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Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow preach the gospel of vinyl at ACL Live

Staff Writer
Austin 360

When master turntablists Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow hit the stage at ACL Live last night they had a dual mission: to school the crowd on the genius and legacy of hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa and to rock a killer dance party. They trimumphantly succeeded on both counts.

With records on loan from Bambaataa himself, the two DJs led the crowd in a 90 minute exploration, mining the beats of the Zulu Nation leader’s immense vinyl collection. Throughout the show a projection screen behind the DJs flashed a montage of stills of the album covers, famous graffitti murals and scenes from early hip hop shows. A twinkling reconstruction of the NYC skyline surrounded the stage.

Musically, some of the cuts were expected, classic breakbeats from James Brown for example, helped keep the party hot. But in a demonstration of Bambaataa’s versatility they dug deep into his collection. A Latin sequence and a disco sequence were both popular with the crowd. Along the way the two DJs flexed their prowess on the ones and twos, beat juggling and scratching, going back to the roots of turntablism as an art form while simultaneously pushing it forward.

If vinyl was a religion, this show would be church. It certainly felt like it. About three quarters of the way through the 90 minute sweat it out throwdown, DJ Shadow paused to address the audience, a jamming dance floor full of serious hip hop nerds. “It’s rare that we get to celebrate the culture in such a meaningful way,” he said, thanking the audience for choosing to participate. Hip hop has morphed from a revolutionary soundtrack of protest and celebration into a behemoth ridden with crass commercialization, driven by base desires. The journey back to the roots felt like a refreshing reminder that all is not lost.