Dancer In The Dark - DJ Shadow

On his new album, 'Endtroducing' and sampling
Danger In The Dark - DJ Shadow
‘Guess who’s coming? It’s… Guess who’s coming? It’s… DJ Shadow! Back again. Who is he? Just your favourite DJ saviour’.

And so it began. As introductions go, Josh Davies’ opening salvo for his 1996 debut LP ‘Endtroducing...’ was either prophetic or proper cocky. Couple that with the aren’t-I-moody-and-mysterious stage name of DJ Shadow and you would probably have concluded he was a gobby wanker seeking to capitalise on the haemorrhaging dance scene and its fixation with cartoon Big Beat braggadocio. Well you would have been wrong. And that reflects on you very badly indeed. Very. Badly.

But that was then and this is now. With record shops withering and listening habits increasingly stripped of context as our culture incessantly indulges its shuffle addiction, the notion of an artist still willing to present a cohesive document borne of dedication and sample mining may seem archaic. Yet with new album ‘The Less You Know The Better’, DJ Shadow has once again distilled both the joy of crate digging and music’s tactile thrill into an LP that is far closer to ‘Endtroducing...’ than ‘The Outsider’, without becoming a revisionist attempt to recapture his youth. And if that all sounds a little eulogistic, the album is accompanied by three charming little shits who are more than happy to point out Shadow’s pitfalls and weaknesses without offering up anything better than unsolicited opinion and conjecture… It’s like satire and all that. So on the of cusp it’s release, Clash brazenly ignored the advice of the album’s title to chat with DJ Shadow about its gestation, the lack of innovation in modern music and his refusal to wear a meat dress. Shadow facts!

First things first - where did the title ‘The Less You Know the Better’ come from?

Well initially you try and come up with a title which resonates and makes you shake your head and think ‘yeah!’ On a daily, hourly minute-by-minute basis we’re being told that our lives our incomplete and here’s the product which came out which solves all the problems of the previous product and your soul is saved making you a fuller human being. And I think that is a rather dispiriting message to be hearing and I see a large percentage of the population lockstep just buying into this shit. People mortgaging their homes for a load of tat they don’t need… I just find it a bit amusing.

Do you embrace technology then? Are you fully digital now in terms of the recording process?

There’s a real duality for me. I just spent two weeks in a studio in Nashville called Quad which is where Neil Young recorded ‘Harvest’ and I went to tape. I asked them how many have gone to tape in the past three years and they said ‘you’. I was the only one.

Do you think you lose something if you don’t go to tape? The wonkiness and charm of old records which is lost in the digital pristine.

I’m not a purist for the sake of purism; I just genuinely like hitting tape at the end of the process, but at the other end of the spectrum is that I now do most of my work on a laptop. It suits my lifestyle. But I hate it when people say ‘I did my whole album on a Bluetooth device whilst I was waiting in line at the airport’. To me that is the stupidest thing. Why are we supposed to care about that?! So it took you ten minutes? Great, brilliant that really makes me want to buy it. I need my real private space to do anything properly creative.

Do you ever consider the cultural impact ‘Endtroducing…’? Is it a weight on your shoulders?

Sure and I can look at it very objectively. I now realize it was a zeitgeist moment and one of those records which takes on a life of its own and people feel like they need to own it. What took me a long time to realize was that it doesn’t necessarily mean those people are fans. In a lot of instances they were just told to go out and buy it and they did. I suppose that the most difficult aspect of my entire career was realizing that not all records were going to be like that and also understanding that didn’t mean I’d had failed. Also a lot of people don’t realize that whilst it did sell well, it wasn’t like Moby’s ‘Play’ (laughs). I think if it had been that it would have fucked me up and I don’t know what I would have done.

Do you find the churn of the music industry tiresome on a general level? The constant need to find the big new thing?

Yes and isn’t it ironic that music has never moved slower than it is doing now in terms of its evolution. You look at the difference between 1960 and 1970. Or the difference between 1970 and 1980. You’re talking massive growth. 1980 to 1990 sees us cross from the live band era to the electronic era. But 2001 to 2011?! I mean Destiny’s Child still sounds the same coming from Beyoncé. Jay Z is still on top. Eminem is still on top. House music still sounds like House music. Is that interesting to people? All of that stuff kind of concerns me. When Melody Maker went under in 2001 I never understood why people weren’t more upset. Everyone seemed to just shrug it off ‘well times are changing and it’s all about the internet now!’ And I was sat there thinking ‘this is not good. This is bad. This is really bad.’ All I can assume is you’re either into music and it’s every facet or you’re not.

How do you even start approaching your record collection to find samples? Isn’t it a needle in a haystack?

My greatest fear is running out of records (laughing)

Is that likely?

Not anytime soon because I’ve take steps… (laughs). I have bought a collection recently and it is a mad amount, but you’d be amazed at what you can go through in a week if you really put your mind to it.

Are there any samples you’ve not managed to get clearance on? Is it a painful process?

I do it independently and I’ve been digging that trench for a long time so I’m not exactly sampling James Brown or Parliament. Most often I’m dealing with people who never broke into the industry proper and maybe only put out three hundred copies and are just amazed I even found it. But the bigger the group, the bigger the hassle.

And with that he’s off – chattering about plans for The Golden Gate Bridge to be sponsored by Colgate, bemoaning his inability to use internet banking and recounting a recent Belgium interview wherein the chief line of questioning concerned the cat featured on the cover of ‘Endtroducing…’.

Words by Adam Park
Photo by Neil Bedford


Read the full interview with DJ Shadow in the august issue of Clash Magazine. Find out more HERE

Subscribe to Clash Magazine HERE.

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