Talking to Matt Black was a dream come true. It was he, along with partner Jonathan Moore who got me into writing about music backstage at a gig in Sydney. Fearing I’d never get to talk to them again, I picked their brains until they asked if I was a music journalist, planting the seed in my mind. I must have been asking the right questions this time, because we talked for quite a while, with Black giving me some very verbose answers and some incredible insight into the world of Coldcut.
Their biography fills two pages in small print, and although they have been working for two decades that still doesn’t go far to explain just how much they have achieved. Responsible for the 80s dance smash hit Only Way Is Up by Yazz, Black and Moore went on to form the radical Ninja Tune record label. The label introduced such artists as Kid Koala, Amon Tobin, Jaga Jazzist, and Roots Manuva to the world. They’ve collaborated with political shit stirrers like Jello Biafra and Saul Williams, and campaigned in both the UK and USA against right wing governments and their oppressive policies. They’ve created new ways of performing using audio/video with their V-Jamm software, and they’ve produced on of the best records of 2006 even though the year has only just begun.
Black laughs when I ask if they sleep, given the volume of work they’ve created. ““I actually love sleeping, and find it quite difficult to get up in the morning! I suppose I’m an artist, and one’s work and one’s life are intermingled”, he continues, “there is no separation. Apart from my work, sleeping, and having a life with my family, I really don’t do a lot of other stuff. I don’t really have hobbies as such. I find that my time is filled with what I love doing and different aspects of that, and I don’t really need hobbies. I don’t think Jonathan thinks the same,” he adds, “I think he has a more rounded life in some ways, but he certainly works very hard as well.”
The album Sound Mirrors has been seven years in the making, but the wait is well worth it. Combining magnificent production with amazing collaborations, they’ve produced a stunning piece of musical artwork that warps boundaries and challenges the listener intelligently. Coldcut have always seemed to be able to capture the ‘sound of now’ and extend it to be more relevant to more people, and this album is no exception. One sound that stands out on tracks like This Island Earth and True Skool is the ragga riddims, dubby Jamaican style electronic rhythms which is finding dominance on the dancefloors of both dance and R&B clubs.
“We were working with a guy called Ross Allen, who’s a very switched on London club DJ,” explains Black, “who we used as a sounding board for the album and to keep us in touch with what’s going down on dancefloors at the moment, to give us a different perspective to the Ninja Tunes posse. He turned me onto these Jamaican Riddims and he’d come in with a bunch of new 7 inches every week. I’ve always loved reggae and I thought “yeah, fuck it, I fancy having a bit of this” and went about deconstructing them and finding out how they were made and do our own version of it.”
The collaborations done for the album are inspired, and include Jon Spencer, Robert Owens, John Matthias and Saul Williams amongst others. “It wasn’t so much people coming to us, it was more we’d work on a track and think about who would be good to collaborate to do a vocal with,” Black clarifies. “In the case of Jon Spencer we had that chorus for ‘Everything Is Under Control’ and we were looking for someone with that rock character and energy. We did try out a couple of people who didn’t work out, and then Jon Spencer was suggested to us. We contacted him and he turned out to be a great person to work with – he didn’t hand us a 40-page contract, he just said ‘yeah, I like the track, I’ll give it a go and sort out a deal afterwards,’” Moore laughs.
“That actually worked out very well, because he’s done some live dates with us, which has been off the hook because he’s a great live performer. He adds that rock energy and charisma to the shows. Some of the other tracks were done little or no brief for the artist at all,” he continues. “The Saul Williams track was presented to him as a free canvas to do with what he wanted. We don’t tell the poet what to write the poem about. And he came back with the rather marvellous ‘Mr Nichols’ which for my money is my favourite track on the album.”
Speaking of live dates, I ask eagerly if there are any plans to come to Australia, as their show in Sydney 1999 was simply incredible and is still in my top ten of live gigs. “Not soonish,” Black laments, adding “but in the foreseeable future. Most of our year is booked up but we are hoping to get over sooner than later, and it is on the agenda so hold tight”.