Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Honey, I’ve Got Rhythms I Haven’t Used Yet

Coldcut - Say Kids (What Time Is It?)
Coldcut - Beats & Pieces

It was 20 years ago today… well, not quite today, but it was just over 20 years ago that Coldcut first dropped ‘Say Kids (What Time Is It?’), introducing sample-based music to the UK scene and changing the history of music in the process. First things first – 20 YEARS!!! It’s almost impossible to believe it was that long ago, as it still sounds so fresh and the idea of a purely sample-based record feels like a modern concept. But facts is facts, and 1987 was the year. I first heard it on Dave Pearce’s radio show and was instantly hooked. It was littered with samples from films and telly programmes and snatches from my beloved rap records. My favourite bit is when they fuse James Brown’s ‘Funky Drummer’ break with the vocal from The Jungle Book’s ‘King of the Swingers’; ridiculously simple and brilliantly executed. Despite being made up of segments from so many different sources, the trick was how they made it sound like one single piece of music – a seamless organism with not one sound out of place. ‘Beats & Pieces’ came next, released on their own aptly named Ahead of Our Time label and following an identical blueprint, this time based around the crashing drum sample by Led Zep’s John Bonham from ‘When the Levee Breaks’ and another dazzling selection of samples from the most unexpected sources. The moment that always stuck with me, and nicely sums up the irreverent ethos of Matt Black and Jonathan More, is the scratch up of Verdi’s ‘The Four Seasons’. It’s such a naughty and disrespectful thing to do – to take something so revered and classic and cut it up in such a throwaway manner. Genius. They went on to enjoy Top 10 success with ‘Doctorin’ the House’, which featured Yazz on vocals, and alongside Bomb the Bass’s ‘Beat Dis’ provided inspiration for the fledgling acid house scene in the UK. All of this happened in the space of one breathless year, and has been followed by 19 more, taking a similarly dynamic and pioneering path, including a number one single with ‘The Only Way Is Up’, under the guise of Yazz and the Plastic Population.

I could write about Coldcut forever – the seminal Solid Steel mix show on Kiss FM, their defining remix of Eric B and Rakim’s ‘Paid In Full’, BPI Producers of the Year in 1990, setting up the excellent Ninja Tune label (founded in 1991, still going strong), collaborating with the likes of Mark E. Smith, Lisa Stansfield and Jello Biafra, releasing the greatest ever mix album (‘Coldcut: 70 Minutes of Madness’), inventing the concept of the video DJ and launching their own real-time video software VJamm – the list of their achievements is endless. Add to all that the brilliant catalogue of their own music they have released year after year, and you may start to realise how incredibly special they are. Everything they’ve done has been different from what has gone before, they’ve never rested on their laurels and are constantly pushing the boundaries and looking to do something new. To call them innovators doesn’t really seem like enough, so I’ll go one stage further - if there were a Nobel Prize for Music, Coldcut would be worthy recipients, not fecking Bono. I’ve only scratched the surface, so if you’re not up to speed, please have a good old rummage through their 20 year career – I’ve no doubt you’ll love what you find.

Coldcut's official website
Buy Coldcut from the Ninja Tune shop
Coldcut My Space
Search eBay for rare Coldcut material
Coldcut discography
Ninja Tune website
VJamm website