DJ Shadow: "What Lasts, And What Survives, Is Good Taste"

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DJ Shadow is one of the most recognizable names in experimental hip-hop. Occasionally controversial, and ever-influential, Josh Davis also has a reputation for being a bit of a shut-in when it comes to the media, so Rocks Off jumped at the chance to grab a few minutes with the sampling sorcerer, who stops by House of Blues Saturday night behind this year's The DJ Shadow Remix Project.

We got ten, interrupted by occasional countdowns from Shadow's handler. Plenty of time to grill him on the mythology of the Shadow, video games, and DJs of the future.

Rocks Off: So where does the Shadow moniker come from?

DJ Shadow: Back in the late '80s, when I was trying to settle on a name - at the time, rap had not broken through the mainstream [and] wasn't a radio staple, yet. There were a lot of producers and DJs trying to step out from the background and be stars in their own right.

At the time, I felt that a DJ's place was behind the boards and a producer's place was in the studio. At the time, the name was supposed to represent "be heard and not seen."

RO: That points to something that's been part of your reputation for a long time, being kind of reclusive. Do you think that's deserved?

DJS: To a certain extent. Personal fame and recognition was never my goal. I think it gets a little bit old, as well, when you try to be too mysterious and you never take photos without a shroud on your face or behind a helmet.

I've seen all the gimmicks, we've all seen them; it gets a little old. I think it's just about being honest and being who you are, and who I am, I don't feed off the limelight, so I don't seek it. I just try to let the music be the focus.

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RO: Is there any extent to which you try to balance your innate shyness?

DJS: Well, you know, yeah. When you do a live show, you kind of have to take hold of the situation, or the situation will take hold of you, and that's something I've kind of had to learn over the years. I mean, if in 1985, somebody said I'd have to address 20,000 people in the field because the sound just blew, and I'd have to ad-lib for five minutes, I'd probably never have pursued DJing.

You're put in those situations, and you have to do them. At the same time, there are other situations where... for example, there was this one time I was a presenter at an awards show in England, and there was a red carpet, and I've never felt so idiotic as having to stroll down this thing. I felt like, "They don't want me, they want Ewan MacGregor" or whoever's going to be walking down the thing.

It's just such a ridiculous situation to put yourself in, so I just try and avoid those kinds of situations. You just take it as it comes, I guess.

RO: With so much of the creation and production of music going digital these days, what does it mean to you to be a DJ?

DJS: To me, at its purest most basic sense, it's exposing people to music. I think it's a great honor and a great power, and I love doing it. I mean, I bore people to tears all the time. Just last night on the bus, chatting with the crew, someone was playing a Just-Ice song on the CD player, and it takes me right back to the time, and I start talking about the video and how great it was, [like] "Have you seen the video? I have to show it to you, let me pull it up on YouTube. If you like this, you gotta hear this; let me pull it up on my iTunes."

You know, it's just that, this innate need to. In the same way, when I was first able to drive, I used to be the only person driving around Davis, Calif., playing Ultramagnetic [MCs] as loud as I could just imagining some passerby hearing it and just freaking out, you know? That's why I do it. To me, the technology can be a boon or a curse, it's really down to who's using it. It's made a lot of people lazy, but good DJs are still good DJs.

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