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If you’re a regular reader of this blog you might remember a review I did earlier this year for the first RBMA Culture Clash at London’s Roundhouse in February. The review was controversial to say the least (see comments) yet still one of my favourite bits of writing this year for one of my favourite events.

When RBMA announced a second clash for October I jokingly asked them for a guest list on twitter, and they happily obliged – which was not just nice of them but also shows they have a sense of humour and don’t take themselves too seriously like others have been known to in the past (name no names). So it is that I went back to the Roundhouse for round 2 a couple weeks back, with the homies Goth Trad and Ryo SRK in tow. This time I reviewed the event for RBMA’s website (many thanks to them for that) and here’s the review below as well for the record.

If you want more FACT are also offering streams from the night and there’s a review of round 1 on RBMA’s site including links to streams. Lastly there’s also a short review with stream links of round 1 on Big Bad London. Massive thanks to Davide at RBMA for the hook up and laughs. Here’s to next year and hopefully seeing a Bristol sound system on the line up, or DMZ’s return.

Originally published on RBMA’s website.

As the saying goes, you don’t change a winning combination. With this in mind, RBMA returned to The Roundhouse in North London this October for a second Culture Clash following its debut in February this year as part of the 2010 Academy.

For those that missed it first time, the idea is rather simple: inspired by the long standing tradition of sound system clashes, RBMA bring together 4 sounds under one roof each with a rig, a small stage and four 20 minutes round with which to impress the audience, win them to their side and in the process kill sound boys dead (if so inclined).

The first Culture Clash was a memorable occasion and one of my event highlights of recent years. It did however suffer from a degree of controversy – nobody’s perfect after all. Firstly none of the ‘systems’ at this first clash were systems per se – labels, yes, but systems? Well not really, none of them travel up and down the country (or abroad) with their custom rigs and Soul II Soul could be argued to be the only ones coming anywhere close to a purist, or even standard, definition of what a system is. But that’s a rather small and unimportant point all things considered – such as when was the last time somebody put on an event like this, for example.

Secondly, and more importantly for those in attendance that night, the event was mired by a degree of controversy surrounding the final decision of who took the crown. This controversy arose from two simple things: combining competition and music is always problematic (see DJ battles) and bringing MDZ and DMZ together for a clash was always going to result in trouble, albeit friendly trouble, considering the legacies and current dance music trends involved. So it was that back in February, Goldie and MDZ took the crown. However the real winner of the first Culture Clash was most definitely the audience, the music and the culture, and the loser for some was a degree of ‘justice’ always associated with competition and the final, almost always unmovable, ref’s decision.

Fast forward 8 months and MDZ were invited to defend their crown against the sonic assaults of three new contenders: Soul Jazz and their 100% Dynamite show, Skream & Benga Presents… featuring Joker, MC Nomad and guests and Channel One with Mikey Dread, Ras Kayleb and their crew. On paper this looked set to be another corker, and the addition of Channel One – a ‘proper’ system – only got me more excited.

Entering The Roundhouse to see the now familiar set up of four systems next to each other pumping riddims into the crowd felt good. At a first look it seemed the set up was more or less the same: DIRT soundsystem was providing for Skream & Benga, Soul Jazz inherited a bigger Funktion One system that had served Soul II Soul well in February, Channel One brought their own custom system (I believe) and MDZ had the same system as last time by the looks of it. The first surprise though was just how much more powerful the MDZ system actually was this time – I could actually feel my nose and chest vibrate at the bar on the other side of the Roundhouse.

The highlight of the first Culture Clash for me was DMZ’s Sgt. Pokes true sound clash spirit – the way he stood alone on stage whipping the crowd into a frenzy, serving verbal beat downs and jokes to other systems and standing up for his sound still gives me goose bumps every time I listen to the audio and remember the night. He locked horns with MDZ on more than one occasion that night and regardless of the final decision, many felt he truly embodied the spirit of clashes better than anyone that night.

I secretly hoped Skream & Benga would pull him in considering their close ties. As I turned around after picking my ticket at the entrance, Pokes stood there smiling – there may well be hope after all I thought. 20 minutes later and as round 2 started Pokes stepped to the front of the stage to much applause. This was going to be interesting.

MDZ definitely impressed on the first round with a classic jungle selection by Shy FX that not only shook the entire Roundhouse with the system’s bass weight but also left a huge swathe of the crowd with hands in the air and shouts of more. Goldie and crew were definitely not taking this lightly. The second round went to the young contenders though, as Skream & Benga pulled some ridiculously big riddims out of the bag, followed by Chef’s always on point mixing and selection (he seemingly replaced Artwork on the night, a shame but as good a Croydon replacement as you’re going to find) and Joker dropping a few choice purple riddims of his own. While MDZ had hands in the air and dancing, Skream & Benga had moshing of ridiculous proportions with Pokes polishing things up nicely. Channel One and Soul Jazz both did well, but at this stage it still felt very much like a dubstep vs drum n bass thing.

