Wed 10 Dec 2014

Interview with… DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist (Renegades of Rhythm)


This February will see two of the World’s best and well-known turntabalists and artists bring a brand new concept to the UK honouring the ‘Godfather of Hip-Hop’ Afrika Bambaataa, one of the true pioneers of the genre. 

The two DJs will be spinning from Afrika Bambaataa’s mere 40,000 record collection, which was offered to them to develop the show. After wowing audiences across North America in 2014 including attendance from the Godfather himself at both New York shows, the duo bring the critically acclaimed show to three exclusive UK dates (TICKETS).
We caught up with DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist about the concept of the show, the future of vinyl and what we can expect:
How did the idea of this particular show come about?
When Bambaataa was in the process of donating his collection to Cornell University, someone decided that it would be a good idea to let a couple of DJ’s go through the collection and take some of the records on tour “one last time” before everything ended up in the Cornell vault.  We were contacted in November of 2013, and we flew to New York to look at the collection and make sure we had Bam’s blessing.  Then began the painstaking process of going through the entire collection to make our selections.  We wanted to tell a story through his records, and honor not only Bambaataa himself, but the roots of the culture he helped create.

Where did you start to whittle down a record collection of 40,000?

DJ SHADOW: It was a combination of pulling things we knew, pulling things we were curious about, and pulling things that were obviously played a lot by Bam.  We didn’t want to spin a bunch of stuff that may have been interesting to us, or worth a lot of money on eBay, but that he never played.  The records he spun were usually crate-worn and marked up, and we felt it appropriate (by and large) to limit ourselves to the records that truly mattered, as opposed to rare, expensive or obscure things…although, many of his prized jams were all of the above. 

What can we expect from the show?
CUT CHEMIST: A 90 minute performance that is delivered not unlike our previous collaborative performances. We use 6 turntables, two mixers, drum machines, a lot of records that make up unique blends to create a narrative about how hip hop evolved through the influence of DJs like Afrika Bambaataa, Flash, Grand Wizard Theodore and Kool Herc. We also have a visual component that compliments the music with rarely seen Joe Conzo photos.
How has the tour been going in America?
DJ SHADOW: Very well, I think.  We’ve done about 45 shows within Canada and the US so far, which is a lot for us.  We were able to hit not only the major cities, but a few places we’ve never played.  We were able to do three shows within NYC and two in the Bay Area, which again, is fantastic.    
How do you think an English audience will react to this show compared to an American audience? Do you find them different to play to?

CUT CHEMIST: I think that the English crowds will eat this up. Hip hop has a long history there. They are proud of their contribution to the culture as well as have a very scholarly appreciation for the history of that culture. This performance celebrates hip hop from the beginning all the way up until the late 80s/early 90s when it became sensationalized by television.

How big has Afrika Bambaataa’s influence been on both of you?
DJ SHADOW: Immeasurable.  It’s no exaggeration to say that without Afrika Bambaataa, we would have never become DJ’s.  Kool Herc started it all, and Grandmaster Flash really instituted skills into the equation…but Bambaataa was known as ‘The Master Of Records’ even in the ’70s, and introduced so much of the musical vocabulary that established the basis for hip-hop music.   
Has / will Afrika Bambaataa be seeing the show live?
Yes Bambaataa attended both New York shows at the beginning of the tour. It was amazing to have him there watching us play his records. It was a career highlight for me personally.

What has Afrika Bambaataa said about the show?
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DJ SHADOW: We figure, if he didn’t like it, he wouldn’t have come to [the show] twice! Bam is very humble and soft-spoken, and it was a pleasure to honor him in person.  He was like royalty, watching from the balcony, with the audience able to see him and appreciate him.  A wonderful moment in our careers. 
What are your thoughts on the use of digital and CD’s over vinyl in a live show? Does everything have its place?
CUT CHEMIST: A performance is a performance. It’s either engaging or boring. I don’t put too much emphasis on the tools unless the performance itself is making a point about it. This performance that we are doing does make that point as it’s about the artefacts first and foremost. The timeline is also one that deals solely with the era when vinyl was the mainstream media.
We have seen the biggest vinyl sales in years in the UK, would you say vinyl/records have been making any kind of resurgence?
CUT CHEMIST: Sales don’t lie. Yes. People are buying vinyl. I know because all the vinyl plants in the US are backed up. It’s nearly impossible for a reasonable turnaround for any of my projects it seems. Hopefully more manufacturers will open up again and it will be like the 80s all over again.
Can you name us one track from the show that is bound to get a big reaction?
CUT CHEMIST: The Message by Grand Master Flash and The Furious Five always gets a big reaction no matter where we play it.

Tickets to their London & Manchester shows are on sale HERE.