Tag Archives: ninja tune

Watch and chain (and sample and hold)

I read somewhere that Steven Ellison a.k.a. Flying Lotus really looked up to Amon Tobin when he was starting. Though Tobin’s taken a turn for the ambient on his two most recent releases, it’s not hard to see the influence he would have had, at his creative zenith, on Ellison. On landmark Ninja Tune releases like Bricolage and Supermodified, Tobin mined jazz records for inspiration, bringing old sounds into his exotic, futuristic take on jungle. Anything and everything could be sampled, and the songs were as witty as they were outlandish.

The same playfulness and experimentation inhabits much of Ellison’s output as Flying Lotus, as does the reverence for jazz. On “Camel“, taken from the second Flying Lotus LP, Los Angeles, Ellison scratches his distance-mentor’s back, using the same drum sample from Aynsley Dunbar’s “Watch ‘n’ Chain” as Tobin put to such good use on “Saboteur“. I championed Supermodified through my teenage years in the face of indifference; upon hearing Los Angeles for the first time I knew I had been right to stick by it. I saw the connection between the two artists, and recognised that Flying Lotus could be destined for even greater things.

Fun fact: Dunbar, one of the great jazz drummers, auditioned to be in the Jimi Hendrix Experience. As one of two final aspirants, he lost out to Mitch Mitchell only on a coin-toss by Hendrix himself. If his achingly addictive sticksmanship on “Watch ‘n’ Chain” is anything to go by, his talents ought to live on in far more samples than just this one, which forms the backbone of two brilliant compositions.

Lying in bed in the middle of a spring night in 2005, waiting to rise at an insanely early hour for a school-trip to the Rhineland, I plugged into XFM (back when it still stood for something) and heard Jaga Jazzist‘s “Swedenborgske Rom” beamed in, seemingly from a distant galaxy. It was my introduction to the Ninja Tune label, and it was almost nine minutes of delicately paced woodwind, the lightest patter of drumming, and a futuristic amalgam of jazz and post rock. The massed choral voices that threaten to overwhelm the song but never do, instead quelling into moments of bliss. I heard that song and felt ready to face a Trans-Europe (non-express) coach journey. I returned five days later and tracked down the album it came from, What We Must. It was a special moment.