“What’s inherently significant about the new record are all of the new influences I’ve taken in. I wanted to have more on offer than just being ‘the sample guy.’” So says Josh Davis, aka DJ Shadow, of his fifth studio album, The Mountain Will Fall.
The restlessness and adventure that has defined Shadow’s career thus far is in evidence again on this album. While the presence of Mass Appeal label-mates Run The Jewels may comfort some, it’s the addition of UK jazzer Matthew Halsall and Berlin-based keyboard genius Nils Frahm that suggests a departure, without ever forsaking a hip-hop aesthetic. Eschewing old studio aids like the MPC and Pro Tools, Davis was energized by new working methods. “I made most of it on Ableton Live,” he says. “To me, it’s a new instrument and a new way of making music. There are three or four songs which really don’t have any samples to speak of, and that in itself is somewhat of a departure.”
Of course, the reason why DJ Shadow was indeed ‘the sample guy’ was forged in a lengthy career that begat the lauded debut album Endtroducing….. (later this year he will celebrate its 20th anniversary), helped revive the careers of luminaries like David Axelrod as well as numerous killer compilations that helped redefine the digger’s art. He is the DJ’s DJ.
Spotted releasing early productions on his own Solesides, Shadow was signed to the influential Mo’ Wax in the UK by James Lavelle. The pair collaborated on U.N.K.L.E., working with Thom Yorke and the Beastie’s Mike D on a debut LP, Psyence Fiction, that sold over 1m. copies (the Mo’ Wax duo feature in a forthcoming documentary Artist & Repertoire). Over the next decade, DJ Shadow released another three albums, including the acclaimed The Private Press, 2011’s The Less You Know, The Better and the adventurous The Outsider, which included the hit-that-never-was, This Time, featuring the string arrangements of Wil Malone.
His original material has regularly been disrupted and energized by tours that have showcased his quiet showmanship, as on Live From The Shadowsphere, described by Beatport as one of the top ten DJ shows ever. In 2014 he once again teamed up with Cut Chemist (the pair made DJ’s delights Brainfreeze and Product Placement together) to create a live set entirely constructed out of Afrika Bambaataa’s mammoth record collection to predictably ecstatic reviews.
“I try to force myself to change things on every record, and it’s why I feel that my music will always change,” says Josh. “It’s a bit preposterous to use old samplers when there’s so much more you can do with the new ones. We’d never have the amazing music that Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock did in the 1970s if they’d refused to use new synthesizers, which really defined what they did. It’s people like that that I look to for inspiration.” Now listen to the sound of a mountain falling.