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big dada label profile
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To accompany exclusive Big Dada performances from the Dedbeat festival we give you the lowdown on Ninja Tune’s hip-hop cousin.Potted history
Big Dada began life as an offshoot of Coldcut’s Ninja label in 1997 when they released Misanthropic’s Alpha Prhyme 12-inch – a collaboration between Luke Vibert and New Flesh MC Juice Aleem. The first compilation, Whole Black Styles, appeared in 1998, and their first artist album - Roots Manuva's Brand New Second Hand - followed in 1999.
Although both Coldcut and Ninja grew out of old school hip-hop, the label had moved into more experimental territory by the mid-90s. With the trip-hop tag still hanging over them, it was felt another stable was needed to house the more MC-focused music Ninja wanted to release. “We’ve always kept Ninja and Big Dada artistically distinct,” says Big Dada label manager, Will Ashon. “Otherwise, what’s the point of having two labels?”
Ty & Roots Manuva
In the 1918 Dada Manifesto, Tristan Tzara outlined the reasons why he and his fellow Dadaists had declared war on art. “Dada is about disgust,” he wrote. “Disgust with all the catalogued categories and with all the false prophets who are nothing but a front for the interests of money.” Eighty years later, Big Dada was convened with similar aims. “The original ethic was a reaction to the excesses of the mid-90s mainstream and, in particular, one Mr P Daddy,” says Will. “The Dada thing is just a pun, but Infinite Livez is a big fan of Andre Breton, so things come around.”
But Big Dada do far more than just scribble moustaches on Puffy’s portrait. Much as Breton did with his poetry, they’ve elevated hip-hop to surreal new levels encompassing everything from Roots Manuva’s street soothsaying to the spaced-out opera that is Mike Ladd’s ongoing Infesticons/Majesticons trilogy. “I like to think we’re a proper black music imprint,” Will states. “Not a leftfield imprint or an ‘urban’ imprint but one which allows people to expand the parameters of black music and express themselves as they see fit.”
Lotek Hi-fi & cLOUDDEAD
Many people’s introduction to Big Dada came through Roots Manuva, whose Witness single, and Brand New Second Hand and Run Come Save Me albums, provided his label with their biggest sellers. Ty’s Upwards album is also transforming critical acclaim into commercial success, and these two big guns in the Big Dada arsenal recently fired the joint broadside that is their Oh U Want More? single.
But while Big Dada is often seen as a British hip-hop label, they treat both geography and genres with equal disdain, providing a home to French rappers TTC as well as kindred spirits across the Atlantic like MF Doom, NMS and cLOUDDEAD. And the accents in the label’s beats are as wide as that in their rhymes, from the jiggy send-up of the Majesticons to the interstellar jazz beats of TTC, via the more traditional hip-hop formulations of Gamma and the bass-heavy echoes of Jamaican dancehall found in the sound of Infinite Livez and Lotek Hi-Fi.
“All our releases are key releases!” exclaims Will, when asked to name his defining Big Dada tracks. “But there are a couple that I think don’t get the respect they deserve. Like the Infesticons’ Gun Hill Road and New Flesh’s Understanding album, which invented the UK urban sound two years before it was supposed to exist. We’ve got albums from Infinite Livez, Diplo and Lotek Hi-Fi coming up, so things are looking great. Oh, and we’re going to buy a speedboat.” Not that they need any help making waves.
Infinite Livez – Bush Meat, released 24 May 04 on Big Dada.
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