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Wednesday
Oct112017

DMC World DJ Championship Final 2017

Twenty-seventeen was the 32nd year of the infamous DMC World DJ Championships, and my third year in a row attending the final. It rolled around at a strange time in my life, I had just packed my bags ready to leave London for good and return home to Australia. My practical mind was telling me no but my musical heart got the better of me.

This year saw a change in venue for the championships, moving from the Forum in Kentish Town just down the road to KOKO Camden.

Luckily the organisers hadn't lost the vibe of the day in the venue relocation. The DMC's have become somewhat of a pilgrimage for lovers of hip hop culture and as I enter the multi-tier theatre the now familiar items that make up this great day are still present. Thumping hip hop comes from the warm up DJ, kids in hoodies chat best gigs with older kids in snap backs, judges mix in with fans, dudes pay for beers with loose change, gold plated prizes take centre stage, baggy tees and slip mats are on sale at the merch stand.

17 DJs’ from all corners of the globe had flown in to compete. After setting in to a prime balcony spot with my mates the MC's on stage remind us that everyone we were about to see is already a champ for winning their own national comps. Ahh, I think this is going to be a great break from seriousness on a Sunday evening, 'Yeah I'll have another beer.

The USA entrant DJ Perly is up first, unbelievably the first female DJ to make it to the finals. For any newcomers or sceptics in the crowd, this set showed just what the DMC's are about. Perly delivered a solid six minute set, and to my untrained eyes and ears a pretty technically sound one at that. Already I'm thinking this will be hard to beat! 

Next up was the New Zealand entrant DJ Gooda who was a tad jittery at the start but his set was full of fun so the crowd got on side. Featuring old tracks from all genres and the first 'trick' of the evening - pressing the middle of his back onto the record to hold it just before the beat dropped. But full points from our section of the audience when he whipped out an actual basketball and proceeded to spin it on one finger, all while beat juggling 'Skee-lo - I wish.’ Sorry USA, maybe next year… 

The DJs' keep coming, and this competition is seriously the highlight of a full day event. 

I'm sorry to say that Australian entrant DJ Osyris just wasn't quite up to scratch (ha get it). His set, along with Brazil and Denmark just seemed like nothing new, a bit too safe for a world final. Some decent tracks and a lot of beat juggling but no real wow moments. Have we already seen the winner? 

French DJ Skillz was up next and as my friend said at the time 'fast movement is so much more impressive when it sounds this good.’ He was right! After a few intense scratches and beat juggles from the guys before him, Skillz just seemed to have that bit extra. He stood at the perfect height for the decks. Moved easy from mixer to vinyl and back again, a bit like a cat. He also whipped out a back hold move. 

DJ Spell has been a favourite of mine since I first caught him live in 2015. Already taking out the online championship for this year, he gained an automatic entry into the world final. I think it's his music selection and enthusiasm that makes him stand out, and I was excited to see what he had in store. The six minutes delivers again with tracks like 'Dr Funkenstein' and xx. But this time it's the tricks that get everyone talking. The MC gave us a little heads up before the set to 'watch the screens' and as we see an overhead view I can see a pen blu-tacced to a filter nob. He also holds up a 7inch record to the crowd before blu-taccing this to another filter, and yep he's just created a new instrument, scratching the 7inch like it was any other vinyl while moving the pen on the filter like a fader. You've got to see it for yourself.

Japan's DJ Rena was the final DJ of the day, have they saved the best until last? Starting his set with funky cold medina, it doesn't take Rena long to win over the crowd. He shows some incredible skills, moving the fader quicker than any other DJ I've seen. Thankfully the accuracy is there as well, and this set is as much a feast for the ears as it is visually entertaining. Not to be outdone by his older peers (Rena is just 12-years-old), he throws in some tricks like mixing his back and using the turntables speed control to create a new beat. This kid must have known he did well as he finishes the set by walking out in front of the decks to soak up the roar from the crowd. Will it be Japan crowned champions for the second year in a row? Judge for yourself below

While the judges compiled their results we were treated to a rare performance from London Posse along with a special tribute to DJ Daredevil from eight UK turntablists. 

