disc has a wider variety of influences than heard on any previous Coldcut release - not a minor accomplishment. The electronic music scene has changed quite a bit since the early days of England's warehouse parties, mostly because it went mainstream in the mid-Nineties, when The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and the like began to top MTV playlists and US sales charts, causing pop-culture analysts to wonder if DJs would be the rock stars of the new millennium. They aren't; rock stars are. While electronic sounds have certainly made their mark on the consciousness of the mainstream, their crossover potential seems to have reached a saturation point, bringing the turntablism scene back down to earth. "Electronic music is appreciated more widely than it used to be," explains Black. "The rave scene and ecstasy and samplers and cheap sequencing allowed me and others to make dance music and make a living out of it.In the beginning, it was literally a revolution - a pouring out of energies and excitement. Something new with potential. It grew and grew, which made it a victim of its own success." But such is the nature of the beast. Black is careful not to be too critical of the hand that feeds him. "Clubs and DJs have become very mainstream, and to a certain extent that reduces the revolutionary potential, but the music scene is still vibrant. We've always messed with a lot of different styles. Our specialty is to have that diversity." Maybe Coldcut's dedication to diversity is the reason that nine years passed between 1997's Let Us Play! and the new album. Spanning much of the late Nineties, Coldcut's Stealth club residency events garnered top accolades from the British club press. Globally, the group's most visible "side project" has been Ninja Tune, the progressive hip-hop record label they founded in 1991 after a trip to Japan. It was there that the duo learned many legends of the covert Ninja bandit warriors - an identity which they felt applied to their status in the music industry. Disillusioned with the manner in which mainstream media types dominated the distribution of sounds, Coldcut's label went on to break highly skilled and like-minded DJs such as Herbaliser, Kid Koala and DJ Food. Lately, though, "Jon and I are in the office most days, but we have a great crew of ninjas who take care of the logistical aspects," says Black. "But we have to clean the kitchen from time to time." The Solid Steel radio program that helped make a name for Coldcut still runs as well. In 2000, Coldcut moved the bi-weekly Kiss FM show to the BBC London Live station and began to develop it as an internet-based and syndicated phenomenon. Solid Steel can be heard on Tel Aviv's alternative Kol Hacampus station. While the duo does touch base with listeners on the air every now and then, they're no longer the primary hosts: "Like many of the things we do, we set it in motion and then others became involved," says Black. In recent years Coldcut has also released VJamm, their own software tool for real-time video sequencing and mixing. VJamm, packaged free with some of their CDs, does for video artists what the turntable does for DJs, and Coldcut still uses the program on stage as a central element of its CCTV multimedia live show experience. When Coldcut goes on stage in Tel Aviv this week, Black and Moore will be joined by a team of vocalists, scratch DJ Raj Pannu and Juxta, their resident VJamm artist. The Tel Aviv stop on the Sound Mirrors tour follows sets in Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, France and England. The rest of the winter has Coldcut spinning all over the UK before heading back to France and then on to Switzerland, Italy and Spain. They plan to spend most of April touring North America as well. Speaking over the phone from London, Matt Black is especially excited about coming to Israel. Recognizing that having tapped into Israeli music kick-started their careers, thanks to the Ofra Haza vocal on "Paid in Full," he plans on adding to his arsenal of samples while here. "I'm sure there are some other great musicians in Israel, and I'm looking forward to checking out the local sounds," he says. Performing in Israel has personal meaning to Black. "I'm partly Jewish, so I'm interested in checking out the land of the forefathers," he says. When asked which part of him is Jewish, he answers, "My father's side - more culturally and genetically than religiously. My real name is Cohn." On a larger scale, Coldcut's Tel Aviv performance is somewhat puzzling, since the pair have made a name for themselves as champions of liberal politics, most of whose proponents have been avoiding the Zionists in droves. "We don't understand the situation there," Black says. "It's not up to us to come and lecture people about what is right and what we should be doing. We don't like preaching anyway. Our aim is to make something for the feet, for the groin, for the heart and for the head." Coldcut and the CCTV multimedia experience are scheduled to appear at Tel Aviv Port's Hangar 11 on Thursday, February 9. Doors open at 10 p.m., with Metropolin and DJ Sammy Jo of the Scissor Sisters also performing. Tickets for NIS 139 can be purchased by calling (03) 604-5000.