DJ Shadow’s Mighty Mountain Will Fall


“It’s More Difficult For a Song to Become a Lightning Rod”: DJ Shadow on the Future of Music

[I’ve interviewed the visionary Josh Davis before many times, because he’s an historic hip-hop soundtracker who has shaped culture as it has shaped him. That process recently continued at Salon, and will surely continue again. Time machine time…]

When last we spoke, DJ Shadow reminded me that the internet is not our savior. He might as well have added that saviors do not exist. Of course, that doesn’t mean we haven’t stopped looking for them, especially from the hip hop that DJ Shadow — known to the I.R.S. as Josh Davis — so thoroughly redefined on releases like “The Private Press,” “Preemptive Strike” and especially his foundational 1996 debut “Endtroducing…..” the first samples-only album in history. Like a needle on the planet’s spinning record, the defiant Davis has leapt from groove to groove, style to style and paradigm to paradigm as conformity and complacency have settled into pop and hop, challenging himself and even his fans, who still hold onto “Endtroducing…..” like a life raft to a former world.

To wit, although he has been historically sanguine about the internet, DJ Shadow has nevertheless chosen this complicated moment to launch his own imprint, Liquid Amber, through which he will release his own music, as well as sonics from others that stir his interest. His imprint’s first single, the future bass compendium “Ghost Town,” was naturally released online first, and there’s a good chance that will be the case with many of Liquid Amber’s future releases, including his forthcoming full-lengths. Signs of the times, and all that.

But the vinyl culture he exhaustively preserves and represents is simultaneously landing much love: On Sept. 3 in Boston, DJ Shadow and his fellow archivist/experimentalist Cut Chemist’s Renegades of Rhythm tour begins schooling the U.S., using the legendary Afrika Bambaataa‘s prodigious record collection as textbooks. And what vibrant, relevant texts they care: Bam’s vinyl collection, pushing 40,000 and permanently archived at Cornell University, is so influential and educational that its astounding diversity has earned its curator honorifics like the Godfather of Hip-Hop, the Father of ElectroFunk and many, many more. And just like Bam encoded disparate styles like punk, J-pop, krautrock and beyond into hip hop’s sprawling DNA from the ’80s to today, Davis is bringing Bam’s socially conscious, purposefully inclusive cultural power to the people. He’s also making positive future music from an uncomfortable present.


DJ Shadow Readies Unreleased ’90s Tracks for Total Breakdown

BEFORE HIS 1996 debut Endtroducing redefined sample-based hip-hop, DJ Shadow sliced up sonic atmospheres on his trusty Akai MPC. Now one of music history’s most notable crate-diggers is raiding his own vault for Total Breakdown: Hidden Transmissions From the MPC Era, 1992-1996.

Announced Tuesday on, Total Breakdown is described by Shadow as a “tastefully done archive project.”

It collates unreleased material from those formative years of the artist otherwise known as Josh Davis, during which he helped found NorCal indie-hop collective Solesides and released impressive soundscapes on indie label Mo’Wax.


DJ Shadow: The Internet Is Not Your Savior

FIFTEEN YEARS AFTER his debut record, Endtroducing, reformulated the sonic contours of hip-hop and pop, DJ Shadow has returned to let you know that The Less You Know, the Better.

“It’s very difficult for any artist to talk about any of this stuff on the record, because no one wants to get painted with the Metallica brush,” San Francisco-based Josh Davis, known to turntable geeks as DJ Shadow, told by phone ahead of The Less You Know, the Better‘s Oct. 4 release. “As a musician that has been involved in one of the industries decimated by the internet, I’ve experienced a weird duality: The internet was supposed to democratize communication, but the opposite seems to have happened.”

It’s a democracy failure Davis saw crushed up close, given his proximity to Silicon Valley, where titans like Apple and Google sprouted from technological culture jammers into the undisputed masters of Wall Street’s universe. Davis helped launch independent label Solesides in the fertile and imaginative San Francisco Bay Area with hip-hop historian Jeff Chang and members of standouts like Blackalicious and Latyrx. Then he quickly broke into the mainstream on the strength of the record-breaking Endtroducing and its stunning 2002 follow-up, The Private Press.

Since then, the internet’s meteoric rise has shadowed, so to speak, his own, even as it steadily downsized the music industry’s earnings reports and artist-development efforts. While other hip-hop crossovers have come and gone like so much disposable pop product, DJ Shadow — who kicks off a U.S. leg of his international tour Oct. 21 in his hometown San Francisco — has remained relevant. He’s stronger than ever, judging by The Less You Know, the Better‘s expansive stylistic reach, which outdistances his defiant 2006 release, The Outsider, by miles.

“The Outsider was a shove,” he said. “The Less You Know, the Better is an embrace.”


DJ Shadow’s New Site Signals New Era of Creative Control

CEREBRAL YET BODY-ROCKING turntablist DJ Shadow has negotiated an arrangement with Universal Music Group that makes him the label’s first artist to license his entire digital and physical catalog to sell through an artist-run website.

“Obviously, there are plenty of artists with digital-download stores, but Universal has never done this before,” DJ Shadow, otherwise known as San Francisco’s Josh Davis, told me by phone Monday ahead of the Tuesday relaunch of his website. “The store is basically a break-even proposition. But I want to take care of people from the moment they click on the site to the moment they leave. And now if you are a major-label artist, you can do it, too. We have all the contracts in place.”


DJ Shadow’s Rebooted Website, Music Could Rule

From his pioneering 1996 debut Entroducing, the first album to be created entirely out of samples, to his recent multimedia showcase with Cut Chemist known as The Hard Sell Tour, instrumental hip-hop superstar DJ Shadow has been a busy sonic vulture.

According to a recent heads-up posted on his official site, he’s going to be even busier in 2009 — especially on his official site.

“We’re still a couple of months away from relaunch,” the San Francisco-based DJ gushed, “but when it happens … get ready for some shit. Forget everything you’ve ever thought about what a DJ Shadow site could or should consist of…. If we pull it off, I promise you, you’re going to be pleased.”


DJ Shadow Teams With Reebok to Hawk Shoes, Music

DJ SHADOW’S “WHAT Does Your Soul Look Like?” married instrumental hip-hop, psychedelia, cult classics like Altered States and Twin Peaks and much more. The four-part, sample-based epic provided watershed moments on Shadow’s 1996 debut, Endtroducing, and the ephemeral 1998 follow-up, Preemptive Strike.

Now he’s using it to sell Reeboks.