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Ninja Tune (Amon Tobin)

Author: Andrez
Sunday, January 1, 1995
Lobbing together the disparate sounds of drum 'n' bass, hip hop, jazz and Latin rhythms into his own sensory wringer is one particular individual groomed and encouraged by the UK's Ninja Tune label. Amon Tobin is his real name, and he combines his South American musical heritage with contemporary European styles and technology to create a realm where almost anything goes.

These days a resident in Brighton, UK, Amon Tobin was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro and has lived at various stages in Portugal and Madeira. It was these traveling experiences, along with his studies toward a degree in photography, that account for many of his musical ideas which he began to put into practice in 1994 - initially under the alias of Cujo for Ninebar Records, and more recently under his own name for Ninja Tune - and as result of this output he's been dubbed the James Bond of the Jungle Jenerayshon.

Tobin's subsequent debut album 'Bricolage' was one of the more eclectic yet inspiring releases this year, sweeping as it does between styles, moods and genres at the expert twist of a knob. This is a place where constraint is a non-entity; an album which fuses the various nuances of drum 'n' bass, hip hop and jazz with the Latin-inspired sounds of samba and bossa nova along with a healthy dose of soundbites, samples and FX inserts.

In the cover notes on the album the term 'bricolage' is defined as a process which uses given material, given signifiers (a text, a chord, a sequence), but which creates from these new signifiers, a new reality which is not given. Was this philosophy a guiding work ethic when he produced the album- "It's actually something I can't really help doing," Amon responds. "And at first I thought the eclectic nature of the album might have been detrimental - afterall it's harder to market something which is as varied as that. But it's the way I make music. I'm into all different kinds of sounds and different kinds of music."

His track 'Chomp Samba', which was also released as a twelve inch, dominates proceedings on 'Bricolage'. It's dark, nasty and fast - Squarepusher meets tech-step while coming down off speed. Amon himself laughs at the analogy. "Oh, right!" he says. "The actual idea of that track was to make a pretty full-on drum 'n' bass track with a lot of Latin percussion. I think a major problem with incorporating Latin rhythms into contemporary music - house for instance - is that you end up with a very happy, party kind of sound; the usual samba cliche. So I wanted to try and explore the darker side of Latin percussion mixed with drum 'n' bass breaks, and I'm doing it on quite a few tracks including my new single 'Piranha Breaks'. It's an experiment that seems to work because there's a lot of power there."

The darker aspect is something that has infiltrated drum 'n' bass in general in the UK, from the tech-step style of labels like No U-Turn, Emotif and Grooverider's Formation imprint to Suarepusher's anarchic excesses. "I certainly prefer it myself when you compare it with the fluffy, coffee-table jungle that's around," says Amon with a resounding laugh. "I find a lot of that very tedious, so I'm glad that labels like No U-Turn and Penny Black and all those labels have come out and ripped the floor up again."

On another level Tobin's work reflects a general sense of experimentation and stylistic fusions that pervades much of what we once knew as techno, house and drum 'n' bass. "Things need to mutate into other things. That's how we've got to the point where we all are now - through the gradual mutation from hip hop, speeded-up breaks into hardcore, and breaking it back down into drum 'n' bass. It's important to continue that process in order to move forward - but without losing the integrity of the original pieces."

Ninja Tune is the equivocal label run by Coldcut duo Jonathan More and Matt Black, and over the past couple of years they've helped to establish some truly innovative produce