In an increasingly shallow musical world where everyone wants to be, or believes they are, a budding DJ, I therefore have a profound respect for Josh Davis. No, in fact it goes far beyond that. It is sheer adoration for the man that goes by the name of, DJ Shadow.
He is the pioneer of sampling and instrumental hip hop. Since cranking out his sample tracks back in the early 1990’s in California, he has managed to take the art of DJ’ing to a whole new stratosphere. And I mean DJ’ing in its purest sense. DJ Shadow is a one man show, utilising his finger tips to puppeteer the music he creates and manipulates via his Akai MPC 3000 or 60, Korg Triton (a music workstation synthesizer), Technics 1200 turntable, and an Alesis ADAT.
DJ Shadow is a true master of his genre, which consists of category bending sounds that incorporate hip hop, funk, soul, rock, fusion jazz and minimal electronica. He slices and edits thousands of samples and turntable overdubs to create a musical experience that is absolutely mind blowing. His first full length debut album, Endtroducing… brandished DJ Shadow as the innovative maestro that he is, with Time Magazine even naming it in their All Time 100 Best Albums.
Since the inception of Shadow’s first album he flourished to produce 14 solo albums, has collaborated with the likes of Cut Chemists, Lyrics Born, A Tribe Called Quest, Blackalicious and the Beastie Boys, and has been featured in over 50 compilation titles. And with a personal record collection of over 60,000, don’t be mistaking DJ Shadow for a rip off artist. His talent to mix, cut and create new tracks from old samples, sliced up into his musical concoctions is in my eyes, unsurpassed.
Plus, DJ Shadow’s mastery doesn’t stop at his music. He is dead set one of the most prolific live performers I have ever had the joy of encountering. The last two times I saw Shadow perform was over a period of nearly six years. Not only being able to sync all his tracks with unbelievable precision and timing, the graphics he utilised made it a sensory pleasure of epic proportions. Even managing to harmonise the visuals to the beat of a track, vocal chorus or to the drum kit he was tapping, was something of a technological revolution.
Now, with Shadow’s new tour, he has indeed, outdone himself. Aptly named the Shadowsphere, DJ Shadow has taken the insipid, somewhat one dimensional set up of every DJ around the globe, and literally turned it on its head. The DJ desk is no longer a work station for the shameful ‘press play’ brigade of disc jockeys, but a sphere of fearlessness, innovation and humble coolness, that only DJ Shadow can house.
As exhibited at his performance at Melbourne’s Palace Theatre on Sunday night, the Shadowsphere definitely came into its own. Accompanied by a huge background screen, the sphere was positioned front and centre of the stage. It acted not only as a 3D addition to the visual side of the performance, but it was where DJ Shadow played from – within its lit up shell as it revolved, opened and closed. It is the ultimate optical illusion to suit clever, layered tracks always combined with a genre curving beat or melody that is uniquely crafted.
The opening visuals of DJ Shadow’s set began as a computer matrix, all green lines and microchip cores. It then evolved constantly from city grids seen from a bird’s eye view to speeding cars and long lashed eyes staring intensely, to celestial bodies and astrology signs. There was a focus on the moon and other spherical shapes, including marble statues holding lunar globes to sand dunes giving rise to metallic liquefied marbles.
The set- up, sound and stage was a true sensory overload, an orgasm for the eyes and soft petting for your ears.
Other visuals included the Star Wars Death Star (that got a few cheers from the nerds nearby; I may have joined in….) as well as iconic images from DJ Shadow’s own film clips including, You Can’t Go Home Again, Walkie Talkie (consisting of psychotic chainsaws hacking through the Shadowsphere itself) and High Noon to name a few.
Being the humble performer that he is, majority of Shadow’s performance was executed just as his name would suggest; with him inside the Shadowsphere, allowing the audience to take in the music and images without a focus on him and his maneuvering skills.
He is the wizard behind the curtain; pushing buttons, scratching vinyls, mixing tracks and creating a world of excitement and wonder. However, when those sphere doors opened to reveal this musical wizard, it was tremendous to get a firsthand look into the organisation, timing and dexterity that equates to a DJ Shadow performance. He is constantly moving; jumping from one piece of equipment to another as the bass trembles under his fingertips, ricocheting off the sphere to the walls of the Palace Theatre, as beat after beat was dropped and everyone in the crowd reacted with an electricity that was befitting. Hands raised, knees bent and heads rocking, Shadow fired an arsenal of tracks out to an eager and contented audience.
Loading a brand new track into the artillery, from his new album named The Less You Know the Better, hit the mark, as did old favourites This Time, Six Days, Walkie Talkie, Number Song, Blood on the Motorway and one of my own personal beloveds, Organ Donor.
Again, another euphoric and energised performance from a musically intelligent and clued up individual full of humor, irony and modesty, always looking for ways to grow as an artist. DJ Shadow is almost like a living music museum, show casing samples of tracks from a bygone era and re-creating them by his own hand. The DJ Shadow beats are his signature and it seems after this most recent performance, the ink will never run dry.