Photo by Derick Daily
In the 2002 documentary Scratch, we see DJ Shadow waxing poetically on the inherent beauty of digging through used records. “Just being in here is a humbling experience for me, because you’re looking through all these records and it’s sort of like a big pile of broken dreams,” he says, surrounded by a mind-crushing cache of dusty LPs. “Whether you want to admit it or not, 10 years down the line you’ll be in here. So keep that in mind when you start thinking like, ‘I’m invincible and I’m the world’s best,’ or whatever. Because that’s what all these cats thought.”
Shadow made a career and an art out of this philosophy. His 1996 album Entroducing….. is still legendary, somewhat ironic in a genre that still values the new even as it builds itself on an old foundation. It wasn’t just the sheer number of samples that made the record stand out, or the way he did it in a pre-internet age. It’s Shadow’s flair for drama, narrative, and emotion while spinning together completely unrelated sounds. He made sense out of the chaos.
Even if he’s still followed by this shadow (ha), Shadow seems freed by his elder statesman status. On his new album, The Mountain Will Fall, he takes inspiration both from his recent DJ residency at L.A.’s Low End Theory and from his past, crafting hard-hitting electronic music that’s nonetheless dog-eared and scuffed like old records. With its scratching and breakbeats, “The Sideshow” is a deliberate return to Entroducing….. but given a spark thanks to Ernie Fresh’s featuring role. At heart, Shadow keeps digging, showing us how to hold the old and new in the same hand.
“The Sideshow” appears on The Mountain Will Fall, out now via Mass Appeal.