“This record,” Cut Chemist said, raising up a hallowed selection of 12-inch vinyl, “is the one that sits next to the Gettysburg Address.” He then gently set the disc on the turntable, where it became a preeminent part of his score, to the delight of the dancing crowd.
Make no mistake, there is deep history in vinyl grooves.
The record, the acid demo vinyl of Afrika Bambaataa’s “Looking for the Perfect Beat,” anchored Monday night’s show at the Georgia Theatre, where Cut Chemist (Lucas MacFadden) and DJ Shadow (Josh Davis) spun two hours of records from the collection of the hip-hop godfather. Bambaataa’s collection (which sits at Cornell University “in the same vault as papyrus scrolls – no seriously we were there – and the Gettysburg Address,” said Shadow) was the night’s star with the two DJs ensuring it got the proper treatment.
Shadow and Cut Chemist, master DJs in their own right with decades of experience, have embarked on a Renegades of Rhythm tour to share the sounds which influenced them to become turntablists. Taking the audience on an audio and visual tour of hip-hop culture, the pair spun through songs of endless variation – from Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express,” “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, and Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”
Yes, I said Yes.
It was Shadow’s second time in Athens (Cut Chemist’s first) but he told the crowd they’d see something they’ve never seen before. And with that, he dropped a James Brown record and the night was off. Flanked by a large video screen showing images of Bambaataa’s vinyl collection, gritty and graffitied New York streets and spray-paint collages, the two took turns deftly moving through a timeline of musical genres.
There was the funk and soul of James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone, moving to the salsa of Willie Colon and on to disco “but not the disco you’re used to hearing,” Cut Chemist added. “Good Times,” the monster hit from Chic (which is also known as the backing music for “Rapper’s Delight”) opened the rap portion of the show. There was not a still person in the place.
Throughout the two displayed their stellar skills with the wax, using their six turntables to play off one another, finish each other’s musical sentences, flip from reggae to go-go to disco in an instant, or at one point, synchronize scratch without missing a beat. Cut Chemist brought out a 1967 drum machine, the one Grandmaster Flash used in 1980, to create his own beats while Shadow bashed on another vintage drum machine across the way. And despite playing instruments and music more than 35 years old, it all felt modern and timeless.
The night found some reggae and dub, moved to go-go (Bambaataa insisted on it, Shadow noted), and included a full series of songs from Bambaataa and his band the Soulsonic Force. The highlight, the weird and infectious “Planet Rock” with its B-side “Looking for the Perfect Beat,” infused all elements of the night to this point. Bambaataa’s record collection would become his music, which in turn would shine a light on back on the collection itself.
There were no better ambassadors than DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist. When superstars of a craft share what made them that way, it’s best to listen.
And on this night, dance along.