Live Transmission: DJ Shadow, O2, Bristol

Credit: Terje Saether

Endtroducing legend and samplesmith DJ Shadow played Bristol’s O2 venue this weekend as part of his Mountain Has Fallen tour. The Waveform Transmitter’s Simon Huxtable was there to donate some organs…

There are gigs where the artist appears to be just going through the motions; the crowd are underwhelmed but appreciative, but you go home feeling slightly acrimonious about the whole thing. Then there are gigs, like the one I experienced in Bristol, which are an absolute joy from beginning to end. DJ Shadow was on the last leg of his world tour – The Mountain Has Fallen.

21 years after the release of his ground breaking, and to this writer genre-shaping debut, Endtroducing, Josh Davis (DJ Shadow) has, in that time, built a formidable career as an engineer, producer and ambassador for Hip Hop, working with everyone from Massive Attack, Blackalicious, and DJ Krush to more recently, collaborations with Cut Chemist and most famously, James Lavelle as UNKLE.

Given this massive and varied back catalogue, his live show is something of a smorgasbord of beats, melodies and memories as he manipulates, re-edits and re-imagines his music to appeal to a contemporary, and more importantly, mixed crowd.

Everyone was buzzing for this and as we arrived as the venue – O2 Bristol – we were greeted with a warm wall of positive energy. The security were smiles and laughter, the ticket people buoyant, the punters hyped and happy. All was good, all was geared towards a great night out with friends. We’d all been waiting a long time for Shadow to return to the city and he was as pumped as us.

But before those glorious two hours of ground-breaking beats from the master of sampling, we had to endure the warm up guy. Now, I don’t want to be negative. I would want someone to speak ill of me when all I was doing was my job, but you do go to these gigs with a certain expectation in terms of music, feel etc and, frankly, the warm up guy can make or break the whole night.

Imagine our surprise when he came on and played about an hour of Dubstep. And not the good dubstep, the dubstep we (as a city) inherited from South London and was championed more than many other places as an mutation of UKG to a darker moodier place.

No, this was Skrillex-lit dubstep. Nails hard but, fortunately, without that god awful screeching. Linear and unfeeling, it pounds at you like the school bully in the lunch queue rather than coax you onto the dance floor, and by the end pretty much everybody was glad he stopped.

To be fair to the DJ, I was kinda into it for about 20 minutes, I’m a big fan of dubstep and when the scene was hijacked by homogenisation, it became that awful jump-up nonsense that got into the UK charts it killed the purist scene dead. Obviously, the whole genre went the way of the dodo pretty soon after, a bit like the Breaks scene did about a decade before.

Anyway, enough negativity. Shadow came on around 8pm and the whole vibe of the room changed from the edginess the warm up guy had created with his “own beats and some tracks by my friends” back to the warmth and happiness we had walked into.

Behind the mass of blinking lights and magical music boxes, DJ Shadow took to the mic for the first of a few short monologues. He talked a bit about the tour, his feelings on how it’s gone and his appreciation of us coming out to see him. 20 years at the top of his profession and he is still a humble, honest artist. We made our approval known. Loudly. Shadow smiled.

And so he began to play. We got straight into classic DJ Shadow with a flurry of mid-90s beats much of the crowd didn’t know before what sounded like a tough and groovy version of ‘Guns Blazing (Drums of Death Part 1)’ picked up the intensity.

Along with the music, three large screens projected incredible imagery enhancing the experience ten-fold. Undulating rhythms powered us along and the party began in earnest. After about what felt like no time at all, a pause before the unmistakable vocal cords of Thom Yorke rang out. Rabbit in Your Headlights quickly mutated into about 3 other tracks, I kinda lost count. My head was all over the place by now, partly from the lovely cider I was drinking and partly through Shadow‘s slickly run show.

We were hypnotised. DJ Shadow took to the mic again “Bristol, I gotta say, you are a fucking incredible crowd!” Roars, cheers, the pied piper could lead us anywhere now. And he did, culminating with his Trump-bashing new single with Run the Jewels called Nobody Speak.

After a brief recess, his ‘curtain call’ lasted about 25 minutes in which he finally played Building Steam with a Grain of Salt, the only track we all hoped he would play. It was special too, reimagined with live drums from Shadow, looped and scratched over and book marked by those iconic filmic vocal samples. It was spectacular to see a DJ working so hard to please the crowd.

His final track was a new one – Corridors – taken from his latest EP with Nas, Danny Brown and composer Steven Price. Dense and compelling, it didn’t really have the punch that his very early work did, but was pleasing to the ears. I’m sure after a few more listens I’ll be in love with it as much as the whole of Endtroducing. His last show is tonight (Saturday) in London and one can only imagine the extra effort he’ll put in to go out with a bang. Safe trip home Josh, we’ll see you very soon. Bristol misses you already.

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