Operating since 1990, independent record label Ninja Tune has played a critical and perceptible role in the advancement of electronic music worldwide. Founded by Matt Black and Jonathan More—who together make up the pioneering hip-hop/electro duo Coldcut—Ninja Tune has developed into a global music force that is responsible for some of the most championed releases of the past two decades.
Celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, Ninja Tune embarked on a prolonged celebration of this quarter-century benchmark by hosting shows in Los Angeles, Amsterdam, London, and New York City. Having covered its 20th anniversary extensively back in 2010, Ninja Tune graciously invited XLR8R to check out the one-off warehouse party in Los Angeles on November 21.
Boasting a lineup that consisted of Sepalcure (Machinedrum & Braille), Leon Vynehall, Eamon Harkin of Mister Saturday Night, Jon Hopkins, and Bonobo, the news of the show quickly became the highlight of the weekend in Los Angeles.
Alas, the fact a lineup like that would be taking place at an undisclosed location with that many people seemed almost too good to be true. Unfortunately for the event, a number of difficulties befell the LA Ninja Tune contingency only two days before the event and the original venue for the evening canceled on them. In addition to this, Eamon Harkin was unable to make his flight and the astronomical lineup was burning less bright than before. The concerns were many but Ninja Tune managed to relocate the show to The Globe Theater in Downtown Los Angeles with the unfortunate caveat that the event would run from 7 pm – 12 pm rather than the aforementioned 10pm – Late.
This sudden change in schedule made it impossible for us to get there on time to see an opening set from LA local Sage Caswell, and put us in a position to only catch the last ten minutes of Sepalcure. The night was off to a rough start to say the least…
Most of the frustrations and disappointments with the beginning of the night were very much short lived. Leon Vynehall came out of the box with an amalgam of static, funk-laden house jams that picked up movement in a wild and conspicuous ways. Getting deeper into his set, the sound became more guttural and heavy-handed, setting the stage for what was to come with Jon Hopkins. To end the set, Vynehall jumped into tracks from his latest releases, including the classic “Butterflies,” which received a noticeable reaction from the crowd.
The transition between sets was as speedy as they come. With no time to spare, Hopkins jumped in to deliver a sinister performance. The emoted hiss and crepitating ambiance of Hopkins’ signatory noise filled the room and off we went, cemented in the sound of Hopkins favorites such as “Open Eye Signal” and “Breathe This Air” while simultaneously being sucked into the accompanying visual spectacle coming from the Brainfeeder family’s very own Dr. Strangeloop. The background aesthetics seamlessly twisted between a huge number of creative realms, perfectly accompanied by Hopkins’ grand showmanship on stage in what was a most excellent performance.
It was around this time that Bonobo began to take the stage and a wild majority of the audience made it obvious that they were primarily there for him. A huge roar of excitement emanated from the crowd at every mention of his work and he kicked off the set off with “Kiara,” a sure enough way to get things moving in an immediate fashion. Despite a rocky first transition, he was back on the rails in no time, mixing a hustle of various tribal, cosmic, and wired tunes with his own lauded tracks. One highlight was his blend of Kerri Chandler’s remix of Nina Simone’s “See Line Woman” and James Blakes “Limit To Your Love.”
The show ended in a widespread demonstration of gratitude, despite the disappointment in the time change, and people hurried out the door in search of the after-party—which remained relatively hidden from the mobs of anxious party goers. We thankfully received directions to the supposed after-party but had no guarantee of what we would find when we got there.
Arriving around 2am to the secret location, we were met by an empty street and a shadowy figure posted up next to a van. The man stepped out of the shadows and approached us to hand us a card letting us know that we were at the right place, but that the actual venue location could be found almost a mile away. When we eventually made it to our final destination, we found the warehouse packed to perfection. Within minutes we spotted Adult Swim celebrity Eric Andre partying in the crowd, with Bonobo going b2b with Lyon Vynehall in a groovy yet vehement set of heavy dance tunes such as Jack J’s “Thirstin” and Joy Orbison and Boddika’s “& Fate.” The Ninja Tune crew had managed to turn the night into a thriving success despite all the previous misfortune, which in turn speaks volumes of the organization’s determination and character. The party went late just like as promised, and we triumphantly danced into the early morning hours in celebration of the label and it's 25 years of vibrance.
A second installment (Part II) of the Ninja Tune 25th anniversary series is set to take place on December 11 at the Masonic Lodge in Los Angeles with a performance from The Bug feat. Earth & Liz Harris of Grouper. This show will thus conclude a string of successful commemoration concerts for a label that is bound to live on and further blossom into a unyielding force of music that is known around the world.
Photos by Jenna Mae Photography and Adriel Antonnio Dante.