While the tribute was fantastic - always great to see multiple DJs working together to form one sound, I do find it a bit strange that the finals were not the headliner today! Everything they bring sounds so fresh and the DJs' who entered are doing all they can to keep the crowd hyped. I guess it's just a necessity to fill in some time before the results, but London Posse didn't add much value for me. 

It's finally results time and at the end of the day it was 12 year old DJ Rena from Japan who took home the title, a well deserved win and probably the first of many for this young DJ! See the full list of results below, and don't forget to get out and support your local dmc comps in 2018!


Tuesday
Sep192017

Jazz Spastiks Gives us a hip hop education with their ‘Scratch and Sniff’ futuristic album

Your favourite rapper’s underground beat makers Jazz Spastiks have gone bananas and released their new album ‘Scratch and Sniff.’

The duo have brought back all the golden era feels this album with some delicious dope boom bap beats and some smooth production. 

We can’t help but get the feels of Gangstarr beat undertones and we especially love the samples they have going throughout the album. 

Not only is the album made for your ears but it’s also good for your other senses as well. The duo made special vinyl edition and a book that allows you to scratch and sniff along with the each track. 

We personally think that this album could be taught at schools, a hip hop education if you will. On how to fuse everyday things/food into the hip hop culture. It could also teach students on how to not only listen to music but to smell it as well. 

Jazz Spastiks have created a futuristic way to release albums, stimulating all your senses. The world was not ready for this album, but we are so glad to have come across it. 

Purchase it on Bandcamp here.

Thursday
Aug032017

Nozstock: The Hidden Valley (UK) 2017 Festival Review

Taking place a few hours drive North West of London on a farm in Herefordshire, Nozstock: The Hidden Valley offers up 11 stages of music and art over three days and nights in late July. 

While prepping for my second visit to the hidden valley (read the review of 2016 here), the weatherman tried to get me down by shouting rain, rain, rain - no matter which weather source I checked. So UK festival essentials - wellington boots, were added to the packing list. Sorted. 

Fellow Nozzers embracing the wellies! Photo credit: Edd Hughes

As I departed work early on a Friday afternoon I had a smile on my face and excitement in my belly (or was that hunger?) Rendezvousing with my partner Jodie (read her take on the festival at Hoff to Explore) and mate Rhys who I'd talked into joining me, we packed the little hatchback high and asked google where to go. Passing service stations and towns that I remember from making the journey the year before, I feel like I'm on my way to visit a dear old friend. 2016’s edition reminded me what festivals could be like! Farmer Noz and his team didn’t seem to be chasing a quick buck like other festivals I’d been to recently. The aim here is for everyone to have a genuinely good time, meet new people, see good music and forget about real life for a moment. One year later I was filled with fondness as we crept through the school holiday traffic, edging slowly closer to Nozstock.

Fast forward five hours and we are on a country lane nearing the festival site. You’ve got to love a boutique festival; where you might usually expect to join queues for hours, at Nozstock you are waved in by a dreadlocked dude in high vis, no queues in sight.

It's still raining as we park up, and a friendly security guard reminds us to take the important stuff (alcohol) in with us first - good plan! As much as I would have liked to just crack a can as soon as the tent (and important stuff) was safely inside the festival gates, we returned to the car, a mere five minute walk away, to collect the rest of our camping gear. Another thing I love about this festival is the journey time; you can walk just about anywhere in five minutes!

Having arrived a bit late (around 8pm), the choice of camping patches was limited, but we managed to score what would turn out to be a great location and simultaneously enjoyed a beer and an excited check of the timetable. My eyes immediately locked on Krafty Kuts - 1am, yes! The Brighton DJ’s latest release - All 4 Corners had been a regular listen of mine over the past few months.

