Technology, creativity and his Ninja Jamm app

Matt Black, stalwart of the warehouse scene, and among the greatest living British producers, pops into Clash to offer some insights on the role technology plays in musical creativity and to show off his hot new Ninja Jamm iPhone App for remixing tunes on the hoof.

Few people even dare to aspire for a career as eclectic as Matt Black, one-half of Coldcut and co-owner of the seminal Ninja Tune label. over the last quarter century, he and long-term collaborator Jonathan More have achieved universal respect as artists, DJs, producers and audio auteurs. A consequence of them having forged this initially lonely path is that it is today considered normal for these roles to be fused. This was not always so, says Black. “There was a time when you would have to serve ten years as a studio flunkie to earn the right to mix sessions - and another ten to be a producer.” The nascent Coldcut crew had no appetite for such servile apprenticeships. “We used DJ tricknology to vault our way into the producer’s chair,” he laughs, “and this is what gave us an edge to slice through the system.” Swordsmanship was certainly a prerequisite for beat junkies back then, as it took days of splicing magnetic tapes to achieve mixes that can now be done in moments with software.

There are, however, so many tools available for would-be conjurers of digital grooves that it is hard to know where to begin or, indeed, end the process of cooking up a new tune. Gesturing to his laptop, Black muses that this single piece of kit contains enough audio wizardry to quickly knock together seriously cool music yet the sheer abundance of choices it offers can be as paralysing as it is empowering. The answer, for any artist, he says, is to find your own voice and then express it, before adding: “how you go about doing this really doesn’t matter.” Black, who cannot play any instruments, describes himself as a musical hacker who simply unearthed new ways “to bolt stuff together” and believes that many trained musicians limit themselves by making music in ways they feel they are supposed to, rather than experiment. Conversely, he advised lovers of loops to pay more attention to the sound of real instruments. “You can learn loads just by listening closely to the bass notes of a proper piano,” he chimes.

While, Black plainly respects the technical skills needed to deftly handle, say, a guitar or understand piano chords - an idea he refers to as having “musical chops” - yet says it’s equally crucial to embrace technology and maintain the punk attitude of loving to rip up conventional views. he is plainly passionate about people being proactive rather than merely passive recipients. “Messing about with music is more fun than just listening to it. We enjoy it and we want to give other people the chance to do so too. our message is that anyone can do this.” To prove his point, Black whips out an ipad and gives Clash a sneak preview of Ninja Jamm, a hot new app quietly concocted in collaboration with Seeper, the arts and technology collective based in east london. This will enable fans to comprehensively remix a curated selection of tracks from the Ninja catalogue and share the results with friends, in CD quality, on social media via the SoundCloud service. The app will be free and be bundled with a few tracks ready to carve up into sonic sushi, with extras available to purchase. eventually, fans will be able to plonk their own songs onto this cool new digital chopping-board, and Matt isn’t ruling out other labels getting involved in the act either.

Even a quick tinker with Ninja Jamm reveals it to be a potent yet intuitive tool for reinventing a track or mashing up its constituent elements during, say, a live DJ performance. To be fair, the app is still a little rough around the edges in visual and ergonomic terms. Nevertheless, it strikes a good balance between being easy to monkey about with, while also deploying some seriously cool tricks of the trade and promises to be pure rock and roll once it sees the light of day, hopefully this year. Given that Coldcut have famously adopted a no-compromise stance on so many issues, it is no surprise to hear Black is a bit scathing about current music apps, which he believes are often overcomplicated. “The geek priesthood defends its territory by making shit that’s hard to use,” he says. This, to be frank, is harsh on best-of-breed rivals, such as ikaossilator or Thumb Jam. Even so, his clear enthusiasm for democratising access to tune tweakery is laudable. “We’re giving the idea of the remix a remix”, he concludes, with a cheeky wink, while casually dropping the bombshell that the dynamic duo are sculpting a successor to Coldcut’s classic ‘Seventy Minutes of Madness’ album, which many consider the greatest DJ mix ever thrown down. The working title for this project is ‘Two hours of Madness’ and the clue, people, is in the title. With that, he pops on a pair of freak-daddy gold shades, ready for his pictures. As befits a stalwart of the warehouse scene this, plainly, is a man who really knows how to party.

Words by Alex Pell
Photo by Neil Bedford


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