The Times 13 December 1997
Mike Pattenden wrote about DJ Shadow in The Times' Metro section, published 13 December 1997. The article was titled "Chasing Shadow" and was illustrated by a photo by Edward Sykes with the caption "VINYL JUNKIE:DJ Shadow (real name Josh Davis) had to move house to makeroom for his record collection".
As elusive as his name suggests, DJ Shadow has quietly carved a niche in the dance-music market. Now The Verve and Radiohead are on side and he's blinking in the sunlight. Mike Pattenden cornered him
Calling yourself DJ Shadow is a fair indicator that anonymity ranks high among your aims. For a public that remains instilled with traditional notions of stardom it may seem a strange desire, but for 25-year-old Mo'Wax artist Josh Davis, the deliberately self-effacing choice of moniker and accompanying low-key persona is at the heart of everything he does.
DJ Shadow is a relatively well-kept secret, available only to those who take the trouble to investigate further. This is despite High Noon , a single which brushed the fringe of the Top 20 in October with its pacey, TV-theme groove, and a universally acclaimed debut album, Endtroducing , an ambitious sample-fest layered into tunes released last year.
Davis has no truck with notions of underground credibility, for him the music still comes first, which is as it was when he began listening to early hip hop as a kid.
"Fame is not the reason that I do this," he says. "The people I admired when I was growing up were the people in the background, not the rappers or the dancers. Likewise I respect directors rather than actors, they make it happen and they can walk down the street after."
This explains why Davis eyes the photographer warily as he approaches us on the steps of London's Townhouse recording studios. Although he doesn't have a problem being pictured, the need is lost on him. Endtroducing featured the inside of a record shop on its cover, the characters in it were his friends, fellow record nuts.
In person Davis is quiet but communicative, shy but intelligent. Dark curly hair pokes out from under a Portishead beanie and a line of neatly clipped bristle frames his chin. He answers questions patiently and honestly, but rarely offers more than he is asked. When it seems he might run off an anecdote, something pulls him back, he shrugs and says "whatever".
Davis has been working at Townhouse Studios for the past two weeks, commuting from the States and working 14-hour shifts in an attempt to finish the UNKLE album. It is a project two years in the making, and one that has seen its profile rise immeasurably with the news that it features two vocalists whose talents have taken their bands to No 1, Radiohead's Thom Yorke and The Verve's Richard Ashcroft. UNKLE is a Mo'Wax collective that includes input from the label's founder, James Lavelle, whose idea it was to approach the two singers more than a year ago. Davis describes the grouping as "a school of thought - which makes me the music professor".
He recently made time to perform a live mix at Radiohead's Wembley Arena concert but views such things as a diversion from recording work. This month sees a new mini-album issued under his name, the bafflingly-titled Camel Bob Sled Race . Inspired by Afrika Bambaata's Death Mix , it features DJ Q-Bert scratching over old DJ Shadow material. Davis says it is about producing material in keeping with the spirit of hip hop rather than being retro, but it is something of a curio, more suited to collectors and hardcore enthusiasts.
Davis still lives in Davis (no connection), the college town in North California where he was brought up, although he recently moved to make more room for his record collection. His family divorced when he was only two, his mother, a teacher, brought up Davis and his brother, later remarrying. He describes his young self as introverted but not withdrawn, searching out things that his peers weren't into. His life changed in 1982 when, aged six, he heard Grandmaster Flash's The Message on a local station. By 12 he was having his own mix tapes played on college radio.
A hip hop kid in a white college community was regarded as something of an oddity, which suited him just fine. Inevitably, it led to run-ins. "I was looked on as a bit weird, occasionally people would want to make an issue of it at school," he recalls. "Some kids would poplock (breakdance) in my face and try to start trouble. But I never had an attitude, I wasn't trying to convert people."
If anything, the insularity of the town suited him, allowing him to develop a name away from the limelight of San Francisco or L.A. While his recording career was beginning to take off, Davis was embarking on a five-year course in communications at the local university. Occasionally when Mo'Wax toured in Europe he would even find himself typing a paper in a hotel and faxing it home.
This intellectualism dovetails neatly with his reclusive image: DJ Shadow, bedroom technician and vinyl anarchist. It has led to observers labelling him as a trainspotter. Davis, perhaps not surprisingly, disagrees.
"You don't call a lawyer who spends all day in the law library a trainspotter," he protests. "Records are just what I do, my area of expertise. I maintained a college career. I have a relationship, friends, but music is what I enjoy doing most and now I have the luxury to pick and choose, that's what I spend my days doing."
To unwind he hikes or skis, but does accept that his record collecting can be a little intensive, involving three-week tours of the States. Does his girlfriend, who often accompanies him, ever despair?
"She's a real trouper," he smiles, before adding, "But I have to go in a record store if I see one, and sometimes she's like 'Aaaargggh, this always happens!' "
Domestic disputes over the shopping, what could be more normal?
Camel Bobsled Race (Q-Bert Mega Mix) and Endtroducing are available now on Mo'Wax.