As luck would have it, the rain stops just after we finish setting up and a rainbow appears over the horizon. We take some time to enjoy the clearing skies and I am reminded of another reason why I feel so fondly about this place - strangers engage us in conversation, parents and children wave as they pass, a first-time festival goer slides by in the mud having gone a bit too hard, a little too early. Nozzers, as we are affectionately known, are a diverse bunch, but everyone is welcome.

Everyone, including a giant caterpillar enjoying the Garden Stage. Photo Credit: Charlie Rimmer

FRIDAY

With so many stages, you'll find something to like here no matter how obscure your taste! Our camp site was closest to the bandstand stage, so psych-pop outfit Boy Azooga provided the soundtrack to our first drinks by the tent but it wasn't long before I found some hip hop.

Micall Parknsun was warming up the garden stage nicely, known more recently for his production work, it was cool to see him out in front rocking the mic and getting some heads nodding.

 

Trying to see as much as we could before the headline acts, we went running around what I think is safe to call, the 'dance' sections of the festival.  First off a few minutes were spent at the Cubicles stage, where sunglasses, bucket hats and tracksuits were the clothing of choice, and meaty basslines the order of the day. At almost 30 years of age, I was one of the older people in this area, but I was pleased to see no one was holding up their phone - they were living the moment, rather than trying to capture it. A rare sight.

The Cubicles. Photo Credit: Liam Newman

Next up we tested the strength of our wellies on a walk down hill to the new stage -  Elephants Graveyard. This stage, like all of the others in-fact, has superb production for it's size. The sound quality is fantastic, it's a bit like walking into a Berlin day club, some wooden structures dotted around the outside, shade cloths overhead, gentlemen and ladies of all ages grooving to the tech-house beats. There is even a little bar in the corner. After a quick top-up, like excited children we kept exploring, and a swift walk brought us to the Coppice. What was that I was saying about production? Hidden in amongst a small cluster of tall trees - the Coppice is a sight to behold. Imagine the moon was projecting ultraviolet light and lighting up hidden creatures among the leaves, then imagine these creatures were holding disco balls. This goes some way to describing the Coppice, you could spend hours here!

Continuing our mission to see as much as possible before Krafty, we left the music for a moment to try an immersive art installation. Psychonauts tent is perched just above the Coppice and full of people in lab coats, dishing out medicine, calling everyone Doris and generally trying to trip you out. Perhaps I need another drink?

With the Krafty Kuts set quickly approaching, our little crew headed to the garden bar, where somehow we met about 15 different people from starting just one conversation. There is a good vibe about this place and time flies by as we swap stories with new found friends, one last trip to the bar to refill our reusable cups before we close in on the stage.

I first became a fan of Krafty Kuts from the ‘Tricka Technology’ LP he released with A-Skillz back in 2004. Since then I have been lucky enough to see him perform live a few times, a skilled DJ in a number of genres, you never quite know what you are going to get. By teaming up with Dynamite MC, a renowned performer in jungle, bass and hip hop - I knew we were in for a treat tonight!

What took place over the next 90 minutes can only be described as a party. If I said I remembered all of the tracks he played I would be lying. What I do remember though was dancing and singing, thoroughly enjoying myself as we were entertained by one of the greatest hype MC’s and Party DJ’s in the game.

Dynamite MC & Krafty Kuts

SATURDAY

I was surprised to wake up without a hangover. The same couldn’t be said for everyone in at my campsite, but we were pleased to see the sun was out!

After quickly downing an up-n-go, banana and about a litre of water, I was tasked with retrieving a proper coffee and breakfast to set us up for the day. While the place selling the best bacon rolls did offer coffee, we were definitely in need of lattes so it was a two stop trip.

