Renegades of Rhythm Tour

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By John Kerrens

DJ Shadow (Josh Davis) and Cut Chemist (Lucas MacFadden) are co-headlining the Renegades of Rhythm tour, featuring the record collection of NYC hip-hop legend Afrika Bambaataa. A vinyl-only operation, the two turntablists utilise six decks, as well as other effects, including real-time sampling.

The whole collection of Bambaataa’s (some 42,000 records) was donated by him in 2013 to the Hip Hop Collection at the progressive Cornell University in Ithaca, New York – speaking of the tour, Bambaataa said: “I call on all who love hip-hop to come out, see them, hear them”. Having grown up in the tough Bronx River housing projects, in a neighbourhood dominated by gangs such as the Savage Nomads, the Black Spades and the Javelins, Bambaataa established the Universal Zulu Nation, which placed music, breaking, etc… ahead of gang violence, at a time when gang activity in the Bronx was starting to diminish. “He was like the Godfather of the Bronx River projects,” said one follower.

On Friday March 6th, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist both Kicked Out the Jams at the Forum. Very much a “black pancake” operation, pulling records out of their “affectionately worn-out” sleeves and slapping them down on the decks, it was far removed from the Multi-machine, mega-sample tours de force that are common in many DJ/Producer sets these days. Shadow and Chemist created blocks of dense, sometimes brutal, funk and occasional extended improvisations of battering beats and turntable scratch. At one point Shadow triggered a monstrous pounding racket out of an old drum machine – which, he informed us, had been made in 1967 (probably with pre-settings like “Bossa Nova” and “Country and Western”). The Hellish machine would originally have been intended for pub covers like “Up up and away-ay in my beautiful balloon”, etc… Like the Roland 808 (and certainly its ancestors); its actual use is a far cry from its intended use.

Running on a screen behind them was an ongoing video featuring montages of New York City subways, streetscapes, etc… and of course images of Bam himself. As well as a visual catalogue of album covers, both mainstream and obscure.

When originally setting up the ‘Renegades’ tour, Shadow and Chemist spent several days ploughing through the 40,000+ collection, eventually narrowing the selection down to about 250 items. The diversity of styles was impressive: Soul, Funk, Rock, Disco, Salsa, Punk, Reggae, Dub, and a number of other genres were all strongly represented. Just some of the featured artists will give an idea of the eclecticism involved: The Mahavishnu Orchestra, PiL, Cat Stevens, Sly and the Family Stone (well, of course), Kraftwerk (nothing more needs to be said), a brief airing of ‘The Message’ (which got a sizable cheer from the audience), and of course ‘Planet Rock’ which isn’t merely a record but a contemporary artefact.

Given that Hip Hop is the “urban folk music” of Western industrialised society today, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist are two of its most astute curators.

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