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Entries in live review (4)

Friday
Oct072016

DMC World DJ Championship Finals 2016 Review


The DMC World DJ Championship Finals is an annual event showcasing the most talented DJ's in the game. Although there are no real restrictions to genre, the event has become something of a holy land for fans of hip hop, including myself. In the months leading up to the event I kept a close eye on the announcements and was excited to find that the Invisibl Skratch Piklz (feat. DJ's Q-Bert, Shortkut and D-Styles) would be headlining in 2016!

I recall watching a documentary about scratching and turntablism in my youth and seeing a guy called Q-Bert interviewed. He had a turntable fitted to the middle console of his car so he could scratch records wherever he went. Although a little concerning that he spoke of channelling conversations with aliens when he put the needle to the vinyl, the documentary intrigued me and I've followed turntablism ever since. Q-Bert is a past winner of the DMC World DJ Championship and a true legend of the art, I couldn't wait to see him live with the Piklz. 

But first, I had a whole day of competition, guest performances and workshops!

WORKSHOPS

Having studied the program ahead of time, I arrived at the Forum in Kentish Town around 4pm and joined the workshops taking place upstairs. Popmaster Fabel of the Rock Steady Crew was back for another year, trying his best to turn some young (and not so young) hopefuls into fully fledged B-Boys and B-Girls with the popping and locking workshop. The workshops are definitely an integral part of the day, and watching the crowd get involved I felt that they are an important part of the whole hip hop scene. Handing down knowledge and skills to the next generation so that they can build on it and progress the genre.

My attempt at beatboxing probably didn't do the genre any favours however! Yep, the beatbox workshop was next, hosted by the beatbox collective. It was great to see these guys up close and they intertwined lessons and tips with full-blown performance. After teaching the whole room some basics, individuals from the crowd were invited up to take a mic and try out beatboxing solo. My partner pushed me up as an unwilling volunteer and I was given some simple instructions which helped form a basic beat. The rest of the collective then joined in to make me sound good! Highlight of the day number one.

 

BATTLE FOR SUPREMACY

After a brief stop at the bar and I made our way into the main auditorium for the first 'final' of the day. Erick Jay was one of my favourites from last years competition, so I was happy to see him back competing in the Battle for Supremacy. This competition is a bit like a rap battle for DJ's, with three rounds of 90 seconds for each DJ to outdo the other. Two DJ's compete in each round and the winners progress through semi finals and into the final. 

This years final saw DJ Fummy from Japan up against DJ Erick Jay from Brazil. The battle is as much about song selection and sample selection as it is about skill. The DJ's mime the words being uttered from the samples they choose, and getting the crowd on your side to go 'woah' at the right moment must feel like the battle DJ equivalent of a slam dunk. 

The final was tight, and I couldn't pick a winner after the rounds were complete but fingers were crossed for Erick Jay. The judges raised their score cards, and….

Runner Up - DJ Fummy (Japan)

Battle for Supremacy World Champion - Erick Jay (Brazil)

Being a near full day event, I took a quick break to grab some food from the local Kebab spot, as you do.

THE BEATBOX COLLECTIVE

The Beatbox Collective in full effect
When we returned to the Forum there was a definite heightened buzz from the additional punters who came along just for the main event. But, as I discovered, the DMC World DJ Championships are more than just a DJ competition. The crowd were treated to so much entertainment for their hard earned ticket, and the standard is high!

Having attempted to beatbox with them earlier, I was keen to get a good view of the Beatbox Collective as they brought their full crew together for a showcase performance. We took a seat in the balcony section and watched in awe. These guys are current world beatboxing champs for a reason. Covering everything from hip hop to dub to drum and bass, it was an amazing set. I've still got a long way to go but I'll keep practicing!

WORLD DJ CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL

Nine of the best DJ's from around the globe had made it through to the final. A little different to the supremacy competition earlier, this competition is anything goes, for 6 minutes. DJ's can use laptops, Serato, queued up samples along with stage presence and trick moves to impress the judges. This makes for straight up entertainment for those of us watching on.

Starting the show was DJ Ruse from New Zealand. His set was blistering and he got myself and the rest of the crowd on side scratching up a hip hop version of classic rock song 'War Pigs' by Black Sabbath. You've really got to hand it to these guys, so much has been done before them yet somehow they find a new and interesting way to get your head nodding.

