A Contemporary Breath of Old Soul

*written by A’Damaged Pro for Electronica Life
I had never seen DJ Shadow or Cut Chemist perform live before, so when I heard that they were going to be co-headlining an all-vinyl tour, dedicated to the works of hip-hop legend, Afrika Bambaataa, I jumped at the chance to witness history in the making. First of all, it’s a tribute to Bambaataa. This guy was one of the biggest influences the hip-hop  world has ever known. Second, it’s an all-vinyl tour. I respect the digital world that we live in and I appreciate the convenience just like the next person, but the craftsmanship and dedication it takes to bring an all-vinyl selection across the country has to be recognized. This wasn’t a random selection of records either. This was a hand-picked selection from Bambaataa’s private collection that had been donated to the Cornell Hip Hop Archive. Third, you’ve got the combined mix-master skills of both Shadow and Cut, who were obviously extremely emotionally invested in this project to stand proudly behind it. As an added bonus, it was going to be at one of my favorite intimate venues in New Orleans, the House of Blues.

I’m not quite sure what to expect. The setup for the stage is simple and understated. There are two tables with three turntables on each and the backdrop is one large projection screen. Crowd-wise, you might think you were in the wrong place just by looking around. I honestly expected a more ethnically diverse crowd for a tribute to a hip-hop shaman, who ushered in the Zulu Nation. It was quite surprising that the majority of the audience were flannel-clad hipster-esque individuals. My initial survey of the environment is swept away as the pervasive silence, only broken by scattered, unintelligible chatter, erupts into a sea of cheers as Shadow and Cut take the stage. As these gentlemen speak you can tell how much they care about what they’re about to share. Shadow informs the audience how humbling the entire curative experience has been for the both of them. I’m still not quite sure what to expect when the sounds of tribal drums fill the venue.

Our journey began with an exploration of the percussive roots in Africa. An animated short, reminiscent of a National Geographic documentary, visually whisks the crowd away while the music continues to take over. I don’t see dancing but the vibe has definitely permeated the psyche of everyone around me. Some have their eyes closed and are jamming to themselves, with only a slight visible bobbing of their heads, while others have adopted a melodic sway as the vibrations increase. I feel like I’m caught between the world of slam poetry and “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” As the illustrious career of Bambaataa spanned several decades, shaping music culture and theory along the way, so must our musical voyage. Cut and Shadow exhibit a meticulously crafted synergy as we are immersed in the innate reflective progression of hip hop culture. The audience’s feet are starting to get lighter as we jam through the funk-driven 70s. A raucous uproar occurs every time a marquee song, from year’s past, hits us right in the “groove center” of our brains. We’re getting hit with James Brown, Rick James, and even “little Michael.” The 1980s were ground central for the breaking movement and this  duo has taken the tempo in this venue from a full stride to a wide open gallop. A circle even opens up for those who are ready to break out of their shells and bust a move.

The camaraderie of these two talents is front and center. I can only equate the way that they manipulated the records back-and-forth between one another was like a game of “sonic scratch tennis.” One guy picks the beat up, tosses in some razzle dazzle and sends it screaming right on over. Without missing a note, the transitions seem almost effortless. When you see a turntablist smile while they’re respectively wrecking shop, you can’t help but share in their communal joy. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I stepped in the doors but I would be beside myself if I had missed what I just witnessed. In a city where hip-hop never takes a day off, New Orleans just received a revitalized dose of classic old-school kickassery. Blessings came in many forms but all were received well. Thank you kindly, Renegades of Rhythm!!!

Connect with DJ Shadow: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Soundcloud

Connect with Cut Chemist: Website | Facebook | Twitter | iTunes