Live Review: The Hydra x Ninja Tune

hydraMartyn @ Ninja Tune x The Hydra, 6 December 2014. Photo: Jody Hartley Photography

Ninja Tune, formed in 1990 by Matt Black and Jonathan More of Coldcut, has been one of the most exciting labels in the country for almost 25 years now. It is a forward thinking collective that has begun working with an equally forward thinking club night, The Hydra.

The night marked part of The Hydra’s winter series, based in Hackney venue Studio Spaces. The East London venue is located near to Tobacco Dock, surrounded by brutalist tower blocks, and lacks in transport connections. Tonight, however, that didn’t matter too much. The music went on strong until 5.30am, just as transport began to run more frequently. The lineup happened to be pretty decent also. Even if the journey home was a nightmare, the labour was one of love.

The headliner tonight was arguably Ninja Tune’s biggest artist, Bonobo. He delivered an impressive set, starting on his own tracks which spanned all five of his albums. Some of the highlights included ‘Kong‘ off Black Sands (2010) and the more recent ‘Know You’ off The North Borders (2013). The huge ‘Cirrus‘ also impressed on the night, with its array of xylophones, glockenspiels and marimbas.

Later on in the set, Bonobo started playing more upbeat house tracks, many of which were forgotten classics. KiNK’s remix of Jimpster’s ‘Porch Light and Rocking Chairs‘ got a play before Pedestrian’s ‘Hoyle Road‘, which was met with an ecstatic reception. But the overcrowding of the venue during Bonobo’s set limited the experience. People were packed so closely together, that there was barely room to dance. There was no stopping your clothes collecting a cocktail of bodily sweats, and no chance of getting anywhere near the front, unless you turned up ridiculously early or brought your trusty battering ram.

Footwork maestro Machinedrum went through a quick hip-hop phase, dropping ‘Work‘ by Gang Starr before going on to play ‘Nas is Like‘. He also managed to pay tribute to juke legend DJ Rashad, who passed away last year. Martyn’s set was tech heavy, and wouldn’t have sounded out of place in Berlin. The first half of the set was The Bug on his own, before his sidekick Flowdan stepped in to rap on tracks including ‘Skeng‘.

Despite not being the biggest name on the list, it was Actress’s set that was most exciting. Much of his recorded music is already slowed down, chopped and screwed and drenched in reverb, but what was heard that night was a complete contrast to his repertoire. The majority of songs in his set were dusty hardcore rave tunes from the nineties, which were double the speed of his studio material. Hip-hop producer Lee Bannon closed the night in the smaller room, playing some classic drum & bass tracks, including Adam F’s ‘Circles’.

Although the venue was impressive and of a good size, queuing for forty minutes for the cloakroom and twenty minutes to use a portaloo didn’t bode well with a lot of punters. This aside, the night was a triumph for both the label and the club night. It showed that Ninja Tune is still going strong even 25 years after its genesis. The Hydra series ended 2014 on a total high, and have raised anticipation for what will come in the new year.

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