Never mind Wolf Hall – no history lesson could be more entertaining than this hyperactive blast through the foundations of hip hop. DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, octopus-armed DJs, or turntablists to give them their superior job title, are famed for their excessive record collections. For their Renegades of Rhythm tour they borrowed someone else’s: a selection of Afrika Bambaataa’s 40,000 dog-eared gems, first played at the Bronx block parties that kickstarted the entire rap game, and currently being archived as artifacts of major cultural significance by Cornell University.
The pair were last seen performing together seven years ago, mixing only 45rpm records. This latest wheeze had more clout. “You can’t get closer to the epicentre of hip hop culture than these records,” said Shadow, real name Josh Davis. Though many of the tracks aired were over-familiar, from Chic’s Good Times to Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, they were given fresh power by the knowledge that these particular pieces of wax had been there at the birth of a sound that would take over the world.
There are plenty of nostalgia gigs around these days, but the other classics don’t get played with the original instruments. Grandmaster Flash’s 1980 drum machine also made an appearance. The forty-something duo, children when they first heard this stuff, used six turntables to scratch and fidget their way from James Brown to Sly Stone, Yes to the Jimmy Castor Bunch.
There was African drumming, Latin boogaloo, tinny electro and actually not much rapping. Bambaataa, now 57, had watched the show when it took place at New York’s Irving Plaza. Here his younger self loomed down from the big screen alongside break-dancers and graffiti-covered trains. He surely approved of his legacy moving out of a university storage facility and back to the centre of the party where it belongs.