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Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow, two of the most innovative and influential turntablists around, performed a hotly anticipated live set at a San Francisco club this past February. Shadow is best known for his widely hailed album Endtroducing ..., which combines samples, beats, and wax abuse into a spacy panorama of hip-hop, soul, ambient, and altrock. Cut Chemist is a lyrical beat mixer and remixer, working as a turntablist for both the Latin party-machine band Ozomatli, and the more straight-ahead rap group Jurassic 5. These two big names working together is the DJ equivalent of Al Green and Marvin Gaye doing a full concert of duets.
Shadow and Cut Chemist's set was especially noteworthy because they used mostly seven-inch records instead of the DJ's usual tool, twelve-inch vinyl. Brainfreeze consists of two untitled 25-minute tracks recorded during a rehearsal for that show, with Chemist spinning the beats and Shadow scratching and dropping in melody snippets. Because it is composed almost entirely of uncleared samples, Brainfreeze sits in the gray area of legality. The duo has been selling the CD at their performances, with wider distribution done the old-school way: A "salesman" has reportedly been pulling up to record stores on the West Coast and selling Brainfreeze out of the trunk of his car. Copies have since been fetching in excess of $60 on eBay, the auction Website.
Is it worth that much? Mmm, no. But as far as mix tapes (CDs in this case) go, Brainfreeze is a pretty stellar document of two of turntablism's greats operating at the peak of their talents. In the early '80s, DJs steamed off the labels of the records they used so no one could bite their style; with DJs literally being the sum of what they played, obscure (yet crowd-pleasing) vinyl offerings could remain just that. True to that form (and no doubt on their lawyer's advice), no records are credited on Brainfreeze, though any fan of late '60s funk will find some familiar hooks at work as the record ebbs and flows in intensity, just like a DJ's set.
Opening with a vocal snippet from the kung fu cult flick Thunderkick, the record makes martial arts an overt metaphor for DJing, a point driven home when the music immediately segues into a pair of songs celebrating turntablists. As Shadow and Chemist build interlocking grooves, the two demonstrate their depth of knowledge by translating sounds from a different era into something brand-new.
The record isn't as far-reaching in depth and scope as Shadow's studio work, though the pair does re-create "The Number Song" from Endtroducing ... as well as Chemist's remix of it. But Brainfreeze is a masterful demonstration of the talents and ears of two DJs helping to push the form forward. -- David Simutis