By the time I returned it was around 11am, and we enjoyed our second breakfast in the sun while listening to Oh Man, A Mountain playing some indie-rock on the bandstand stage. Rhys was keen to get stuck into day two, but like a gentlemen decided to wait until midday before having any alcoholic drinks. Probably a good idea as the highlighted name in our timetable for today was hip hop pioneers The Sugarhill Gang at 11:45pm.

It wasn’t long before we were back inside the festival, exploring the arts and crafts area. Included in this area is a healing tent with yoga classes and pay-by-donation massages which drew Jodie in. Rhys and I decided to try our luck on one of the garden games nearby. The game we chose looked simple enough, grab a sack of rice and take aim at one of the politicians in front of you. Hit the politician, knock off the coconut sitting on their head, win a prize. Well, 40 or so throws later I was realising this was harder than anticipated. Could have just been us though, as just after we gave up, a small child had a go and knocked two coconuts off in one throw!

Moving on then.

Mica Miller was providing some soul music on the orchard stage as punters soaked up the sun. We enjoyed her set from afar and decided to grab some lunch from the wood-oven pizza joint - delicious.

The next name to grab my attention in the festival programme was Flamenco Thief. With the sun still out at the garden stage, I watched in awe at what this man can do. Using just a guitar and a loop pedal, he built up songs from scratch. Creating a beat by striking the sides of the guitar, adding in some strumming patterns, perhaps another beat, layering it all and performing Flamenco guitar solos over the top! We couldn’t look away, some people have all the talent.

Some fellow beautiful festival goers. Photo Credit: Mike Hale

It was during his set as well that I took the opportunity to admire the efforts fellow festival goers had gone to with their outfits; a lot of glitter, multiple colours and layers, themed costume groups (shout out to the Mario brothers!), even someone dressed as a fox - I couldn’t help thinking that each person here was contributing a little bit to the overall festival experience.  

Next, it was time for Church. Oh My God! It’s the Church were providing a Saturday afternoon sermon on the Orchard Stage. With just some backing tracks, dancers and a couple of singers - it is the personalities on stage that make this one of the highlights of the weekend. Led by outrageous frontman, Michael Alabama Jackson, with many-a-double entendre or churchy pun, these crazy kids kick the crowded hill into overdrive. It was hard not to “Stomp.. Stomp, Stomp Your Feet” as our saviour took us through party hits like ‘Hey Ya’ and ‘Praise You’, with plenty of witty crowd banter and costume changes for good measure. The perfect festival feel good act.

Rodney P & Skitz

The rest of the afternoon was a smorgasbord of comedy and music (not to mention food) across a number of stages. We copped some laughs from Tom Ward and Simon Munnery in the Laughing stock tent,  fused rap with topical comedy watching Professor Elemental, grooved with the legendary hip hop duo Rodney P & Skitz, blissed out to the neo-soul of Sola Rosa and sampled noodles and burgers along the way - maybe a couple of beers too.

As day turned to night we decided to try and find the music within the Cabinet of Lost Secrets, where to be granted entry we solved a mirror maze puzzle and hugged a circus ring leader - the things you do for secret disco! Inside we found an 8 piece band giving it their absolute all and a full dancefloor. Good times!

With the headline slot for tonight fast approaching, we had time for one last artist. Steve Strong, wow we are glad we stopped by for his set on the bandstand. This gentlemen has to be one of the most talented drummers I have seen in recent times, but what do you do when you’re an amazing drummer without a band? Pick up a guitar, some pedals and create all of the parts yourself of course. Atmospheric layers are built up and then drum solos explode all over them, his set is unique and mesmerising, but alas we have to leave to make it in time for my pick of the bunch.