DJ Traps of the USA was another highlight, with a more familiar hip hop classics set.  He got extra points from me when he dropped a perfect look-away beat-juggle. Flawless.

The runner up from 2015, DJ Spell was back. It must be something about New Zealand because he too opted to select some absolute classics and scratch them down to hip hop beats - Led Zepplin and Michael Jackson getting some airtime during his set.

Frenchman Dj Skillz took things in a different direction, using an almost haunted sounding sample to build up a trip hop beat. Reading the growing enthusiasm in the room well, his set sped up to be one of the most party-like so far, culminating in big bass drops that you might expect to hear in a different venue about 6 hours from now, but the crowd were up for it.

Brief disruption to address some technical issues didn't stop local lad Ritchie Ruftone from amping the crowd even further. Producing a mix of funk, dub and hip hop to bring the bar that little bit higher.

DJ Yuto of Japan was up next and his set was just next level! Man, it had everything and the precision was there to match. There was all types of music, technical skill, stage presence and tricks. There was even a scratched together version of the massive swedish house mafia club hit 'One' from a few years back. This guy has to win I think to myself as mini-dancefloors erupt around the room. I'm in awe!

DJ Yuto of Japan

SHOWCASES

As the all important decision is being made by the judges, I was entertained with back to back performances from DJ Fly and DJ Netik, King Kella and the Spitkingdom Soundsystem, and of course, Q-Bert and the Invisibl Skratch Piklz - just as good as I had hoped!

One more trip to the bar was denied when we got told the bar was no closed - no! I was so disappointed the day was drawing to a close. Do we really have to wait another year to do this again?

THE SHOWDOWN

Tony Prince, founder of the competition, loves this event. You can just tell he is immensely proud of what it has become, and no doubt he has been at every single one. It seems fitting then, that he should award multiple-time world champ DJ Q-Bert with a 'Legend' jacket at the pointy end of the proceedings. Once the obligatory photographs are out of the way, Mr Prince returns to the microphone to announce the final results!

Third Place - DJ Traps (USA)

Runner Up - DJ Brace (Canada)

World Champion for 2016 - DJ Yuto (Japan)

Hopes for an encore set were dashed when the big lights came on and we headed for the exit. Another World Finals had ended, but this year I was truly happy with the outcome.

Hats off to the people that make this competition happen, and if you haven't already, make sure you get along to the local heats and finals in your city! Real DJ's are so much more talented than 'look ma, no hands' super-celebs may have you think.

Words by Harry Upton.

Wednesday
Jul272016

Nozstock: The Hidden Valley 2016 Festival Review

Crowd at Orchard Stage for Jurassic 5 - Photo credit: Clare Leach

American Pickers is a guilty pleasure of mine, the TV show of two American guys driving the back roads and looking for vintage gold. Perhaps I have watched it a bit too often but in many ways, my first trip to Nozstock: The Hidden Valley seemed to share some similarities to the show. Before you judge me, hear me out.

Departing London on a certified scorcher of a day in late July, we bundled ourselves, a tent and some festival supplies into a borrowed Ford Focus and hit the road. Our chosen soundtrack for this road trip was a triple CD entitled 'RnB Throw Backs!' Wow, we must have oozed cool as we made our way through the outer suburbs, windows down and Ja Rule at top volume. 

After getting through the famous London traffic, we soon found ourselves in lush English countryside and made our way onto small and windy roads, past quaint villages and farms. There may have been something wrong with the navigator, as our 3 hour journey to Bromyard turned into just over 5. Either way, the drive was just a precursor to the main event and we were relieved to enter the festival site around 6:30pm.

Now this is where my parallel analogy between Nozstock and American Pickers come's into play. The festival site is beautiful, and I feel like I have found an untouched festival treasure on this farm. There is a realness about this place that many of today's festivals have lost in the search for commercial gain. It's not too big, and it's easy to get around. Where you might expect a huge Red Bull tent there is an arts n crafts area and instead of Smirnoff branded bars everywhere, there are hand-built permanent structures and hand-painted signs. I imagine festival founder Noz to be like one of the collectors you meet during the show, treating this as his collection and carefully selecting items to add to his collection over the years. Nozstock started as a small gathering for farmer Noz and his music loving friends. It has grown organically and is now a full family affair, with his children taking on some of the responsibilities of managing the event. 

