DJ Shadow on his dynamic with G Jones and trusting creative instinct
Since announcing to the world that he and producer G Jones were the masterminds behind the enigmatic project, Nite School Klik, DJ Shadow has been quite vocal about his reasons for launching NSK in a shroud of mystery. According to him, when you’ve been making music for as long as he has, people tend to develop their own biases and expectations as though they need to pigeonhole you somehow. On the flip side, when there’s no name associated with something, “it just kind of gives things a different look,” he says. “People can judge the music on its own merits rather than trying to contextualize it because of some broader lineage.”
It’s a reality he remembers struggling with at various times across his artistic career, specifically when he was touring heavily. It’s difficult to get experimental with a crowd that knows you for a certain kind of sound and expects a certain kind of show. “It’s just a really delicate dance that you have to do because you don’t want to alienate your fans, you don’t want to reject them or push them away. And at the same time, you don’t want to be stale and sort of cow-tow to a fan base. You have to trust yourself first and foremost,” he says.
And you have to be okay knowing it’s not always going to be an immediate success – in fact, it’s often not. “There’s usually a short term kind of backlash, or whatever you want to call it,” says Shadow, remembering from personal experience. “But I think that, ultimately, that breeds a certain kind of respect because you’ve shown that you’re willing to endure some hard times for the ultimate payoff.” That payoff, according to Shadow, is artistic creation.
It’s also one of the common elements he says makes him and G Jones such a natural team. “Initially you just try to find some common ground musically, and you talk about what’s out, ‘have you heard this, have you heard that.’ And then it was just an exchange of ideas…because what we’re trying to do, both he and I, is make something that sounds different from what we would do on our own. I think it’s trying to find a middle ground musically and then trying to go in on that middle ground to excavate something completely different that neither of us would have thought of on our own.”
Between the two producers lies an age gap of nearly two decades, which can seem like an eternity in the ever-evolving realm of music. “If you are in your early 20s and you came up watching all kinds of Youtube tutorials, and have discovered every possible in-and-out combination with Ableton, and you know how to ‘freak’ sounds in that sort of dubstep producer era sort of way…then you’re approaching music on a completely different wavelength than a lot of people my age, because when I started making music it was still about traditional recording studios and outboard gear,” Shadow says.
He adds, however, that the essence of G’s journey is not so different at all to that of artists from his generation. “When I started making music in the early ’90s, I was working in a box; that box was called an MPC-60. This box is called Ableton. So, at its core, it’s still about sitting down and making a beat — making something that tricks your ear and feels new. That’s all I was grasping for back then and that’s what I think G is grasping for now. That’s why I think it was easy for us to find a middle ground.”
In addition to G Jones’s fresh and unique beat production, Shadow was drawn to his skill in mixing and engineering — something that can be hard to come by in producers and has nothing to do with creativity. But part of what compelled him to reach out to the young producer — who he happened to discover while digging through a crate of records — stems from a deeper part of who Shadow is: someone who has always been thrilled by the process of discovery, who built his entire career on the desire to showcase and give strength to the music he felt was vital and innovative.
“I wanted to become a DJ because I felt like the music that I cared about was always being kind of shoved to the back, and that’s still what it’s about for me,” he says. “I’m looking for stuff that’s bubbling and stuff that maybe isn’t big yet by artists that maybe aren’t known yet; to me that’s much more satisfying and compelling.”