LESS IS MORE: DJ Shadow

The OG
of instrumental hip hop – who, incidentally, performs tonight and tomorrow in Oxford and London
– talks about his recent return to form.

 

BY RON HART

 

“I think any good album title should apply not only to the
music contained within but also to the world at large,” says DJ Shadow, of the
name he gave to his new album The Less
You Know The Better
. “I don’t think we as human beings have been given any
kind of instruction manual on how we’re supposed to assimilate all of this
messaging we are bombarded with.”

 

Words to live by, particularly as we balance on the tip of
the iceberg of arguments, assimilations and asinine public remarks accompanying
the 24/7 news coverage of the logic-defying clusterfuck that is the 2012
presidential campaign. Josh Davis’ fourth full-length is the followup to his
2006 effort The Outsider (a bold but
questionable experiment with the fleeting and already forgotten-about mid-‘00s
rap fad “hyphy” that alienated many of his longtime fans). The Less You Know… is indeed a fond recall to the cinematic strain
of Shadow’s groundbreaking 1996 debut Endtroducing.
While collaborations are a key component of the new album, with contributions
from Posdnous of De La Soul, Talib Kweli, Tom Vek, Afrikan Boy and Little
Dragon, it’s the moments that hearken back to the sample manipulating
soundscapes of Shadow’s garage days that has people calling this one a return
to form, such as on ominous track “Give Me Back The Nights”.

 

“The voice comes from a record I found at a thrift store in Sacramento,” reveals
Shadow when asked about the impetus behind the dialogue interlaced atop the Blade Runner-esque cut. “It looked like
just another religious record from the ‘70s, but I was stunned when I dropped
the needle. I love the texture of the recording, it sounds like someone turned
on a tape recorder in a sweat lodge or something. Once I heard it, I knew my
job was to shepherd it to completion with a sympathetic background score. I
like choosing moments in my records where I take a back seat rather than trying
to overproduce. Just sit back and let it happen.”

 

Unfortunately, many of the little neighborhood record stores
and secondhand shops guys like Shadow and his brethren have spelunked to seek
out these hidden treasures are largely falling prey to the desperate economic
end times of the modern age. This is a hard fact for all lovers of these sacred
vestiges of sonic knowledge, but something Shadow takes in stride even though
he remains cautious of how the gauntlet is being passed down.

 

“The stores I grew up going to were these old Mom and Pop
type geezer record stores that catered to older doo-wop and rock collectors,”
concedes Shadow. “They didn’t care about soul and rap, so they didn’t know how
to price it.  That was when it was fun.
All you have left for the most part are vinyl boutiques, where every record is
researched to the hilt online and priced within an inch of its life. I don’t
really care for that shopping experience as much. If I want to pay Internet
prices, I’ll go on the Internet; why would I go through the trouble of driving
there and dealing with Mr. Unpleasant? I still dig, I still support the vinyl
format, but I do it quietly, on my own terms, without a lot of fanfare. The
game has changed, but my passion for it remains.”

 

As for his own future, with the 20th anniversary
of his old label, the groundbreaking abstract groove imprint Mo Wax, looming on
the horizon, the notion of reuniting with his old partner James Lavelle and
reforming the classic lineup of their celebrated illbient supergroup UNKLE  is a strong possibility for the milestone
celebration.

 

“I’ve been seeing a lot more of James in the last year,” he
reveals. “I think the good times have finally defeated the bad times in his
mind. He went through a rough time when he lost all his artists, and it ended
up alienating him from us. We talked briefly about the possibility of a
reunion, and I do think it will happen at some point.”

 

 

A
version of this story also appears in the latest print edition (#11) of BLURT.

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