Splore: DJ Shadow takes things back to basics

By Chris Schulz

Last time he was here, DJ Shadow played in a giant orb. This time, the hip-hop pioneer is taking things back to basics. He talks to Chris Schulz.

DJ Shadow wants to get some things off his chest. First, the man born Joshua Davis doesn't think all the best music was made more than 20 years ago. Nor does he believe the mid-1990s was hip-hop's only golden age.

And no, he doesn't spend his days off digging through crates of records in dusty bargain basement stores looking for rare albums, geeking out at collectibles and searching for rare out-of-print releases to sample.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about me," Davis tells TimeOut. "Some people think I'm a vinyl purist, some think that I cherish old music over new music [or] I'm just into old school hip-hop and that sensibility.

"A lot of people were introduced to my music in the mid-90s and for a lot of people I'll always be emblematic of that era. As an artist and a DJ, I'm really uncomfortable with the idea that I [exist] in a certain space or era in people's brains.

"I'm very much into what I do and would very much like to keep changing things."

He's known for his work in the 1990s for exactly that reason: Davis expanded rap's boundaries with his 1996 album Endtroducing, a collage of styles that changed perceptions about what hip-hop could be.

But he refused to cash in on Endtroducing's success by repeating its 100 per cent sample-based tricks, instead releasing infrequent but frequently great albums that swap styles and trends in an attempt to stay ahead of the game.

Try the smouldering song-based brilliance of 2002's The Private Press, the head-rush of 2006's sample-free The Outsider that explored the growing San Francisco "hyphy" hip-hop movement, or 2011's fast-paced The Less You Know, the Better, his more upbeat last album that added dance, rock and punk elements to his atmospheric soundscapes.

Davis showcased songs from those albums during his last tour here, in which he played a head-spinning set from the confines of a giant, glowing orb called the "Shadowsphere".

But at Splore, he's taking things back to his roots with a pure DJ show that will showcase where Davis' hip-hop head is at right now. Rest assured, he won't be playing 50 Cent tracks.

"Almost everything that I'm playing in the set is coming out this month, or is unreleased," Davis says. "I always like to try to put a set together that will satisfy the smartest, most forward-thinking person in the audience as opposed to putting a set together for the people who know the least about what's going on.

"I like the thought that somebody in the audience will be saying, 'Oh damn - he's playing A$AP Rocky or Clams Casino, that's crazy'."

Previous DJ Shadow shows have included massive multimedia set-ups: his 2006 set at Auckland's St James included a giant screen, trippy videos and spaceship stage set-up; his 2011 Powerstation gig involved that costly spinning globe.

But Davis says he's enjoyed putting his back-to-basics set together - and it should work perfectly in the laid-back beaches-and-bush setting of Splore's Tapapakanga Regional Park.

"This happened organically. I was asked by some friends in San Francisco to DJ at a popular club. As I put [the set] together I realised how much fun I was having, and how good it felt to present other people's music - not just my own - in a way that puts a stamp on what I really value on music right now.

"Obviously I don't want to totally preclude my entire back catalogue ... it's the best of both worlds, where I get to play music that I know some people in the audience are going to expect me to play but it's not the same song I've been rinsing for the last 10 years."

Davis admits that he used to spend much of his time sourcing music on vinyl, and his staggering collection of records reportedly numbers more than 60,000. But these days, the Californian-based artist spends most of his spare time finding new music on the internet, using a network of like-minded, beat-making web buddies to follow trends and source tracks, swap notes and "rewrite rhythmic language".

"In the 80s and 90s, I'd spend a lot of time in record stores looking for records and trying to find samples. Using the internet is really the same process - it's very time-consuming. Ninety-nine per cent of the music I'm playing doesn't exist on vinyl.

"For me it's never been about the format - it's where the music exists, where the music I identify with exists. If I try to keep some kind of vinyl aesthetic just for the sake of it, I'd have very little to play that expresses where I'm at, right at this moment."

Davis says he'll be playing "some trap stuff, trippy, alternative kind of beats" as well as new remixes of DJ Shadow's back catalogue from emerging producers.

"It's basically what I used to do before I was known for the records that I made ... I don't think I've ever done it in New Zealand."

Who: DJ Shadow
Where: Performing on Friday, February 14 at Splore
Essential listening: Endtroducing (1996), The Private Press (2002), The Less You Know, The Better (2011)
More info: www.splore.net

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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