'Milkweg', Amsterdam, Dec 3 2000
It is said that with his 'Endtroducing' album, DJ Shadow - aka Josh Davis - single-handedly defined trip hop (but we will forgive him that). What he did create was music, derived entirely from samples, that was at the same time groundbreaking and beautiful. The Shadow production system manipulated samples, mangling them into something new and unrecognisable but funky, densely-textured, intelligent and emotional. 'Endtroducing' was music created in a hip-hop style but without the empty gesturing and bravado usually associated with the genre. Melancholy 'tears-on-your-shoulder' dance music like Tom Waits but with Phat Beats.
So it was with a great sense of excitement that I arrived at Melkweg on Sunday night to hear the man play records for us. Cue much 'Guess who's coming? Just your favourite DJ saviour!' tomfoolery. The last time we had seen him was in Oxford, England in 1997, a year after 'Endtroducing' had come out but at the height of its popularity. He played records for half an hour, mainly reworked 'Endtroducing' tracks, and left. We loved it, him and his wooly hat.
In Amsterdam, top of the bill and with support from his old Solesides/Quannum buddies, it would be even better. The perfect opportunity to catch up on what had been happening in Shadowlands since the ambitious but patchy 'Psyence Fiction' project. How wrong we were. Instead the audience was forced to take a collective ten year step back in time to a shouty, '3 MCs and one DJ' hell. OK as the tour is called 'The Solesides Reunion' we should have guessed. But tonight, Shadow informed us before a record had been played, he would not be supported by The Quannum Projects collective - DJ Shadow himself, Lateef, Lyrics Born, Chief Xcel and Gift of the Gab aka Blackalicious - rather they would all be playing together, apparently for the first time since they met ten years previously in Oakland, California at the University of Davis college radio station. This meant being subjected to 10 years of Solesides/Quannum raps, being cajoled into 'makin' sum noiz' after every song and forced involvement in repetitive question and answer sessions along the lines of 'What's his name?' or 'Who knows 'The Wreckoning' by Latyrx?'.
Can you imagine his onetime collaborator Thom Yorke in a similar job swap? 'Yo yo yo,' shouts Thom, 'Amsterdam, make some f*cking noise. If you don't make more f*cking noise right now then I'm gonna' go back to my bedroom. Who here hasn't heard "Pablo Honey". If you ain't heard "Pablo Honey" then you can motherf*ckin' get out. Now!'. No me neither.
It wasn't all bad. There were some great but fleeting mixes of superfunky basslines and horns. Latryx's 'Lady Don't Tek No' was entertaining. When Chief Xcel sang, rather than shouted on 'I Changed My Mind' some of the praise lauded on Quannum Projects made sense.
However, when Solesides soulstress Joyo Velarde came on to sing some drippy sub-Whitney Houston dross my patience ran out. If you had suggested a week before that I would walk out of a Shadow gig early then I would have told you that you were a nutter. But walk I did.
You don't go to a Shadow gig expecting not to be surprised. As much as I love 'Endtroducing', I would have been disappointed to hear it faithfully replayed in a live setting (as James Lavelle did with 'Psyence Fiction', despite the fact that his only musical contribution to the recording was coughing on 'Breather'). With DJ Shadow you expect your musical borders to be expanded. You expect to be stretched. Outwards! Onward! Forward! Not ten years backward.