the tracks that changed dj shadow's life
With a musical career spanning the last quarter of a century, Josh Davis aka DJ Shadow has played a key role in the experimental hip-hop world. It was his debut LP, Endtroducing….. that first scored him attention for his use of sampling, with later single In/Flux merging genres and even prompting a journalist at the time to coin the term trip hop. Still experimenting today, his just released LP The Mountain Will Fall features collaborations with Run the Jewels and Nils Frahm and continues to impress. It was only right, given both his discography and huge personal record collection, that we delved into his archives and down memory lane with the California born and raised producer. These are the records that changed DJ Shadow's life.
What was the first record you bought?
"Devo's Freedom of Choice album in 1980. I was at a mall somewhere with my parents, and they said, 'You can pick something out for your birthday.' I was interested in music that sounded futuristic. I had heard Whip It on the radio, and decided I loved it. I was turning eight-years-old at the time and wasn't really aware of singles on a retail basis, only albums. We didn't have a functioning turntable in the house at the time, so I bought a cassette."
What was the first gig you went to?
"Def Jam 88, Oakland Coliseum. It was a package tour of Rush (Russell Simmons) managed-artists including Run D.M.C., Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, EPMD, and my heroes Public Enemy. I was 15 at the time and went with one of my mentors, a DJ named Oras Washington. He said we had a hook-up backstage but it fell through. Managed to meet and get autographs from everyone though."
Which record reminds you of your childhood?
"Growing up in the USA in the 70s, the TV show Sesame Street was huge. Most of the famous songs were written by a musician/lyricist named Joe Raposo, who seems criminally under acknowledged. I would say that he and the motion picture composer John Williams essentially scored my childhood."
Was there a song in your youth that made you realised how awesome music could be?
"The first song I remembered loving and claiming as my own was Funkytown by Lipps, Inc. I think it's because of the vocoder robot voices, which reminded me of my beloved sci-fi shows, like Battlestar Galactica. There was other music I liked before this, but it was more along the lines of 'oh, my Dad likes this song, I guess it's not so bad.' This seemed different, something new."
What record/event made you want to DJ?
"I got into rap and hip-hop starting in 1982, and The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel was a huge record in my life. It wasn't really until records like UTFO's Roxanne, Roxanne, where the DJ was supplying a consistent presence in the arrangement, that it dawned on me that DJ's were true musicians, just like a drummer or bassist. DJs like Jam-Master Jay from Run D.M.C. seemed so cool, shaded in darkness, the secret weapon in the group. He commanded respect."
Being from California, which record sounds most like home to you?
"Either Let Me Ride by Dr. Dre or I Got 5 On It by The Luniz. Take your pick, I love both. Let Me Ride is more of an L.A. thing, while 5 is strictly for the Bay Area, where I was born and raised. Once I was wrapping up a long tour, and was really homesick. The last gig was in Bulgaria, and while I boarded the small local flight to transfer home, they were playing it on the cabin speakers. I was like, 'Take me home.'"
What were you listening to around the time of In/Flux?
"A little bit of everything. I guess in retrospect, it was right about the time that I started easing off the pedal on listening to every single new rap release. It seemed like the golden age was coming to an end, and I found myself listening to more older soul, rock and jazz while looking for samples."
What's your favourite Mo'Wax release?
"Probably a tie between 2000 by R.P.M. and The Plot by The Prunes. I wasn't crazy about everything James released but those were two instances where I thought the execution matched the Mo'Wax vision and potential."
Which record do you wish you had made?
"There's loads. I hear new ones every day. Being a music fan is what made me want to be a DJ in the first place, so that list is very long indeed. Impossible to choose just one."
What was the last piece of music you bought?
"As far as new music, most of which is free now, it would be something I wanted to include on the recent Essential Mix I did for BBC1. Can't remember what it was. It was a "pay what you like" thing on Bandcamp. I always chuck in a few dollars if it's an option. The last full album I bought digitally was Kendrick Lamar's Untitled, Unmastered."
What led to the Nils Frahm collaboration on TMWF? Which of his tracks is your favourite?
"I didn't want the new album to be loaded with guest vocalists. Instead, I thought it might be interesting to feature other instrumentalists, especially those operating in a different space musically. Hammers was the track that initially drew me to his work."
What track do you love that would surprise people?
"I'm a secret fan of really well written pop music. One such example would be Lotta Love by Nicolette Larson. I didn't realise until years later that it was originally a Neil Young song. Another all-timer would be I'll Be Around by The Spinners. There's little doubt in my mind that the 70s represented the all-time pinnacle of song writing and musicianship."
Who do you think is the future of hip-hop?
"Whoever most demonstrably and effectively manifests originality, creativity, and style. The names change, but the rules remain."
Favourite sample you've ever used?
"Again, hard to choose just one, but I'll go with The Madness Subsides by Pekka Pohjola, a Finnish jazz artist. It's the main melody from my song Midnight In A Perfect World."
Text Francesca Dunn