By: Greg Gargiulo
DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist :: 07.17.08 :: McCarren Park Pool :: New York, NY
DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist have both come to independently earn status amongst the higher ranks of turntablists. Shadow through his boundless utilization of samples, foreign and domestic, and Chemist by his scratch mastery for Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli, as well as his impressive recent solo work. They've ascended to their current positions rightfully and have done so through relentless dedication to the art of DJing.
Though they've each managed to forge careers primarily on separate paths, the two are no strangers to each other, having collaborated intermittently over the past ten years. With a unified relationship already established, their joint mini-tour, "The Hard Sell," was, by no means, their first time sharing a stage. Their visit to Brooklyn's McCarren Park Pool, however, didn't quite deliver as overwhelmingly as one would expect from these two record-scratching phenoms. Despite more record changing than most non-DJs will handle in a year's time and plenty of notable high points, the show failed to fully exemplify the potential of Shadow and Chemist's converging powers.
The concept for "The Hard Sell" was for the two turntablists to create a complete live performance using only 7-inch, 45-rpm singles, as opposed to the larger, more commonly used and easier-to-spin 10 or 12 inch 33 1/3-rpm records. Additionally, they'd be using only their eight turntables along with echo machines and loops - no digital effects whatsoever. Given the level of difficulty involved in such a project and the flawless execution with which it was performed, much credit is due to the duo for their innovation alone, and this rare approach must be kept in mind in assessing their efforts.
The result of their unconventional concept was a 90-minute assortment of drastically diversified music, capturing a bold array of genres and a volatile ambience that ranged from carefree to murky. Certain sections shined brilliantly, with Shadow and Chemist bringing to life some rare, obscure numbers with aggressive tact that rapidly segued without interruption. Other sections became too rare or obscure for their own good, and just didn't seem to fit properly. What worked extremely well some of the time - strange but solid juxtapositions, unexpected pace changes that were dead-on - failed to do so throughout. Too many times it felt that as soon as a comfortable tempo was solidified it would regress to something that felt out of place. After spinning a good chunk of Wu-Tang Clan's "C.R.E.A.M.," they moved into Edie Brickell & New Bohemians' "What I Am," which seemed simply too far a stretch. The mid-90s hip-hop vibe was continuously touched on, with some of Pharcyde's "Runnin'," Del Tha Funky Homosapien's "Mistadobalina" and other gems scattered throughout their continuous flow, but they didn't play enough of a part to give the performance a distinct identity. Only a short-lived piece of Shadow's "Mashin' on the Motorway" made it into the mix, sans any solo Chemist or J5, and though the concert wasn't meant to focus on their own stuff, a smidgeon more wouldn't have hurt.
|Cut Chemist & DJ Shadow|
The show reached lengths most other DJs wouldn't dare even dabble with: The closing portion of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" led the charge on one eclectic exploration, while Jefferson Airplane's "Don't You Want Somebody to Love?" headed another. Bits and pieces of backwoods bluegrass, metal, vintage and modern hip-hop, electronica and even '50s doo-wop found their way into the odd conglomerate (e.g. robotic voice singing "Rock Around the House Tonight"). Yet the constantly changing landscape produced the feel that nothing could be settled on, and there were scant opportunities for either DJ to showcase his raw scratching abilities. Making it even more difficult to find a groove was the utter lack of crowd participation. McCarren Park Pool - once a gargantuan town pool for local Brooklyn neighborhoods that was drained and converted into a venue last year - has the chance to become a premiere outdoor venue in the NYC area. But, the few thousand concertgoers didn't embrace the unique setting or the music being played there. They appeared more mummified than captivated, with most crowd movement concentrated on filming the show rather than actually participating in it.
As Shadow and Chemist are both known for, their concert experience was far from limited solely to the music. Two jumbo screens behind them displayed visual treats that associated with the audio aspects and added another layer of sensory stimulation. The video alternated between random clips of old films, other forms of self-arranged animation and live footage of the two DJs, all of which synched up to the music precisely. At a number of intervals, direct footage was taken from cameras attached to each DJ's wrist, giving a truly inside view of their record maneuvering. A final highlight came at the show's conclusion, when first Chemist, then Shadow, came out with portable turntables strapped to their backs to rock their last song. The show-closing heavy metal tune scratched over by the two of them finally brought about an energy that was nearly non-existent until then.
DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist will no doubt proceed and progress in their respective solo careers as two turntable specialists atop the apex of the scene. They've proven themselves more than capable on their own in the studio and in a live setting, and have joined forces in the past in both settings with overly positive results. As with any experimentation, it's impossible for all to be golden. Although the show didn't do either the justice they deserved, expect much to come from these two in the future, both individually and collectively.
JamBase | NYC
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