de-VICE #2

ninja tune: zen tv II tour

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de-VICE #1

skalpel - coldcut - hexstatic - spank rock - etc

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Andrez Bergen / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

The trouble with an international telephone interview 40 years ago was the technology. The call could drop out at anytime, there was time delay, sometimes you couldn't hear a thing above the line crackling--and then there was the issue of making yourself understood in some foreign lingo.

In the madcap 21st century most people liaise via that newfangled communications medium "e-mail," which circumnavigates the aforementioned hurdles of the '60s.

Or does it?

Lacking a person's dulcet intonations, we can't be sure that we're corresponding with the right person, and e-mail interviews get trickier still: Interviewees often insist upon answering in one voice--under the same singular e-mail identity--even when there are two or three people involved. It's like they're clones, or interchangeable components of the greater whole, and you don't know who's actually talking.

Polish act Skalpel, who will be playing this week's Ninja Tune event Zen TV II, are a bit like that.

skalpel_duo.jpg
the skalpel duo in repose...


"Skalpel is a combination of jazz, ambient and hip-hop," the duo explain in their conjoined e-mail response. "At the beginning we were influenced by the specific sound of Polish jazz, but now...we use Skalpel as a tool for sculpturing sounds and space. We think it's more creation than resurrection--but you can still feel the dust of the past."

Marcin Cichy and Igor Pudlo make up the single-entity known as Skalpel, and they generate suave muzak that sounds like it could be sucked straight out of that time-zone in the '60s when international telephony was just a tad tricky--crackling time-lapses and all.

Then they attack and deconstruct it with an aplomb familiar to listeners of labels like Warp and Plug Research--or Ninja Tune, with whom the duo signed. This should come as no surprise since Ninja Tune is the sometime home of electronica boffins like Luke Vibert, Kid Koala and Mr. Scruff.

"Being Ninjas, we sometimes use [our music] as a weapon to cut the crap nu-jazz, boring lounge, and too-easy listening music," they declare in unison.

Another Ninja Tune regular is Russian emigre Vadim Peare, alias DJ Vadim. The relationship between Moscow and Warsaw remains just as tetchy in 2006 as it was back in 1966--but Cichy and Pudlo remain elusive about any political fireside chats they've had with Vadim.

"Of course, you can talk with him for hours about politics," they say. "He has much to say about it--but we prefer other topics."

Which brings us to another bane of the e-mail interview: the fact that you can't dig deeper with a follow-up question when the breach is open and beckoning.

Where the Skalpel duo do display their individual inclinations is on musical influences--but even here they relate to similar sources. Pudlo cites everything from the Beatles and Miles Davis through to punk and hip-hop.

"I like all good music, and I'm a professional music fan," he declares.

Cichy also admits to a lasting affection for the Beatles and Davis, and an avid interest in sounds of the '80s. The record that had the most lasting impact on him was Jon and Vangelis' Friends Of Mr. Cairo (1981), and he says that his "first favorite electronic album was Jean-Michel Jarre's Zoolook--an album that surfaced in 1984.

Skalpel will be performing in Japan for the first time this week, as headliners for the Zen TV II event in Osaka and Tokyo, something both players express excitement about.

"We think it's a country of big contrasts," they enthuse in text. "On one hand Zen philosophy, and on the other massive technology attack."

The other players sequestered for this Ninja Tune party include veteran Coldcut duo Matt Black and Jonathan More, who themselves kick-started the Ninja Tune imprint 16 years ago. They'll be deejaying individually, as well as hammering home their audiovisual live show and introducing music from Coldcut's new album Sound Mirrors.

Fellow cut 'n' pasters Hexstatic--aka Stuart Warren Hill and Robin Brunson--have been grafting together left-of-center electronica for just over a decade now. They released Britain's first audio-visual album, Rewind, through Ninja Tune in 2000, and were voted best VJs of 2005 by British publication DJmag.

hexstatic_duo.jpg
hexstatic do kitsch

Hexstatic were also the highlight at the first Zen TV jaunt in Tokyo two years ago.

On that occasion they dropped an hysterical audio-visual mix of '60s diva Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Were Made For Walking" joined at the hip with a slamming drum 'n' bass breakbeat. It was promptly unleashed as a limited edition 12-inch "Nancy's Boots" that was released under the Hexstatic anagram, Exactshit. They'll have a mix CD out this month, called Pick 'n' Mix, on Sanctuary Records.

Then there's Spank Rock. Touted around the traps as the next big thing, and for a change there may be some merit to the buzz.

Baltimore's Naeem Juwan and co-conspirator Alex Epton (XXXchange) will unleash the Spank Rock debut long-player this weekend, through Ninja Tune offshoot label Big Dada. Called YoYoYoYoYo, it's an innovative, ostensibly hip-hop/electro take on contemporary music, along with a deliciously mischievous sense of mirth.

On a final note regarding the lineup, when Coldcut's Black and More visited Japan late last year for Electraglide, the Japanese performer they reserved most praise for was 2002 DMC World Champion Kentaro Okamoto, alias DJ Kentaro - who'll also be performing this week.

The Ninja Tune Web site touts him as one of the best turntablists in the world. "The latest shit-hot deejay in the Ninja Tune tribe," Black told The Daily Yomiuri in an earlier interview.

It's Skalpel, though, who are providing the biggest ripples of interest among this particularly impressive Ninja Tune posse, and in their joint (written) voice, Cichy and Pudlo give some idea of what to expect.

"Our music is produced on a computer, but it sounds like a live jazzy combo," the duo advise - before throwing in an unexpected disclaimer: "Our records sound better at home on the stereo. In our music the most important thing is a specific mood you cannot find in commercial clubs."



Ninja Tune Presents Zen TV II, featuring Skalpel, Coldcut, Hexstatic, Daedelus, Spank Rock, DJ Kentaro and more, will take place April 6, 10 p.m. at Fanj Twice in Osaka, (06) 6484-3880; April 7, 10 p.m. at Studio Coast in Shin Kiba, Tokyo, (03) 5534-1515.
(Apr. 6, 2006)


COLDCUT INTERVIEW: 'SOUND MIRRORS' (2006)

LUKE VIBERT INTERVIEW (de-VICE #1) HERE

COLDCUT 2004 (de-VICE #1)

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