From veterans of the club circuit to young firepower, Red Bull Turn It Up’s India edition on 22nd November at antisocial, Mumbai, is pairing up DJs and MCs for a rollercoaster ride of energy. The knockout format means that every second and every beatflip, record scratch and shoutout counts. And the best part is the audience votes for their favourite DJ-MC pair via LED wristbands.
Ahead of Red Bull Turn It Up, we spoke with the artists involved to find out what’s in store.
DJ SA (with Shah Rule)
One of the most reliable party-starters in India, when DJ SA throws a party, the energy doesn’t flag. From club nights at the smallest spaces to venues like blueFROG to festival stages and events like Red Bull Off The Roof, SA has been at it since 2003. Just as much known as a sneakerhead (and foodie, by his own admission), SA has also slowly made a name in Indian hip-hop beyond being a selector, helming production for artists like Seedhe Maut.
At Red Bull Turn It Up, DJ SA pairs up with the inimitable wordsmith Shah Rule. SA says, “I've never been part of a format like this before. The closest I got to was a war of DJs that I use to take part in early in my career. But this is such an amazing concept that you finally get to pair with an MC, be a team and expand your creative horizon, and go crazy in hyping the crowd up.”
All DJs play it by ear, but SA also plays it by gut when it comes to track selection and reading the crowd, which is crucial to moving forward in Red Bull Turn It Up. He says, “The track selection is the most important in this situation, because you’re judged only on a few tracks so they have to be bang on.” In terms of strategy, SA remains wryly cryptic and says, “Does a magician ever reveal their secrets?”
Although they’re in different cities, SA and Shah Rule have been plotting their way at the event. The DJ says, “Teaming with Shah is like two friends hanging after years and still picking up the convo like it was yesterday that they met... we click instantly and our love for music – not just for hip-hop but almost every genre – is what will speak for itself.”
Shah Rule, for his part, says they’re here to win as a seasoned pair, having worked together since 2015. “From 2015 to 2019, I’ve regularly MC-ed with India’s top hip-hop DJs all over the country, including DJ Sa, DJ Uri, DJ Proof, Spindoctor and many more. To be honest, 75 per cent of the clubs I step into I will end up grabbing the mic just for fun and say random stuff to hype the crowd. Being a good MC is something I take pride in because not every rapper can do it,” Shah Rule says. He’s already psyching out the competition and freestyles a bar for our interview:
“Friendships out the door, when it comes to battle, can’t stay ALOOF
SA and Shah kill ‘em, leave no evidence, eliminate PROOF
We Make the crowds head SPIN, hands moving, they just wanna ROCK
They lil’ uzi reverted to our guestlist, for our appointment with DOC
Great news, we the sickest in the game where’s our TROPHY?
Just dial a taxi home, it’s way past bed time for an OG”
The Spindoctor (with Neerajomatic)
The Spindoctor aka Sanjay Meriya has been a mainstay for Gully Gang over the years. In his own right, the DJ has had an inspirational story to become an artist even after pursuing an undergraduate degree in medicine and surgery. As hip-hop grew in India, Spindoctor became a full-time DJ in 2017 and has performed across the country since then, also producing for the likes of Gravity and MC Headshot.
At Red Bull Turn It Up, he’s teaming up with MC Neerajomatic to form a duo with history that goes back more than a decade. When Spindoctor put on Eminem’s hit “Lose Yourself” at a club gig and called on anyone to rap along to the song, he found not just a worthy rapper in Neerajomatic but also a friend. The pair are now part of hip-hop artist Dino James’ rap crew at live shows.
Spindoctor terms Red Bull Turn It Up as a “different concept” in the Indian landscape. He adds, “I’ve been part of DJ battles which are solo but performing as a DJ-MC pair is something I really love, because MCs can really hype the crowd up and the DJ can focus on skills. I’m happy for this [event], because DJs are getting recognition, so I’m super excited about how DJs are going to be placed at a point where they deserve.”
Spindoctor says the prep so far has been “intense.” He adds, “The themes are crazy. I get to use my experience as an open-format DJ and put in the work of selecting good tracks. And Neeraj is a different vibe altogether. We know our fortes in terms of music. We listen to all the genres and that’s going to help us. The plans and strategy are simple – go as crazy as we can in terms of skills and entertainment. We’re going to go wild and bonkers. It’s going to be madness for us.”