The Sugarhill Gang, never did I think I would get to see these guys live, let alone in 2017 on a farm in Herefordshire! The first hip hop group to ever release a record, no matter your thoughts on their legitimacy to the title, these guys have been in the game a long time and I was excited. DJ C-Styles started things off, spinning a medley of classic hip hop tracks and informing the crowd that tonight was going to be all about “good music”. He’s joined by surviving members Wonder Mike and Master Gee and it is clear I’m not the only one ready to get funky with the guys that brought hip hop to the masses; the crowd erupts. At around 70 years of age, the duo have employed a couple of younger models over the years to keep up the hype, but even with Wonder Mike casually keeping one hand in his pocket, this show wasn’t lacking any energy.

The Sugarhill Gang. Photo Credit: Alex Avery

The next 30 minutes or so was a journey through the history of hip hop, with shout outs to originators and fallen stars along the way. From Kurtis Blow - The Breaks through to Run DMC - Walk this Way, and their own hit Apache. It is heaven for old school hip hop fans. During another shout out to the old school crew, it becomes apparent that the Sugarhill Gang might have just brought along a special guest.

From under the man-made archway created by the extras on stage emerges original Furious Five members - Scorpio and Grandmaster Melle Mel! Famous for co-writing the Message and White Lines, Melle Mel is the leader of this duo and seems to absolutely love being on stage.

The duo rip through these huge hits to the delight of the crowd before re-introducing The Sugarhill Gang to stage for ‘rappers delight’. For a song that was first released in 1979, it still has so much punch and my dancing shoes are well and truly on. The disco groove extends across everyone on the hill before Wonder Mike performs those words he has no doubt rapped a million times since this song became a global sensation; “I am wonder Mike, and I’d like to say hello..” - We are now in a full blown good music, hip hop block party. The whole gang remain on the stage for an encore which turns out to be more of a sing-along, led by Melle Mel. And while he should really stick to rapping (not everyone can pull off Kurt Cobain lyrics), it’s just a good time and we enjoy it.

The Sugarhill Gang. Photo Credit: Charlie Rimmer

SUNDAY

Just some of the art at Nozstock.

Still no rain today but less sleep than the nights prior and I’m feeling the effects a little bit. Work commitments in London mean none of our merry crew can stay too long today so we don’t make solid timetable plans.

Another double breakfast is consumed, mimicking my steps from yesterday and we enter the festival site with full bellies, ready to chill out. In the arts and crafts area we marvel at some wood carvings and try out the knock em down game one more time - yes, I struck Putin!

Keeping the big kid vibe alive, it’s off to explore the wooden fort next, located just down from the hollywood style Nozstock sign on the hill. Inside the fort were a few kids using it, as they should, as headquarters for their water pistol army. I’m not sure if it was the way I looked at them but soon enough I became enemy number one and Jodie was all too happy to join the kid army as they squirted me from the comfort of the fort.


Our final hours are approaching and rather than dwell on what we will miss (Happy Mondays headlined Sunday night and I heard they torched our fort!) our time is spent lazing by the orchard stage, eating an organic ice cream and listening to surf-pop outfit Jasper in the Company of Others. After their set we chat about what a great weekend we’ve had while watching the skaters on the half pipe and listening to some distant funk. All too soon it’s time to pack down the tents and start the journey home. Reality sucks.

Nozstock, you have delivered the goods again, and more than just the music. The community that exists here, the little surprises around the corner, the ‘all in the name of fun’ attitude, it all adds to the experience. I’ve been once, I’ve been twice and I tell you what, I might even go thrice!

Review by Harry Upton.
Maybe next year I'll bring my board

 

Saturday
Dec102016

Post Malone: Stoney - debut album drop.


Written by Bree Stewart

It’s been at least 170 coffees and several red wines since my last contribution to SYS. Across 2016, various streaming services have been churning out a few decent hooks within the urban music community. Unfortunately, from where these vans are standing, the last twelve months have not graced my ear holes with as many hip hop pioneers, as did previous years.

Lying on my back balcony I kicked off the tedious scroll of Apple Music’s recommended (usually a flat-liner) and there it stood; Post Malone’s latest record - Stoney. With its bold orange cover and alluring co-creators (Kehlani, Bieber & Quavo to name a few), my ears were graced with their first hip hop pioneer of 2016, scraping in at a November drop - better late than never right?

