DJ Shadow – Endtroducing

EndtroducingI first heard about DJ Shadow, about half way through 1998. I was going on holiday and I got my second ever issue of Q, the music magazine. The main review was of the debut album from U.N.K.L.E. entitled “Psyence Fiction”. The group was formed of Mo Wax owner James Lavelle and DJ Shadow, but the thing that got my attention was the fact Thom Yorke (and others including Mike D and Richard Ashcroft) were lending vocals to the album. I was still loving Radiohead’s “Ok Computer” which was released the year before. I read the review (which was pretty glowing at the time but recent opinion holds the album in lesser opinion), but I didn’t buy it for a couple months afterwards. I still like the album, despite some weak tracks, and it did enough for me to want to seek out other DJ Shadow stuff.

First thing I obviously got was his first album Endtroducing, which had been come out two years later. I hadn’t been buying the any kind of music magazines so I didn’t know anything of the critical reaction to the album, which people were calling a classic.

Endtroducing starts off pretty innocuously with “Best Foot Forward”, your typical hip-hop scratch intro. But then the album develops into something much more. “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” has a haunting piano riff that I felt I recognised immediately. Although it’s quite a long track, the layers build up slowly with a spooky female vocals, wah-wah guitars and echoing drums. “The Number Song” ups the pace considerably, and I love the fizzing bass line and the drum solo at the end.

“Changeling” is another change of pace, with a staccato drum beat that eventually fades into brilliant guitar solo. It’s at the end of this track that the first of a number of slightly scary skits, with a distorted voice feature in them. “What Does Your Soul Look Like part 4” has a deep and dub-like bassline, with all manner of overdubs. There’s a pretty superfluous untitled track, before going into the slightly sinister “Stem/Long Stem”. Split into four segments, it builds up urgency before breaking into a frantic breakbeat. It stops and then it’s back to the start with mournful strings added. Again, the same frantic breakbeat before stopping again. Then the melody is played on an organ, with a long vocal sample, that eases the pace. Then the same melody is played again, but it’s out of focus as if it’s played underwater. It’s structurally so far beyond anything I’d heard up until that point; separating the song into four similar but different sections.

DJ Shadow

“Mutual Stump” uses a sample I recognised from Bjork’s “Possibly Maybe”, it’s a pretty pacey track too, with plenty of vocals samples. “Why Hip-hop Sucks ‘96” is another superfluous skit track. “Midnight in a Perfect World” is a great track with a smart use of a David Axelrod sample. “Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain” has become a real favourite of mine. Although it starts of pretty standard with just a pure beat behind it, eventually the layers start to pile up, but eventually it all fades into a gorgeous and simple melody. “What Does Your Soul Look Like part 1: Blue Sky Revisit” is just a great way to end the album. The last of the scary skits come on. I found out where it’s from; Prince of Darkness directed by John Carpenter; it’s a bit of a B-movie but actually quite good.

Endtroduing Book

I’ve listened to Endtroducing loads of times, and I got the Deluxe edition that came out too, that has alternate versions and remixes. It kinda shows where the ideas came from. Endtroducing has an amazing, dreamlike quality. I used to listen to a lot of music late at night whilst trying to get to sleep. Although Shadow says he makes hip-hop but this music defies any kind of catergory.

If I could recommend a book, then Eliot Wilder’s book on Endtroducing is great. The entire book really consists of interviews with DJ Shadow, but they’re very revealing, covering things like Shadow’s early musical loves and how he got into sampling and hip-hop. The 33 1/3 series is pretty variable, but I think this is the best out of all the series, which includes albums like “Ok Computer” and “Murmur” which I’ll no doubt talk about in the future.

DJ Shadow talks about digging (from the film Scratch):



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