DJ Shadow review – a hyper-evolved beat frenzy

ABC, Glasgow
Trip-hop pioneer embarks on a bumpy, fun-filled safari that manages to sound both sci-fi and vintage

It’s been two decades since the release of Endtroducing …, DJ Shadow’s revered debut album. That trip-hop totem – painstakingly pieced together from atmospheric samples unearthed by Josh Davis’s patient crate-digging – still holds up, a seductive instrumental head trip of orchestral ennui and loamy beats. But, while Davis has moved on, embracing composition and collaboration, some of his fans have not. “If you only know the old stuff, that’s fine,” says the 43-year-old, in a surprisingly upfront introduction to this sold-out gig. “I’m just happy to be here.”

In front of projections of deep-space voyaging and lush rainforest exploration, Davis embarks on an enjoyably bumpy safari into his current musical vision, a sort of hyper-evolved hip-hop that manages to sound both sci-fi and vintage. For the DJ, there is a distinct lack of physical downtime. Hunched over a compact decks setup, Davis is constantly in motion, making dozens of infinitesimal adjustments to various inputs, scratching up an old-school storm with enviable fluidity and periodically upping sticks to bash out samples on a drum pad. It’s an odd sight to see the godfather of downtempo jazz-noir looking as if he’s having loads of fun.

Tracks from his recent fifth album The Mountain Will Fall are folded into the churning mix. Bergschrund, his phasing bleep collaboration with Nils Frahm, sounds rather underwhelming on record but gains a robotic vigour live. An extended version of Pitter Patter – an ambitious expansion rather than deconstruction of a 1960s track by the Ultra Mates – is an ice-cold blast of slinky hauteur. Nobody Speak, Davis’s team-up with Run the Jewels, is a cheerfully twangy bit of trash talk, perhaps the most profane song to ever include a shoutout to Peppermint Patty.

Midway through, Davis drops Midnight in a Perfect World, one of Endtroducing’s goosebump touchstones, but in the form of a so-far-unreleased remix by Hudson Mohawke that progressively mutates into a nervy sonic blitz. The classic Building Steam With a Grain of Salt also gets a revamp, its chiming piano figure and breathy chorale bracingly graffitied with a wigged-out sine wave solo.

DJs who lift and repurpose other people’s records can seem like artful dodgers or cheeky rogues, but Davis sounds completely earnest when, towards the end of this gig, he breaks off from beat-matching to address the crowd. He talks about his early love of NME and Melody Maker, and how John Peel’s championing of new music was inspirational. “Music is a healing force,” he says, and his sincerity seems to chime with the supportive crowd.

He ends with Organ Donor, a song that already took pleasure from reconfiguring a straightforward organ passage into a hopscotching freakout, and Davis pushes the 2016 version even further, turning it inside out and sending the familiar descending figure soaring upwards into a jazzy frenzy, a flamboyant exclamation mark to cap things off. Even for those who do know only the old stuff, it is highly entertaining to see DJ Shadow make it new again.

• At Motion, Bristol, 21 July (box office: 0117 972 3111), and Secret Garden Party, Huntingdon, 22 July (box office: 0844 870 0000). Then touring.


Graeme Virtue

The GuardianTramp

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