Hard to believe as it may be for those who have been following the label since its inception, Ninja Tune is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. There’s obviously been a lot of water under the bridge over the course of that extremely eventful quarter-century, so when it came time to plan a proper celebration, the NT folks must have thought long and hard about choosing the musical talent to make their birthday festivities come alive. And it looks like they came up with some pretty damn decent choices.
There will actually be a whole series of events this fall to celebrate the label’s 25th, including a show in Amsterdam, three in London (with Actress, King Midas Sound vs. Fennesz, and others), and one at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, featuring The Bug, Earth and others. But be on the alert for the November 21 warehouse party in L.A. that boasts Bonobo, Sepalcure and Eamon Harkin of Mister Saturday Night, to name a few. The location? Shhh, it’s a secret! Ticket buyers will only find out where to go the week of the show.
Groundbreaking UK imprint Ninja Tune continue their 25th anniversary celebration with a memorable Essential Mix which aired last week on BBC Radio 1. The two-hour session was helmed by label founders Coldcut (Matt Black and Jonathan More) and rising house sensation Seven Davis, Jr., who released his debut album, Universes, earlier in the year on the label.
“We wanted to represent as many of the current Ninja Tune roster as possible and also throw a couple of classics from the archives into the mix in addition to some influential and inspirational tracks,” said Black and More.
Seven Davis, Jr., whose hour featured exclusive tracks from Steven Julien (a.k.a. Funkineven), Jesse Rose and a remix of his “Sunday Morning” by Karizma (a.k.a. Kaytronik), was stoked at the opportunity to flex his mixing muscles. “I was really honored when Ninja Tune asked me to represent the new generation of artists on the label.”
Singer/songwriter/producer Steve Spacek (a.k.a. Steve White) has been innovating during every step of his musical journey. Since the mid-’90s he’s been focused on designing a futuristic, post-everything dance floor sound informed by broken beat, R&B, trip-hop, hip-hop, African highlife and soul. During this time he’s led electronic band Spacek, issued an array of solo releases, collaborated with J.Dilla, Common and Raphael Saadiq, helmed Africa Hitech with Mark Pritchard and issued his Black Pocket project for his brother dBridge’s Exit Records.
On his first solo album in nearly a decade, Modern Streets, released under his Beat Spacek moniker, Spacek realized the soul-drenched, synth-dominated long-player not by working in a home or project studio but by producing songs here and there utilizing apps operating on his mobile devices.
Instead of Instagramming photos of his dinner or tweeting obligatory thank-yous to last night’s crowd for being so awesome, Spacek put his iPad or iPhone to creative use, laying down everything from 8-bit grooves, his whispered and falsetto vocals and sampling his kids and popping what they said onto tracks when situations presented themselves. Modern Streets is an album that finally fulfills technology’s egalitarian promise to make the recording process cheaper, easier and more efficient for artists.
“A lot of my music I hear is in my head — whether a bassline, vocal line or in a lot of cases the whole track,” says Spacek. “So the idea of being able to put those ideas down whilst out and about, in an airport or plane, where them vibes take me was always going to be a no-brainer!”
We talked to Spacek about what prompted him to take the mobile path on Modern Streets, and how the freedom he found will impact his future work.
Vapor City accurately pinpoints a post-fallout environment powered by quicksilver scurries and reverbs decorating requiems in dub and bass. Like skimming a blimp across a lake, Travis Stewart’s IQ in dynamics and hydraulics gives the bulky and burdened a frothy quality in subzero.
Sustaining junctions in post-dubstep, footwork/juke, and jungle/hardcore, “Infinite Us” is near enough jungle jazz/intelligence from the 90s, and “Don’t 1 2 Lose U” plays at being Zomby, rave chords picking at the brickwork of a mausoleum. Provocative to a point in rigidly setting out chord structures and triggers, Stewart’s highs tunnelling towards daylight, referee face-offs between the restful and the unsettling, skeletal against billowing. “Center You Love” very nearly aims dubstep for the coffee table, where the atmospheric shaping of layers, hazing and fading on the timeout “Vizion”, close eyes in the infinite space between club and headphone while tugging at the throttle.
With a longing glance at Hyperdub-style electro/R&B on “U Still Lie”, any moments of tension have a way of nixing themselves, and predicted dirges – jump-off “Eyesdontlie” one to fix an unflinching gaze – end up wearing a daisy chain in a world, despite so many signposts, that’s easy to get lost in. When it comes to the continuity of Room(s), the ubiquitous pitched down vocal saps some of the excitement, and similar still, for all its undeniable cutting edge, somehow it doesn’t quite feel it’s doing enough to pull away from its peers.