DJ Shadow

DJ Shadow Biography

History moves damn fast. So fast, that if a week is indeed a long time in politics, then it's an ice age in dance music, where genres subdivide into ever-mutating micro genres quicker than you can say 'white label.' By its very definition, the cutting edge has a poor relationship with longevity - which makes the widespread acknowledgement and continuing influence of 'cinematic hip hop' as a contemporary genre in its own right all the more remarkable.

In 1996,
DJ Shadow (born Josh Davis) dropped his debut album, Endtroducing. . . and thus defined a whole new style of hip hop. A million miles away from the dominant gangsta rap and g-funk of its day, it was a mood rich and visually suggestive series of carefully sequenced instrumentals, built almost entirely from old-school hip hop and funk samples, pulled from the producer/turntablist's vast, personal vinyl emporium and matched with beats. The album audaciously stretched the parameters of hip hop, introducing it to a huge audience with little or no previous experience of the genre. 'Endtroducing. . . ' was truly the sound of a bench being marked.

DJ Shadow, as his alias suggests, is no fan of the limelight, but even he is forced to accept his central role in the evolution of what came to be tagged 'cinematic hip hop.' He acknowledges it right at the beginning of 'In Tune & On Time', a long-form DVD recording of his extraordinary live show (one of two consecutive nights in a nine-month world tour that started in Manchester and finished in Korea) at London's Brixton Academy on October 19 2002. "Welcome to my late-night movie," he says, as he takes up his position behind the decks, before inviting the audience to treat the evening as "a cinematic experience."

No other turntablist's live performance is quite so perfectly suited to full-length film recording as that of DJ Shadow, for whom visuals are almost as important as his music. The scale and sweep of the projected backdrop images and complementary lighting is carefully matched to each song in Shadow's set, where he plays not only in time, but - far more challengingly - also in tune. The images are the work of designer and visual director Ben Stokes, who in the late 1980s directed videos for everyone from Megadeth to Public Enemy and whom Shadow met through Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto, on whose 1999 tour Stokes had worked. The graphics used on the 2002 tour range widely in temper and tone, from the animated collage figures in the funky 'Walkie Talkie' to the sombre, grainy backdrop of the soaring “Midnight in a Perfect World” both from Shadow's sophomore album, 'The Private Press.' In every frame, it's clear that the images are not simply an accessory to the music, they are as good as embedded in it.

"The previous time I had gone out on a solo, worldwide tour on any major scale was 1999,' explains DJ Shadow of the Brixton show, 'and so in 2002, the thought of just me up there with two turntables in front of 10,000 people made me think I really needed to step it up. I made this big commitment to incorporate visuals and, although people like The Chemical Brothers use them, I wanted the visuals for my show to be more than incidental, psychedelic images. I wanted them to be more rooted in the actual music I was playing and I wanted them to be symbiotic with the sound, in the sense that the visuals are triggered in time with the music - in this case, by three laptops run by Chris O'Dowd, who joined me on the tour. In addition to the visuals, I was attempting to mix all my music not only in time, but also in tune and that achievement I'm equally proud of, even though it's obviously less demonstrative than the visuals.

"I've always had this feeling that if I know people are paying money just to see me play," Shadow adds, "then I should be giving them as much as possible in the time that they're there. I really did want it to be the first truly entertaining show on a scale that would match any band. I'm aware that you can be a very understated act and still move the crowd with sonics alone, but on this tour I felt that my hip hop peers at home generally weren't doing anything with visuals and because I knew I was going to be touring the US as well, I really tried to put together a show that was going to make it difficult for my peers back home to top."

'In Tune & On Time' proves DJ Shadow achieved exactly that. It captures the extraordinary intensity of his live show in a startlingly visceral and visually dynamic manner, recreating the feeling of being inside Brixton Academy and entirely engaged, rather than simply watching a recording of the event on a 2-D screen at home. As Shadow explains: "I really wanted to surprise people who think they know what my shows are about. I really wanted to wow people and Ben was the perfect person for that. One of the things I told him was, 'Don't repeat yourself. Let's make the visuals as varied as hopefully the music is.'"

That visual dynamism is apparent not only in the live show itself, but throughout the entire DVD. It's divided into three parts, with an 'intermission' featuring candid, on-the-road footage from various countries, vox pops with fans and a montage of crowd stills. Selected images from the backdrops at Brixton have also been edited here and there into the final product, to enhance the film's depth of field. Fans will also delight in the DVD's extras, which include a sampler battle between DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist and DJ NuMark at the Myan Theatre, L.A. and a solo turn by touring drummer Malcolm Catto.

