While CD sales slip, vinyl is experiencing a revival, thanks in part to guys like DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist. The Hard Sell (both the album and its accompanying tour) is the third chapter in their quest to manhandle every 7-inch piece of vinyl on the planet, no matter how rare. If you've had any inclination to mine the local reserves for vintage funk and soul records, you'd better get digging before these two pull into Kansas City.
Hailing from different parts of California, both artists have more than a decade's worth of accolades under their belts. DJ Shadow influenced a new generation of turntablists with his critically acclaimed 1996 debut, Endtroducing, built entirely from other records. At the same time, Cut Chemist was constructing beats for the now defunct Jurassic 5.
The two joined forces in 1998 for Brainfreeze. The hourlong mix served as a response to Double Dee and Steinski's breakthrough series, The Lessons. Instead of using studio equipment to compose their complex set of rare funk and soul breaks (with a little humor thrown in for good measure), Cut and Shadow did it live using four turntables and the original 45 RPM singles.
A few years later, the two returned with Product Placement, bringing a thematic element to the proceedings. The set for this album (and, again, tour) revolved around dated public-service announcements and retro advertising, even pitting the American and UK versions of Coca-Cola's "It's the Real Thing" '70s radio jingle against each other.
Along with the fact that they spin faster, 45s are smaller than regular, 33-1/3 RPM LPs, making the cutting, scratching and juggling of beats a matter of surgical precision, especially when every second of the set is meticulously laid out. This time around, the DJs are upping the ante with twice as many turntables, but like its previous incarnations, The Hard Sell will be as much a celebration of craftsmanship as the art of crate digging.
Fact: The sale of vinyl jumped 15 percent last year.
"It's a complete circle of music right now," Kansas City's DJ Shad tells The Pitch. "Record digging is like finding that lost piece of history that people might have forgotten."
For most turntablists, the thrill is in the hunt, and there is no substitute for scouring through dirty milk crates for that needle in the haystack. "People sometimes call eBay the digging jinx because it's driven up the price on some crappy releases," DJ Shad says. "I consider it laziness."
Still, the ease of online shopping has been lucrative for stores like Vinyl Renaissance in Shawnee. Owners Dan Phillips and Frank Alvarez (who used to work at Recycled Sounds) own the city's largest cache of used records, with more than 30,000 titles, and do over half their business over the Internet.
"They'll get records any way they can," Phillips says of collectors, as if he were describing a junkie looking to score his next fix.
He and Alvarez credit a younger generation for fueling the format's comeback, but they consider 45s a soft market. "There really isn't much of a demand," Alvarez says. "Most people would rather spend their money on a full LP than something that just has a couple of songs."
That's good news for hardcore diggers like DJ Shadow.
"You know why he's coming to Kansas City, right?" Alvarez says. "He's looking for records."