It’s a mixed, and slightly under capacity crowd at 170 Russell, who wait eagerly await DJ Shadow to take the stage. There seems to be everyone from hip-hop heads, clean-cut indie kids to seasoned hippies, showing the board range of musical tastes to which his 22-year career appeals. Returning for the first time since 2014, an inclusion to Sydney’s Vivid Festival lineup gave Australian audiences their first chance to see material from his fifth studio album The Mountain Will Fall, released in 2016.
As DJ Shadow takes his place behind the table with trigger pads, decks and a laptop, he is dwarfed by the large screen positioned in a V behind him. He humbly thanks the crowd for coming and they appears to be a made up of committed fans who cheer as he advises that his set will include unreleased tracks and music produced under aliases as well as tracks from his albums.
As the music begins the screen behind him turns until the motherboard of a ship as rumbling bass fills the space. A take off sequence follows, soundtracked with a slow swell of electronic sounds drawing a comparison to the intergalactic experience created by techno icons like Jeff Mills. As constellations fill the screen, the audience is mesmerised as DJ Shadow seems to be at the helm as we soar through space and possibly time.
Although he pauses between tracks, the entire set is structured as a whole and woven together with career-spanning tracks and remixing of material, rather than a straightforward rendition of the hits. The set mostly preferences the more ambient and melodic end of his repertoire with newer tracks such as the title track from the album, ‘The Mountain Will Fall’ while also mixing in more recognisable tracks such as ‘Mutual Slump’.
Although the audio-visual element in this performance is unparalleled, they are in no way compensating for a lack of performance. Throughout the show, DJ Shadow is intensely focussed as his fingers fly across an array of technology, playing the trigger pads like drums and showcasing his unparalleled turntablism with furious scratching which is rarely witnessed.
All the sounds matched visually with varied imagery from slow mo droplets to forest scenes to layered, high-speed city footage adding to sensory overload. This is only increased by the midset addition of a second transparent scrim in front of him with its own projection. DJ Shadow partly obscured by a slowly spinning globe which seems to levitate over the stage. For the rest of the show, he performs within a matrix engulfing imagery, which is impossible to pull your attention away from.
A varied dynamic set which moves seamlessly from straight up hip hop tracks like ‘Nobody Speak’ to dirty electronic tracks like ‘Stem’ to the more fluid ambience of rare track, ‘Nice Nightmares’. For fans of more dark electronic music, this mostly vocal-less set did not disappoint as it leant more to the techno and trance aspects of DJ Shadow’s repertoire than the tracks with more vocal and acoustic samples, from earlier in his career.
Hip Hop fans however placated with the full performance of ‘The Sideshow’ in the encore, paired with the integration of the fun and stylish music video. The encore paid lip service also gave to hits such as ‘Organ Donor’ while DJ Shadow also shows how he has progressed and wants to promote his new music by playing the unreleased track ‘Corridors’.
Considered by many as legend figure crossing many genre boundaries, DJ Shadow appears humble and sincere as he announces that “everyone says that the crowd has been the best on the tour but I can honestly say you guys are in the top two.” Thanking his long time collaborator Ben Stokes for some of the best visuals I ever witnessed, he shakes the hands of the crowd barrier deadheads as he walks off stage. An elevated yet somewhat speechless crowd are left to watch the lengthy visual credits roll on the transparent screen until it finishes with the decisive message “GOOD NIGHT.”