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The Red Bull Music Academy‘s culture clash at the Roundhouse in Camden last night wasn’t your average event. So it deserves a different type of review.

For those with a twitter-like attention span you can view all my tweets from the night in this screenshot or using the # I used (but that’s got other stuff in the stream I think). Wasn’t planning on a blow by blow account but soon enough I was dancing like a madman beer in one hand, phone in the other. Battery died sometime in the 3rd round, so if you want the full, reasoned argument read on.

1st disclaimer: I’ve had 4 hours of (bad) sleep, I’m hungover and I’m still aching from the dancing.

2nd disclaimer: I’m biased (more on that in a min).

EDIT: 3rd disclaimer: as a friend (who shall remain nameless) just pointed out while we were talking systems clashing last night, the reality is all 4 of these sounds aren’t ‘proper’ system, both Soul II Soul and MHZ are well past their prime. Not to take anything away from any of them but it should be said. Real systems like Shaka, Aba Shanti and Channel One should have been there. God knows it would have been so much more entertianing to see DMZ clashing those guys. I guess though the PR machine had to take the better, friendlier acts.

Despite all this allow me a ‘reasoned look’ at what happened last night and especially the final decision. After all it was a clash so while it’s true that we, the public, were all winners because of the event’s quality and the mere fact it happened, there is a result and it can be contested, especially after what happened.

Now I’d hoped the night would be many things but until I stepped into that round hall at around 10 I wasn’t sure it would be done ‘right’. As it was though, RBMA had the setup as it should have been: 4 systems next to each other, one room, 4 rounds, 15 minutes each and the public decides winners. As my mate remarked it did feel a bit like history in the making. I was just happy that my hope of a proper soundclash, or at least what I’ve always imagined one to be, weren’t dashed from the beginning. Full compliments to RBMA on their setup and execution, truly a memorabe event, already my year’s best and quite possibly the best dance I have ever been to.

Back to the point. I don’t think anyone could have predicted what would happen or just how symbolic this set up would become during the night as four of the city’s biggest and baddest systems, Soul II Soul, Metalheadz, Trojan and DMZ, clashed over 5 hours. 4 systems, 4 sounds each representing a generation of bass music and culture. Every time Don Letts came on at the end of a round to ask the audience for their ‘vote’ I kept thinking just how memorable this whole thing was. For the first time in the history of sound system culture we’re at a point where it’s possible for something like this to be happening, for four generations, four evolutions and mutations of bass and sound system culture to come together and clash. It’s really quite an amazing thing.

EDIT: as Wrongtom rightfully pointed out none of them are really systems in the purest sense of the word , apart from Soul II Soul I guess, but you know literary license and all that. Let’s say 4 of the town’s biggest and baddest labels then.

Now out of these 4 systems, Trojan, Soul II Soul and MHZ represented in many ways the past for me, so to speak. I have love and admiration for each as a label and a sound but I didn’t grow up with any of them, I was a ‘late’ fan – I discovered their sound then went backwards through their catalogue learning the history.

DMZ on the other hand I have a link to them as a label and a sound that I have with none of the others. Just like my UK friends grew up with MHZ and jungle and so felt an attraction to the label last night I have that same link with DMZ. I was fortunate enough to be around and see the ‘sound’ evolve and reach where it is today. I remember the first proto-dubstep tunes Steve Kode 9 played me in 02/03, I remember him taking me to FWD in like 03 (which was already ‘late’ to a degree) or discovering Mala at the Old Blue Last back in ’05 (with Don Letts ironically) and being left speechless at what I was hearing. I remember going to the last few Third Base sessions, and when I moved to Japan in ’07, I was blessed to work with the first dubstep crew out there (out to Goth and my BTC family) and see the sound evolve in a new country. All of which is a long way of saying why I’m biased. It was always gonna be dmz for me unless someone brought something serious. But ultimately no one else did.

Now for the review. It was a clash and I don’t know what the judging ‘criterias’ were beyond crowd noise, but for me there were four things last night that mattered: the weight of the sound, the system’s stage presence, the selection and the crowd support.

DMZ had the bass weight by a mile. During the third round I was a good 20 meters from the stack and my whole body was rattling. Considering the space and its acoustics, the guys won that hands down. They destroyed all other sounds. DMZ also had the jokes. And while some of these jokes seem to have stuck in the throat of certain other sounds, fact is they were jokes. Fair game. It’s a clash, like Pokes said they didn’t come out to make friends. There were no insults, just jokes. The only insult of the night came from the system who seemingly couldn’t take the fact that they were being schooled by others. First it was Pokes ripping into Goldie for playing Caspa (‘next time you’re on celebrity who wants to be a millionaire, are you going to call Caspa when you need to call a friend?’ – line of the night), and later on the way he pulled up Jazzie B for playing a CD after banging on about dubs all night was priceless. Harsh maybe, but all done in good taste and in the real spirit, or at least what I always imagined the real spirit of a clash to be like.

