This man is schizophrenic. Don’t get me wrong, I do mean that in a good way. Schizophrenic, because on the one side, he is one of a group of pioneers who, 15 years ago, singlehandedly revolutionized Hip Hop – and with it, deejaying in general. Schizophrenic, because despite this fact, he still appears to be the down-to-earth guy, a buddy living around the block, a little shy but always humble towards his audience, delivering jokes such as “I know a little German … and he’s standing right there.” with the pure joy of a teenager who just discovered how to make funny noises through his nose. And schizophrenic, because Shadow (born Josh Davis) is not only DJ Shadow, but, together with James Lavelle, is also U.N.K.L.E. – an electro/house-DJ team, but this is another story…
What else is there to know about Shadow? The hard facts tell us that he has been around for more than twenty years, with his first record released in 1991. In 1996, he released “Endtroducing”, which was the first samples-only album ever produced. Today, this seems to be no big deal but back in the days, it provoked a huge discussion about samples being music or not. Musical beauty of course is in the eye of the beholder, but despite one loving or hating this kind of music, one should acknowledge and respect the skills Shadow already possessed and put into practice when combining this vast amount of sound snippets into the larger musical picture of “Endtroducing”. Since his early days, Shadow has worked with other (later-to-become famous) DJs Krush, Q-Bert, Public Enemy and Cut Chemist, the Massive Attack crew, rappers such as Rakim, Lateef, Blackalicious and Mike D and singers Richard Ashcroft and Thom Yorke – only to name a few. It becomes clear why he is thought of as already having left a huge mark in music history. In my personal musical history, Shadow is one of the key figures because I appreciate his style and have followed his live performances for quite a while now. My first encounter with the Shadow style of deejaying was at a Massive Attack concert, where he was “the supporting act”, simply announced as ‘Special Guest’. With me being an enthusiastic Massive Attack fan, I still remember the amazement which caught me when I realized that not only Massive Attack were playing this evening, but also the then-very-mysterious DJ Shadow, who performed all-alone, live – and on six turntables.
Shadow’s versatility of varying musical styles is amazing – he is able to do sets of finest electronic music but also enjoys mixing old school funk, soul, reggae and hiphop tunes. The latter had been masterfully put into practice during my second live experience of Shadow, when he did “The Hard Sell” – this one performed together with Cut Chemist. It was then that you could witness two DJs really knowing – and enjoying – their heritage. With “The Hard Sell”, Shadow and Cut Chemist paid their respect to the nowadays almost-forgotten 7” record and created a concept using only 45 rpm records (7”). They scratched their way through an eclectic collection of 45s and eventually culminated in a “portable turntable duel”.
My latest encounter with the ways of the Shadow was on May 15, 2011, when he paid a visit to Uebel & Gefährlich with his 2010/11 tour set “Live from the Shadowsphere”. This concert was mind-blowing in various ways: Not only did he present a finely-crafted mix of electronic music (from House elements over Grime, Dubstep and Drum ‘n’ Base) flavored with good ol’ Hip Hop tracks and samples. The visuals of the show were also one-of-a-kind. The stage was covered by a vast silver screen before which a white orb was positioned. From behind, the “background visual” was projected on the silver screen and from two projectors in the front of this silver screen, video animations were put on the white surface of the man-sized sphere. Within the sphere, Shadow had his set of mixers, players and notebook and this was the place where he did his set. And in the end, it was the combination of visuals and DJ Shadow’s precise and crisp mixing what left me with a huge, satisfied grin on my face even hours after the concert was over.
To see the Shadowsphere in action, check this one out:
- Why Hip Hop S ucks in ‘96 (Endtroducing)
- Fixed Income (The Private Press)
- Organ Donor (High Noon EP)
- Stem-Long Stem (Endtroducing)