VA: Ninja Tune XX
Ninja Tune

Put simply, the Ninja Tune XX box set is essential listening for converts and initiates alike. Anyone wanting a recording that crystallizes in a single package the state of beats-based electronic music circa 2010 would be hard pressed to find a better document than this collection. Consider: it includes six CDs, six seven-inch singles, posters, and a hardback edition of the book Ninja Tune - 20 Years Of Beats & Pieces (box set owners are also promised two twelve-inch singles sent free in the post), and features artists long associated with the label (Roots Manuva, Coldcut, The Cinematic Orchestra, Amon Tobin, Fink, Diplo, Kid Koala, The Heavy, DJ Food, Jaga Jazzist, DJ Vadim) and recent recruits (Zomby, The Bug, Eskmo, Speech Debelle). On the remix front, contributors include Autechre, Flying Lotus, Benga, Modeselektor, Joker, Hot Chip, Prefuse 73, and Four Tet; even The Kronos Quartet gets in on the act by contributing an “interpretation” of Tobin's “Foley Versions.” Dubstep, electro, funk, and trip-hop rub shoulders in a set boasting more than 100 tracks, many of them previously unreleased.

That the collection has its sights primarily set on the future is announced immediately by the dubstep crush of the writhing opener, Two Fingers' “Fools.” The theme extends throughout the first disc, with the lurching robo-funk of Eskmo (“Cloudlight”) and disturbed schoolyard chants of Emika (“Double Edge”) proving to be equally future-directed. Toddla T's “Want U Now,” especially when topped with Ms Dynamite's rapid-fire drawl and bolstered by a swooning chorus hook, should appeal to aficionados of Ikonika, The Bug, Zomby, and the like. Also memorable are Flying Lotus's trippy remix of Andreya Triana's “Lost Where I Belong”; Zomby's mutant dubstepper “The Forest,” which spritzes ominous figures with synth carousels and stuttering beat patterns; The Bug's “Catch A Fire,” a mesmerizing blend of delicate vocals and gunshot snares; and Daedelus's resplendent “LA Nocturne,” which plunders The Smashing Pumpkins' “Tonight” as source material.

Disc two highlights include Joker's mutation of The Heavy's “How You Like Me Now?” into an exercise in synth-bleeding future-soul, EL-B's nicely electro-funked-up version of Fink's “This Is The Thing,” and a slamming Dan Le Sac overhaul of PRDCTV's “Metropolis.” Flying Lotus brings his visionary grasp of sound design to The Long Lost's “Woebegone,” and Dark Sky gives the serenading, synth-spiraling dubstep of “Leave” a skip so light-footed it feels airborne. The third CD puts the spotlight on Ninja Tune's less boombastic side with a number of tracks of jazzy, trip-hop character. Lamb chanteuse Lou Rhodes is backed by a strings-only Cinematic Orchestra for the plaintive ballad “One Good Thing.” Speech Debelle and Bonobo prove to be simpatico collaborators on “Sun Will Rise,” with Debelle's flow nicely complemented by Bonobo's saxophone and jazzy backing, while Andreya Triana brings her soulful vocal stylings to “Wonder When,” her own sinuous nu-jazz hookup with Bonobo, and “A Town Called Obsolete” in a remix treatment by Mala. The fourth disc is highlighted by the found sound invention of Eskamon's (Eskmo + Amon Tobin) “Fine Objects,” Autechre's tribal shakedown of The Bug's “Skeng,” Daedelus's splintering of Emika's “Drop The Other” and his own high-spirited party jam “Trouble With a Capital D,” the dub-funk slam of Mr Scruff and Kirsty Almeida's “Pickled Spider,” and Floating Points' remix of Bonobo's “Eyesdown” (Andreya Triana once again elevating the dreamy material with her vocal presence).

The fifth and sixth CDs weren't included in the review copy of the release so can't be commented upon aside from noting that names long-associated with the label (The Cinematic Orchestra, The Herbaliser, Coldcut, Roots Manuva, et al.) appear along with new contributors (Kyle Hall, Gold Panda, Scuba). It's unlikely that any given listener will cotton to everything in the set (I could do without hearing Diplo's “Newsflash” and DJ Vadim's “The Terrorist” again in this lifetime, to be frank, nor will I be revisiting the warmed-over nu-jazz of Floating Points Ensemble's “Post Suite”), but that's to be expected when such a multitude of styles and artists is featured. Even with that caveat factored in, the set at times feels like an embarrassment of riches.

October 2010