Coldcut In The Studio

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Ever since their infamous remix of Eric B. and Rakim's classic "Paid in Full" mashed no-nonsense street rap, Ofra Haza's Israeli chants and instructional Decca records like A Journey Into Stereo Sound into a future blueprint for electronic music, the DJ duo of Matt Black on Jon Moore–otherwise known as Coldcut–has only become more notorious and productive. Along the way, they founded one of indie whatever's most enduring labels, Ninja Tune, and created a revolutionary audiovisual editing software called VJAMM, which is now in its third version and doing just fine, thanks. As Black describes below, the two DJs are heavily invested in the future of montage art, especially when it can be sonically and visually freaked on either their user-friendly software app, Ableton Live or Nuendo; they employed the latter to build Sound Mirror's progressive political beatscapes. Plus, with guest stars like Jon Spencer, Mike Ladd and Saul Williams on board, they needed all the technical help they could long as it came from someone else besides Microsoft, that is.

XLR8R: What kind of gear did you use to make Sound Mirrors?

Matt Black: We've more or less relied on Nuendo and Ableton Live for everything. Lately I'm finding that Ableton Live pretty much does everything we want. I would encourage anyone interested in making electronic music to check it out. It has that depth and ease-of-use that all great programs have. And it's very much in the soul of Coldcut's evolution of loop-based engines and real-time collage. It was used extensively on the album and will be used in our live shows.

Are you a gear junkie?

I am kind of a gear junkie. And I'm not convinced that it's such a great strategy in the end. In the past I lusted after the gear that the rich kids had, and then once we made some money I bought more than I could ever learn to use. And it stayed in the fucking attic. Since then I've come to realize that I've spent a lot of time debugging gadgets for the companies that released them.

You're paying to work out their problems.

Right. As you get older, time becomes more and more valuable. So I leave the debugging to the younger bloods that have got to have the latest phone, box or whatever. I'll stick with Ableton Live for now, although my favorite toy of the moment is the Trigger Finger from M-Audio. It's wicked; I can hook it up to Ableton and it's like a virtual MPC.

How about software?

We're on Sony's Vegas for video editing and SoundForge for audio editing. Those are two good, solid, professional programs we've been using for years now, and they just keep getting better.

How did you start VJAMM?

Years ago, New York's Emergency Broadcast Network had a MIDI-controlled audiovisual sample program for the Mac, and I was like, "I want one of those. Maybe we'll have to build one ourselves." So I met up with Camart and commissioned them to build one for Coldcut. Together we developed a live show that could pretty much pack an entire audiovisual performance–using VJAMM as the core engine on laptop PCs–into three flight cases. Over the years, it's evolved into much more, and I think with VJAMM3 we're in a position to make a slightly bigger splash.

Is Coldcut endorsed by anyone right now?

Nope. If you've got any suggestions, we're flexible people.

Is it that no one's come calling, or is it just not part of your philosophy?

It's a bit of both. I think perhaps we've flown the alternative-anarchy flag quite high, and maybe that's put off some companies from approaching us. If Microsoft phoned us up and wanted to do something, I guess it would depend. They have a reputation, of course. You only have one possible relationship with Microsoft: you get fucked.

What advice would you give to young producers and DJs?

Examine yourself. Don't give away your power by blaming other people for how shitty the situation is. For me, the joy of making something is the highest priority. Making money from it comes second. Like Ninja Tune's slogan says, "Careful with the cash, crazy with the music."