CRAFTING BEATS FROM THIN AIR
One of the last of the great vinyl-sampler-spinners, a pioneer in both textural atmospherics and technical esthetics, DJ Shadow (aka Josh Davis) casts a shiny vinyl shadow. His 1996 debut, Endtroducing, is part of the fabric of modern production and DJ culture, in the same stroke as masterworks by Public Enemy, De La Soul, and Portishead. Davis continues to evolve, yet his sonic stamp is clear—from ethereal moods and pulsing beats to full-on raw send-ups to classic hip-hop missives. Two current releases reveal Davis’ churning mind: I’m Excited, an EP, and The Less You Know The Better, only his fourth album in 15 years and his most forward-looking (if familiar) offering yet.
“My process is much the same as it’s been since I first became a DJ 27 years ago,” Davis says from Mill Valley, California. “You’re playing records and trying to hear a couple things in a row that might work as a mix. At that time, I was inspired by the DJs on the radio who were starting to mix records together. Then once I got into learning the secret art of the breakbeat and the secret knowledge that you really had to work to discover—what these beats were, and what these samples were that I was hearing on hip-hop records—I’d listen looking for something similar to what DJs have always looked for: something unusual, something that sparks the imagination, and something the establishes the basic backing track that could carry a song.”
Until very recently, Davis still worked a trusty Akai MPC as his main locomotion at his home studio. But for The Less You Know… he ran Pro Tools on an Apple PowerBook G4, aided by Native Instruments Maschine.
“It’s like a virtual MPC,” Davis explains. “Native Instruments sensed an opportunity to convert MPC users who were frustrated with the ability to go in and out of the box fluidly. They’re not trying to make it feel like an MPC, but it does have a lot of the same functionality, with all the conveniences of having your sounds live in the box rather than having to import files from the MPC to your computer.” He adds that Maschine introduces a tactile environment back into the beat-making process: “You can play beats with your hands-on buttons. just like the MPC’s pads. But instead of triggering sounds that live inside of its hard drive, it’s triggering the samples within your laptop. You can play beats out to a click the same way you would on an MPC. I did that on some of that on the album. Read more…