Without following the mainstream, DJ Shadow broke into Hip-Hop culture in the mid-1990s with an understated but beautifully crafted style of beats with endless crossover appeal.
The journey of Joshua Paul Davis AKA DJ Shadow began at a campus radio station called KDVS, in Davis, California. Here, he honed his craft as a curator and fed his hunger as a record collector, researching Hip-Hop from the US, UK, and beyond.
Once he had a few self-released mixtapes under his belt, DJ Shadow began releasing EPs with the UK label Mo’ Wax, known for releasing avant-garde Hip-Hop from across the pond, including artists such as DJ Krush, U.N.K.L.E., Federation, Blackalicious, and Kool Keith’s alias, Dr. Octagon.
The DJ Shadow Sound
If it’s possible to turn vinyl sampling into a purist art form, DJ Shadow is surely one of its greatest exponents. When combined with his legendary crate-digging skills, he developed a production style based on seamlessly layering drum and instrumental loops, vocal chops, and turntablist effects.
DJ Shadow’s primary instrument was naturally a pair of Technics SL-1200 turntables. This tactile platform allowed him to develop a deeper connection with his favourite records and hone his skills with the pitch control fader.
Besides his skills as a turntablist, he developed an ability to find the ideal tempo for the records he was sampling. While we’ve discussed sampling vinyl in a previous article, I can’t stress the importance of developing your ear for picking out samples enough.
It’s easy to simply cut up records digitally in a DAW and simply add vinyl crackle for good measure, but this simply doesn’t capture the crate digging and vinyl DJing eras in quite the same way.
DJ Shadow was immediately recognized for his originality above all else, so keep this in mind when you decide which route to take with sampling. That being said, “Retro for retro’s sake”, as DJ Shadow says, doesn’t automatically make it authentic.
- More about Technics
Audio-Technica AT-LP140XP Silver
AKAI MPC 60
The AKAI MPC 60 was the main production tool DJ Shadow used on his breakthrough debut album, Endtroducing. His approach relied on a stripped-down workflow, where all the sounds came from vinyl records into the MPC, and finally onto ADAT.
When layering samples, the key aspect is how he combined his use of the turntable’s pitch control to compensate for the MPC’s 12-bit 40 kHz sampling engine. In some cases, this involved knowing where each sound was to be placed before being sampled into the MPC.
If you’ve used any type of sampler chromatically, you’ll know that there is an increasing amount of degradation that occurs the further a sample is pitched up or down from its original tempo.
Having a vivid picture of your arrangement in mind with samples already pitched to the right tempo range helped a great deal in the process. So this is something to consider when sampling vinyl into an MPC or DAW.
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AKAI Professional MPC X SE
DJ Shadow developed his style in the 4-track era of Hip-Hop DJing. Creating mixtapes with a 4-track cassette recorder like his Yamaha MT-100 allowed him more freedom to contextualize sounds with his extremely broad taste in music.
With 4 mono tracks, a set of turntables, and a mixer, you could overdub additional sounds on top of your basic DJ set. So scratching, sample layering, and effects come into play for more overall depth and texture.
4-track cassette recorders use both sides of the cassette at once, so you’d have to bounce it back down to stereo after recording when you wanted to distribute your mixtape.
You could easily perform this process using a DAW, but you wouldn’t have the same creative sensibility. However, with the T-Racks Tascam Tape Collection, you can access the sound and workflow of tape recorders from this era.
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IK Multimedia T-RackS TASCAM Tape Collection Download
Endtroducing was produced using an ADAT recorder, which at the time was a popular and affordable solution for project studios. Not only were the recorders relatively inexpensive compared to high-end analogue and digital tape machines, but the S-VHS tapes were also cheap and easily accessible.
It made the recording of so many albums possible on a limited budget, as independent artists no longer had to worry about the exorbitant costs of studio time and the grey area of not being in possession of their master recording.
DJ Shadow also had help from his friend Dan The Automator, a producer we know from his work with Gorillaz. His turntable setup was connected to a Pro Tools rig, which was cutting-edge at the time, and it allowed DJ Shadow to prep samples for the MPC.
Using an ADAT recorder might not help you sonically or creatively today, but keeping in mind the limited channels that artists like DJ Shadow used when creating their records can often be creatively rewarding.
- The History of ADAT
Avid Pro Tools Artist Perpetual Download
DJ Shadow never sought to rest on his laurels and always looked for new ways to refine and expand the horizons of his creative process. With the dawn of the new millennium, came new technology like the Roland VP-9000 which he used in his own way.
Now famous for creating the Daft Punk harmonized robot vocal sound, the VP-9000 is probably considered a rather gimmicky cliche, but you can be sure that it was edgy back in 2000 when it arrived.
The Variphrase sample processing engine allowed you to time-stretch and manipulate sounds in real-time, which was a giant leap in comparison to the features offered by many classic samplers.
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Ableton Live 11 Standard Download
Which of your favourite artists would you like to see in our Sound-alike series? Please let us know in the comments below!
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- Technics SL-1200: Derringer's Music
- AKAI MPC 60: Google
- Yamaha MT-100: eBay
- The ADAT LX20 (Type II): Alesis
- Roland VP-9000: Amazona