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Review: DJ Shadow @ Central Warehouse

DJ Shadow's performance was an ecclectic retrospective on the early days of trip-hop, housing prices and 90's nostalgia.  

By Benji ChapmanCo-Deputy Music Editor

DJ Shadow's latest album Action Adventure was released in October 2023. The record's supporting world tour began in January of 2024 and has lead the California based producer around North America, before crossing over to Europe and now coming to a close in the UK. On the third to last show of the tour, Shadow has powered through a non-stop set of dates for just under three months now.

Stepping into Central Warehouse for the first time I was met with surprise as the cavernous venue was lit up with lasers, spotlights and projections. The venue- a rather obvious fact I missed from its name- was giant. Arriving just in time for the set's start, I moved into the crowd that was amassed around the stage to catch a glimpse of the DJ behind the madness.

Perched behind his decks, Shadow could be seen spinning tracks that were as obscure and unpredictable in variety as his legacy suggests. The record of his breakout success, Endtroducing....., set a precedent from the start that Shadow would be leading the pack in terms of taking risky choices with his music: sampling Metallica, Mort Garson, Björk and the Twin Peaks soundtrack among others.

The gambles that Shadow would take in 1996 with his kooky sampling choices paid off. Not only did Endtroducing..... kickstart a career for the young producer, but its fearlessly varied and unconventional use of samples went on to inspire artists across the globe during the heyday of trip-hop, a Bristol favourite. Supposedly DJ Shadow was one of the first American artists to be described under the moniker, as a piece from Mixmag in 1994 shows.

Certainly, Shadow's early work is the cornerstone of classic trip-hop. It features the instantly recognisable unquantized, sluggish drum loops and spooky soundscapes of the genre; manufactured using old school 12-bit samplers straight from vinyl with crackles and all. The shadow (no pun intended) that Endtroducing..... has cast is long, exemplified in the many posters, hoodies and shirts all adorned with the iconic album art that loomed ominously over the merch table like spectres. 

Speaking to a middle aged gentleman outside of the venue, we shared our love for the early stuff as he lamented how his girlfriend had been trying to convince him to try the new record. I now had to convince both him and my unsupportive friend who had joined me that Action Adventure was still, to my ears, an unexpected yet enjoyable new experience.

But my new friend was reluctant to agree, and my supposedly loyal companion who had been generously promised guestlist privileges concurred. If the trappier production of Shadow's new work isn't to your ears then I understand, but it can't be expected that an artist is going to be making the same beats as they were 30 years prior. I soon shifted the topic of conversation to the prices of beer and houses, a topic that we could finally find a somewhat depressing consensus on.

DJ Shadow @ Central Warehouse | Benji Chapman

There was though a definite, positive nostalgia for the 90's however. Shout-outs to De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest featured as Shadow played remixes of earlier tracks, dipping briefly into the jungle as breaks were heard being rapidly spat out the Warehouse's soundsystem, met with DnB appropriate gun fingers from the crowd.

It shouldn't be that the earlier works of an artist dominate their career, especially not when Shadow has most recently found success in a different sound from the 90's, shown in his many accomplishments such as a collaboration with Run the Jewels in 2016. It was satisfying to hear older tracks alongside his more recent works, a night that showcased the career of a producer who indirectly helped write the rules of a whole subgenre.

Flipping positions as Shadow took his drumsticks to beat pads put any Fred again.. performance to shame. Sometimes the oldies just do it better. His skills on the kit cast my mind back to the opening line of Endtroducing....., a sample from a 1974 George Marsh interview, "still, I'm a student- of the drums- and I'm also a teacher of the drums too."  

DJ Shadow @ Central Warehouse | Benji Chapman

Shadow is both the teacher and student in the sense that he's stayed humble and refused to be confined by the dogmas of genre whilst simultaneously leading the way in proving a breakout success doesn't have to overcast a career down the line. This was unquestionably exemplified in each aspect of his performance: a sold out venue, cheering crowd and unwavering thanks for his fan's support of what he does- even at the end of a lengthy tour.

Despite a discovered disagreement over which period of Shadow's work was stronger, there was a shared, unspoken understanding in the warehouse that he is a case study in both artistic boldness and stamina. His two styles seemed to meet somewhere in the middle during the set, almost blurring into one as the lights dimmed and we called it a night.

Featured Image: Koury Angelo

Are you a bigger fan of DJ Shadow's older or newer work?