Shadow Dancing

After a triumphant Valley appearance and a clutch of collaborative projects, DJ Shadow gets set to step back out on his own

For the hundreds packed into Nita's Hideaway on June 27, three hours seemed like a glitch, as time froze and the rest of the world just disappeared. The reason for this ethereal afterglow was the "surprise" appearance of internationally renowned DJ Shadow at Z-Trip's weekly Funky Cornbread night. Shadow's set, part of which found him performing with Z-Trip, was something that none of the Valley urban music aficionados in attendance will soon forget. (Readers will note that Urban Sprawl had an exclusive tip about the show in the debut edition of this column.)

DJ Shadow, a.k.a. Josh Davis, dropped his debut CD Endtroducing on the world in 1996. The implications of the groove-heavy, evocative soundscapes changed a lot of people's conceptions about what hip-hop could be. The style was dubbed "trip-hop" by the British music press, as if it were somehow outside the parameters of what hip-hop should be -- a glaring misassumption. The album earned Shadow worldwide acclaim, and accolades including being named "Best DJ" by both readers and critics in the annual Rolling Stone year-end poll.

The misapplied "trip-hop" moniker seems almost insulting, but Shadow takes it all in stride. "It only bothers me to the degree that I feel people who use that term are sort of just buying into the media pigeonhole. It doesn't offend me, it just means to me that they don't really know my history."

Caught from behind: DJ Shadow warms up during his recent Nita's Hideaway appearance.
Paolo Vescia
Caught from behind: DJ Shadow warms up during his recent Nita's Hideaway appearance.

Shadow's hip-hop roots date back to his days as a 9-year-old buying Afrika Bambaata and Sugarhill Gang records. Spending his formative years in the northern California college town of Davis, he eventually found a like-minded group of hip-hop peers, got himself a show on the campus radio station and began conceptualizing the aural ideals that would go on to have a devastating impact on hip-hop.

He founded his own record label, SoleSides, with several Davis homies, assembled his Quannum crew (whose debut, Spectrum, is a stellar collection of Shadow-produced tracks featuring the lyrical skills of MCs from Jurassic 5, Blackalicious, Company Flow and Latyrx), and after hooking up with James Lavelle, founder of London's Mo' Wax Records (which released Endtroducing, its prequel Preemptive Strike and Shadow's early singles), produced Mo' supergroup U.N.K.L.E.'s Psyence Fiction. The album is a landmark in its own way with the most diverse array of guests imaginable, with Beastie Boy Mike D., Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Metallica's Jason Newstead and the Verve's Richard Ashcroft all participating.

Since then, Shadow has done work with Blackalicious and Handsome Boy Modeling School, and put out an extremely hard-to-find disc with Jurassic 5's Cut Chemist titled Slurp (a prerecorded version of the Brainfreeze show the two DJs played in January at L.A.'s El Rey Theater; Z-Trip opened the bill).

The recent Valley set by Shadow was nearly a year in the making. At the time the idea was first conceived, Z-Trip and Cut Chemist were trying to convince Shadow to go "rock the party" sometime as opposed to playing his normally strictly choreographed sets. But Z-Trip's regular Funky Cornbread nights hadn't yet been established. "Z-Trip was trying to give me a little history on some of the club nights he's been doing in Phoenix over the years," Shadow explains. "And he said as soon as there's another night jumping off that he's got a residency at and it's getting a cool little vibe going, he'd ask me to come out."

Z-Trip flew Shadow and his fiancée out and gave them a quick trip around the state that included a visit to the Grand Canyon and scavenging record bins in Flagstaff. "Doing this gig with someone like Z-Trip would be fun anyway," Shadow explains, smiling. "But all the extra stuff on top of it was like, "I could definitely do these kind of gigs year-round.'"

As for the mostly improvised set, Shadow explains, "Normally, if I'm billed as doing a show, if I don't do my own material, sometimes people get upset. When I first started DJing, obviously, like anyone else, you just play a DJ set, which I still love to do but I rarely get the opportunity to do because if I ever try to do it and people hear that I'm gonna be there, I always get some guy going, [fakes Euro accent] "I came all the way from Belgium -- you're not gonna play "Midnight"?' I get trapped in that a little bit, but I respect that, too. This is just like what I do at home when I'm just messing around."

The show at Nita's began about 10 p.m.; the crowd, comprised of nearly the entire East Valley hip-hop scene, as well as various club promoters, musicians and other artists, was giddy with anticipation, and the atmosphere inside was charged with electricity. When Funky Cornbread residents Tricky T and Tige stepped offstage, Z-Trip and Shadow jumped up, threw on a just-released remix of Sugarhill Gang's "8th Wonder" and immediately started a playful exchange of cutting, scratching and mixing. After about half an hour of tandem work, Z-Trip left the stage and left Shadow to his own devices. After apologizing for the set being unplanned, he kicked into a groove-heavy mélange of beats, demonstrating his skills with stylish tweaks and splashes of subtle postmodernist turntable trickery. Eventually he began working in his own tracks, including the brilliant "Organ Donor" (off Endtroducing), as well as "The Number Song" and the blue-tinged opus "Midnight in a Perfect World," mixing them with other records, sometimes even the side where the sample originated.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets

Concert Calendar

  • April
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri
  • Sat