Records Revisited – DJ Shadow – Endtroducing (1996)

25 years ago, »Endtroducing« was released, a hip-hop album that brought Björk together with Metallica and Finnish fusion. DJ Shadow was digging in the cellar for it. And found gold. He covered what he found with a touch of melancholy and created an album that seems to have fallen out of time.

The first reaction DJ Shadow received to his debut was a slap in the face. The intellectual grandstanders of the music magazine The Wire thought »Endtroducing« was an expendable piece of shit – not comparable to Ninja Tune’s output at the time – and savaged the record. That was in September 1996, and as an opinion it has aged as badly as Fred Durst’s blue eyes. 25 years later, »Endtroducing« is not only regarded in hip-hop circles as a moon landing in terms of sampling which even lets the Beastie Boys hole up in »Paul’s Boutique«. Once achieved, never surpassed, the album combined Finnish fusion with Björk, Tangerine Dream with East Coast hip-hop and Metallica with horror film soundtracks. Meanwhile, you can find the record in Urban Outfitters next to batik shirts and monstera plants for exactly this reason.

When »Endtroducing« was released in 1996, things looked different, though. Josh Davis, Shadow’s real name, had just finished college and no plan for what he wanted out of life — except music. He spent his days in record shops until he was offered to continue digging in the stock. In the documentary »Scratch«, which portrayed the turntabelism thing in the US in the early 2000s, there is a beautiful scene about this. DJ Shadow squats amidst towers of records – which even Marie Kondo would drive bananas – and describes the basement of the shop as his personal nirvana. All the unsorted records, he says, are »broken dreams«, because down there, away from order and daylight, you only find those that no one puts on or listens to anymore. That’s why, Davis says, the cellar is a graveyard for bands that didn’t make it in the biz. In his hands, however, they became gold precisely because of that.

With »Endtroducing« DJ Shadow distilled something that didn’t limit a DJ’s ability to scratch skills at DMC championships. It was more about mixing elements of different records into a completely new sound — with one hand on the turntable, the other on the sampler and one’s persona hidden like the (ha!) shadow of a ninja. While other producers were cutting out the same old boom-bap beats from Sly Stone records, Shadow was digging through obscure shit that was moulding under mummified bats in the darkness until he found the right South Korean breakbeat that turned a song into a banger. Davis thus realised himself as an archaeologist for grooves, digging up musical relics that others had long forgotten. He followed tracks left by the ghosts of the past. And dug up their souls in endless digging sessions, so that they no longer had to wait for redemption in a rundown basement compartment.

»When I sample something, it’s because there’s something ingenious about it, (…) a coincidence or something that makes it completely unique compared to the other trillions of hours of records I’ve ploughed through«, Davis told writer Eliot Wilder. One can’t help but think of Shadow as a crazy model maker who throws in a car kit with one of an aeroplane to create an aeroplane-car, but immediately discards it after assembling because he starts making magic with the leftover parts.

DJ Shadow
Mercury • 1996 • from 28.99€
During the mid 90s, seven days a week, Shadow poundered on his MPC in the studio, mostly at night, until early in the morning he got in the car and drove home while the sun rose over the highway. »Those were long drives during which I always got a little melancholy,« Davis told Wilder. This melancholy has carved itself onto the 16 tracks of »Endtroducing«. It spans the album as an underlying mood in which, despite all the darkness, the motion detector goes off and a halogen spotlight burns a hole in your heart. Anyone who has ever roamed the night with »Midnight in a Perfect World« or played »Changeling« at an afterparty knows what I’m talking about. Everyone else is listening to a record 25 years after its initial release that hasn’t arrived in the present, because it still seems to have fallen out of time.

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