It’s official: LEVELZ are the winners of Red Bull Culture Clash Manchester 2016. Four crews came to conquer, but only one can leave clutching the prestigious airhorn trophy. Just like Culture Clash Bristol, it went right down to the wire – but that’s the way we like it, right?
The first thing you notice when you enter the main room of Manchester’s Old Granada Studios are the four enormous sound systems. There’s Dub Smugglers’ wooden construction, built in their own carpentry studio in the style of the old Jamaican sound systems. LEVELZ’s futuristic speaker set up looks like something you might see attached to the Starship Enterprise. Made In Manchester’s hulking rig is clearly built for war, while A Guy Called Gerald Presents Basstronic are joined by Tony Andrews, co-inventor of the legendary Funktion-One sound system. Suffice to say their sound is loud as hell and clear as a bell.
We’ve pretty much spent the most part of 2016 making sure we have this offChimpo
If each sound system looks different, it’s emblematic of the radically different tactics that each crew employs in their race for the prize. A Guy Called Gerald Present Basstronic play their set like a history lesson, their opening round featuring everything from Millie Small’s My Boy Lollipop to SL2’s On A Ragga Tip, and while they’re light in terms of bodies compared to other crews, MC Navigator is giving it his all. Dub Smugglers are a sunny and good-natured presence throughout, and that they don’t score a point feels like a great injustice. Mixing up roots dub and drum’n’bass with a handful of well-sourced dubplates, their set is bolstered with some formidable guests: fast-chatting female MC Soom T, Brit reggae legend Top Cat (dressed head to toe in white) and secret special guest General Levy, who tears up the final round with a take on Incredible that every bit lives up to its title.
But at times, tonight feels like a grudge match between two crews: d’n’b supergroup Made In Manchester and their mischievous hometown kin LEVELZ. It’s not a real grudge match, of course – in real life they’re best of friends. But clearly, neither crew is going to back down. Made In Manchester go in hard, smashing out the hard d’n’b and grime, cussing out the competition and making a big deal of their veteran status.
Watch what happened with LEVELZ dropped their Eek-A-Mouse response.
LEVELZ, meanwhile, play it with customary humour, baiting their enemies with a sign reading “Made In Chelsea”, playing a mid-set game of badminton with some fluffy children’s toys, and Skittles and Fox climbing in a dinghy for a spot of crowdsurfing (crowdsailing?). This is all good entertainment, but luckily they have the tunes to back it up too, pulling out dubplates of Sweet Female Attitude’s Flowers and The Prodigy’s Out Of Space. They even manage to one-up Made In Manchester’s Kurupt FM dubplate with a recording of the pirate radio posse taking the piss: “What else do they have in their record box?" "Tissues, mostly.”
As the final Armageddon round begins, it’s two points to LEVELZ and one to Made In Manchester – but the final round counts for double, so it’s all to play for. Made In Manchester pull out a drum’n’bass refix of the Happy Mondays’ Step On, a performance of Chase & Status’ Blind Faith with guest vocalist Liam Bailey, and – incredibly – a recording of actor Morgan Freeman somberly announcing the impending demise of their challengers.
But the momentum is with LEVELZ, and as the final decibel count comes in, they’ve just about inched it. They take the trophy – and immediately pass it on to Dub Smugglers, declaring them winners by proxy. Not sure that counts, but nice gesture, eh?
Says LEVELZ's Chimpo:
When it’s going on, there’s a load of things you can’t factor in – mistakes, positioning, timing, who’s on first. At the beginning, I was like, you know what? I’m happy for anyone to win, know what I mean? Because they’re all from Manchester and they’re all my mates. I don’t know A Guy Called Gerald, but he’s a legend obviously. But Made In Manchester, they’re my family – Dub Smugglers too. Did you see, we gave them the trophy? Red Bull announced we won, so we announced Dub Smugglers won. Because what they did – they did it with class and decorum, and I felt they were a bit underrated on the night.
So that’s that. Bristol and Manchester have fallen – next stop is London in June. See you there?