"There were a lot of conversations between the editor, Erik Waterman and myself about the pacing of the DVD," reveals Shadow. "We didn't want to let all of the tricks out the bag in the first five minutes. When it came to editing the footage and incorporating the visuals that were on the screen, one of the big concerns was that it had to feel like you were never leaving the stage. We very rarely cut to the full frame of the visuals, because I never wanted it to seem like trickery, or feel like disconnection. The way we got around that was by overlaying the full-frame image on just five or maybe ten percent shading of whatever was going on underneath it. You still see my silhouette and so you know I'm still up there on stage. It's a small thing, but it makes everything come together and makes the DVD work. At every point, you feel like you're in the venue.

"At the end of the tour," Shadow notes, "we really felt like we'd achieved something, so, more than anything, this is my way of documenting the experience. I've never done a tour I've been so proud of, such that I felt the need for it to be preserved in any way."

His pride is entirely justified. 'In Tune & On Time' freeze frames history - just long enough for anyone not lucky enough to be with DJ Shadow on October 19 2002 to realise exactly what they were missing.

DJ Shadow Bio from Discogs

DJ Shadow (born Josh Davis) is widely credited as a key figure in developing the experimental instrumental hip-hop style associated with the London-based Mo Wax label. Inspired by hip-hop’s early years, he then grew to absorb the heyday of crews like Eric B. & Rakim, Ultramagnetic MCs, and Public Enemy; groups which prominently featured DJs in their ranks.

Josh “Shadow” Davis had already been experimenting with making beats and breaks on a four-track recorder while he was in high school in the Nor-Cal college town of Davis, but it was during university that he co-founded his own Solesides label as an outlet for his original tracks. Hooking up with Davis’ few b-boys (including eventual Solesides artists Blackalicious and Lyrics Born) through the college radio station, Shadow began releasing the Hip-Hop Reconstruction mix tapes in 1991, eventually catching the attention of The Source magazine and Dave Funkenklein. Shadow was featured in the magazine’s “Unsigned Hype” column in 1991, and Klein signed him to a production deal with Hollywood BASIC records. Concurrently, Shadow provided beats and scratches for Bay Area rapper Paris and was featured on his second album. In 1993, Shadow pressed his 17-minute beat-head symphony “Entropy.” His tracks spread widely through the DJ-strong hip-hop underground, eventually reaching James Lavelle of Mo Wax.

Shadow’s first full-length, “Endtroducing…”, was released on the label in late 1996 to immense critical acclaim in Britain and America. “Preemptive Strike,” a compilation of early singles, followed in early 1998. Later that year, Shadow produced tracks for the debut album by U.N.K.L.E., a long-time Mo’ Wax production team that gained superstar guests including Thom Yorke (of Radiohead), Richard Ashcroft (of the Verve), Mike D (of the Beastie Boys), and others.

His next project came in 1999, with the transformation of Solesides into a new label, Quannum Projects. Nearly six years after his debut production album, the proper follow-up, “The Private Press,” was released in June 2002. The following year Shadow released a mix album, “Diminishing Returns,” and in 2004 he released a live album and DVD, “Live! In Tune and on Time.” In 2006 he released another long awaited full-length album “The Outsider,” which featured rising Bay Area Hyphy rappers including Keak Da Sneak and E-40. “The Outsider” also featured a single with Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest), which led to Shadow’s first appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.

Between 2007 and 2009 Shadow released three volumes of “The 4-Track Era Collection,” a series of his earliest recordings. The 4-Track Era project was exclusively available through his web store, In the midst of all of these solo projects, DJ Shadow collaborated with fellow hip-hop DJ Cut Chemist. Together they created a series of mixes that fused soul, funk, and rock, in the framework of a cohesive concept involving using only 45 rpm records (7 inches). These mixes include Brainfreeze, Product Placement, and The Hard Sell, which would be debuted at the Hollywood Bowl.

Shadow’s website relaunched in August 2009, enabling him to sell digital downloads direct to his fans through his own autonomous storefront. 2009 also saw the announcement of Shadow’s involvement with DJ Hero, an Activision video game which features Shadow as a playable character within the .... Click here to read the full bio on DISCOGS.

Latest Music News

more news headlines »

Featured Links