Matt Black and Jonathan More of Coldcut are up there among the originators of contemporary underground music in the UK, key influences not just of what we listen to but how we listen to it. Credited with the UK’s first breaks record back in 1986, they began the heralded Solid Steel show a year later and then set up Ninja Tune in 1990. Since then they’ve always been challenging conventions around music consumption, from integrating video sampling into their DJ sets, pushing a freestyle mix style and compilation curation, software development and even campaigning for climate change through their artistic endeavours. As they line up a new album, Outside The Echo Chamber, in collaboration with Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound, they’ve put together a near-three hour reggae mix of their favourite rhythms, riddims and versions (tracklist below). They’ve also answered a few questions based on this dubwise sound, an area where their knowledge runs deep but they rarely get to showcase so explicitly.
Coldcut and On-U Sound release Outside The Echo Chamber on 19th May via Ahead Of Our Time records, featuring Roots Manuva, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Toddla T and Junior Reid. Buy from the Ninja Tune website.
What was your first memory involving reggae?
It was 1971, I was 14 years old, living in a small town called Thame near Oxford. Thame had a massive fair every year. We would all go down to try our luck on the various shooting galleries and over indulge on Candy Floss. That year I fell in love with the sounds being played on the dogems. I remember being struck by this one classic, Dave & Ansel Collins – Monkey Spanner. Who ever choose the selection of music on that fairground ride got to say props, it started a life long love.
And the first reggae record you bought?
I think it was – Reggae Chartbusters Volume Three.
The local Coal Merchant in Thame also sold records which you had to order. I think it cost a massive 7/6d. I also bought a T Rex album at the same time, that was months of errands – dog walking, brass polishing jobs that earned me the money to indulge my vinyl habit!
What is it that draws you to reggae?
I love the rhythm & the story – its as simple as that. For example ’54-46 Was My Number’ by Toots & The Maytals is an intriguing subject for what is now considered a classic a pop song, plus a funky feel that cannot be ignored…Nod your bod to that…
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you made for us [where/how you recorded it, the idea behind it?
I love the whole version idea, it fascinates me that a rhythm can be used for so many different songs, so the idea started as a means of putting a few of my favourites into a mix. I recorded it in my studio, digging through my boxes of seven inch records trying to find all the versions of Stalag for example. It was constructed over several months – I would try out a few of the ideas when DJing. Eventually I put it all together, recording some in Serato and then using Ableton to compile it and add FX & Spoken word.
It’s got quite a tracklist. Could you pick out some personal highlights or significant records?
John Holt Stick By Me is one of my all time top tunes – A wonderful voice, a classic love song and a great rhythm, what’s not to like? One to sing along to in the shower, one to dance with your partner with the lights down low.
Then for that Dub thing & something super tuff got to point you in the direction of Dillinger – Tambrin Season A killer dub, such a heavy bass line, one to rock the party.
You’ve included a 30 minute Joyride riddim section at the end in support of Jamaica Jamaica!, a new exhibition in Paris. Have you had a chance to check it out for yourself yet?
Not yet, hoping to go over in the near future. Looks like a really cool event.
Your new album, Outside The Echo Chamber, features some pretty influential names. Are there any standout memories that ensure from the sessions recording together?
Watching Doug Wimbush playing bass at Adrian Sherwood studio in Ramsgate…Wow those fingers are so deft. Doug played bass on some of my all time favourite hip hop tracks including White Lines. Also recording in LA with Elan who has such a beautiful voice and is such a joy to work with, and sings with the Wailers…Living legends both.
Why did you want to team up with Adrian Sherwood and his On-U Sound?
Having been a fan of Adrian’s work for such a long time it just seemed natural to collaborate. We had a load of material recorded & Adrian had been working on Roots Manuva’s album so it just fell into place. Adrian has a great skill of being able to sort shit out and make tracks sound proper. An art that seems simple but is actually very tough to pull off.
