DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist - One More Time
Monday, 31 March 2008
When DJ Shadow, aka Josh Davis, toured Australia in 2007, fans were warned that it could be his last visit in “several years”. But now the enigmatic Californian has teamed with old ally Cut Chemist (Lucas MacFadden) for The Hard Sell turntable spectacular. And the superstar duo are Australia-bound.
Prior to 2007’s trek the retiring Shadow, who’d admittedly plugged The Outsider solidly, rebuffed all interview requests. Now he’s happy to talk in tandem with Cut Chemist. The catch- They’ll only discuss The Hard Sell. Presumably there’s no chance, then, to quiz MacFadden on how much he hated supporting Shakira...
If you imagine that The Hard Sell is an ironic handle, you’re right.
“As always, we really wanna challenge our listenership in terms of what they expect us to be doing,” Shadow elucidates. That, he adds, can be a tough pitch.
Shadow has a long association with Cut Chemist. They collaborated on 1999’s ultra-cred Brainfreeze mixtape, followed by Product Placement. The friends reunited last June to stage their Brainfreeze concept in the Hollywood Bowl, the first turntablists to headline.
Aussies perhaps don’t appreciate what a huge deal it is to play the Hollywood Bowl. For Los Angeles’ Cut Chemist, maturing in its shadow, that gig was the pinnacle of his career. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is it!’ I mean, where do you go from there,” he asks. “Do you quit-”
As it happened, the DJs stepped in for MacFadden’s former group, Jurassic 5, who’d finally split.
It was the Hollywood Bowl experience that convinced Davis to hit the road again.
“This show is so completely different, you know-” he enthuses. “The Hollywood Bowl got a hold of Cut Chemist and said, ‘Would you and Shadow wanna do Brainfreeze-’ The Hollywood Bowl is a big kind of legendary venue in LA, it holds 17,000 people, and it was a really prestigious offer.
“But we didn’t wanna do a nine-year-old set. We wanted to put together something completely different and something that would really challenge all our abilities as DJs. So that’s what we did – and that’s what this set is. We felt so strongly about the set, and about how fun it is to do, that we just were like, ‘Hey, Australia- Sure – it sounds good.’”
Since then they’ve toured, traded The Hard Sell mixtapes, and issued a live DVD, The Hard Sell at the Hollywood Bowl. The Hard Sell will appeal to those into Brainfreeze, but the DJs have modified the formula.
They still play all 45s but their selections are infinitely more eclectic. Initially the turntablists even “banned” funk records, lest they repeat themselves. In Australia Shadow has struggled to live up to the standard of his inaugural tour. In fact, the Bay Area veteran has expressed frustration that, while he’s evolved since 1996’s Endtroducing, some listeners haven’t. The seminal trip hop LP has become his albatross – and he’s striven to shake it off. However, Davis is less an iconoclast than simply restless. He needs to experiment.
The prospect of gigging with Cut Chemist has re-energised Shadow, who might prefer cocooning with his wife and twin daughters. He isn’t Davis’ sole high-profile collaborator. Shadow was part of James Lavelle’s UNKLE, recording the surprisingly divisive Psyence Fiction.
Meanwhile, MacFadden was a member of Jurassic 5 in addition to the Latin hip hop ensemble Ozomatli. In 2006 he stretched his wings with a solo album, The Audience’s Listening.
The DJs have much in common. “We’re both really passionate about having something to say as DJs,” Davis says. “We like when people push boundaries. We both like when people do things that everybody says you can’t do or shouldn’t do.
“We have a lot of emotional – and life – investment in music and in music appreciation. We both have a lot of interest in exposing people to music we think they should know about. And we both are driven as DJs and as producers to try to do something different.”
Shadow credits Cut Chemist with introducing him to the guitar pedal for The Hard Sell, although it’s been tricky to operate. “When Lucas brought the guitar pedal back into things, I was excited about it,” he says, “but also a little bit nervous – because now we were not only using our arms, but we were using our feet as well.”
Cut Chemist maintains that The Hard Sell’s musical diversity, entailing anything from heavy metal to country to world beat, is down to Shadow. Chemist encourages spontaneity in an otherwise rehearsed show. “I’m really big into improv,” he says.
MacFadden proposed, too, that The Hard Sell incorporate “some turntable acrobatics.”
Are the pair competitive-
“I think a little bit, yeah,” Shadow responds slowly. “I think, yeah, definitely – but no more so than any of our peers.
“I consider myself somewhat in competition as a brotherhood, somewhat in competition with everybody who does what I do, because that’s what hip hop is about. That’s what we all grew up on.
“Hip hop is about trying to one-up the guy next to you and bring something to the table that’s gonna make everybody go, ‘Oh, wow, that’s never been done before!’ It’s a friendly competition, but it exists among all DJs.”
Nearly a year on, The Hard Sell is tight. MacFadden jokes that, having mastered eight turntables, they’ll build up to 100. He sees their energetic routine as comparable to a workout. “We’re beat after the show!” He just wants to go to bed.
Would they contemplate a studio album- “We actually had an idea of remixing each other’s last records,” Shadow reveals. “We were gonna call it The Audience is Outside, which was a mash-up of our album titles, I believe. We really wanted to do that, but [The Hard Sell] ended up taking on a life of its own.”
Cut Chemist is doubtful, stopping short of repudiating it. “I don’t know. It’s a totally different beast and uses totally different muscles mentally,” he says. “Eventually it could happen. But right now we have our hands full with The Hard Sell.”
At any rate, MacFadden feels that The Hard Sell is akin to an album. “We certainly put together a campaign that would suggest that it’s an album – a world tour, CD, DVD, toys, shirts... Hell, that’s more stuff than I’d put out for my album!”
Shadow and Chemist may be perceived as the archetypal serious DJs, but at least one of them has ventured out. MacFadden, who, coincidentally, attended the same high school as Leonardo DiCaprio, landed a cameo in the popular movie Juno. He knew the director, Jason Reitman.
“He thought it’d be a cool insider-type joke to cast me as a chemistry teacher,” MacFadden laughs. “He’s got his ear to the street – he’s a big hip hop fan – and [he] knows a lot of stuff. He’s a cool guy.”
WHO: DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist Present The Hard Sell
WHAT: The Hard Sell (Encore) through Shock / Play Luna Park Big Top
WHEN: Out now / Saturday 19 April