By Stuart Oakes
“Hold on, DJ. The place is packed, and they’re telling me downtempo hip-hop beats will die. If downtempo hip-hop beats will never die and you agree say ‘aye!’”—probably some Bandcamp producer in, say, 2010.
In 2019, if the 13,000 folks listening to “lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to” on Youtube right now are any indication, downtempo hip-hop beats have not died. But in the nine years since the Detroit-based drummer and producer Shigeto first emerged as a purveyor of forward-thinking, contemplative downtempo, many of the genre’s producers have significantly shifted or expanded their focus. That number includes Shigeto himself, and if any members of the sizeable and surprisingly tipsy Toronto crowd who made it out to Shigeto’s recent show at Adelaide Hall were there with an “aye” in mind, they were in for a surprise.
The show opened with local producer Paul Chin, who mixed together some new beats, some edits, and some old favourites. Chin played almost exclusively his own productions, a diverse catalogue that’s generally dreamy, but on this night leaned party over nostalgia. He played some tunes that were indebted to the chill IDM/hip-hop-style that Shigeto made his name with, but Chin also jammed out some low-BPM bass-heavy floaters, some big cinematic drums, some wicked scratching, and the kind of futuristic rap-bangers that Vince Staples has been kicking out in recent years. It was a great set, and Chin, wrapped in an incredible black, sparkly cardigan, cut a warm, charismatic figure on stage.
Zach Shigeto Saginaw then took to the stage with the Shigeto Live Ensemble (Marcus Elliot on tenor sax, Ian Fink on keys, Brennan Andes on bass, and Saginaw on drums and electronics). Shigeto’s recent releases have been rewarding explorations into the jazz, house, Detroit techno, and ambient music that he grew up with, and the band moved between these four touchstones fluidly and with purpose.
Tenor sax player Elliot’s powerful dynamic and emotional range made him the crowd-favourite, but the warm, sometimes drifting, sometimes frenetic tunes spoke to the power and pleasure of collaboration. The group was tight and responsive to the crowd, and they hit a number of highs, including “Detroit Part II”—the loveliest jazz house tune that I’ve heard since Jesse Futerman’s “Vista”—and the unknown (to me) encore, which shifted in stages from electronica flourishes to a triumphant, spirit-lifting climax that I’m still basking in.Adelaide Hall, Shigeto, Toronto