DJ Shadow at The Depot 

Shadow Shift: Hip-hop genius DJ Shadow is done collaborating, for now.

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A crate-digging, sonic-aficionado perfectionist, it’s no wonder that DJ Shadow needs some alone time now and again. Heralded as spearheading the experimental instrumental hip-hop movement that emerged in the ’90s, Shadow, born Josh Davis, has been splicing and dicing beats and breaks for nearly 20 years.

“The only thing I care about is music,” says Davis by phone. And that shows in his schedule, because he certainly hasn’t slowed down this past year. He’s bounced around the globe for his From the Shadowsphere tour and has recorded and produced part of his forthcoming solo album, breaking from previous collaborative efforts.

His musical gems include four epic full-length albums, making Davis highly sought after for collaborations throughout his career, to both bitter and sweet ends. “I think the collaborative process has always fascinated me, because I’ve felt like it’s only been partially successful,” Davis says. He began cutting tracks with San Francisco Bay Area rapper Paris, then with Soleside artists Gift of Gab (Blackalicious) and Lyrics Born in the early ’90s. His next major collaboration was helping produce UNKLE’s Psyence Fiction in 1998. The 2006 release The Outsider, which incorporated the Bay Area’s hyphy scene, was his last multi-participatory mash-up.

“I like to do it every other album. It keeps me from getting into an ‘I know everything’ mentality,” Davis says. But, he says that inevitably, in some ways, he ends up compromising and is rarely satisfied. “And, sometimes, it gets into the psychological aspect, like: Is there any such thing as too much weed before a take?” Without naming names, Davis says he worked with some volatile contributors on the UNKLE album that, while rewarding, were also disappointing and disconcerting.

“In a couple of cases [throughout my career], I wish I could have gotten someone’s best effort. Maybe I caught them on a bad day or maybe I should have pushed the issue,” Davis says. “I haven’t totally figured it out.” He says he’s always smoothed out any ill feelings, but enough is enough, for now.

His debut 1996 release, Entroducing, received critical acclaim, as did his 2002 release, Private Press, perhaps to lesser nodes. With a “return to form,” his next release, set for spring 2011, will recapture the aural attitude that catapulted him to worldwide stardom but in an evolved, mature way. “I’ve allowed myself four or five years between each album, and that’s me just listening to new music,” Davis says. “The older I get, the more I crave new lessons, horizons and angles and to apply them somehow.”

When asked about his forthcoming album, he’s intentionally ambiguous to let listeners make up their own minds. Davis did, however, describe it as a rural/urban mix. His heretofore lack of rural is now inspired by drives and strolls outside of his current home and recording studio, a one-bedroom cottage in California wine country.

The album’s first track, “Def Surrounds Us” has genre strains of dubstep, crunk and drum ’n’ bass, while the second track, “I’ve Been Trying,” bleeds out hints of psychedelia, rock and industrial techno. No song sounds the same. Those tracks and a few others were recorded earlier this year, with more scheduled for recording this winter. Davis broke the recording session into two parts to “get out and live a little bit,” to tour, then come back with a fresh head.

This European and North American tour ends in Salt Lake City. To entertain European audiences who previously knew him and have high expectations, Davis and company built the Shadowsphere—a canvased bubble serving simultaneously as his DJ cockpit and a second source for visuals, along with the typical backdrop. “I wanted to be on par with anything that someone else was bringing to the table,” Davis says.

Davis isn’t the typical European fist-pumping weekend DJ, because his musical goal has always been to “entertain without sacrificing [his] values as an artist and as a human.” 

DJ SHADOW
w/ Pigeon John
The Depot
400 W. South Temple
Tuesday Nov. 23, 8 p.m.
$30

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