Switched On – DJ Food: Kaleidoscope Companion (Ninja Tune)


reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Strictly Kev and PC, the men behind DJ Food, can reveal just how productively they spent last year’s lockdown. Aware that it marked two decades since the release of Kaleidoscope, when DJ Food was a mysterious incarnation conceived by Ninja Tune founders Coldcut, the two rounded up music from their archives of the recording sessions. To their surprise the volume and quality of the material was such that Kaleidoscope Companion became possible. It is a collection of unreleased tracks, remixes and alternate versions, all closely related to the album but structured in such a way that a whole new opus has been created. Kev explains it best, as ‘not a new DJ Food album’, more ‘an old one that never was’.

What’s the music like?

Given that this electronic music is essentially 20 years old, Kaleidoscope Companion could have been written yesterday. That says much for the staying power of DJ Food, and how inventive the beats and sound pictures were in the year they were released. Here the quality of the compositions is immediately evident.

Take Skylark, exposed as a mini-masterpiece. With the crackling of the outdoors effectively evoked, an elastic bass line is established before a stringed instrument climbs through the textures and floats on the air effortlessly.

The Crow (Slow) is one of the welcome alternate versions, stretching its material into a gorgeous panoramic view that could easily last double the length it is given here. See Saw also offers reassuringly thick textures of an ambient persuasion, as does the closing Boohoo, with a serene string line that segues into softly humourous pitch bends at the end.

There are elements of spatial jazz here. Hip Operation (great title!) is an active story, building with white noise beats and detective-drama trumpets. Stealth, an alternative version of the Gentle Cruelty remix of The Ageing Young Rebel, is a nocturnal scene with a mellow but quite mournful flute tone. Its spoken word vocal, telling of self-obsession, is remarkably prescient for today’s times. The Rook + Type 3 takes a more cinematic turn, with another flexible bass and brief figures from strings and clarinet, while offbeat percussion flickers and flares in the background.

The collection’s centrepiece is Quadraplex (A Trip to the Galactic Centre), which starts without beats but then wanders seemingly into the middle of a clearing and a meditation in full swing, with thrumming percussion and a series of spatial effects. Blended from several different takes, it is a mesmerising piece of work.

Does it all work?

It does. The structure of Kaleidoscope Companion has been carefully thought through, and the positioning of Quadraplex in the middle splits the collection into three parts, with a meditative quarter of an hour at its heart.

The analogue clicks and crackles around the edges of many of the tracks are welcome, and the refusal of the music to comply to stricter digital confines serves it well too.

Is it recommended?

Yes. If you listened to this without knowing the author, you would bookmark it as a talent to keep an eye on, a source of new and exciting electronica. The fact that it is a companion to an already excellent and revered album only heightens the appeal, showing just how durable electronic music has proved to be. Fans of the Ninja Tune label will love it.