We haven't stopped listening to Dutch-born, USA-based Martyn's latest album 'The Air Between Words’ since it dropped last month. A constantly evolving producer, his third LP (following previous works on Brainfeeder and 3024) marks a distinctly analogue approach and throws another curveball in his consistently vital production.
It was also a nice surprise to learn that the home for this LP would be one of the UK's best independents, Ninja Tune. Originally formed in 1990 by Matt and Jonathan of Coldcut, Ninja Tune has an impressive history that a trip down Discogs or a visit to their basement (if you are ever at their London HQ) will leave you drooling over.
With album artists spanning the likes of Amon Tobin, Roots Manuva, Actress, Bonobo through to... Kelis, like Martyn - the label evades a pigeon hole like a cat to water. Consequently it's also been home to some absolute game changers over the last 24 years, so we were pretty happy to get this intimate guide back from Martyn on the early releases on the catalogue.
'If you ask me what signifies that 90's quintessential Ninja Tune sound I would describe it as uptempo sampled hip hop and this compilation CD shows a neat definition of that. Including all important Ninja artists of that era like Coldcut, DJ Food, Funki Porcini (a name I spontaneously started laughing about 10 years later at an italian dinner table), Herbalizer, DJ Vadim etc, one of my favourite tracks on this is Luke Vibert's 'Get your Head Down'. Really great how it starts off as a vibey jazz workout but turns quite mean at the end'
'Possibly my most cherished Ninja release is this remix EP, which was part of Dj Food's Refried Food project. The 12" features Autechre's amazing reshape of "Sexy Bits" from 1995. Autechre are renowned for their adventurous remixes, that didn't leave much of the original tracks in tact but were always exquisite with good ideas.
This one definitely shows the shared love of old skool hiphop between Autechre and Dj Food, starting off with a mean breakbeat it slowly turns into a Amber era mood piece'.
'I always thought I owned a really rare 7" but you can actually cop this for 89 Eurocents now on Discogs hahaha. This has four killer workouts though, including Up Bustle 'n Outs 'Bicycles Flutes and You', which, judging by this YouTube video also works great as the background beat to a cycle holiday along the Marne River :) Looks nice there!
Interesting to think about how Ninja's 90s releases are perhaps not the coolest of the coolest influences for musicians but their impact on music in the world is far bigger than most labels of that era: as soundtracks to films, series, videogames, not to mention every hotel lobby in the world, Ninja's jazzed up instrumental hip hop sound is still going very strong'.
'Between 1994 and 2001, Ninja released a host of ambient gems on their N-Tone imprint, including the 'Mama 6' LP by Journeyman (who are better known as Woob). Journeyman's music always included some sort of reggae/dub/breaky element which for me made it more bearable than some of the straight up soundscapey artists of that time. The track 3001 has that incredibly sluggish beat nicely paired with some gate effect chords that you may know from FSOL or The Orb.
After another vibey interlude it eventually becomes a pretty cool 90's techno workout. There's a 12" release of this as well, and I remember I once played the first half of the song at 45 rpm hahaha'.
'On a sort of IDM Breakbeat tip, Neotropic is perhaps widely forgotten but she (!) was responsible for some great records. I later found out she worked with FSOL on Papua New Guinea as well as a bunch of other projects. This 'Laundry' track sort of bridges between Detroit inspired music from B12, Stasis, The Black Dog and breakbeat trickery from Squarepusher, Wagon Christ etc. Plus check out the '15 Levels of Magnification' album on Ninja's sub label N-Tone'.
Martyn's album 'The Air Between Words' is highly recommended by us and out now on Ninja Tune