There must be something wrong with the transatlantic phone connection. Did Jonathan More, one half of UK electronic duo Coldcut, really just say, "I have a 16-year-old daughter"?
Yes, he did. Believe it or not, two decades have elapsed since More and partner Matt Black joined forces and promptly made waves with "Hey Kids, What Time Is It?" A dizzying collage of scratches and samples, that 1987 white-label single straddled the underground turntable classics of Double D & Steinski and Grandmaster Flash, and the kaleidoscopic, club-friendly sonic coleslaw dished out by hit-makers M/A/R/R/S and Deee-Lite soon after.
Coldcut remain at the vanguard of audio-visual technology; most of their releases feature some sort of value-added mixing or composing software. But their latest album, Sound Mirrors (Ninja Tune), also marks a return to the basics, with the boys enlisting numerous collaborators: Jon Spencer, rappers Roots Manuva and Fog, legendary house singer Robert Owens.
When Coldcut first tried this setup, on their 1989 debut What's That Noise?, it was wet-paint fresh. Featuring reggae crooner Junior Reid, the Fall's Mark E. Smith, and then-newcomers Queen Latifah and Lisa Stansfield, plus dub innovator Adrian Sherwood, that classic LP married cut-and-paste techniques with old-fashioned songwriting smarts. Since then, their blueprint has become an industry standard for crews like Massive Attack, Zero 7, et al., which meant Coldcut had to aim especially high on Sound Mirrors; all-star karaoke wouldn't cut it.
"We were definitely wary," More admits. "We wanted this to be a Coldcut album, not a series of tracks by other people."
Coldcut's musical and production smarts aside, what unifies Sound Mirrors is its prominent political bent. On "Everything Is Under Control," the Spencer-starring garage-hop cacophony of cowbells and cock rock, rapper Mike Ladd lays down paranoia-inducing rhymes skewering the Vatican, Rupert Murdoch, and the Bush administration. "Just for the Kick" sprinkles unsettling vocals by cult jazz icon Annette Peacock across an eerie array of bass oscillations and whirring camera shutters, while "Aid Dealer" eviscerates financial opportunists who prey on impoverished nations. Even Owens's soulful reading of Joe South's 1970 hit "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" seems engineered to underscore the widening divide between rich and poor.
Yet More says the album's charged content has more to do with the individual participants, rather than a set agenda. "We have a nose for people who are on the same level as us, who reflect the same ideas, thoughts, and interests that we have." When you enlist revolutionary black poet Amiri Baraka, don't expect to wind up with a love song.
"We often get asked about the political content of our music," the DJ-producer admits, which strikes him as a bit odd. What kind of artist could function in today's world-gone-mad without commenting? "It's something that just bubbles up; you can't keep a lid on it."
That sentiment reflects an influence—in attitude, if not on a purely musical level—that is far from obvious on Sound Mirrors. While working on the disc, More was revisiting classics by confrontational post-punk acts Delta 5, the Au Pairs, and Snatch. "I love all those groups... and the Raincoats, and the Slits. And obviously, Matt and I grew up listening to James Brown and Fela Kuti, and they were very political, too."
The new music that More finds exciting today still bubbles up from the underground, although it isn't always PC. "The grime scene over here is quite interesting, because it has that ignorance of youth, which I just adore. It doesn't matter where they sample shit from, or what they do to pull it together." He also notes the similarities between the hilarious quick edits favored by Baltimore crew Spank Rock and Coldcut's own immortal 1995 Journeys by DJ mix CD, 70 Minutes of Madness; Big Dada, an imprint of Coldcut's Ninja Tune label, was quick to snatch up Spank Rock for its roster.
Working ties to Spank Rock may impress hipsters, but surely, after nearly 20 years of leaving their own imprint on pop culture, Coldcut no longer fret over what is or isn't cool... right? Wrong. "I worry about it on a sublevel," More concludes. "There is that nagging pain in the back of my head, that voice asking, 'Is it okay to wear black with blue socks?' Shit like that. You don't want to be the badly dancing dad at your teenage daughter's party."firstname.lastname@example.org