Shadow Dancing

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

It was a stellar evening for the hands-pumping, ass-shaking mass that had gathered, one of those rare nights when the performance matches the anticipation. "It was really, really great," Shadow says. "Everybody was really nice, and as far as what ended up transpiring onstage, I had a great time. Some of it worked, some of it didn't. I tried a couple things I don't usually get to do; I really had fun doing a little set that was semiprepared."

For Shadow, the show was a release from the usual pressure that accompanies his shows. "First of all, when it's a "DJ Shadow' show, I feel an obligation to the people that paid to really put my all into it, and that means that I need to know exactly what I'm doing. I don't feel that I've ever been the best or the most seasoned at just wingin' it. I really have to get something together that I feel like . . . I mean just like any bands would, it goes from one song to the next for a reason. I'm the same way when I do my own material."

Shadow's next project is his contribution to the score of Dark Days, a documentary by Marc Singer about homeless people in New York who live underground in an unused train tunnel. He composed a pair of tracks for the film, "Dark Days Theme" and "War Is Hell." The film, which debuted at Sundance this year, was just picked up for distribution. Although there will be no soundtrack available, Singer and Shadow are planning to sell singles with the tracks at theaters where the film is playing.

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.

Dark Days isn't Shadow's first foray into cinema-inspired composing. He also worked on some tracks for the Michael Mann whistle-blower flick The Insider, which weren't used. Scoring films is a natural progression for a movie buff who admits that "Transmissions 1, 2 and 3" from Endtroducing were directly inspired by Alan Parker's Angel Heart.

"When you're scoring a movie, it's a little bit different when you're working with samples," Shadow explains. "If you're writing music, it's easier to look at something and say, "I feel that this is like a minor key here and it goes like this; lemme sit down at the piano and write it and then arrange it and have the musicians play it.' But when you're working with samples, to a certain extent you're -- I don't want to say limited -- but you're more confined. You have to use what's around you, and depending on what you find, you have to steer it to a certain degree towards what you want, but it's still gonna take on a life of its own. The only thing I'm going for is an appropriate mood, and I thought I took [Dark Days] in a direction that was unique, I don't think it would've been an obvious choice. [Singer] was pretty thrilled with it as far as the direction I took."

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about DJ Shadow's music and sensibility is that it's so transcendent --attracting hip-hoppers, techno kids, even punk rockers, with a style that bridges genre divides. His work has extended the parameters of how hip-hop is perceived, yet he feels no responsibility to push his work with that aim in mind. And as he heads back to the Bay Area to begin work on his next solo record, Shadow's not the least bit worried about what people will think of his intentions for the future.

"I think you go along at different moments in your career feeling like you're spearheading something, and at the moment, for me, it's less about that than it is about really tapping into my own resources. It's hard -- I did Endtroducing and then I did U.N.K.L.E., and to go back to working all by myself again is definitely going to be a challenge, but it's a challenge I'm looking forward to.

"It's just more about tapping into what I want to hear," continues Shadow. "When I sit down to make a record, I can't really worry about whether this crowd's gonna like it or that crowd's gonna like it. For me it's always been, "Does it appeal to my sensibility of what I grew up listening to as far as hip-hop?' Because that's mostly what I grew up listening to. Since then I've obviously heard a lot of other kinds of music and gotten into those as well. So, hopefully that will have a role also. The last thing I ever want to sound like is retro, even inadvertently."

Def and Deffer: Mad props are in order for local turntable prodigy Megadef, who only recently celebrated his 18th birthday. Megadef, along with partner DJ Fact, will be opening the Phoenix date of the Spitkicker Tour at the Celebrity Theatre this Friday, July 7 (see Recordings, In Town, page 108). Among the headliners are De La Soul and Biz Markie, as well as a cast of other hip-hop heads.Asked how he pulled off becoming the only local opener, Megadef explains, "I just bumped into the Celebrity Theatre's booking guy. I didn't have any tapes or anything to give him, I just went in and told him "I'm dope. Lemme play the show. If I'm wack I'll pay you."

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