One look at tonight’s support acts will tell you that DJ Shadow and his tour is nothing if not eclectic. We have a trip-hop indie band, followed by one of the country’s hottest young rappers and then the man himself – resplendent in front of a 20 foot wall of screens and a vast array of decks, laptops and other electronic wizardry. Midway through the show he assures the crowd that his main aim is to continually evolve, to not “keep putting out the same old shit”. Judging by his recent output, friends and tonight’s performance, there is little chance of that.
As a warm up, the combination of indietronic Leeds lads Stateless followed by Akala, the winner of a MOBO for Best Hip Hop Artist (he beat Kanye West and Busta Rhymes) gives an insight into what’s in store from the music changeling that is DJ Shadow. On the one hand, Stateless peddle a fine line in atmospheric, sample-laden melancholy with a nod to both crossover acts like Massive Attack and Portishead (on breathy ballad Bloodstream) and the room-filling chorus of their indie contemporaries (Exit). It’s a multi-layered and vast sound, but maintaining the subtle nuances of electronic music: programmed backdrops, DJ scratching and a vital live energy, channeled through lead singer, Chris James, a cross between Jeff Buckley and Coldplay‘s Chris Martin.
Akala is more straightforward: a young rapper who, somewhat refreshingly, speaks out against the glamorised spending, drug and violence of mainstream hip-hop. Kicking off with two tracks underpinned with rock guitar backing, he gets the crowd moving fits in the occasional (and breathtaking, literally) a cappella, and manages to fit in a bit of Blair baiting for good measure. On Stand Up, he even name checks probably all of the worst crime and poverty ridden areas in England’s cities with a chilling testament to the ills of street culture: “Critics ask me why I don’t smile, they gotta be kiddin’/little kids’ll blow your head off just to say that they did it.” As insightful as Dizzee Rascal, with an equal or better delivery, Akala looks like a hot prospect.
But the main event tonight is one Mr Josh Davis (to his mum) or better known to you and me as DJ Shadow. Climbing up a ladder to reach his platform, half way up a wall of monitors, he cracks his knuckles, says hello to the fans and kicks into Ticking Clocks, a trademark, and sample heavy ambient Hip Hop track. It’s a nice taste of things to come. Watching a DJ should be both a visual and aural experience and while Shadow might be too far away for most in Brixton Academy to actually see his technical ability, he more than makes up for it through the visual and light show. Caricatures of rogue presidents (Time Is Not Enough), witty observations on certain, more popular tracks (Organ Donor), or just a series of intricate patterns (Be There featuring Ian Brown’s vocal), they change the atmosphere from a gig to an event.
A few of Shadow’s mates come out to add more variety to the show – Chris James (Stateless) and Lateef, from his Quannam projects collective. Both change the mood: James transforms a hip-hop mash up party into a brooding stadium indie, while Lateef is hell bent on turning Brixton into London’s biggest and best block party, arms swinging, people singing and plenty of call and response. Shadow ends the show with an UNKLE mash-up, a breaks version of Rabbit In Your Headlights, interwoven with Badly Drawn Boy-led, punk-guitared Nursery Rhyme. He thanks the crowd for the year and support and mentions said evolution quote. It’s alright Josh; we’re with you on that one.