Album Reviews

Various – ZEN CD – A Ninja Tune Retrospective / ZEN RMX – A Retrospective of Ninja Tune Remixes

(Ninja Tune) UK release date: 9 February 2004


Where to begin? Well, the music is normally a good place to start, but it’s daunting when confronted by two double CDs, each packed to the last second with music from a huge range of artists who are positively encouraged to break new boundaries. So let’s start with the label – twelve years young and still kicking against the system. This, almost unbelievably, is Ninja Tune’s first retrospective. The first CD is a compilation a greatest hits from the album’s heavyweight hitters, while the second focuses on the numerous remixes they’ve commissioned over the years.

It’s on the first compilation that you really begin to realise just how essential a label like Ninja Tune has been over the last decade, matched only by those other independent mavericks Warp Records for sheer staying power and consistency.

Founded by Coldcut‘s Matt Black and Jon Moore after their early chart success and subsequent dealings with the major labels, Ninja Tune was to act as a home for like minded misfits and as a hub for the duo’s many, many interests – from club nights to radio shows to websites.

Swiftly making their name as the UK dance scene went through one of its periodic breakdowns and a new swathe of artists appeared who were interested in making music as much for the mind as for the feet, Ninja Tune – alongside the likes of Mo Wax – led the way with their instrumental hip-hop adventures.

Taking the “anything that can be used, can be used” approach, early albums from artists like Funki Porcini saw hip-hop beats mixed with drum and bass, dub, ambient and spoken word samples to create a glorious sonic stew.

Having been remastered, all the tracks right back to the earliest releases still sound as fresh and innovative today as they did all those years ago. And the quality shows no sign of dipping either, with artists of the calibre of Mr Scruff and the Cinematic Orchestra going strong still and an unnerving eye for new talent such as Pest, Blockhead and the sublime Super Numeri, the future is looking good for Ninja. With no shareholders of parent companies to answer to they can carry on doing their own thing without having to blindly chase every passing fad.

If the first compilation shows how consistently good Ninja Tune have been over the years, the remix compilation is a good indication of how willing to experiment they’ve been. A Who’s Who of the last decade of innovative artists, Ninja has the clout to pull in the big names and the respect to let those names do their own thing.

Four Tet, Ashley Beedle and Matthew Herbert are just some of the names they’ve enlisted over the years to reconstruct Ninja’s finest in their own image, producing along the way many a classic mix – and in Squarepusher‘s obliteration of DJ Food‘s Scratch Yer Head, possibly one of the best remixes ever.

All in all, whether a total newcomer to the world of Ninja Tune or a seasoned veteran, there’s plenty on offer here. A snapshot of over a decade’s worth of looking for the perfect beat.


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