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02.20.08

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Worlds Collide: Two of the world's best turntablists come together on 'The Hard Sell' album and tour.

Smooth Operators

Cut Chemist and Bay Area DJ Shadow flex their new routine

By David Ma


TEN years ago it would have been unimaginable for DJs to headline the Hollywood Bowl, the legendary 18,000 capacity venue where only mainstream acts like Elton John, the Beatles, or Luciano Pavarotti could play. But last summer, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist made history as the first DJs to do so, unveiling a new routine that furthered their status as turntablist/vinyl culture gurus.

The performance was extremely involved, entailing more than the typical DJ setup. Instead, the two created soundscapes interconnected by drums, noise and scratching through the use of eight turntables and effects processors. The exclusive use of 45 rpm records added allure to rare and random songs they played.

A truncated CD version of the set was released in December (which has since sold out) titled The Hard Sell. The pair have since toured across America and Europe, and stopped by San Francisco's Grand Ballroom at the Regency Center last Wednesday, Feb. 13. World-renowned DJ Kid Koala was the opener, which meant the show would arguably contain three of the world's top 5 DJs.

The tour has sold out every venue and, needless to say, San Francisco was no different. Kid Koala, who would headline any other night, opened with a distinctive, colorful set. Before starting, DJ Shadow took the microphone to introduce a short tutorial-film on the upcoming show that presented basics about 45s, how they work, the difficulties of handling them and other factual tidbits behind the performance. Two huge screens behind the DJs displayed complementary visuals, as well as real-time footage of the pair's intricate movements throughout the set. The imagery of the live projections added humor and logic and a lot of context to the songs originally found on the CD.

Those who've heard The Hard Sell prior would have noticed that the live performance ditched certain segments while enhancing others. The live show omitted the really slow sequences (mainly portions of the middle and end) and added quirky new numbers (a country jingle for Atari and a heavy, up-tempo version of the Gilligan's Island theme song). There were also junctures where African and Latin rhythms meshed into long, almost ambient channels of noise, while scratching was overall more prevalent too. Besides these changes, the performance paralleled the CD, but was ultimately more dynamic by nature of it's being live, loud and thoughtfully edited.

A Love Supreme

A big part of DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist's persona is that they love what they do and just so happen to fully excel at it. The Hard Sell is the third in a series of collaborations between the two. And with each record they spin, or sound they combine, they genuinely seem enthused doing so.

"Bay Area, give it up for your very own, DJ Shadow!" said Cut Chemist, pointing to Shadow and underscoring his Bay Area roots. Shadow would quip: "The real star of Juno, ladies and gentlemen," pointing out Cut Chemist's bit role, fittingly, as a chemistry teacher in the Oscar-nominated movie.

As unassuming and seemingly humble as both are, make no mistake; they're realistic about their combined skill-level.

"I told you that you'd see some shit you'd never seen before!" said Cut Chemist, shaking his head, as he and Shadow strapped on portable turntables, playing them as rock stars would into the night. Flashing lights, disco balls and the engaging visuals enhanced the wide range of music during the continuous, hour-and-a-half-long set. Any hiccups in the set were refreshingly acknowledged, poked fun at and ironed out by the end.

Although the duo's previous collaborations (Brainfreeze and Product Placement) also only employed 45s, The Hard Sell is more extensive, ranging from obscure Funk like Maggie Thrett to more common bands like the Foo Fighters. The Hard Sell might not be as cohesive as their earlier efforts, but it's not meant to be. It could have been a predictable follow-up (albeit probably good nonetheless), but they chose to expand and experiment. And why not? They're perhaps the most proficient at what they do, and prove that any genre isn't outside their limitations. It's not about what they play so much as how they play itŠand what else they can achieve each time they do.

The Hard Sell is a smart, entertaining project that is meant to have something for everyone. The live show supplements the music and gives people a sense of the know-how it takes to achieve what they do. At this rate, the only DJs who'll outdo Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow will probably be themselves. They're at the pinnacle of poise right now, and The Hard Sell is the current proof.


The extended live version of The Hard Sell, rerecorded last November, is called 'The Hard Sell (Encore)' and is available now at www.djshadow.com.


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