Live Review: DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist Play Afrika Bambaata

13 March 2015 | 1:36 pm | Rhys Anderson

The Odeon get educated by two of the world’s most talented DJs.

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“This isn’t dubstep,” a girl in the crowd complains as the first of Afrika Bambaataa’s collection spins on the tables and DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist greet the crowd.

The set-up is minimal: six turntables, a couple synths, drum pads and a small mixer. It could all fit in the boot of a car – if it weren’t for the crates of vinyl.

Hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaata is credited as being one of the originators of breakbeat.

His iconic 1980s hip hop sound and his tireless work championing hip hop and the Zulu nation, has garnered critical acclaim, from hip hop aficionados and beyond.

In 2013, Bambaata’s personal 42,000 disc vinyl archive – including original audio and video recordings and writing – was sent to Cornell University’s Hip Hop Collection, the largest collection in the US. Now, not two full years later, it’s being spun before a few hundred punters in Hobart, Tasmania.

That’s right; the Californian DJ Shadow and ex-New Yorker, Cut Chemist (Jurassic 5) – two DJs who have spent years crafting their own sound – are now touring the legendary Bambaata’s work, playing the actual records owned by the artist himself. It’s a project of unique scope and exceptional execution. The duelling DJs spin, while above them, a visual education takes place, and a montage of Bambaata’s records flash before the crowd. The worn packaging and strips of coloured tape across the titles of these records would seem more at home at a bargain bin rummage than a library, yet the visuals further emphasise the fact that these are the copies that have been played in clubs and dance halls all across the world.

The selections are eclectic: Cat Stevens, Thin Lizzy, Willie Colon, countless blues, roots and jazz; titles that might have faded with time are pulled and stripped for their useful samples before a rapt crowd in the historic Odeon building. They show the building of a genre.

The two-hour set is of course as much a performance as an education in the formation of hip hop, and a celebration of the social values of Bambaata, a life-long promoter of non-violence and community togetherness. These values are a lot to get across, particularly to an Australian audience to whom knowledge of the cultural challenges in the Bronx in the 1980s – the gang violence, black identity and social progression that was arguably built within hip hop from the beginning – is at best learned, not inherited.

Late in the set, Cut Chemist raises a record to the crowd like a trophy, holding the black disc up for emphasis. Dropping the wax, he scratches a percussion sample like he’s playing the bongos, his fingers slapping a jolting djembe beat on top of Shadow’s mix. The sheer dexterity and technique of the duo’s scratching is jaw-dropping, and the act elicits rapturous applause from the standing crowd.

Ultimately, the show is an education masterfully delivered by two of the world’s most talented DJs, celebrating the legacy of an artist who has left a clear footprint on the face of what hip hop is today – not only through his music, but in his promotion of social values and his contribution to archiving the origins of a genre of music that has spread across the world.