Ninja Tune interview

Influential London-based record label tells Time Out about their music

Music feature

The influential London-based record label, formed by cut-and-paste hitmakers Coldcut, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, with one of its signings, The Heavy, preparing to play a gig at the newly renovated Music Room in Dubai on November 25 We spoke to co-honcho Jon Moore about his memories of the past two decades.

Some more unusual names have passed through the doors…
‘In the early days, Jay Strongman put out a single with a band he was working with called Drive. And one of the vocalists on it was one of the All Saints. I think it was Melanie Blatt. This was just before they took off, so when they got big it was quite a collector’s item, as we only pressed about 500 copies. We had a box of them under my desk; I took it down to Record & Tape Exchange and sold 10 of them for about £20 (Dhs115) each, which paid for our next campaign.’

…although others were turned away at the front gate.
‘We didn’t turn down Franz Ferdinand, exactly. But we didn’t think they were for us. One of them sent us a demo a long time ago, and we all liked it, but we couldn’t really think what to do with them. We wanted to sign Squarepusher as well – he used to come down to a night we ran and jam live bass over the records – but that didn’t happen either. We’ve probably turned down quite a few famous bands without realising it, to be honest.’

They’re linked to a dairy dynasty.

‘Peter Quicke, who heads up our Counter sub-label, is the son of a famous cheesemaking family. Quickes Cheese. They’re famous for their oak-smoked cheddar. That’s how ninjas get their nourishment – it’s oak-smoked cheese that gives us our power.’

They’re proxy winter sports champs.
‘At one time, we had an office in Montreal and they had an ice hockey team. I think they even won some sort of a cup, so they must have been quite good. But they didn’t send it to us, no.’

But that’s not to say their trophy cabinet is empty.
‘We do have the Ritzy clubs’ “DJ of the Year” award on our wall, which I’m very proud of. Do Ritzy clubs even exist any more? I guess we’d have to go for “Mecca Bingo DJ of the Year”, that’d be the contemporary equivalent.’

They were mobbed by screaming girls for a month, in a tragic case of mistaken identity.
‘We were recording at a studio in the US, and the place was besieged by screaming girls. It turned out the drummer from Bros – who was one of the twins, I think – was there having drumming lessons. That really got on our nerves. But there you go, we could also have signed Bros.’

They can disappear at will.
‘Ninjas can turn themselves into a diaphanous sheet of silk and disappear at will. It comes in very handy, although it’s a skill you have to use with care. Not just for getting out of awkward small talk at parties. Or avoiding leaving a tip for bad service. A ninja’s going to be straight out there and tell you that the service was bad.’

They have some unusual fans.
‘[British comedian] Victoria Wood chose “Get a Move On” [by tea-drinking beatmeister Mr Scruff] as one of her Desert Island Discs. Oh yeah, she was down at Telepathic Fish [legendary chill-out club in London] all the time. I’m very proud of that, although I’m not particularly a fan of her oeuvre. And I’ve never listened to the Desert Island Discs programme in my life.’

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