Sonic warfare at Red Bull Music Academy

Four well-armed sound systems do battle at RBMA Culture Clash. There can be only one winner.
RBMA Culture Clash: Trouble & Bass's intimidating t-shirts.
Trouble & Bass: dressed to impress © Christelle de Castro / Red Bull Content Pool
By Colleen Nika

At Red Bull Music Academy's Culture Clash, four very different DJ crews brought genre-defying heat to Manhattan's Roseland Ballroom for an all-out sonic battle, bringing new meaning to "the art of war."

Colleen Nika assess the troops and their battle plans – where it went wrong and what it took to reign supreme.

RBMA Culture Clash: Que Bajo?!
Que Bajo?! © Christelle de Castro / Red Bull Content Pool

Que Bajo?!

The troops: Tropical bass firestarters Uproot Andy and Geko Jones create Pan-American rhythmic concoctions – sped-up soca, mambo, cumbia, and hybrids of Latin House – that keep any audience curious and on edge.

Battle tactic: A restless set primed specifically for the showdown, featuring original remixes of everything from South American folk to dubstep. They even tore across the pop threshold and dropped Drake's Started from the Bottom, re-calibrated cleverly in their own vernacular as Started from the Border.

Secret weapon: Lady Leshurr, who spat lightning-rod prophecies at the stunned audience and never looked back. Alongside Bajah, Magic Juan, Jahdan Blakkamore, Villanosam, and Chief Boima (of Banana Clipz), Que Bajo?!'s special guests were by far the most determined.

Result: A skilled battle, and their effort won over many. Alas, this wasn't the night for underdogs to overthrow the club kid status quo.

RBMA Culture Clash: Just Blaze
Just Blaze with Raekwon © Christelle de Castro / Red Bull Content Pool

Just Blaze & Young Guru

The troops: Trailblazers of big league hip hop; combined, they've created hits for Jay-Z, Beyonce, Rihanna, Cam'ron, Ghostface Killah, Eminem, and Kanye West.

Battle tactic: Pulling out the big guns. They even fired money from a cannon at one point. Theirs was expensive, glorified chaos. They eschewed the unfamiliar, and floundered sadly when they attempted dancehall. They boastfully littered their set with their own cadre of hits and brought along high-profile guests Raekwon, Cam'ron, Jadakiss, and Memphis Bleek.

Secret weapon: Bun B performing ‘Big Pimpin’’; the UGK member's surprise appearance was almost as cool as Jay-Z popping up to perform the classic. Almost.

Result: Kudos for reminding the kids of all the things they've done, but it wasn’t quite enough.

RBMA Culture Clash: Federation Sound
Federation Sound © Christelle de Castro / Red Bull Content Pool

Federation Sound

The troops: Jerky dancehall squad led by Max Glazer, Kenny Meez, and Cipha Sounds. The supreme "selectors" since 1999.

Battle tactic: Surgically-targeted programming, hot dubplates served fresh while wearing camo. Their set felt the most like an actual battlecry, flag waving and all. Glazer wasn’t afraid to throw jeers at the other DJs, despite the crowd's relative unfamiliarity with his crew.

Secret weapon: Ricky Blaze, a dancehall artist with a minor hit from about six years ago, I Feel Free.

Result: Skills to pay the bills and attitude for miles. But no competition for Trouble & Bass.

RBMA Culture Clash: Trouble & Bass
Trouble & Bass © Christelle de Castro / Red Bull Content Pool

Trouble & Bass

The troops: Drop The Lime, Strange VIP, AC Slater, Star Eyes. Known for punishing bass, as their name indiscreetly warns you. Bass from all cultural corners that threatens to break eardrums and the glass in your hand. In sonic war, this is a serious advantage.

Battle tactic: As they informed us, this was the first full-on DJ war they'd experienced so there was no choice but to "pull out all the stops". Their signature maximalism was turned up to 11, replete with blow-up palm trees, the bassline to Seinfeld, Smack My Bitch Up, and Smells Like Teen Spirit between “yo mama is a…" disses.

Secret weapon: Weed rappers The Flatbush Zombies and dance duo Nina Sky made cameos. But Robin S, of early ’90s house anthem ‘Show Me Love’, was their true dark horse.

Result: They commanded and conquered, no contest.

For more on the New York edition of Red Bull Music Academy, visit the website.

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