 

Post Malone, Img via publicist.


The New York born, Texas raised singer/rapper/guitarist kicks off his album with the Americanised opening record Broken Whiskey Glass (enjoy a sneak peek of Post’s love of country music in the framework of this track). Track no. 2 however currently holds favour in my heart, No Lie – the utmost chill beat, subtle vocal effects and Friday night synth takes listener’s back to a sound similar to Cudi’s 2013 experimental tones.

The whole experience is 50 minutes from start to finish, a great teaser for the artist’s European tour kicking off in the coming week. Overall the album is a journey suitable for road trips, one night stands and the Sunday afternoon balcony beers. 100/10 – thanks to the upcoming hip hop pioneer.



Thursday
Nov242016

BYRON MARK’S ‘AMALGAMATION’ ALBUM LAUNCH

@ Venue 505 on Thursday 6th October 2016

Walking into a sold out 505, I felt the anticipation in the room for what was to be an epic night celebrating the launch of Byron Mark’s debut album – ‘Amalgamation’. With more than 30 artists set to hit the stage, a stellar line up including nationally acclaimed musicians and dancers, we were in for a treat both aurally and visually, with a set list that consisted of everything from Flamenco, Indian and African; to funk, jazz and pop.

We were not disappointed. Kicking off the first set, a showcase of Byron’s world music pieces, was his latest composition – ‘Piano Dance’, a stunning flamenco inspired piano piece, accompanied by cello, flute, cajon and dancers. From here, Byron took us to India, Spain, and Africa, bringing out a huge variety of instruments, musicians, dancers and even a string quartet, to perform ‘Yia Yia’, a very special room-silencing tribute to Byron’s Greek grandmother.  Also performed in this set was ‘Fuego Nocturno’, a beautiful piece that was nominated in the top 5 of the instrumental category at the 2016 Australian Independent Music Awards. His best friend and fellow musician Luke Koteras, co-wrote the piece, and it was a wonderful moment to see them perform it together; showcasing Byron’s flair on both the piano and the cajon, along with Luke’s guitar wizardry. Byron’s brother, Nicholas Mark, surprised us all with his spectacular performance on the didgeridoo halfway through this piece too.

Just when we thought we’d seen the extent of Byron’s repertoire, the second set delved into his world of Jazz, Pop and Funk collaborations. The song ‘Lion Heart’ was a strong standout for me. This big and bold piece was written with long-time friend and music colleague, singer Rosie Henshaw, and reflected their passion and determination for making music. ‘First Date’ was another favourite, particularly listening to the smooth soulful voice, and immaculately dressed Michael Duchesne. Wrapping up the night was ‘Happy Africa’; a joyful, celebratory song that perfectly summed up the night, which not only featured Byron in traditional costume on the djembe, but also an appearance from Master African dancer Lucky Lartey to inject a final burst of energy into the packed out night. I lost count of the instruments I saw throughout the night, but along with a smiling joyful audience, I walked out of that room feeling energised and thrilled at what I just saw.

The idea to create Amalgamation came about 10 years ago, when Byron started collaborating with most of the artists we saw on the night. The audience also witnessed the friendship and respect that Byron had earned as a musician and music director since embarking on this path. I think much to Byron’s surprise, a lot of the 32 artists that performed on the night began their piece/s with a few words about Byron – telling us a musical moment, or notable gig they’d shared with him over the last decade, creating a tapestry of stories and music which added so much more depth to the event and the album. Having so many artists coming together on the one night for this launch alone was a testament to Byron’s work and talent as a respected multi-instrumentalist. I went home with not just one, but two CD’s in hand, knowing I’d bump into someone who missed out on the event that just had to hear this fine album.

Words by Anna Griffiths.

Check-out more of Byron Mark here.