I-D October 1996
Issue 157. October 1996
DJ Shadow is featured across two pages of the October 1996 issue of the magazine I-D.
What happens when you remove all the boundaries? DJ Shadow's debut album, Entroducing, is a record without frontiers.
BREATHTAKING IN scope, seaming loops of piano rhapsody into hard bop fusion into grainy abrasive breakbeats with a photoreal edge. Delicate and detailed in orchestration, annotated with out-takes from horoscopes and the tiniest snippets of angelic vocal and cute little off-cuts of 70s TV theme funk. And bypassing the narrative clichés and cul-de-sacs of rap by returning to the idea of authentic hip hop as an instrumental rather than spoken-word medium.
"Hip hop is an instrumental art form and rap is vocal, all the terms have been misappropriated," sighs Shadow, otherwise known as 24-year-old Josh Davies. It's an important definition because Shadow sees the girls'n'guns subject matter of gangsta in reactionary opposition to the more radical sphere of the instrumental. "Nobody does hip hop any favours by telling the same stories over and over again, by being conservative, using the same theme. To me, that's the opposite of revolution."
Instead, this mild-mannered blond guy from Davis, California is intent on restoring a personal notion of purity and authenticity to the art of sampling. "I don't like mixing live music with sampling because I come from a sample-based aesthetic," he explains. "It's like I never use compilations or bootlegs or reissues, because the original lineage is what I learned the first time I ever heard 'The Message' or 'Planet Rock', you have respect for the people who discovered the breaks in the first place."
With this in mind, it's logical that Josh got into hip hop as a futuristic music. "I liked technology, groups like Kraftwerk, and it was one of the things that drew me to hip hop in the first place. The early stuff was just years ahead of its time." And whilst this sense of experimentalism has manifested itself in a string of subtle and brilliant 12's — from his Steinski-tribute debut 'Lesson 4' in 1991 to the seminal and subliminal 'Influx' on Mo'Wax in '93 — he claims he's never listened to ambient. "When I made 'Influx', I'd never heard of acid jazz or ambience and I'd certainly never heard of trip hop," says Josh, looking quizzical for a moment.
Where does this all come from, then? The evocative textures, the gentle atmospherics that open out as you listen to Entroducing and leave you speechless at the endless possibilities for sounds and a breakbeat. "It's funny, 'cos when I'm in the studio I try and shut any sort of external stimuli out and go with the gut." He ponders and gazes out of the window at the cityscape below. "Sometimes I don't know where sounds come from and then there's certain sounds," he pauses and looks me straight in the eye, "that may take an entire career to manifest themselves musically." And suddenly, it feels like we're on the edge of infinity.