The people behind the DJ Food moniker have been slicing up prime cut beats for discriminating music heads since the early 90s — initially putting out five volumes of their groundbreaking Jazz Breaks series. Although originally begun by the men behind Coldcut, DJ Food soon became a loose collective of artists under the Ninja Tune label who continued releasing quality original productions with Ninja Tune’s signature taste and complexity. Now StricTly Kev — who also happens to be the label’s lead designer — has taken sole control of the DJ Food badge and released its fourth album, The Search Engine, under the brand. Read to the Q&A below to find out about the making of The Search Engine, StricTly Kev’s work as a designer and DJ Food’s position in the Ninja Tune Justice League…
The “DJ Food” moniker is a bit ambiguous, as it started off as the guys from Coldcut and evolved from there to encompass a loose coterie of collaborators. As that’s the case, why not just call The Search Engine a “StricTly Kev” record as opposed to “DJ Food”?
Well that’s a good question, and I had considered changing it, partly to counter expectation with the material of the past. I think in this day and age though, with the media avalanche we’re exposed to daily, an artist needs whatever profile they can get and I didn’t want to throw away 20 years of that — three quarters of which I’ve been involved with. If I had made a radical break away from the older DJ Food sound sonically then it might have been an idea, but I don’t think The Search Engine is that big a step musically, it has changed but more as an extension of what was already there. It’s lost some elements along the way too, of course, but most artists progress throughout their careers and this is what you have with this new record.
What has you most excited about Search Engine? What makes it absolutely different from the other DJ Food albums?
It’s the first record that is truly me for a start, not that I’m not happy with any of the other records I’ve made but I know a lot more now than I did back then so I think the production is better. The vocal side of things is new, I think there was only ever one or two vocal tracks before on DJ Food records — a rap track early on and the spoken word one we did with Ken Nordine on Kaleidoscope. There have been some great collaborations on the album, both vocal and production-wise, which have made it a more rounded record than if I’d made it entirely on my own. The artwork is also a collaboration — with the comic artist Henry Flint — and something I would never have dreamed of years back. And, being a designer, I’m always very particular about how a record looks, mine or anyone else’s.
As Ninja Tune’s designer, you created one of the coolest and most iconic label logos of all time with that vinyl-throwing ninja. Moreover, you had to put this album on the shelf for a bit while you created all of Ninja Tunes 20th Anniversary XX project’s art. A) How do you balance the time between designer and musician; and B) How does it feel to see that ninja logo associated with so much quality?
The balance is usually down to what has to be done first, in terms of deadlines and financial concerns, that’s one of the reasons the Food album took so long — because I was designing so many other records for other artists and there was a point where so much good stuff was coming out in the early noughties, or whatever you want to call them, that I couldn’t refuse. No one’s paying you to sit and make an album, or an advance won’t keep you and your family going for long, especially if you’re a slow worker like myself, so the music making is usually a secondary consideration. By that I mean, I design and work in music all the time, every day — I DJ every week somewhere plus make mixes for Solid Steel and others, I’m constantly juggling music and art but the music-making takes a lot more time.
Logo-wise, it’s every designer’s dream I think to have a piece of their work instantly recognizable and with such a label around it of course it’s always a thrill. A lot of people don’t know that I even design so, when I tell them, they usually ask who did the logo and most don’t believe me when I say I did it.
DJ Food is credited along with other Ninja Tune luminaries such as Coldcut, Amon Tobin, Mr. Scruff, Funki Porcini and company for really helping to put the label on the worldwide map of amazing-ness. Do you guys ever hang out together in a room and fight crime, like the Justice League or Watchmen? If so, who’s the boss and what’s your role?
All the time, Funki is the leader as he has the best anecdotes and the most commanding voice, Matt Black is head of tech, Jon More is an expert propagandist and Amon is in charge of sound design. Scruff provides the tea and cake and The Herbaliser roll the cigarettes.
Hit the Jump to continue reading our Q&A with DJ Food’s StricTly Kev, and while you’re at it press play on the mix below — we already posted Kraftwerk Kover Kollection 3 last week, so continue the tradition with another in the series…
We just did a feature on one of your fellow superheroes, Amon Tobin. What do you think of his recent ISAM spectacle — both the album and the live show?
I have seen it, I saw the first London performance at the Roundhouse over here, I think he’s taken things up several rungs of the ladder in terms of what an electronic artist can present as a show to the public. It doesn’t have to be a guy with a laptop or controllers hunched over a table. I knew he wanted to do this because the music he was making was steadily becoming less and less club -orientated and, when we toured in 2010 for the XX Ninja Tune tour he was ready to do something very different. Of course it’s not easy for everyone to do what he’s doing but for those with the resources, his is a hard act to beat.
You’re on the Siberian Express. A drunken Russian commodities trader trips and spills his vodka all over your laptop, frying it hopelessly. Now all you have is your iPod to while away the long train ride. What are the 5 albums you cue up for the endless trip of window staring?
1. A 3 hour mix Dr Alex Paterson did of Orb material for a US radio station
2. David Shire – The Taking of Pelham 123 soundtrack
3. The The – Infected
4. DJ Moneyshot – Check Your Head mix of all original sources for the Beastie Boys’ album of the same name
5. A compilation of the best bits of the 3 Eagles of Death Metal albums
When you need a mental sorbet to clean out your brain between studio or design sessions, what do you do to re-set?
I build Lego with my kids, take them swimming or draw with them; I like to make or do creative stuff with my time off. Other than that, if I’m on my own I love going to the Notting Hill exchange book or record shops in London and just looking at what people have dropped off there; you never know what you’ll find.
What’s up next for DJ Food in the coming months?
A 12″ remix single for Record Store Day on April 21st featuring a 17 minute Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble remix by the Amorphous Androgynous aka The Future Sound of London. I also recently launched my album by making a show for the London Planetarium across their full dome theatre. I’m looking at expanding this and getting it to any other such theatres across the world, so if anyone is in a position to host such a thing, please get in touch.
Lastly, if you were Lost In a Supermarket, in what aisle would we find you in?
The toy section, with my kids or the sweet aisle :)
Album cover of DJ Food’s “The Search Engine”