Care has been taken in the creation of everything you see on the site and that same level of care is expected by the visitors. As we pitch our tent, crack the first beers and watch the sunset while listening to the buzz of the festival from a-far, I instantly think I am going to like this place.
 

Friday Night

First on the agenda for this evening is Slamboree, who have already started their set on the Orchard Stage. This is our first real look at the main stage in action and with it's natural amphitheater hill there are plenty of great vantage points. Slamboree is a 15-strong dance music outfit, mixing musicians and visual artists to make for a unique live offering. Their high energy circus-style performance sounds like Scissor Sisters throwing a dance party with Rage Against the Machine and is a perfect introduction to the weekend.

The CoppiceAlthough the site is small, there is plenty to see, so we decided to follow the advice of some fellow festival goers and visit the Coppice, Bull Pen and Cubicle stages. Coppice is a particularly stunning stage, just down the hill from the main arena. Located within an ultraviolet glade, the Coppice houses psy-trance DJ's and some incredible theming and lights. The trees above are lit with lasers, projections and disco balls and the people beneath are just as colourful. We spend half an hour or so taking it all in before continuing our journey to the Bull Pen.

The Bull Pen and Cubicle are actually working areas of the farm for the majority of the year. What usually houses chickens, now houses some UK garage, drum and bass and grime. Again, the production on these stages is amazing. The DJ in the Bull Pen pokes his head out of the window of an eye, while the lighting rig in the Cubicle gives Daft Punks pyramid a run for it's money.

A little too early and a little too weary to fully immerse ourselves in the rave going on at these smaller stages, we returned to the main arena via the bar where local beers are available on tap and there is quite an extensive list of cocktails, all at reasonable prices. 

Beers-in-toe, it's off to the Garden Stage next for UK Jungle and drum and bass pioneer Goldie. What was that I said about too early to rave? Must have just been me, as soon as Goldie and his hype-MC take to the stage, the place erupts! I didn't get to experience the birth of jungle and drum n bass first time around, but the excitement is still there 25 years on! And although jungle is not my first choice of music, you can't help but enjoy this set, with a cheeky golden smile from behind the decks.

One of the beauties of Nozstock is the proximity of each stage. We leave the Garden Stage at 11.30 and it is literally a 30 second walk to Orchard Stage to catch headliners for the night Gentlemans Dub Club. These guys are pure fun! The definition of a festival act, the 9 members of the band fill the large stage and get the crowd grooving with brass filled dub and reggae. Jonathon Scratchley is a captivating front man and guides the punters through singalong choruses. Highlights of the set include 'Highgrade' and 'Music is the Girl I Love'. 

Gentlemans Dub Club

We bid the main stage goodnight and decide to venture back to the tent via The Garden of Eden. This area houses more small stages and as we wander through we are waved into a white tent by several people in white lab coats. Momentarily distracted by 'DJ Indian Man' who is playing inside, we are instructed to take a seat in a wheelchair, place a mask over our face and put headphones on. At this stage of the evening, we are completely happy to comply and follow the steps as directed. Finally, we are asked to look into large tubes which contain a small screen at the end and mirrors along the length of the tube. The result is an interactive kaleidoscope art installation - very cool.

After sharing a shot of Sambuca with the obviously qualified doctors we finish the night at The Cabinet of Lost Secrets. A venue that really makes you work hard to find it. Inside is another small bar and stage. Joining about 8 others we groove to the music before finally making our way to the tent for some much deserved rest. 

Saturday

Art and Entertainment at Every Turn - Photo Credit: Liam FurneauxYears of attending festivals has made me quite a good camper and the blow up mattress and earplugs ensured a relatively good night sleep. One thing that is inevitable though, is the sun turning your tent into a hothouse. So we woke when the heat became too much to bare at about 8.30am. 

