Various Artists Ninja Tune XX Review

Compilation. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

A completist’s dream and a fitting way to mark two decades in the industry.

Daniel Ross 2010

In 1990, electronica duo Coldcut (aka Matt Black and Jonathan More) decided to turn their backs on major labels and, for better or worse, do it on their own. Twenty years and countless excellent electro, hip hop and experimental records later (with some forgotten ones along the way) and we arrive at this collection commemorating two decades of Ninja Tune, available in various states of comprehensiveness up to a six-CD and six-7" box set complete with a written history of the label. Happily, it’s not so much a retrospective as a State of the Ninja Nation address, compiling new tracks and exclusives alongside remixes from the label’s premier league of artists. Quite simply, it’s an exhaustive, kaleidoscopic voyage that rewards the patient.

It’s difficult to condense such a massive release into a few paragraphs, but suffice is to say it’s a mixed bag. Because the focus remains not on dredging up curios that were best left un-dredged, there are plenty of current artists featured. Stalwart Roots Manuva is remixed by art school grump-genius Micachu on Dub Styles, Toddla T and Diplo feature heavily, and the relentless entertainment factor of Spank Rock proves that there’s more to Ninja Tune than cold electricity. Actually, digested in one sitting, the fruits of the label do seem much darker – governed by bracing negativity and visions of urban decay – but it's a curiously homely darkness.

That’s not to say it’s without humanity, because on hand to inject natural pulses and beauty into the mould are the loopy brass band that accompanies Diplo’s Newsflash, and the pastoral goodness of Grasscut’s Blink in the Night. Cameo appearances from the Ninja Tune imprints are also littered throughout, most notable amongst them being Anti-Pop Consortium’s Volcano (here mixed by Four Tet, proving the guestlist really is brimming with goodness). However, there is a tellingly slight guest appearance from Mercury Prize winner Speech Debelle – she angrily left the Big Dada imprint when her album, Speech Therapy, failed to make much commercial impact.

With and without commercial success, Ninja Tune has proved that fanaticism, enthusiasm and nurture are the core elements to record label success. These traits are mirrored in the exhaustive nature of this optionally epic release, a towering testament to the label itself. Any dips in quality (and there are inevitably some) are made up for by the intent of the whole, a completist’s dream and fitting way to mark two decades in the industry.

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