What is a Sound Clash? Unforgettable moments from Red Bull's 2016 Culture Clash
After waiting nearly two years since the last Culture Clash for this, anticipation was at an all-time high. Waking up to the glorious sound of my alarm clock at 6:15am, the first thing I did was try and get the youtube link set up. Panic began to set in as it was fifteen minutes later and I still hadn't been able to get the UK stream working. BBC Radio coverage wouldn't quite cut it. Luckily I stumbled upon a London gamer's twitch account who happened to be streaming the event. What a time to be alive.
To those who are foreign to the idea of a sound clash, what actually is it? Sound clashes date back to the 1950's in Jamaica, where people would put together massive speakers to form their sound system, which they would use to compete against opposing crews/sound systems (in a public space). Towards the end of the clash each collective would play their best tunes or exclusive cuts/remixes called "dubplates" to gain the crowd's support. Each crew would go riddim for riddim until the crowd declared a winner by means of applause, or gravitating towards the sound system they preferred. Due to their West Indian roots sound clashes generally tended to feature predominantly reggae, dancehall, and jungle music.
How do you win a sound clash though? By adhering to the rules and serving up the crowd something they never expected to hear, or see. It's not uncommon to hear ridiculous mashes, like customised Celine Dion dubplates, mixed with classic dancehall riddims. In more recent times people have gone to excessive lengths to acquire these dubplates. Some even resort to recording "fake dubplates" with soundalike, copycat vocalists who are meant to imitate the original artist. More on that later. Another common technique in clashes is to hurl insults at your opponents, or as we would call it "trash talk". Contestants often try to find as much dirt (on their opponent) as they can in order to utilise it during their performance. Typical tactics include digging up old/lost recordings, finding forgotten youtube videos, interview soundbites and more.
Step in Red Bull. They've been throwing Culture Clashes in England & America since 2010, where they put collectives from different genres against each other. Their events contain the same fundamental rules from original sound clashes, with a few twists. Each crew is allowed to bring in four secret guests to help win the crowd over. In years previous guests have included names like Usher, Rita Ora, Pusha T, Danny Brown and Tempa T (much to BBK's dislike) among others.
"Garage? I don't care about garage. Who told you that I make garage?"
Bringing out other big names in the scene like Chip (formerly Chipmunk), Stormzy and Solo 45 proved to provide big hype levels for the youthful crowd. When Stormzy came out simply his presence was enough to get a reload (he didn't even have to say anything!). D Double E also springs to mind as one of only a few MC's to be capable of that sort of response from the crowd. However, for the rest of the night it seemed as if Eskimo Dance had missed out on the basic memo. This is a clash, not a radio set or a concert, and Wiley's crew were failing to properly address the other crews while performing their own songs (aside from Fekky - again, more on that later).
Next to the stage were the UKG All-Stars who were comprised of many of the stars, and founding fathers of garage: So Solid Crew, DJ Luck & MC Neat, Oxide & Neutrino and Majestic (who assumed captain/MC-ing duties). UKG's first round was simply amazing, full of dubplates, huge crowd reactions and left me feeling like they were going to be near impossible to beat. Not to mention the personalised intro from Danny Dyer (of Eastenders) at the famous Queen Vic pub, reminiscent of Rebel Sound's video from the legendary newsreader Trevor McDonald at the 2014 clash.
Mixpak wasted no time in testing the other crews, by opening with a Soul II Soul dubplate of their massive hit Back To Life. They followed this up with dubs from names like Ninjaman, Beenie Man, Serani and London's own Big Tobz. After playing out U Kno My Style they followed it up with a specialised vocal version of Ripgroove's Double 99 featuring dancehall/jungle artist Topcat. It was clear that Mixpak had done their due diligence and were well clued up on how to appeal to all people in the crowd at the O2.
Closing out the first round were Wiz Khalifa's Taylor Gang. The American rapper's star power obviously proved to help him score some impressive exclusive dubs by the likes of A$AP Ferg, DJ Khaled (video messages), Fat Joe and even the ex-wifey Amber Rose! It was the Travis Scott banger Antidote however which pulled one of the best crowd responses of the night. Anyone doubting the American crews' chances on the night (due to the unorganised effort of the A$AP Mob in the previous clash) were quickly proved wrong.
Despite taking the first round, UKG seemed to tail off in the final two rounds, and were unable to keep up with the strong efforts of Mixpak. Eskimo Dance (who won round two) sure got the crowd moving by bringing out more guests like Lethal Bizzle, Ghetts, and Kano, however they failed to have the dubs or the clashing theatrics that the other teams brought to the table. Taylor Gang put forward a serious effort and won over the respect of everyone in the audience, and watching over the internet. It would have been particularly interesting to see who would have nabbed second place between them and UKG (if they had a runner up). Though this years clash failed to live up to the hype of 2014's (lets be honest, it was always an insurmountable task) it was still an exhilarating event and showed how sound clashes are the most unique and enjoyable (yet intense!) events in music. This was a night where Mixpak displayed why dancehall and reggae sound systems are always tough to defeat in a clash.
Here are some of our observations, and favourite moments from the event:
1. UKG deliver Monsta Boy's garage classic Sorry over Daniel Bedingfield's Gotta Get Thru This (one of the highest charting garage songs of all-time) before descending into a flurry of cuts (including Wiley & Preditah tunes)
2. Stormzy gets to spit these fitting lines off Know Me From
3. Too many splices
The allure of a dubplate from a big mainstream star often proves to be extremely desirable for some crews. When they can't secure one from a big artist (or out of simply not caring) they can be known to get someone with a similar voice to record one instead - the crowd sometimes doesn't even notice! This year we were treated to Justin "Connor Maynard" Bieber, "BTEC" Adele, and more. BBC Radio 1 DJ, and host of the live stream Mista Jam tweeted out: "I'm hearing 80% of one sound's dubs are fake replays"
4. Taylor Gang resurrect and bring out Ice Kid
This was just one of the many great moves the US crew made on the night. Respect to Taylor Gang. They came prepared with the dubs and put together a much better / focused effort than A$AP Mob's atrocity a couple of years ago.
5. DJ Khaled.. Bumbaclart!
6. Popcaan v Fekky (Popcaan delivers the knockout punch)
Fekky was one of the few members of Eskimo Dance who was actually clashing on the night. He was going back and forth with Popcaan and said the most obvious of insults, that Popcaan was upset Drake took him off his record (Controlla). In the final round Popcaan comes out and sets the scene / mood for this moment perfectly. Once he's got the crowd going he drops the rare Drake dub for One Dance. As Mixpak were exclaiming, once Popcaan had dropped this dubplate the clash was over, and they were deserved winners