Opting for a baby wipe shower, closely followed by a bacon sandwich, we got ready for a big day of music! The sun drenched the farm site and as we walked through, coffees in hand, I noticed a bit more of the theming. Nozstock's tagline is ‘Wonders of The Ancient World’ and there is Egyptian, Greek and Babylon inspired art throughout the site. 

First act of the day is Desert Boots at the Garden Stage, who ease us into the day with some soulful funk. We also catch one-man music making machine Gold Thing at the Bandstand, who has us in awe as he effortlessly loops keys, guitar and drums to build chilled out beats from scratch.

Feeling a bit more warmed up and ready for the day, it's time for the first beers so we duck back to our campsite and pick up the drinks that are still (just) nicely chilled in the esky. And just in time too, blues rock trio Smokin' Durrys take to the main stage and make sure everyone is awake with their driving drums and guitar. It's another beautiful summers day and as we arrive back in the arena some artists stroll through with large puppets of cranes, owls and what I think is a Camel. We take a seat on one of the abandoned couches, enjoy the sunshine and stick around for some folk, blues and soul from Foreign Affairs. 

For some reason, we were drawn to the name Normanton Street so they were next on the list. I'd never seen them before, so wasn't too sure what to expect but as we arrived at the Garden Stage I was excited to find out. The four piece, hailing from Brighton, were superb in the early afternoon sun. They grooved like a funk band, delivered verses like a hip hop group, had powerful soulful vocals like a pop superstar and even found a way of harmonising the female vocals with the rap. This music is good for your soul and you could tell they were having a great time playing it too. From our vantage spot under a shady tree, the dance floor slowly filled as they moved through their set. Key tracks that I will be revisiting were ‘Angelene' and 'Take Time' which could well be a future festival anthem. I'm so glad we chose to watch their set as it turned out to be a personal highlight of the weekend! 

We took a break from music to explore more of the Arts n Crafts area and the Comedy tent, grabbed some more food and drinks, then returned to the Garden Stage for Anchorsong. I first discovered his music a couple of months ago at an Mo Kolours gig. He is an incredibly talented producer, with a distinctive sunshine twang to his keys and African-inspired rhythm, he uses a sampler and keyboard to recreate his tracks live. The sounds he makes bring a smile to your face and you can't help but like this guy, when he introduces himself as "I'm Anchorsong from Japan, if you like my music let me know, okay?" and people flock to the floor to show their appreciation. 'Flamingos' is a set highlight.

Fancy dressers - Photo credit: Gareth Dalley

Shortly after some Thai Food, it is time for Hot 8 Brass Band on the Orchard Stage. If you haven't already, make sure you go see these guys live. They bring great energy to their performance and I feel like it's one big house party happening on stage and we've all been invited. Brass filled covers of songs like 'Sexual Healing' and 'Ghost Town' should be enough to convince you.

It wouldn't be a festival without an edgy-arts tent and at Nozstock, this crown goes to The Bantam of The Opera. Featuring a variety of cabaret style acts across the weekend, our one venture into the venue came this evening and it sure was a memorable one. The performer on stage got naked and proceeded to light a firework placed precariously in their butt, all to the backing track of 'No Business like Show Business'. Art is anything you can get away with.

After this brief interlude, it was straight back to the music and we just had enough time to pop down to The Coppice for a dose of techno, and a run through the maze of fire before returning to the Orchard Stage for the moment we had all been waiting for.

Jurassic 5 are one of my all time favourite groups and I couldn't wait to see them live for the third time. We arrived at the stage nice and early and took up a prime location just in front of the sound tent. The hill was full of people but everyone was pretty respectful of personal space and we ended up with quite a good amount of dancing room. The stage was set with the now infamous over-sized J5 turntable in the centre, DJ Cut Chemist set up on the left and DJ Nu-Mark set up on the right. Keeping us waiting just a little bit after the scheduled start time of 11:15pm, I notice the crew on stage shining a torch at the FOH operator to signal.. it is time.

The two DJs take to the stage and the crowd gets loud. One by one Soup (aka Daakir), Mark 7, Chali 2na and Akil the MC join the party and the place goes crazy! They get straight to it, doing a medley of tracks spanning their three albums. The energy is great, the delivery is spot on and this fan, for one, is ecstatic. The four MC's work so well together, backing up others lyrics to bring that familiar punch, adding in impromptu dances and actions to match, and throwing to each other from verse to verse as they cross the stage. There are several fans like me in the crowd, doing our best to join in on the lyrics, but there is many more probably witnessing true hip hop for the first time! The whirlwind of tunes lasts about 20 minutes before the group break it down and allow their master DJs to show us all what they can do.

