Thousands of people assembled in the 20,000 capacity 02 arena (Greenwich) for the fifth instalment of Red Bull Culture Clash which is being described as the world’s biggest musical battle. Many stars were amongst the audience members taking in the show, whilst social media locked in via online streaming and conversed about its various peaks and troughs using the hashtag #CultureClash (have a look at some of the running commentary – you won’t be bored!). The event was first launched in 2010, takes place every two years and is based upon traditional Jamaican sound clash culture.
This year’s contenders were: UKG All Stars (UK), Eskimo Dance (UK), Wiz Khalifa & Taylor Gang (US) and Mixpak (Jamaica). The emergent winners were Mixpak, a relatively unknown ensemble though each member is renowned, in their own right. The night was divided into four rounds, each designed to test the sounds and audience in a number of ways.The verdict is in.
Spearheaded by legendary Godfather of Grime Wiley, their set seemed more like a concert than a clash; a really exciting concert at sometimes and fragmented at others. Some of the UK’s most loved and revered acts graced the stage on their behalf such as Stormzy (left), D Double E, Fekky, Kano and Chipmunk. This entertainment factor won them some points and secured a victory for them in the second round. However, splice (fake) dub plates are illegal in sound clashes and Eskimo were accused of playing inauthentic Ed Shereen, Adele and Jess Glynne standards. Shame.
Rounds Won: Second - ‘The Selector’
This team consisted of a who’s who of the British Garage and Jungle scene including Oxide & Neutrino, So Solid Crew and DJ Luck & MC Neat with Producer/Kiss FM DJ Majestic doing an impressive job of hosting. UKG fought commendably for victory; at one point, it felt like the real competition was between them and Mixpak. Between their So Solid mini reunion, UK Funky House/Garage-medley, brilliant Eastenders intro (featuring Danny Dyer in character as Mick Carter) and overall tune selection, the crew consistently resonated with the crowd which no other team was able to do. Unfortunately, like their Eskimo sound counterparts, UKG were called into question about their Major Lazer and Sia dubs. Awkward.
Rounds Won: First - ‘Pressure Drop’
Wiz Khalifa & Taylor Gang
As the only American team competing in the clash, Taylor Gang had their work cut out especially since the last US team to compete - A$AP Mob - failed miserably. Still, they presented a real challenge to be proud of with some really strong dubs. A major highlight for this sound was their feature of MC Ice Kid (Wiley’s protégé) which was met with both excitement and shock - given his reclusiveness up until that point. This was a smart move that won the favour of the audience. Taylor Gang also recruited Florida based, Jamaican sound Black Chiney to run their tunes whilst artists Travis Scott, Joey Bada$$ and Ty Dolla $ign made appearances onstage. Having remarked that he’s “here to have fun with the audience”, Wiz (above) did just that and threw two giant, inflatable joints into the crowd for good measure. Great fun.
Having won two rounds, Mixpak - which is also a Brooklyn based independent dancehall label - were crowned the overall champions. They boasted a number of major players within Jamaican music and sound culture such as Popcaan, Spice, Kranium, Tony Matterhorn, Serocee and Jubilee with Mixpak founder/producer Dre Skull. So, we are talking about a collective, cultural embodiment of sound clash heritage who wouldn’t have been able to live it down if they ever came to England and lost! Mixpak did get off to a slow start though which was owing - in my opinion - to an initial failure to resonate with a crowd that they aren't, perhaps, used to. Like Taylor Gang, they faced a certain disadvantage through not being from the UK yet having to compete on British soil. Still, the sound came with some surprises in their bag and strong players who would eventually help to seal their success.
A highlight of their performance was Grime custodian/Brixton boy Big Narstie (above) – in his dreadlocks wig and topless glory. We love Narstie out here, so this move really got the audience excited and won Mixpak the third round, after losing the first two to both UK sounds. Popcaan was another point-scorer, due to his popularity and the fact that this was his first time in the UK. Spice isn't called the 'Queen of Stage' for nothing and won the masses with her presence and swagger; she jumped into the splits, landed on the stage-floor and leapt up again, to fire some scathing, lyrical shots at their opponents which included threatening to "chop Wiley's dick off".
Shout out to Matterhorn and Serocee, who were primarily on the mic and helped to keep the momentum going. Popcaan endured quite a lot of teasing from the other teams about a recent, rumoured beef between him and Drake. However, the naysayers were silenced as the 02 arena erupted into a frenzy when Mixpak dropped their now infamous Drake ‘One Dance’ dub. Their entire squad began jumping about in celebration of a victory, apparent. Dance done. Lock off. Finished. Red Bull did a fantastic job of staging this event; roll on 2018!