DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist talk Renegades of Rhythm, their vinyl tour and hip-hop history

DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist answer some questions about their Renegades of Rhythm 2015 vinyl-only UK tour, which honours Afrika Bambaataa’s influence on hip-hop’s beginnings. 

How did the idea of this particular show come about?

DJ Shadow: When Bambaataa was in the process of donating his collection to Cornell University, someone decided that it would be a good idea to let a couple of DJs go through the collection and take some of the records on tour “one last time” before everything ended up in the Cornell vault. We were contacted in November of 2013, and we flew to New York to look at the collection and make sure we had Bam’s blessing. Then began the painstaking process of going through the entire collection to make our selections. We wanted to tell a story through his records, and honour not only Bambaataa himself, but the roots of the culture he helped create.

Where did you start to whittle down a record collection of 40,000?

DJ Shadow: It was a combination of pulling things we knew, pulling things we were curious about, and pulling things that were obviously played a lot by Bam. We didn’t want to spin a bunch of stuff that may have been interesting to us, or worth a lot of money on eBay, but that he never played.  The records he spun were usually crate-worn and marked up, and we felt it appropriate (by and large) to limit ourselves to the records that truly mattered, as opposed to rare, expensive or obscure things…although, many of his prized jams were all of the above.

What can we expect from the show?

Cut Chemist: A 90-minute performance that is delivered not unlike our previous collaborative performances. We use six turntables, two mixers, drum machines, a lot of records that make up unique blends to create a narrative about how hip-hop evolved through the influence of DJs like Afrika Bambaataa, Flash, Grand Wizard Theodore and Kool Herc. We also have a visual component that compliments the music with rarely seen Joe Conzo photos.

renegades of rhythm

How has the tour been going in America?

DJ Shadow: Very well, I think. We’ve done about 45 shows within Canada and the US so far, which is a lot for us. We were able to hit not only the major cities, but a few places we’ve never played. We were able to do three shows within NYC and two in the Bay Area, which again, is fantastic.

How do you think an English audience will react to this show compared to an American audience? Do you find them different to play to?

Cut Chemist: I think that the English crowds will eat this up. Hip-hop has a long history there. They are proud of their contribution to the culture as well as have a very scholarly appreciation for the history of that culture. This performance celebrates hip-hop from the beginning all the way up until the late ’80s/early ’90s when it became sensationalised by television.

How big has Afrika Bambaataa’s influence been on both of you?

DJ Shadow: Immeasurable.  It’s no exaggeration to say that without Afrika Bambaataa, we would have never become DJs. Kool Herc started it all, and Grandmaster Flash really instituted skills into the equation…but Bambaataa was known as ‘The Master of Records’ even in the ’70s, and introduced so much of the musical vocabulary that established the basis for hip-hop music.

Has/will Afrika Bambaataa be seeing the show live?

Cut Chemist: Yes Bambaataa attended both New York shows at the beginning of the tour. It was amazing to have him there watching us play his records. It was a career highlight for me personally.

Check out one of DJ Shadow’s latest remixes, Ghost Town, below:
DJ Shadow - Ghost Town

What has Afrika Bambaataa said about the show?

DJ Shadow: We figure, if he didn’t like it, he wouldn’t have come to [the show] twice! Bam is very humble and soft-spoken, and it was a pleasure to honour him in person.  He was like royalty, watching from the balcony, with the audience able to see him and appreciate him.  A wonderful moment in our careers.

What are your thoughts on the use of digital and CDs over vinyl in a live show? Does everything have its place?

Cut Chemist: A performance is a performance. It’s either engaging or boring. I don’t put too much emphasis on the tools unless the performance itself is making a point about it. This performance that we are doing does make that point as it’s about the artefacts first and foremost. The timeline is also one that deals solely with the era when vinyl was the mainstream media.

We have seen the biggest vinyl sales in years in the UK, would you say vinyl/records have been making any kind of resurgence?

Cut Chemist: Sales don’t lie. Yes. People are buying vinyl. I know because all the vinyl plants in the US are backed up. It’s nearly impossible for a reasonable turnaround for any of my projects it seems. Hopefully more manufacturers will open up again and it will be like the ’80s all over again.

Can you name us one track from the show that is bound to get a big reaction?

Cut Chemist: The Message by Grand Master Flash and The Furious Five always gets a big reaction no matter where we play it.

Don’t miss DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist live, get tickets to see Renegades of Rhythm in February.