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Interview: Coldcut

9th September 2008

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Coldcut! They’ve been around for a while! But unlike most of the artists who were active in the mid-eighties they’re still firmly in the mix, more than 18 years since their first 12-inch hit the streets; they’re still making thought-provoking, creative and imaginative recordings.

They’ve become trendsetters. Creators of many a social vibe, their releases have always had a certain quality which has helped bond their fans together into a cohesive scene ripe for labelling by aspiring music journalists.

The beginnings of break-beat, trip-hop and big-beat have all been firmly established at the door of Jonathan More and Matt Black, the two DJs who created Coldcut.

“We invent labels, we don’t get them stuck on us, but if we had to categorise ourselves it’d probably be something like funk-jazz-too-cool-tricknology-electro-break-beat-in-dub!”

Had Matt done it again? I wondered, created a new term from which a scene will spring forth? Perhaps his description of their music is a bit long-winded, but if you listen to the new album, Sound Mirrors, you’ll hear all of the influences, which are mentioned in the term he has coined, and more.

With so many influences flying about in their music it would be easy to simply see them as ‘cut and paste’ merchants, but over the years their song-writing has become more sophisticated, Matt explains; “It was always about mixing two things together to get a third thing.”

“If you take a huge chorus of the Beatles and stick a big beat underneath it, people might like it but you’re gonna get f**ked by their lawyers - because the value of that was in the original chorus and you’ve not added much to it. It’s still ‘cut and paste’ but montage is the term I use.”

“After watching ‘The Man With A Movie Camera’, that fantastic film made in the twenties by Dziga Vertov in Russia, one of my mates said ‘these guys invented montage.’ I didn’t know anything about this history in cinematic cut-up. It seemed directly connected to what we’ve been doing with music and visuals. It’s great to find things like that because they place you in an evolution of art and music.”

Diversity in music is something that as writers both Matt and Jonathan have always embraced. Ideas are generated from anywhere, could be an old movie or a piece of music that they’ve heard from somewhere, it doesn’t seem to matter, it all gets thrown into the mix. If this means their music is labelled as post-modern or eclectic it’s of no concern to them. It’s just another term to add to the collection of keywords they use to make their web-pages easier to find in Google. And that can’t be a bad thing, or is it?

It seemed to me that as trendsetters wasn’t it important to be underground, maybe even a little bit elusive or difficult to find?”

“Patrick Forge who’s a mate of ours said he felt Coldcut straddles the underground and the over-ground rather unsteadily - sometimes we got it right sometimes, we didn’t! And I think I’d agree with that - it’s like a balancing act, like someone on a wire. Sometimes you fall off but you always get back up again.”

“People say ‘Oh you’ve sold out when you’re on ‘Top of the Pops’ and the underground is the only place where anything interesting is happening’. Bollocks! The underground doesn’t actually have any meaning without the over-ground. I might have knowledge of what’s called the underground in certain aspects of the music scene but as far as film goes I’ll go and see ‘Star Wars’ and totally enjoy it - and some film buff will come along and say ‘Oh Star Wars is crap because they stole all their ideas from films of the fifties and forties.”

“But does that have to diminish my enjoyment of the mainstream product? However rarefied your knowledge is, however incredibly cool you are about your scene there are other scenes that you’re very ignorant about!”

Caught up in what can be at times the bulls**t world of the music industry, Matt comes across as being down to earth and totally switched on to what’s going on around him, he works hard to ‘keep things real’.

In 2001 the band released ‘Re:volution’, a 12-inch which coincided with the British General Election. The marketing for the release revolved around a double-decker bus ride around Westminster in the company of Brighton’s Free Party and the Church of Bob. The whole event was described by Matt as a ‘celebration/diss of UK politics’. Five years later, I was curious to know if there was anything happening politically that would give him scope to comment on.

“I’ll give you a red hot example of something I was discussing just before I started this interview with Juxta, the guy who does the visuals for Coldcut. He was saying we’ve been booked to do a show in Israel - his take being that certain artists wouldn’t perform there because the political situation was so dodgy with the horrific treatment of the Palestinians and the whole complexity of that question over there. I’m half Jewish, so I have another finger in that pie.”

“I don’t know how I feel about it, but we were just kicking it around - whether we should go or not. Well there are a lot of nice people in Israel, not all of them are bastards. If we do go over there, what politically relevant material should we put in the show? If we showed Palestinians burning the Star of David we’d probably get lynched.”

“We wouldn’t do that, that’s the extreme end of the spectrum, but if we show more positive images perhaps of peace? So the question is how do we engage in a politically difficult situation like that? In a way that’s positive and isn’t gonna get us lynched so that we can actually do that gig and feel okay about it. That’s a real situation right now.”

With the complex issues surrounding the band’s visit to Israel offering food for thought, he told me how John and himself are ‘just getting warmed up’ when it comes to their song-writing, and how good it would be if he could start to channel more of the things that made him angry into their songs.

“When I hear about Lennon and McCartney writing ‘A Day In The Life’ after reading a newspaper that’s it, that’s the way to be doing it. I read a thing in the newspaper before Christmas, which is another political thing that I want to do a song about.”

“The situation in Bhopal, India where a chemical company, Union Carbide, poisoned and killed thousands and thousands of Indians. They then just f**ked off and left the factory there poisoning tens of thousands of people, causing all kinds of awful malformed births and dreadful health problems. They refused to go to court about it and have done nothing.”

“I’m not all that interested in international terrorism where there’s corporate terrorism of that kind going on, and no one does a f**king thing about it or even talks about it. There’s a theme for song there, it’s the kind of thing that really gets me jumping up and down - take that anger and turn it into something!”
It doesn’t surprise me that Matt is a thinker; you couldn’t get the spin on some of the things they do without initiating a certain amount of brain-power. As Coldcut, the two friends who met in a record shop have built a small empire. They have become widely known for doing a variety of things.

Their label Ninja Tune has been responsible for illuminating the talents of The Herbaliser, Mr Scruff and The Cinematic Orchestra amongst many others. They’ve toured extensively with their art installations and have also written their own V-jaying software, remixed, written and produced their own albums. But what can we expect to see more of in the future?

“As Matt Black I’m into the audio-visual side of things. I call it the new hip-hop and it’s a totally new fresh area and we're right in there.

“We’ve just released Vjamm3, our own software. It’s exactly the same as we use in our live shows. Even the samples that we use as video break-beats we’re providing free as a demo and you can download it from”

“For fifty quid it allows you to instantly be a 21st Century rhythm junkie. So get on down and check it out, tell me if I’m wrong.”

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