After battling from their booths, DJ Nu-Mark steps it up a notch, walking out from behind the decks with a portable drum pad hanging around his neck. He plays a few bars to get our attention before creating a beat right there on the spot. Not to be outdone, Cut Chemist steps up with a portable turntable, fashioned into a guitar. He plays it as such, scratching his way through guitar sounds until a recognisable tune 'Deep Purple - Smoke on the Water' surfaces. Nu-Mark swaps his drum pad for a vest of vinyls containing different samples and the two join forces to create the song. Cut then swaps his vinyl turntable guitar for a CDJ guitar and they bring out the anthem 'Dead Prez - (Bigger than) Hip Hop' utilising the over-sized turntable on stage for the lyrics. 

The DJ’s return to their positions behind the decks and J5 are back with tracks such as 'Concrete Schoolyard', 'Quality Control', 'High Fidelity' and 'Red Hot' in a hit-laden set. The group even throw in some choreographed moves for good measure, including Chali 2na instructing the crowd to ride their invisible motor cycles during 'A Day at the Races'. The encore was of course one of the highlights of the set, ending on the huge tune 'What's Golden' and after a solid 90 or so minutes it was all over. Happy but exhausted we called it a night.

Jurassic 5

Sunday

An overcast morning allowed for a little more of a sleep in and we miraculously rose without a headache! Still buzzing from J5's performance, we started to pack down our belongings ready for an early getaway today. Commitments back in London meant we couldn't stay another night.

After packing the car, it was another coffee and bacon run before heading to the main stage for another healthy dose of good music for the soul. Adam Scriven, a solo act from Darwin delivered a beautiful set of blues, folk rock and roots utilising harmonicas, acoustic and slide guitar, stomp box, tambourine and of course a didgeridoo. 

Our final act of the festival was Little Brother Eli, a bluesy garage rock outfit hailing from Oxfordshire. Again, something drew us to watch this band. I was quite surprised to find an audio tech I have worked with a number of times taking his place on stage. Turns out he is the slide guitarist for the band! They were a lot of fun, and their single 'This Girl' is going to take them places.

Quite fittingly, as we resigned to the fact that this would be our last moment at Nozstock, the rain began to fall. Thankfully all that was left to do was return to the already packed car and drive back to London. 

Review by Harry Upton.
Tuesday
Apr192016

Beardyman Review Live at The Electric Brixton, London

I was excited for this gig from the moment I first heard about it. The genius that is Beardyman was putting together a ‘super group’ of musicians and MC’s to record an album live, but even more impressively, the songs would be freestyled based on titles suggested by the audience. I couldn’t wait!

It had intrigued me as to just how this would work and what the end product would sound like. But on the 2nd of April I found myself walking into a packed out Electric Brixton about to find out.

This was my first time in the venue and like all of my favourite venues it was an old theatre converted for gigs – with a big stage, large LED screens as the backdrop and smaller ones dangling over the dance floor. The audience was very varied, but the vibe was great.

After grabbing a couple of drinks from the bar we took up our preferred viewing position a few rows in front of the sound desk and focused our attention on the stage. First up was some turntablism courtesy of 3 time UK DMC champion DJ JFB. His set included old school hip hop anthems and rock classics scratched and mashed like only a DMC champion can do.

Next up was Beardyman himself, taking to centre stage with only a sampling machine and a microphone. As he spoke to the crowd about the plans for the night he quickly transformed his welcome chatter into a full song, beatboxing, rapping, singing, talking and harmonising then looping it all together! We were in for a treat.

He was joined by Female World Beatboxing Champion, not to mention an amazing double bass player and personal favourite of mine Bellatrix who proved to us all just why she holds the beatboxing title with some freestyle beats. 

Drummer for the evening Emre Ramazanoglu also took to the stage and it wasn’t long before an impromptu beat battle between the three of them ensued – this was like nothing I have ever seen before, the skills in this line up!

