Label of the Week – Ninja Tune (and Big Dada)

22 Sep

Every week from now on I’ll be discussing a record label that I feel has contributed something special to the music industry.  Indie label Ninja Tune has recently celebrated their 20th birthday and as I’ve also interned with this company, it would obviously be a good idea to start with these guys.

In the late 80’s Jonathan Moore and Matt Black were churning out the hits by cutting up funk breaks and hip hop and making their own signature style of electronic dance music.  The now legendary duo also known as Coldcut decided to set up Ninja Tune in 1990 and have went on to release some of the most cutting edge music in electronica and hip hop, earning them and Ninja Tune a cult following.

A classic Coldcut Remix (Pre-Ninja Tune)

A label surviving for 20 years, especially in today’s industry, is a feat in itself and the fact that they have done this without losing any credibility or sounding outdated is even more impressive.  The consistency in bringing out good music has created a strong brand for Ninja Tune and fans can assume that any new signings will be likely to meet their usual taste requirements.  As the label’s music was often considered less mainstream than that released by the majors, it has been the perfect place for film directors, advertisers and computer game developers to find new music. Brazilian act Amon Tobin has had his work used in games such as Infamous and Splinter Cell and Mr. Scruff has had his music featured in numerous television adverts.

Ninja have also provided a platform for other labels to release music, most notably their hip hop orientated imprint Big Dada.  Although I could probably write another separate ‘label of the week’ piece for Big Dada, the labels are so closely run that it is only right to include both labels in the one article.  Will Ashton founded Big Dada in 1997, signing acts like the UK Hip Hop Legend Roots Manuva, Mercury award-nominated Ty, Mercury award-winning Speech Debelle and the godfather of Grime, Wiley.

I loved my time as an intern with Ninja.  I worked there for a month during my Easter holidays in my second year of uni, skipping two weeks of classes so that I could fit it in.  I’m a massive hip hop fan and although a lot of the electronic music was a bit over my head, working at Ninja was an experience I’ll not forget anytime soon.  The Ninja HQ consisted of around 20 staff members who were responsible for both Ninja Tune and Big Dada releases.  The fact that most of the label’s operations came from this one building, it was probably one of the best places for any budding music businessman to learn from.

As said previously, it is rare for a label to survive as long as Ninja.  Falling record sales have been blamed for most of the industry’s problems, so how does a small company who doesn’t have millions to throw at marketing an album convince people to purchase their products?  The answer is by simply releasing good music on a regular basis and making sure enough people know about it.  Soon enough, the consumers will realise that the good music is coming from the same place and keep an eye out for future releases.  From this branding, they can sell CD’s, Vinyl and in the case of Mr. Scruff, oven gloves, fake cans of tuna and fish-shaped USB sticks!!  If there is a formula on how to run a successful label, the answer lies somewhere in companies such as Ninja Tune, so major labels should take note. You can buy the 20th birthday limited edition box set here

Shout outs to Peter, Skev, Will, Jamie, Maddy and the rest of team for all the good work with Ninja and Big Dada.  I’ll leave you with a new release by one of Big Dada’s latest signing ‘Mr Bang On’


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