Nowadays, long-term success in the record business has become so elusive and so revered that when that rare piece of good news does arrive, you better celebrate the hell out of it. Ninja Tune gets this. The international electronica-leaning indie label conceived by Coldcut DJs Jonathan More and Matt Black turns 20 in 2010, and it's commemorating the big birthday with blowouts of multiple kinds. The first form is the hefty Ninja Tune XX box set, which collects tracks from Ninja Tune associates Mr. Scruff, The Cinematic Orchestra, Toddla T, King Geedorah (a.k.a. MF Doom), and loads more. The second form involves Ninja Tune XX parties in cities like Paris, Tokyo, Berlin, London, Istanbul, New York -- and S.F. To be part of San Francisco's festivities at 103 Harriet this Friday, RSVP here and get in for free. The show includes Amon Tobin, Kid Koala, DJ Kentaro, local Eskmo, and 13 others. Before that takes place, All Shook Down spoke to label co-founder Matt Black to revisit the label's beginnings and figure out where it stands today.
To jump straight into it, I consider the corporations the Nazis of the age we live in. I interface with them from time to time, but it's necessary to watch out for what's happening and be aware of the bigger picture. Have you seen the film with Russell Brand, Get Him to the Greek?
No, but I'm familiar with it.
It has a great scene inside a major record company meeting with this horrible bloke who is running the department and all these young guys who are so anxious to be part of it and want to be hip. I think that's essential background viewing for anyone who wants to understand "major label bullshit." Major label bullshit would entail characteristics such as telling your artists what clothes to wear, telling your artists to turn the snare drum and the vocal up so it'll be big on the radio, not paying your artists, and trying to take creativity and treat it like a commodity so that it becomes more like a sausage machine cranking out little tubes of macerated meat at the end rather than anything with any semblance of love or true character about it.
Also, telling you are absolutely fantastic and wonderful one week and dropping you the next because the accountant just told them they need to save some money or they've decided that actually, you don't really fit, or as it sometimes happens, buying up an act with a lot of ceremony and a large check, sticking it on the shelf, and refusing to put their music out because the only reason for buying them was that they compete with an existing act they've already got. I don't want to be petulant. It's all part of the big crazy Monopoly board of life. We try and operate on some parallel dimensions and don't spend all our time rolling around in the shit.
Did those things you mentioned happen to Coldcut or other bands you know who have been on major labels?
I'm not going to make any potentially -- let's say that we have intimate knowledge of those kinds of situations.
Was there any particular event that cemented the idea that you two had to get Ninja Tune going?