Launched in 1994, UK electronica label Ninja Tune built it's catalogue on the more intelligent end of the breakbeat, nu jazz and hip-hop/trip-hop axis...the full range of its sonic adventures can be heard on these two Zen releases - double CD sets that were released to mark the label's 10th anniversary in 2004.
country of origin:
Breakbeat, hip hop, dub, trip hop, lounge, ambient
90's - 10's
some essential compilations:
- Tone Tales From Tomorrow (1994, Ntone)
- Tone Tales From Tomorrow Too (1996, Ntone)
- Zen: A Retrospective (2004, Ninja Tune)
- Zen: Remix Retrospective (2004, Ninja Tune)
Reviewed by Mike G
Launched in 1994, UK electronica label Ninja Tune built it's early catalogue on the more intelligent end of the breakbeat, nu jazz and hip-hop/trip-hop axis. For a while Ninja also ran a sub-label called Ntone which allowed founders Matt Black and Jonathan More (who together record as Coldcut) to indulge their soft spot for trippy ambient, best captured on the two Tone Tales From Tomorrow compilations. But most of Ninja's output has appeared on its main label, and with the full range of its sonic adventures can be heard on the two Zen releases - double CD sets that were released to mark the label's 10th anniversary in 2004.
The Zen compilations cover so much ground within the realm of broken beats that the experience is both thrilling and exhausting. There's gems aplenty, but it's recommended you digest these double albums one half at a time. Discs 1 on both albums focus more on the tougher, more dancefloor-friendly examples of the label's sound than the second halves. Coldcut, Amon Tobin and Hexstastic weigh in with instrumental examples of beat science that are variously frantic, exacting and brutal.
For downtempo chillout fans who like their melody, the second discs of each set are the ones to cherish. There's moments of pure gold here including tracks by The Cinematic Orchestra, Irresistible Force, DJ Food and Ashley Beedle. The heady combinations of stoner beats, lush strings, lo-fi samples and jazz-style improvisation prove that during the 1990's it wasn't only the Austrian DJ/producer duo Kruder and Dorfmeister who were the pioneering these territories.
Any self-respecting Ninja Tune fan will already own Zen: A Retrospective and Zen: Remix Retrospective. For new and curious listeners, however, these two albums remain compelling reasons to take the plunge.