Trojan had the stage presence. Their first two rounds weren’t all that but then their singers came out and took it to another level. They were great, they had the whole peace, love and respect vibe but ultimately they didn’t cut it. Wrongtom tells me the blind singer is called Supa4 and he is definitely my new favourite – they had great presence and when they versioned lots of reggae classics the crowd rightfully went nuts. Soundwise though it wasn’t that. Great selection still.

Soul II Soul had the selection. Jazzie B showed why he is the legend he is today and why Soul II Soul carries the respect it does. MC Chickaboo was a great frontwoman. She also had jokes, so it makes me laugh that Pokes was pulled for ‘joking’ when others did too. Also at one point Soul II Soul sounded ridiculously big, but then DMZ came back and out-weighted them.

As for MHZ, well I’m not quite sure what they had to be honest. There seemed to be their fan club on stage which wasn’t a good look. I don’t want to see 15 year old girls shaking it. I want to see a show, this is a clash. They had 3 MCs, 3 DJs, a lot of empty boasting and about 10 mins worth of quality tunes in the whole night. Also the mixing was shoddy at best, the only one who saved it was Kemistry EDIT: Storm not Kemistry. RIP. I should hang my head in shame for that mistake, but I’m tired so I’ll use that as my excuse. Still big up Storm, she was the baddest MHZ DJ no doubt. with her last set, dropping Pulp Fiction and Nitrous remix, tunes I’d been wanting to hear all night. It was too late. Same with dropping Valley of the Shadows, in the second round I think – 31 seconds too late lads. Nice effort and all but you got schooled, by DMZ and by everyone else. It’s just a shame that it seems you couldn’t be graceful in battle.

Out of the 4 systems, DMZ and MHZ had in many ways the most to battle for. DMZ have never shied from admitting MHZ’s influence on their birth and growth. So it was like the young lion vs the older lion who’s been chilling on the savannah while everyone else does stuff. Ok enough of the animal analogies. For me it was that competitiveness, which was so apparent in DMZ’s sets and presence (in a good way) which made the clash between those two sounds so amazing to witness. But it seems it was also why MHZ couldn’t take being schooled by the new kids on the block.

Ultimately, and no disrespect (you need to have been there to get that line), MHZ made a mockery of what the label stood for, for me anyways. It was like watching that video of David Hasselhof when he’s eating a burger in his underpants in his bathroom. Overweight, coked-up celebrity losing the plot in front of everyone.

As the night ended Don Letts called for a winner and somehow MHZ took it. Twilight Zone steez. Now like I said I don’t know the criterias, but if we’re talking crowd support, it was DMZ all the way. Anyone there can attest to that. Even Trojan and Soul II Soul had more support. MHZ were the only system to get booed in the last 2 rounds. You don’t win if you got booed. Standard. And also there was a small matter of Bailey shooting at the mouth at the beginning of the last round and calling Pokes a certain something, which just felt like one of those really awkward and painful to witness moments, when someone has the piss taken out of them (justly, it’s a clash after all) and can’t take the fact that they aren’t the better man. The crowd flipped on them at that point, so for them to be given the crown at the end of the night was just that much more painful to witness.

Ultimately the night itself was amazing. I don’t want any negativity anyone might read in this to overshadow that. Like I said, best dance ever by a long mile. The kind of thing I’ll never see again probably, or not for a while. History in the making, and I don’t think that even with all the preparation and care that obviously went into it anyone could have predicted how the clash between MHZ and DMZ would turn out or just how symbolic the night would become of which sound was today the ‘biggest’.

4 generations of bass culture, and one clear winner. If it hadn’t been a clash then it would have just been a poor showing on MHZ’s part, but it was a clash and like the football games I remember as a kid (Mexico 86 crew stand up) that meant 4 of the best of the best, and so contesting is part of the game. Just like when a certain Argentinian frontman stole the victory back in 86. End of.

I agree with Pokes when he said ‘I want to see this again next year’, though I’d rather wait another 5 or 10 years. You got to give those who got buried time to fix up their game after all.

EDIT: RBMA have posted an edit of the night, and it looks amazing. I really hope they do a DVD of this, it so deserves it (as long as you got the subs to go with the home entertainment system). Without putting fuel back on the dormant fire, imho the ending says it all.

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