Seminal producer on his new album, footwork, and continually moving forward...

DJ Shadow seems to carry with him this very intense sense of calm.

Seated on the couch on the corner – he's just tying up another phone interview – the producer is both lost in conversation and utterly in control, taking time for formulate each sentence to his meticulous standards.

When it's finally our turn, Josh Davis is smiles and graces, that polite way most American artists have coupled with a sincere desire to get news of his new record out there. He's got every reason to feel excited: new studio 'The Mountain Will Fall' is his first in five years, and it's entirely excellent, a broad, diverse display of technological know-how and crunching physicality. It's probably the only record in history that makes room for both Run The Jewels and Nils Frahm.

Now seated, we begin by listing a few of the things DJ Shadow has kept himself busy with since the release of 2011's 'The Less You Know, The Better': curating a radio station for Pandora, launching his own label, returning to Djing. Was there ever a point where he thought... a new album can wait?

“No... an album is kind of like a ticking that gets louder and louder over the years. Let's face it: in this era of streaming and singles and everything I still feel like an album is an important flag in the ground. To me, it's a statement that says ;this is what I valued in music at this moment'. The very fact that I'm here and we're talking, and there's a tour going on, that doesn't happen around a single. So albums are important.”

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Obviously, I don't want to repeat myself...

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“Every album is intense,” he says. “Especially as you go along. Obviously, I don't want to repeat myself. And to me, that goes into everything. That goes into the equipment I use, that goes into the way I think about structuring the arrangements, and the melodies, and the beats... because I grew up admiring a music that was very fast-paced in terms of its evolution and progression. And I feel like that doesn't exist in the same way within hip-hop culture any more – it certainly doesn't exist the same way in rock music, any more, in my opinion.”

“It's really in electronic music and, in particular, underground electronic music where most of the innovation is now,” he argues. “But, interestingly, electronic music and rap have really... there's a lot of cross-talk there. They're kind of equally influencing each other. So it's an interesting time. It's easy to be into both rap and electronic music.”

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I grew up admiring a music that was very fast-paced in terms of its evolution and progression...

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At its most basic level, 'The Mountain Will Fall' traces this crossover – DJ Shadow will never leave hip-hop, but he's also willing to explore new avenues in electronic music. He speaks openly of his fondness for neo-classical works, while his continuing interest in Chicago's footwork scene has already left an impact on his production.

“I like to talk about what influenced me,” he admits. “And obviously my goal, when I sit down to make music is not to imitate. I don't want to be any of the above, because they already exist – just in the same way I didn't want to be DJ Premier or Pete Roc or any of the producers that were influencing me when I was first making records. So I guess I'm sort of hoping that people discover those artists and get a lot of enjoyment out of them, but also can differentiate with their own mind, and their own ears, what I'm doing from what everybody else is doing.”

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I really am trying to provide an alternative...

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“I really am trying to provide an alternative, and I feel like, well, there probably aren't a lot of people out there that are listening to super trippy bassed out North California beats, and singer-songwriter country 'n' western stuff from the early 60s. Maybe if you combine the two something interesting will happen – maybe, maybe not,” he laughs. “I feel like that's my role... is to try to invent these – hopefully not in a self-conscious way, or a deliberate way, but through my broad listening palette create these interesting collisions that spawn something new. Or, at least if nothing else, provide an album that is a unique listening experience.”

'The Mountain Will Fall' is certainly unique. Far more than the sum of its influences, it's nonetheless an incredibly broad listening experience – at times almost ambient, at others furiously percussive. This refusal to be hemmed in, he argues, is a recurring factor in his work, going right back to those seminal early cuts.

“I feel like there's breadth on all my records. I mean, if you look at the UNKLE album, 'The Private Press', 'The Outsider' – all the records I've done – I think within varying ranges, but I would say they're all pretty broad,” he explains. “When I did 'Endtroducing' I thought people would hate 'Organ Donor'! I remembering thinking that when I was working on the double time pseudo-drum 'n' bass part of 'Napalm Brain' I was thinking: are people just going to shit on this? Because it's not really drum 'n' bass... I don't know what it is.”

“I feel like I just have broad taste in music, and hip-hop taught me that. From the very first pivotal thing I heard - 'The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel' – you hear Queen, you hear disco, you hear children's records, you hear weird, sci-fi rap, you hear all kinds of stuff mixed into the one thing. And that really was my roadmap.”

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I feel like I just have broad taste in music, and hip-hop taught me that.

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It's a roadmap that has led him a long way. 'The Mountain Will Fall' finds the fruit falling further and further from the tree, but DJ Shadow can still find like-minds within hip-hop – Run The Jewels, for example, whose stellar turn on 'Nobody Speak' provides the record with one of its most succinct anthems. “When I made the beat I just wrote 'Run The Jewels' in my little studio log that I keep on my desk, because I didn't want it to be an old-skool record,” Josh reveals. “Even though the track itself... I was surprised when I was making the demo – when I make demos it's free-form,I don't suppress any inclination or anything that bubbles up. And I was like: wow, this is actually almost a throw-back, boom-bap hip-hop beat. But I wanted to steer it in a contemporary direction, and I didn't want to get a rapper on it that I was worried would be like: 'throw your hands in the air!' I didn't want that. So, for me, it was Run The Jewels or nobody.”

