Runnin’ Through My Head

DJ Shadow Preemptive 07

It’s a song about life, death, love, hate, wealth, poverty, racism…
just a few things been runnin’ through my head…

Where to start? well maybe with a Preemptive Strike, one by DJ Shadow in fact.  The genius turntable-ist  who cut Endtroducing in 1996*, oversaw the release of Preemptive Strike in late 1998, a collection of his earlier singles on the Mo’ Wax label which were already starting to change hands for silly money as those of us who weren’t cool enough to pick up on him early, caught up.  Luckily for me, my mate Matt had done and I had a treasured cassette of parts of this LP already – ‘you’ll like it’, he told me ‘he samples Metallica on one track’.  I liked it a lot and no he didn’t sample Metallica**.

DJ Shadow Preemptive 01

Now there’d been plenty of sample jockeys before DJ Shadow (Josh Davis to his mum), rode into town, but no-one had heard anything quite like his work before.  Where DJ Shadow was unique was in the way he built his music from such a vast number of samples, slicing them into tiny pieces – often using only a note or two from one track, rather than just lumping it into the hip-hop pot whole; excuse me if I lose you with all this technical muso terminology.  The end result being a very new, more creative, way of making music, rather than the more familiar cutting and pasting DJ’s had been using up to that point.  Which is all well and good but you need someone with a real sense of song structure, dynamics, flow and musicality if its to sound like music at all – Mr Davis had all that in spades and on an LP basis that was what made Endtroducing so knock-out, this being a compilation of tracks was never quite going to function that way.

DJ Shadow Preemptive 03

Having said that though have a listen to ‘In/Flux’ the opener and best track here, check how all the different elements combine and recombine for the flow of the song.  We have poetry, spoken track introductions and lyrics from all manner of sources artfully woven together to tell a tale of urban angst and worries, damn tunefully too.  It also uses, although I’ll be damned if I can spot it a sample from Jeremy Steig’s ‘Howling For Judy’ – the same track that gives the main sample the Beastie Boys Sure Shot is based around (see what I did there?!).  ‘In/Flux’ takes us on a journey carefully, it isn’t too fractured and staccato to take us with it.

In a few moments you will have an experience which will seem completely real…
It will be the result of your subconscious fears, transformed to your conscious awareness…
You have five seconds to terminate this tape…
Five, four, three, two, one …

DJ Shadow Preemptive 05

DJ Shadow Preemptive 02

What’s really clever is the manner in which DJ Shadow changes the elements he uses.  Take ‘What Does Your Soul Look Like – Part 2’, as well as skilfully weaving in all manner of dialogue from THX1138, Johnny Got His Gun*^ and Brainstorm and music from The Growing Concern and Billy Paul amongst others there’s that fabulous slow, achingly emotional portentous guitar part – the one my mate thought was by Metallica.  Nope, guess again fella! It’s actually from ‘Girl On The Moon’ by Foreigner, but carefully slowed down and lowered in pitch so as to be unrecognizable.   This is a gorgeous tune too, the drums have a funny dragging effect applied to them and it is just a glorious listen.  All four parts of ‘What Does Your Soul Look Like’ are interesting in their own right, trip hop is he best way to describe this – and was apparently coined by a journalist to describe DJ Shadow’s music.

Sadly, after a game my wife and I played where you insert the stand-alone capital letter ‘R’ in front of the word ‘soul’ in any song title, I struggle to appreciate its subtle melodic complexities as I spent too much time sniggering at it. Soz.

What does your R soul look like ... (sniggers uncontrollably)
What does your R soul look like … (sniggers uncontrollably)

There’s a slight dip in quality for me around ‘Hindsight’ and ‘Organ Donor (Extended Overhaul)’, but ‘High Noon’ is a really interesting track.  In this latter one DJ Shadow actually creates an urgent-sounding guitar track with an insistent rhythm, forged from Hendrix, Giant Crab and Michael Garrison, okay so it mellows late on, but it is different enough to cause a stir hereabouts.

DJ Shadow Preemptive 06

Inevitably given the fact it is a compilation Preemptive Strike doesn’t totally hang together as an LP should but the individual tracks are a fascinating shot of DJ Shadow’s (mostly) early work.  It was as a result of these singles that he came along and rescued Mo’ Wax from the acid jazz ghetto it had painted itself into and propelled it towards being, for a year or two, the hippest label on the planet.  Plus you gotta love anyone prepared to sample Foreigner.  No mean feat.

552 Down.

PS – I forgot to say but I never rated either this, or any of Mo’ Wax cover art, hip they may have been but they really needed a better look.  Hell, why didn’t they call on my mad art skillz?!

Picture stolen from internet.
Picture stolen from internet.


*an astonishing LP, one of my favourites of all-time and one I’m no way good enough to write about properly yet.

**but he later sampled two notes from ‘Orion’ on another track.

*^another Metallica link. Maybe it’s a San Francisco thing? Jason Newsted guested with DJ Shadow on Unkle Psyence Fiction later on.

13 thoughts on “Runnin’ Through My Head

  1. This is uncharted territory for me. I am gonna take your excellent write-up as gospel and leave it at that. Someday, when I’m feeling brave, I may venture onto the Tubes of You and check out a track or two…

    1. I think you’d like ‘Endtroducing’ – its very hip-hop based.

      Do you remember a hip-hopper called Paris back in 92? He did a great track called ‘Bush Killa’, anyway DJ Shadow did a chunk of the sampling work on that too. I just bought it again on eBay.

    1. Absolutely, although we’re talking more about assembling mosaics, than putting together jigsaws.

      Btw. I just thought of a good essay question; ‘The real genius of Miles Davis lay in his ability to consistently pick the best people to work with and in getting the best out of them. Discuss with reference to Gil and Macero, using all appropriate diagrams and pie charts’.

      1. Yep. Great topic. I was slightly surprised that Hancock and Corea both made a point of acknowledging Miles during their concert. The word svengali springs to mind.

  2. Nice one – I’ve spotted this one once or twice, but wasn’t sure it was worth picking up. I’m fair fond of Endtroducing and The Private Press, but haven’t really dug much else after that. I shall give this some extra consideration should I see it again.

    1. I’ve not liked much else I’ve heard apart from Endtroducing and this one. If you like this kind of thing it really is worth while for In/Flux and … Soul – Part 2; that’s 26 minutes of great music right there!

      1. The Private Press is a little less intricate, but there’s still some really great stuff on it (I think). I shall keep my eyes peeled for this sucker!

  3. This is music I’ve never really understood. I find it interesting at times, but I’ve never been interested enough to buy a record.

    1. I get fascinated by how its all put together, the creativity involved is really something – it annoys me when people dismiss sampled music as not truly creative, because it can be. Arguably far more so than a tired old guit/bass/drums/vox combo bashing something out.

      It either floats your boat or it doesn’t, if you have a serious collecting gene – stay away, for your own financial sake, stay away!

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