Matt once said “without On-U Sound, there’d be no Ninja Tune”. What On-U Sound releases have had the biggest impact on you as artists and labelheads?
Here’s a little list;
Gary Clail & On-U Soundsystem – Privatise The Air (Part 1)
Bim Sherman – Keep You Dancing
Akabu – Akabu Theme
Tackhead – Mind At The End Of The Tether
Prince Far – Barber Salon/Barber Salon Part 2
Dub Syndicate – No Alternative (But To Fight)
African Head Charge – Stebeni’s Theme
Doug Wimbish – Glorification Chant
You celebrate 30 years since your first release this year. During that time, you’ve helped develop countless musical movements and sounds. If you were pressed to choose one that you’re most proud to have been apart of, what would it be?
Always difficult to choose. I think Journeys By Dj is 70 minutes of Madness. It was the culmination of so many fun times working with PC & Strictly Kev – DJing at Stealth with them and then getting our collaborative heads on and trying to make something that we all would love, one of those moments.
What new or young talents are you most excited by at the moment?
What’s coming up on the horizon you’re excited about?
We have just finished recording a project in South Africa working with the charity in place of war & community arts centre in Soweto called Trackside with the invaluable support of a very creative venue called King Kong & killer record label Mushroom Half Hour Hour in Johannesburg. Just starting to work on the results. Keep em peeled…
Slim Smith – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
John Holt – Stick By Me
Dennis Alcapone – King Of The Track
Leroy Parker – Groove With It
Dillinger – Tambrin Season – Dub
Melodions – Come On Little Girl
The Tamlins – Baltimore
Welton Irie – Hotter Reggae Music
Tomorrow’s Children – Sister Big Stuff
The Frightnrs – I’d Rather Go Blind
Marcia Aitken – I’m Still In Love With You
Trinity – Three Piece Suit And Thing
Mighty Two – Uptown Top Rankin Dub
Althea & Donna-Uptown Top Ranking
Rupie Edwards – Tribute To Slim Smith
Shorty The President – Underworld Way
Tyrone Downie – Tribute To Slim Smith
Slim Smith – Conversation
Shorty The President – President A Mash Up The Resident
The Success All Stars – 100,000 Dollars
El Cisco Delgado – Mi Huh Matta
The Heptones – Give Me The Right
Rupie Edwards – Christmas Rush
Hopeton Lewis Feat U Roy – Tom Drunk
Sly and Robbie – Turbo Dub
J Robinson & Mental Forces – Corruption
King Tubby – King Tubby’s Badness Dub
Ronnie Davis, Lloydie Slim & The Aggrovators – Jah Jah Dub
Scotty-Draw Your Brakes
Freddie Mckay – Love Is A Treasure
Tenor Saw – Lone Ranger & Tonto
Zap Pow – This Is Reggae Music
Cedric Im Brookes & The Sound Dimension – Mun-Dun-Gu
Technique Allstars – Stalag 17
Prince Far I – Back Weh
Sister Nancy – Bam Bam
Paketo Wilson – Bubbling
Super Chick – Roach Kille
Tenor Saw – Ring The Alarm
Super Beagle – Dust Out A Sound Boy
Super Chick – Roach Killer
? Stalag Riddum
King Everold – Stalag 17
Anthony Johnson – Truth & Rights
Big Youth – Jim Squeechy
Jamming Unit – Bam Bam Dub
Willie Williams – Armagideon Times
Junior Murvin – Cool Out Son
Bdp – Jah Rulez
James K Smith – Riding West
Conroy Smith – Dangerous
Wayne Wonder & Baby Cham – Joy Ride
Wayne Wonder – Bashment Girl
Tanya Stephens – Yuh Nuh Ready Fi Dis Yet
Pad Anthony – West Bound Train – Joyride Version
JR Jazz – Stormy Weather
Leroy Gibbon – Old Time Religion
Top Cat – Draw Fi Me Special – Joyride Version
George Nooks – Freedom Blues