Slowly but surely the rest of the ‘dream team’ took to the stage, including a horn section, keys, DJ JFB on the decks and Beardyman taking up his place behind a wall of music making technology. He really did look like a puppet master!

MC’s for the evening were Dizraeli and Leen who made their way to the (probably dreaded) Red Bucket and picked out the first song title for the night 30 Cheese Related Reasons! And that somehow becomes a funky electro opening track for the new album. And not just any album, an album I would actually buy and listen to, an album as real as one written over several years and recorded in a purpose built studio on a farm in the Californian hills. 

Respect to all of the members of the dream team, although unpredictable, the performances are near flawless all night! The MC’s were occasionally combining with Beardy himself, compliment each other perfectly. Dizraeli tends to bring a catchy hook with any title presented to him but also unleashes incredibly creative and relatable, topical verses. Leen is gifted with a flow that lends itself to any style of beat, sometimes tongue in cheek, funny but also political.

The next hour is astounding! Weird and wonderful titles keep coming from the bucket – Afraid of Clowns references the biggest clown of all Donald Trump, Kicking back with Che explores what Che Guevara did with his spare time and the current unfortunate fate some people face.

‘Work is a drug, but I need it,’ what a great title, and rightly so this chilled out number becomes a set highlight with Dizraeli taking aim at the rat race many Londoners find themselves in. But the crowd favourite has to be ‘I Should’ve Thought of This Yesterday,’ as the whole dream team builds this track into a genre-bending monster jam and fans have the opportunity to sing-a-long, yeah don’t forget, this was made up on the spot! And we all join in to chant ‘Yesterday.’

It wouldn’t be a live recording of an album without at least one technical difficulty, and this came, poignantly, during the track ‘A Hint of Catastrophe.’ No problems for these pro’s though, and Beardyman simply retakes his position at the front of the stage, picking up the sample pad used at the beginning of the night to keep the beat going and deliver one final number. ‘What would you do if you had 5 Minutes Left?’

Wow! Never have I witnessed anything like this! Sadly that is all for tonight and we start making our way to the exit. If that doesn’t excite you as a music fan, I don’t know what will. Make sure you put your name down for the next one!


Saturday
Apr022016

Charles Bradley Live at Rough Trade (29.03.2016)

My first introduction to Charles Bradley was when a housemate showed me a video of this incredible soul singer performing in a bicycle store as part of SXSW. 

Instantly the video made me a fan. That was near on 5 years ago and I have been lucky enough to see the man they call the Screaming Eagle live for myself three times since then! The most recent of which was an intimate gig at Rough Trade's East London store.

On a rainy Tuesday night we made our way to Brick Lane with a bottle of wine in tow - BYO being one of the benefits of an in-store gig at Rough Trade! Upon arrival, it was a little surprising that only around 20 others were there. But after browsing the vinyl offering for a few minutes the store began to fill up and a crowd of about 150 people gathered near the stage.  

We took up position front and center where we met a 63-year-old Jamaican woman who wanted to confirm that we would be dancing once the music started - of course we would be!

His band 'The Extraordinaires' warm up the room with some funky rolling soul beats before introducing Bradley to the stage to a roar of applause. Prior to being discovered and recording his own songs with Daptone records, Charles Bradley was a James Brown tribute act for several years, and you can't help feeling like he comes from another era. Sporting a black turtle neck sweater, flared pants and jacket it wasn't long before he unleashed the voice that rivals the greatest of all time! 

What followed was a mix of songs and emotions spanning all three albums, we were dancing, swaying and embracing. The title track from his new long player 'Changes' was a highlight - looking directly into the eyes of the crowd, including my own, Charles spoke of how hard this song was for him, but how he promised his mother before she passed away that he would always sing it and give his audiences 'his best'. Everyone in the room is holding back tears as he wails "I've lost the best friend I ever had".

Other highlights include the classic 'Loving you baby' and some news favourites from the latest album 'You think I don't Know (but I know) and the irresistibly funky 'Ain't It a Sin'. 

Extending the brief 30 minute set into 45 minutes, it is all over too soon. But Bradley truly bonds with each and every one of us ending his show by walking through the crowd hugging everyone.