The world of music changes quickly, sometimes too quickly. With its productions often focused on jazz, soul and funk samples, the independent label Ninja Tune could have been left behind, comfortably content with its downtempo rhythms. But that wouldn’t be reckoning with Jonathan More and Matt Black, its two founders known as Coldcut. These two music enthusiasts always have one ear to the ground, listening for new and exciting sounds that were gaining traction at the same time as their own projects.
When British rap was slow in forging its own identity, they were the ones who helped it to become more than just a pale copy of the American originals. When all the hybrid music they championed seemed to go out of fashion, they kept faith in their leading artists – from Cinematic Orchestra to Amon Tobin – helping their careers grow. As well as this they cleverly expanded the always up-to-date catalogue of one of the country’s oldest indie labels, and established themselves as a benchmark for others.
Through its Big Dada division – more focused on rap and its variations – the label has become a laboratory for a new wave of British artists. In freeing performers from needing to copy the American model, young Brits started to find their own language of the streets in underground music, electro and grime. That said, the label did also rely on links with the American scene and established partnerships with labels such as Brainfeeder from the producer Flying Lotus.
With English-style hip hop back on track, Ninja Tune entered a new era, returning to the fore, anchored in its time and consistent with its past. Admittedly, its style is now less immediately identifiable to the ear, but its artistic future seems assured thanks to experimental producers like Actress and the house music of groups such as the Irish duo Bicep. Ninja Tune has also signed the promising electro trio PVA, the electro post-rock collective Black Country, New Road, and the post-classical duo A Winged Victory for the Sullen.
Ninja Tune has opened its doors to lots of female artists and a wealth of talent and inspiration. All are taking the label into its future, with each strong personality contributing to the changing music scene – Kate Tempest, Sampa the Great, Julianna Barwick, Helena Hauff, Marie Davidson and Jayda G amongst them. Each one of them enriches the history to which many legendary artists have remained faithful. And when those inside the house feel good, it’s a great sign for those of us looking in.