2017 is seeing irrepressible socio-cultural mavericks Jon More and Matt Black celebrating 30 years since they came together as Coldcut with an astonishing array of events, inventions and records. These include the recent landmark Coldcut X On-U Sound album, “Outside The Echo Chamber” with Adrian Sherwood, and a long-awaited sequel to 1990’s “Zen Brakes Vol. 1”, the first album released on Coldcut’s Ninja Tune, the label they started in 1990. Ninja has grown into a much-loved international independent at the cutting edge of electronic music, software and audio-visual trail-blazing.
“Outside The Echo Chamber” is a wild electronica soundclash between Coldcut and the master producer who influenced them so much in their formative period. Underpinned by Adrian Sherwood’s long-favoured rhythm section of guitarist Skip McDonald and bassist Doug Wimbish, the album boasts a stellar cast of guests including Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Junior Reid, Roots Manuva, Dave Taylor, Toddla T, Hamsika Iyer and Elan, joining the trio in shaking the foundations with righteous dubcentric mischief and imagination. The track ‘Robbery’ (feat. Rholin X), is available as a 3D Virtual Surreality game set in a world where the banks have stolen everyone’s savings and it’s up to the player to jail the culprits Coldcut have nobbled; effectively taking music, media and politics into unchartered realms.
To mark their 30th, Coldcut have also put together a new AV show featuring amped-up catalogue classics, from their seminal ‘Paid In Full’ remix to 2016’s “Only Heaven” EP and tracks from “Outside The Echo Chamber”. The show is being powered by Coldcut’s latest inventions, including ‘Pixi’ and their ‘Jamm’ app to remix tunes live. The new version of ‘Timber’ uses an A.I. deep learning technique called Style Transfer to “repaint” footage to lustrous effect as visuals are synched on a big screen to the sound. The majority of the show is live rather than pre-recorded, resulting in a new form of live cinema combining music, art, humour and activism.
Coldcut have also announced MidiVolve, a collaboration with Ableton that marks a new way of creating music by turning simple MIDI patterns into a naturally evolving musical continuum with instrument and effects racks derived from Coldcut’s sonic laboratory. Their approach is inspired by Steve Reich’s systems music classic “Music for 18 Musicians”.
This astonishing array of rampant celebration and senses-seducing AV mischief mixed with authentic innovation and invention seem like a natural progression from Coldcut’s origin as “the first Brit artists to really get hip-hop’s class- cutup aesthetic”. They introduced rap to ravers, creating a heady blend of hip-hop production and proto-acid house grooves and presaging scenes as diverse as electronica, breakbeat, ambient and baggy. 30 years on they remain at the forefront of modern music and electronic arts.
More Coldcut History
Meeting amongst the free parties and record stores of late ‘80s London, Jon More and Matt Black’s early 12-inch singles – ‘Say Kids, What Time is It?’ and ‘Beats and Pieces’ – moved minds as well as feet, and helped change the face of dance music as it exploded into the mass consciousness. Their remix of Eric B and Rakim’s ‘Paid in Full’ took their radical sound mainstream and told the music industry something fresh and ground-breaking was going on. Coldcut then took mainstream pop by storm, introducing Yazz and Lisa Stansfield to the world and producing both artists’ most memorable hits. They chose collaborations based on a shared renegade musical spirit rather than a sound, and thus created sounds unlike anyone else. They “somehow found room at the table for Queen Latifah, Mark E. Smith and Jello Biafra” (SPIN) and their Journeys by DJ is regarded by many as the top DJ mix of all time. More recently, they’ve made an interactive cut ‘n’ paste installation and AV piece for an exhibition of work by cutup precursor William S Burroughs, which follows on from Coldcut’s ‘90s mashup software and audiovisual releases which inspired both todays VJ scene and music-software convergence.
When the pair’s thrilling, experimentally-minded productions fell out of favour with carbon-copy major label conservatism, they founded Ninja Tune, which turned 25 in 2015. With a remit simply to release future-gazing records that excited them most, the label is still doing exactly that. Coldcut were recently included in Mixmag and DJ Magazine’s all-time top artist articles for their 30th and 25th anniversary issues, respectively.
Coldcut continue to be as restlessly creative as ever. Having launched their Ninja Jamm app in 2012, 500,000 downloads later it has become a sophisticated instrument used live by the duo alongside other software inventions. Their long term relationship with Greenpeace continued with DJ sets for the organisation at Glastonbury for the last three years. They’ve also become go-to DJs for Avaaz’s huge climate change marches in London, and Paris COP. Also supporting Campaign Against The Arms Trade, Coldcut’s long-running political art activism is finding itself ever relevant in these turbulent times.
This recent raft of new material and stellar inventions serves to reemphasize that Coldcut are now and forever in the vanguard of global dance music and artistic innovation, restlessly futuristic whilst drawing on inexhaustible seams of past experience.
Picture credits: Hayley Louisa Brown.