Turntable auteur DJ Shadow has performed conceptual sets with Jurassic 5’s Cut Chemist before; their legendary Product Placement mixtape lifted liberally from jingles and funky commercials. Tonight’s themed set, culled from records belonging to pioneering 70s DJ Afrika Bambaataa, whose Bronx block parties invented hip-hop, is altogether more momentous – a tour of vinyl that, to aficionados of the genre, is as holy and profound as Moses’s stone tablets.
As sleeves from Bambaataa’s record library are projected behind the duo’s six turntables, the ageing B-boys and bedroom DJs in the room murmur: “got … got … need …” But onstage there’s little fetishisation of the objects themselves, as the duo abandon any kid-gloves reverence and cut and hack through this treasure chest of vinyl with the fluid skill and lunatic joy of seasoned beat-miners.
Classic breakbeats – James Brown’s Papa Don’t Take No Mess, Esther Williams’s Last Night Changed It All – are broken down, juggled and built back up, segueing into bustling salsa throwdowns and threatening breakdance epidemics. Disco deep cuts slide into Bambaataa’s own productions; the only existing copy of the original acetate for his Looking for the Perfect Beat gets an airing. The duo even conjure the beat to Groove Is in the Heart from its constituent samples, chopping and scratching with the flair of virtuosos, but never losing the dancefloor. When they drop Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, the fact that this is probably the very copy Bambaataa sampled on his epochal hit Planet Rock delivers an extra charge.
Afrika Bambaataa’s record collection would prove a most worthy cornerstone exhibit in a museum of hip-hop. But maybe it’s better the albums live on like this, pressed into service again to get the party started. Bambaataa understood – as the hip-hop generation understood and Shadow and Chemist understand – that, preserved on wax and spun with skill, funk never ages nor loses its power. “These records don’t belong to us,” Shadow says, at one point. But tonight they do.
• At Motion, Bristol, on 5 February.