“Actually, it was probably at the most crazy point in the last couple of years for them, because it was right when Mike was on CNN with the Bernie Sanders stuff,” he recalls. “I think his big long interview with Bernie Sanders was aired the day before and they did some national TV in the States, and then we had a day in the studio in LA booked. And we got about half-way through the track and they were just both like: we gotta come back tomorrow and finish it. So it all worked out.”

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Conversely, Nils Frahm comes from an entirely different tradition to DJ Shadow, something the producer appears to relish. “I like music that adds-on. I mean, when I listen to Nils' music I like the way he establishes something, and then lets it evolve, and it doesn't repeat. Even his contribution on the track that we did together: it's gated in a weird offbeat kind of way, and the notes are cyclical but because of the off-pattern and the gating you don't really get the same thing repeated. I reached out to him for exactly that reason, which is that I wanted to work with other instrumentalists but not necessarily other beat-makers.”

“I knew that whatever we created together would be unique. I mean, when you've been making records for a long time it is sometimes a bit of a challenge to ensure that you're doing completely new things every time. It's a challenge that I really look forward to, and it's one of my favourite things about what I do, but you really have to cast a wide net musically to make that happen.”

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There's still not very many audiences that know what they're supposed to do when you play it...

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One of DJ Shadow's recurring touchstones over the past five years has been footwork, the astonishingly creative underground scene that is rooted in Chicago. It's formed a cornerstone of his DJ sets – beginning with the Low End Theory stint in 2012 that marked a break with his previous record – and it's been an influence on his SoundCloud postings. “What I liked about it – and still like about it – is there's still not very many audiences that know what they're supposed to do when you play it,” he laughs. “It'll shutdown Low End Theory in a heartbeat, you know what I mean? It was 2013, I guess, the last time I played the LA one, and I remember dropping 'Drums Please' by Rashad and people don't know what's happening. It's a little alien to them.”

A sudden shift in tempo within dance music is often seen as a harbinger for real progressive change; when the BPMs shift, you know something's up. “Stuff like that is really cool. And to me, Rashad and his vocabulary, and his rhythmic sensibilities, and the whole Teklife crew – like, all of them – to me, that is the most significant new idea since... to me, it's the Juan Atkins, it's something that people will be imitating for years. It's undeniable.”

With such enormously varied influences, though, DJ Shadow must be disciplined in the way he approaches making an album, in condensing his thoughts and impulses into something approaching coherency. “In the case of the new album – and kind of with every album – there's technical goals I want to achieve, just purely in terms of what I want it to sound like, engineering-wise and production-wise. There's certain stories or things I want to get off my chest. And then there's certain aesthetics that I want to be sure of... boxes I want to tick.”

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I think that's important to keep your sound evolving and moving forward.

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Just as footwork represents a tempo shift, 'The Mountain Will Fall' represents a technological shift: away from hardware, and towards software. It's the first record DJ Shadow has composed entirely on Ableton, allowing his to add a fresh lexicon to his work. “In 2009 I was so frustrated with some of the other gear that I was using that I bought a newer version of an Akai MPC, and I was like: 'OK, I'm tired of messing around, I just want to go back.' And after about three days I was like, this is fucking pointless. There's too many things I know I could be doing that I can't do in here. That's when I thought, hell or high water I'm just going to make something else work.”

“Once I got into it the learning curve was brief, and I felt like I was being creative instantly. And that's huge for me. I think that's important to keep your sound evolving and moving forward.”

Another first for the new record is that DJ Shadow took care of the mixing process on his own, turning down offers of outside assistance – the first time he's done this since his epochal debut album. “This is the first album I've mixed since 'Endtroducing' on my own. After 'Endtroducing' I went to UNKLE and worked with Jim Abacus, and I realised from watching him, like, fuck he knows so much more about the science of sound than I do. I always had felt a little bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to mixing, and making my stuff sound the way I wanted it to sound. And then I realised on this album that it doesn't matter, whatever it is, is what it is, and I'm going to do the best that I can do.”

Perhaps being back in the UK makes DJ Shadow feel a little more relaxed. After all, he has extensive links here, and our conversation is peppered with references to that peculiarly British way of absorbing and making dance music. Closing, he reflects on these influences:“I hope it's clear to people who listen to the record that I have a lot of respect for producers in that realm. Drum 'n' bass producers are like the pinnacle, and dubstep producers, they know so much about sound, and so much about how to coax incredible ideas out of technology. Having even one percent of that rub off on me, and then I apply that to my broader lifetime of my ideas about the evolution of music, and what means something to me, is hopefully what the record ended up being.”

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'The Mountain Will Fall' is out now.

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