It is rare that a DJ can redefine or pioneer a style within the genre of electronic music. It is even more rare that an artist can sustain an impactful and relevant career for nearly a quarter-decade, as well. Josh Davis, better known as DJ Shadow, has been able to accomplish all of these feats.
Instrumental hip-hop has easily benefited more from the contributions of DJ Shadow than from any other DJ to date. Furthermore, his sampling abilities (2001's Endtroducing... is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records for "First Completely Sampled Album") know no equal and the term "trip hop" was coined based on his musical style.
"One thing I don't want to rep as a DJ is the psychological easy chair of, 'These are all the hits I know'," says Davis.
Whether it's a live set or creating a track from scratch, the approach is the same – consistent. "I feel like there's a level of quality control, whether it's a live set or making a track," Davis says. "I've learned over the years that as much as I want to challenge and provoke, I never want to antagonize."
Whether it's musical offerings put together by himself or something from another artist, he has extemely high standards. "What I'm looking for is what I call the 'Public Enemy Feeling' – just those moments when you hear music that is earth-shattering and changes your perception of music," says Davis. "What I like to hear is music that is unpredictable. I like when a new way of putting beats together happens. It's all about finding that 5-percent of music that I consider to be outstanding."
Speaking of fantastic releases, Reconstructed: The Best of DJ Shadow dropped at the end of September, further proving Davis' status and career artistic abilities. But why release a hits album at this point in his career? Sure, he's been making music for over two decades, but that amount of time has only amounted to a half-dozen proper releases.
"It's about the fact that I've managed to build a continuity in what I've done with all the albums – a connector," he says. "It feels like a body of work."
When Davis describes a body of work, however, it is of the few instances when that is truly the case. In listening to his entire catalog, his evolution is clearly defined – and this is not to say he's gotten any better or worse. His style and approach has not shifted. What started as primarily an alt-hip hop and instrumental hip-hop endeavor has slowly, and logically, veered in the direction of a jazz and soul inspiration. And while he refuses to call it the end of a stylistic era, he is looking forward more to taking whatever direction the music takes him, applying new techniques and influences.
While maximum effort has always been Davis' driving force, it applies not only to recorded tracks but to his live performances as well. "I think putting together a live DJ set is as serious as making a track or putting an EP together," says Davis. "When you're playing a new live set, it only takes about two to three months before you need to swap it out with something brand new."
Furthermore, even when it comes to creating new tracks from the ground up, it's arguable that there is anyone who puts more time, research, planning and execution into it than Davis. (In all seriousness, just consider the amount of time it must take create an entire album utilizing only samples!)
Part of the impressiveness of Davis' abilities lay in the fact that he is a talented multi-musicianist. Aside from the obvious turntables, he uses keyboards, a sampler and a synth. It might be nigh impossible to create the typic of audio that he does without various instruments.
At the end of the day, though, Davis could make his next album from the sound of pots and pans clanging together, or cats screaming, and it would sound ilke a multi-layered and creative winner. Perfection and skill win out every time. | RDW
DJ Shadow with Minnesota • 12/8, 9 p.m. • Majestic Theatre • 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit • 313.833.9700 • majesticdetroit.com • 18+ • $20