Then it all started changing for me.

Soul Jazz somehow failed to impress. Maybe I wasn’t standing in the right spot but their system seemed to really lack the punch it seemed capable of providing by looking at it and, much like Trojan at the first clash, they lacked a fighting spirit that left them an easy prey for MDZ and others. Tunes and vibes are one thing, and they did provide those aplenty, but you got to come with some degree of competition otherwise, well it’s just not going to cut it.

MDZ continued to do well, with Andy C responding to Skream & Benga’s winning round with an even bigger selection while GQ and Justyce held their own on the mic a lot better than the first time. The dubstep kids also held their own but I couldn’t help but feel that they were missing something. Primarily drawing for their more recent productions, both solo and as Magnetic Man, didn’t help for me – it made the system feel less powerful than I know it can be and it also seemed a shame considering the back catalogue these young superstars already have. When I think of Skream’s confessed interest in Jungle, and family ties with Hijack, and his early junglistic experiments (like say ‘Lightning’) it seemed a shame to not draw for older plates and classics, as simple as they may have been. They did indulge in a little 2 step/garage selection later on though, which went down well.

It’s at this point that Channel One really started to emerge as a potential winner. Their rastafari vibes, teachings and experience shone through on a system that gradually started carrying more and more weight, making all the other systems sound weak in comparison. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself every time Mikey Dread started his round by praising the other sounds but reprimanding Skream & Benga. It may have been a dubstep vs drum n bass ting, but the old boys were not about to be left out. Bringing out Matik on trombone was just one of the many ways in which they schooled both the audience and other systems on how to clash, without letting the fighting spirit take the better of you. As Ras Kayleb put it in round 3, ‘If anybody come fi murda, dey a murdera, call di police’. Love and unity vibes may not be the most obvious approach for a clash but if you come prepared and experienced like they did then you stand as much of a chance as anyone else.
The quote of the evening has to go to Skream for me though, who at some point in round 3 cut the music to let Goldie and MDZ know that ‘You made classics, but now we make classics’. And yet despite how true the statement might hold – after all the young trio of Skream, Benga and Joker each already have a few classics to their names – I couldn’t help but feel that they were choosing to play it safe to a degree, rather than dig into their own classics, or at least more varied collective pasts.

The beginning of round 3 is also were it went wrong for Skream & Benga as they started with an homage to Goldie’s move into TV dancing shows, the impact of which was unfortunately dampened by MC Nomad’s choice of words towards MDZ. Let’s just say that he made a similar mistake to Bailey back in February when he let his tongue slip after Pokes and DMZ’s sonic and verbal assault on their sound.

By that point, and removing any bias I may have towards one particular sound, it was looking less and less likely for me that either of these two systems would take it despite the quality moments both served up. GQ continued to address Pokes by saying ‘No disrespect but…’ – which someone rightfully pointed out to me is like saying ‘I’m not racist but…’ – and then claimed that it was Channel One who were responsible for dubstep this time, following his claim that it was Trojan back in February. Someone might want to buy him a copy of Dubstep History 101 for the next clash. On the plus side, MDZ dropped a mash up of Coki & Benga’s ‘Night’ with Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ which was quite frankly absolutely priceless, if only to see the look on the faces across the room.

Both systems also had more people on stage than should really be allowed without losing a degree of clash credibility – don’t get me wrong showing you’re supported is one thing, but let the music speak and the crowd vibe. As the night progressed I couldn’t help but feel that both MDZ and Skream &Benga were essentially offering up the same thing, but at different ends of the dance music/hardcore continuum spectrum. And as for sound, Skream & Benga’s selection in the last round seemed to finally get the best out of the DIRT system with Joker’s classics like Gully Brook Lane sounding particularly ridiculous alongside Digital Mystikz’ Emergency and a couple of other absolute facemelting bits from the duo.

Ultimately though, with these two so intent on outdoing each other, it left the road clear open for Channel One to take. Calling lighters and trombone, preaching and above all feeding the crowd with insane bass weight (see the photo of the graph!) and good vibes I was more than pleased to hear they won it at the end of the night. As a friend put it to me, they won it years ago and were rightfully the best thing in the Roundhouse that night overall regardless of what side I may have been pinning for – and it wasn’t Channel One.

The winner was the crowd once again, and regardless of any controversies or arguments RBMA should be lauded for their efforts in making these two events happen. Considering London’s ties to Jamaican sound system culture and the way this culture has evolved and mutated over the decades in the capital’s darkest corners, an event like the Culture Clash is a true celebration of what is so exciting about London’s many music scenes and its mutations of sound system culture. What happens to it next is anyone’s guess, I for one hope it doesn’t go the way of DJ battles. One thing I’d love to see though is a Bristol system at the next one, I’m sure Pinch and Peverelist could bring some serious vibes to a clash. Failing that, DMZ should be given a comeback chance with Iration Steppas in tow – anyone who’s been to the West Indian Center dances in Leeds knows just how insane that system is.

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