How Trouble & Bass Won Red Bull Culture Clash

The Brooklyn crew had only five days to prepare, which made its win all the more shocking.

Trouble and Bass at Red Bull Culture Clash
Trouble and Bass Winning Red Bull Culture Clash© Tony Blasko/Red Bull Media House

If you were a betting man, the smart money, at least on paper, at last week’s Red Bull Culture Clash, the annual competition between DJ crews, would have been on Just Blaze and Young Guru, two hip-hop producers who've had a hand in hits for Jay-Z, Rihanna and Mary J. Blige, just to name maybe 1 percent of their output. In the other corners of the stage were Federation Sound, Que Bajo and Trouble & Bass. Solid crews, but none with legacy.

Then something shocking happened: Trouble & Bass won. And they deserved to win. They outplayed the others in the three contest rounds, relying on wit as much as track selection. They brought out signs that egged on the competition (“Young Dudu”). They brought out a Ninja Turtle. And in the final round, after Raekwon and Bun B held the spotlight and 2 Chainz strutted on stage, like a hip-hop Elvis in a shimmering gold suit, for Just Blaze and Young Guru, Trouble & Bass introduced Robin S. Yes, that Robin S., who sang her hit ‘Show Me Love.’ Then Cam’ron closed out the set. Game over. What made Trouble & Bass’s victory all the more remarkable was that they only had five days to prepare, after Fool’s Gold dropped out. How’d they do it? We spoke to Trouble & Bass founder Luca Venezia, a.k.a. Drop the Lime, to find out.

Red Bull Culture Clash 2013
Red Bull Culture Clash Stage© Tony Blasko/Red Bull Media House
Trouble & Bass
Trouble & Bass in Action© Christelle de Castro/Red Bull Media House

Walk us through the process of putting this together.

All of us, we already DJ, whether it’s individually or together as a crew. We always take DJing more as a live show approach and more of a punk rock attitude. So when we got asked to do this last minute, we were like “Ah, this is amazing because it’s already the kind of thing that we do anyway, where we mix every kind of genre together and create a crazy storyline within a DJ set.” But being that we were last minute and that we hadn’t done a Culture Clash before, we just did a lot of research. I feel like that’s what got us most excited about it and got us thinking: We’ve got to do crazy things, like bring out a Ninja Turtle and like bringing out a classic diva like Robin S. and mix her with a classic New York artist like Cam’ron. Just watching other Culture Clashes, like seeing Boy Better Know pull all these crazy disses and making it funny and witty, and also at the same time mischievous toward the other crews in London; and watching SMOG and what they did to beat Dim Mak in that Culture Clash [in Los Angeles] in having Frankie Chan dress up like Steve Aoki really got us thinking, “Oh, OK, this is really a theatrical event.” You have to take a theatrical approach – and basically have fun.

Raekwon
Raekwon, One of Just Blaze and Young Guru's Guests© Christelle de Castro/Red Bull Media House
2Chainz at Red Bull Culture Clash
2 Chainz at Red Bull Culture Clash© Christelle de Castro/Red Bull Media House

You looked like you were having a blast. Were you thinking the whole time, "Wait till everyone sees Robin S. come out"?

Yeah, absolutely. We had to keep her secret, so it was a dilemma where at soundcheck we were like, “Everyone’s going to hear her. We’re going to play ‘Show Me Love’ before the show.” Again to bring up the Boy Better Know crew from the London Culture Clash at Wembley, they dropped Usher’s tune with Diplo right before Major Lazer had Usher perform live, so that was hilarious, and we were expecting something like that to happen. And a lot of it was on the fly. We kind of read the crowd and figured if they’re not being receptive to a style of music, then let’s not play too much dubstep, or let’s not play too much trap or maybe we shouldn’t play a drum-and-bass tune. Things were planned, but at the same time it was also very spontaneous and we had many options so we could take a different path if we had to.

How did the whole thing come together?

[Trouble & Bass artist] AC Slater moved out to LA, so we had to fly him out here and we had less than a week. We had about five days when he arrived to sit down at the Trouble & Bass clubhouse or studio in Brooklyn, and four of us just pooled our favorite songs, all of our big bangers. We also went and figured out what the best popular songs of the time are now and what crazy VIP edits we can do of them. We had basically 300 tunes at first. And then we had to narrow it down to a time limit. We began DJing and pretending and timing ourselves in different scenarios -- we can’t play this Waka Flocka tune because maybe Just Blaze is going to play it, so what will we do that has the same amount of energy. And we were just practicing. We already don’t sleep as it is, and that week we didn’t sleep at all. It was just 10 a.m. till 4 a.m. everyday at the studio practicing.

Red Bull Culture Clash
Federation Sound at Red Bull Culture Clash© Tony Blasko/Red Bull Media House
Trouble & Bass
Trouble & Bass© Tony Blasko/Red Bull Media House

Was it hard getting the surprise guests?

That’s the other thing, too. We had to get them ourselves, which was exciting. We had to get the sound system ourselves. I’m not going to say it was stressful. It wasn’t stressful. But it was definitely a lot of hard work in a small amount of time. And to convince people, like maybe for example Robin S’s management, they don’t necessarily know who Trouble & Bass are or what we do. And we just got a quick relationship going and trust – building trust at the last minute with people’s management and artists themselves. So yeah, it was difficult. But it paid off. We’ve always been very honest and true to what we do and doing what we believe in, and I think that comes across when we meet in person with someone. And some of these artists trusted us. We had to go through a lot of channels. I hit up old friends from when I was a raver and meeting DJs when I was young. I went through all that – I’ve got to give props to the man Junior Sanchez. He really connected me to a lot of old house singers and he’s a legend in the house world.

Robin S.
Robin S. Performing at Red Bull Culture Clash© Tony Blasko/Red Bull Media House
Cam'ron at Red Bull Culture Clash
Cam'ron at Red Bull Culture Clash© Tony Blasko/Red Bull Media House

What’s next for Trouble & Bass?

We’re still going to be doing a lot of warehouse parties that we do in Brooklyn, keeping that attitude – and releases coming out. But we’re planning a big, giant tour for September because we’re turning 7. So we’re doing a worldwide tour. We’re bringing the party to major cities like London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and we’re going to be bringing guests. And we’re going to be taking a similar approach that we did at Culture Clash. We’ll have big surprise guests at each city that you wouldn’t expect. It’s a big one.

Follow Richard S. Chang and Red Bull Music Academy on Twitter for more updates.