As the label approaches 20

ClashMusic has teamed up with Ninja Tune to celebrate the label's 20th birthday. Check out the latest issue for a lavish pull out, detailing two decades in the life of the imprint.

As a special bonus, ClashMusic has grabbed five free downloads:

Toddla T - Skysurfing (Ross Orton Mix) [DOWNLOAD]
Thavius Beck - Go [DOWNLOAD]
Amon Tobin - Shut Down [DOWNLOAD]
Bonobo - Wonder When [DOWNLOAD]
Grasscut - The Door In The Wall [DOWNLOAD]

Click here to grab all five as a bundle!

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The idea of Ninja Tune first reared its head twenty years ago when Coldcut were touring Japan. Matt Black and Jon More had been operating within an industry that did not suit their desire for innovation and their musical restlessness, so the ninja’s concept of covertness seemed to spark an idea for a record label with similar values.

Since 1990 Ninja Tune has become a byword for originality and breathtaking quality as major labels have teetered around them. “I think of us as the little mammals who are a bit more nimble and jumping around in anticipation, making sure that we don’t get squashed by a falling dinosaur,” Matt Black informs Clash with palpable relish.

Ninja Tune is very much a child of its time. The DIY ethic of punk had become firmly a part of the British music scene by 1990 and American imports such as house and hip-hop were becoming more than just specialist interests in Britain. At college, Black and More recorded and released their first record themselves.

“We did that and then the idea of having your own label was a pretty obvious thing really, and I think one could credit Adrian Sherwood’s label On-U Sound with being a bit of a blueprint for Ninja Tune,” says Black. “The design was really good; it was British music that was credible and it showed that we could make British music that was something other than rock and it took quite a lot of time to establish that idea.”

Since then Ninja Tune has released some of the greatest British records of the past two decades whilst also pushing the international electronica agenda on due to its ability to dig out the best artists from around the globe. Fellow Coldcut and Ninja Tune founder Jon More has his own thoughts on their eclecticism and quality control: “We’re always interested in stuff that’s slightly on the edge in a way; not self-consciously and not to the exclusion of everything else. There’s certainly that point where it’s neither water nor ice but certainly not slush.”

Keeping things indefinable is the Ninja way. Here was a new route to acclaim: from the devastating success of their club nights Stealth and Solid Steel, the Ninja Cuts compilations, the cross pollination of visual and musical disciplines to the encouragement of musical risk-taking that saw us being introduced to the likes of Funki Porcini, Amon Tobin, Fink, Hexstatic, DJ Kentaro, Jaga Jazzist, The Bug, The Cinematic Orchestra and many besides.

More is proud that they have always been willing to take the time to allow Ninja to develop and therefore consequently produce work of an astounding quality. “Well, it’s like slow food; it’s very difficult to appreciate it sometimes when you’re sitting there going ‘feed me, feed me’ and you’re tapping your fingers on the restaurant table. But actually the ones that take a bit longer are better because they’re making the food proper rather than just microwaving it, and dipping it in various different coloured sauces and serving it with a bit of stupid foliage, it’s like cooking food longer: Ninja is slow music.”

Indeed it is, and this level of obsession has led to our record collections being enhanced accordingly across a wide variety of genres, all held together by their excellence. As ever eclecticism was the ruler: “We were too restless and too in love with the diversity of music that was out there. We were very much the children of John Peel,” Black explains. “We realised that it's cool to be into musical diversity so that is very much the mindset that formed the label. I think we actually attracted people who had more of a freewheeling, eclectic experimental side because they weren’t really catered for anywhere else.” ?

And what a group of people that is. Dive in, there’s a lot of characters inside. Enough almost for a lifetime.

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