The rules of Red Bull SoundClash

© Vytautas Dranginis / Red Bull Content Pool
Four rounds, a whole lot of creative musicianship and plenty of surprises! That and more is what you need to win a SoundClash.
Written by Glen FerrisPublished on
Pablo Picasso said it best: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
To succeed at a Red Bull SoundClash, you’ve got to work the system if you want to blow the crowd’s collective mind.
Each battle is a perfectly conceived test of abilities to plan, plot and sow surprises in an effort to get the crowd to raise the roof. Only the most inventive and entertaining will reign supreme, so it’s vital to know and understand the rules.
In an event where the audience decides the winner, entrants will need to smash each challenge if they hope to get the biggest crowd reaction at the end of each round and max out that decibel meter.
Triggerfinger performing live at Red Bull Soundclash 2008 in Gent, Belgium.

Round 1 – The cover

Style and substance are the main objectives in the opening round as both competing acts perform the same song in their own inimitable fashion. Past remakes have included a hard rock version of Rihanna’s Man Down, a high-energy pop rehash of The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go and a rap/electro reimagining of Nena’s 99 Red Balloons, so inventiveness from the opening round is key.
The Roots performing live at Red Bull SoundClash 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona.
The Roots

Round 2 – The takeover

Here’s a solid-gold opportunity to throw shade at the opponent as the second round sees both acts perform versions of their rival’s own songs. One side starts and, at the midway point, their adversary takes over in their own style. The possibility of outstripping the original is tantalizing. “It’s a creative friendly fire between two comrades, two groups who mutually admire and respect one another,” says one-time competitor Questlove of The Roots.
Ghostland Observatory performing live at Red Bull SoundClash 2011 at South Padre Island, Texas.
Ghostland Observatory

Round 3 – The clash

The third round sounds simple – each side must perform three of their own songs – but there’s a twist! Each track must be played in a comfort zone-stretching style far removed from the artists’ usual sound. Expect everything from reggae to funk and electro to country as competitors take their best-known tracks to parts unknown. The biggest cheer goes to the most creative use of genre. As former participants Ghostland Observatory say: “It’s a very exciting opportunity for us to twist up some of our original material.”
Ali Azmat performs live at Red Bull SoundClash in Karachi, Pakistan.
Ali Azmat

Round 4 – The wildcard

This is where the competition goes truly wild. Challengers vie for the most noise by pulling everything out of the bag, including some very special guest appearances. It’s an opportunity to go out with a bang and really subvert expectations. As Red Bull SoundClash Pakistan (2018) surprise star Ahmed Jahanzeb says: “When I walked onto the stage, it was a moment when everybody was shocked. It’s not a small thing, keeping a surprise from the audience and pulling it off successfully!”
The audience is the judge at Red Bull SoundClash.
Red Bull SoundClash 2015 crowd

The finale

Once the final note has been played, it’s up to the crowd to decide who will reign victorious. Only the act with the most musical versatility, showmanship and inventiveness with raise the roof. Good luck challengers!