Neerajomatic has experience of over a decade in club and festival scenes, especially as a hypeman for Dino James and DJ Shadow Dubai. He says Red Bull Turn It Up is going to be “one of a kind”, especially because he and The Spindoctor are going up against known friends and family. “I’m approaching this with a neutral attitude, however I know the energy that I bring to the stage is gonna have all these competitors having an eye on me […] This battle is going to bring the best out of all of us, and that’s what I’m most excited about,” the MC says.
Ask him if he’s ready for trash-talking his friends and family and Neerajomatic is quick to say, “I’m sure no one wants to start a beef by dissing anyone.” He adds with a laugh, “The trash talk is going to happen because we all know each other personally on some level. I think there’ll be a very healthy banter that’s going to happen and that’s going to be the essence of the event – all the brothers trash-talking each other.”
DJ Proof (with Enkore)
Mumbai’s DJ Proof aka Vinayak Pasula has been a fixture behind the decks for several artists over more than a decade. Chances are, you’ve seen him turn it up for rap stars like DIVINE. Since 2010, Proof has steadily made his way from clubs to stadiums around the country and the world with DIVINE, and lorded over proceedings with Gully Gang artists.
At Red Bull Turn It Up, it’s going to be new territory for Proof, who is teaming up with seasoned MC Enkore aka Ankur Johar. “This is the first time I am part of something like this and I am very excited. It’s a great concept for a DJ + MC pair to show their skills and song selection to the crowd.”
Like SA, Proof too is playing his cards close to the chest and not keen on revealing any kind of strategy at the moment. But the DJ adds, “Prep has been on in full force. Knowing this is a multi-genre and multi-themed competition, finding the right song and playing it is more difficult than playing a DJ set, I believe.” To his credit, Proof has never made a set before a gig and often relied on the vibe of the audience that’s turned up to the show.
He's teaming up with Enkore, who has been in the know for more than a decade. Proof says, “Enkore and I go way back; more than 10 years. We have performed together in the clubs for the longest time. I have played for two of his album launch shows and he has MC-ed for many of my shows as well.”
Enkore chimes in to say that Proof and he came up in the clubbing circuit in Mumbai’s hip-hop scene around the same time, meeting early on in their respective careers. A lot of experience of MCing for Proof, according to Enkore, comes from the time they spent during the DJ’s residency at club venue Raasta. “He’s been one of my favorite Indian hip-hop DJs and also one of my favourite people in the scene!” Enkore says. For his part, Enkore has also been MC for the likes of ViceVersa and fellow DJs like BLUnt and Mr. Doss. Enkore adds about being part of Red Bull Turn It Up, “I’m just looking forward to one hell of a party! I can’t guarantee it’ll be as much fun for every team involved, though.”
OG Shez (with JD)
Ahead of Red Bull Turn It Up, OG Shez aka Shezi already fired the first salvo to The Spindoctor by playing Michael Jackon’s ‘Beat It’, which is about as gamely as things get. The Dubai-raised DJ who is now based in Mumbai, OG Shez also hones her eclectic music tastes into being a selector for the masses and hip-hop heads alike at her shows. Part of the Mumbai circuit since 2016, Shezi is inspired by more than just rap, with her DJ sets often drawing from electro, baile, Afrobeat, dancehall and of course, Desi rap.
Like Proof, Red Bull Turn It Up as a format is a first for Shezi, who adds that it’s also the first time she’s participating in a DJ battle of any kind. “I have seen many DJ battles but this format is a unique one. It seems like it’s going to be a more intimate setting with the audience. A DJ + MC is an inclusive concept; I believe a team of two is always better than one,” she says.
Teaming up with JD aka Joel D’Souza – the co-founder and creative director at Gully Gang – Shezi says she’s been jamming with the MC and they’re “prepping thoroughly to give it our best.” She calls JD one of the best DJs and a top MC, sharing a deeper bond as friends and even being one of his managers at one point. “Sharing the stage with him again is always a great experience! When I reached out to him I was quite nervous wondering if this would be something he’d be available to do and I got lucky! My brother JD supports me through thick and thin and I’d do the same in a heartbeat,” Shezi adds.
The DJ takes it as a means of challenging herself and JD in the format of Red Bull Turn It Up, giving her a chance to play music she usually doesn’t get to and keep the audience energy going. “The only strategy we have is to make sure to have fun with every selection and we hope the audience will feel the same love for music that we do,” Shezi adds.
In her own experience, a sure-fire way to get the crowd going is to “mix up a lot of genres in a short period” and take risks with dropping fresh and not-necessarily-popular tracks to test out the sound on audiences. “I believe timing is everything,” Shezi adds.