Inside the clean lines and warped angles of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown LA, Stones Throw kingpin Peanut Butter Wolf, Beat Junkie J. Rocc. and ex-J5’er Cut Chemist stood in a spot normally reserved for the LA Philharmonic. Strange territory for the the local legends, who along with trip-hopper Amon Tobin, were among the chosen few hand-picked to participate in the Phil’s “Shadow of Stalin” series. Sardonically called Pravda (“the truth” in Russian), the event promised a “re-interpretation of the music of Profokiev, Shostakovich and Mosolov,” set to visuals from classic Russian propaganda films. Weird.

Especially considering the bill’s subterranean leanings (or at least subterranean ten years past) that featured these underground linchpins out of the the small sweat-box club circuit, and into the rarefied air of the beautiful monstrosity that Gehry built, a venue that still feels brand-new even though its been operating for nearly half a decade. It’s the sort of place where people see no irony in describing themselves as “patrons of the arts,” and yet something felt inherently right with seeing the proles temporarily invade the $275 million home of the Philharmonic.

Wolf and J. Rocc subversively slipped Madvillain and Portishead into their mix, letting the slurring grooves melt against the projections of Soviet Propaganda flickering pornographically on a massive big-screen.Meanwhile, clips of legendary Eisenstein flick, Battleship Potemkin, Animal Farm and other deranged Soviet cartoons bulldozed your senses. 50 foot images of Joseph Stalin recycled endlessly, leading you to arrive at the conclusion that the dictator must’ve conquered Russia on good hair alone. The man had quite the coif. And I don’t use the word coif lightly. The whole thing made you agree with the late James Brown’s declaration: “Hair is the first thing. And teeth the second. Hair and teeth. A man got those two things he’s got it all.” Though I must admit, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Stalin smile. Did he even have teeth?

Beards, Blazers, & Borscht: Stalin-The Hipster Prototype?

Normally, DJ shows are among the most boring things imaginable. I went to dozens of them as a teenager because it was the sort of one of thing that budding hip-hop heads do to prove they’re “down with hip-hop,” I imagine this is something akin to hipsters pretending to like Man Man. Most DJ shows consist of a whole lot of standing around and a whole lot of scratching, which is cool for about 4 minutes until you realize that you could’ve just played a Gangstarr record on loop and it would probably produce a better effect.

But the Shadows of Stalin show last Saturday was the exact opposite of your typical DJ show. From the moment, you walked into the Back to the Future 2 looking structure, the theme of the night was evident, from the ominous Hammer and Sickles flashing next to a performance from the Dublab Collective, to the totalitarian propaganda that accompanied the DJ’s tunes. As for the sets themselves, they were nothing short of spectacular. After Wolf and J. Rocc delivered a triumphant scorched-earth 40 minutes of funk , Cut Chemist came through with nothing short of one of the greatest DJ performances I’ve ever seen, ingeniously pairing Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” to John William’s score ffrom Star Wars, complete with visuals of R2D2 wandering through the desert.

Mixing the classical tracks with those from his current CD, The Audience is Listening, Chemist performed aided by Mumbles on piano, and rapper Hymnal and harp player Ricky Rasura of the Polyphonic Spree. Following the home-town boy Chemist, Brazilian born trip-hopper Amon Tobin delivered a violently forceful performance, creating sound so loud that the walls convulsed. Even more remarkable than the drug-addled beats were the visuals: as everything from psychedelic children’s propaganda to reels of black and white industrial filth were sliced and diced, battering your senses like herky-jerky punches with vicious accuracy. It was the sort of thing people that move to cities for in the first place. It was something all too-rare in Los Angeles. A brilliant display of art not for commercial purposes but art for its own sake. It was so good that Stalin himself would’ve had to smile. That is if he had teeth.

MP3: Cut Chemist-“The Garden”
MP3: Cut Chemist:”Storm”

MP3: J. Rocc-“Bubbha’s Dance”

MP3: Amon Tobin-“Bloodstone”

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