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Entries in Review (7)

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.

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.

Tuesday
Sep292015

OutsideIn Festival review 2015

Words by Margaret Tra.

As an avid hip hop lover, living in Australia can be quite frustrating. So when I originally saw the line-up for the OutsideIn Festival my heart skipped a beat. So many hip hop acts in one festival including Big K.R.I.T, Devin the Dude and Stormzy. I will admit that when Bilal was no longer on the list I cried a little inside, but hey we can’t have it all now can we?

With three stages, burgers and an endless amount of musical entertainment, the festival was a hit. Even the DJ’s I had never stumbled on before were fusing Aaliyah and Ginuine tracks into their house sounds. 

The first act that we caught was Devin the Dude on the main stage, a rapper so happy and humble that he’s smooth beats and timeless raps made his set unforgettable. He played his greatest hits ‘I’m just getting blowed’ and Doobie Ashtray, the only thing we missed out on was him playing with his drone on stage.

Next up was the grime legend that is Stormzy on the Red Bull stage, and well what can we say. When the set was over the last thing we wanted him to do was shut up. Grime brings something out of people and Stormzy delivered. The audience was hanging on each and every single one of his words, if I didn’t fear being squashed the death, I may have ventured to the front. Still from my view Stormzy killed it, and dare I say it won’t be long until we see him again. 

Lucky last we have Big K.R.I.T, Big comes out thrashing, ready to murder the stage. Rapping his classics and some of his new material with the crowd bobbing their heads up and down in unison. Devin the Dude also came on the stage blessing the audience with something they’ll never forget in their life.

Despite the rain OutsideIn pulled it together, with undercover areas and stages covered, a part from one of course but festival goers didn’t mind. It was a festival filled with people who had a passion and love for music which was seen through the audiences movements throughout the night and the way the festival was conducted by its team. We look forward to seeing it grow and to see what they have for us next year. Hip hop in Australia is alive, thanks to the team at OutsideIn.

 

Tuesday
Sep222015

Leron Thomas - 'Cliquish' Album Review

Words by Harry Upton.
'Cliquish' is the latest full length release from NYC based Jazz, Funk and Soul artist Leron Thomas, due out on October 16th (via Heavenly Sweetness).
This next paragraph is usually where I would try and define the genre of this album for you, but Thomas has built a reputation over recent years as quite the improviser, something which becomes more apparent as I listen through the 12 tracks and 56 minutes of 'Cliquish'. I hear tastes of funk, jazz and rock, dashes of hip hop and R&B, and sometimes a blend of two or three genres within one track! 

Not originally a singer, Thomas was persuaded to take to the mic by his regular collaborator Bilal (who also features on this record). Lucky for us he did! His style is unique and the listener first gets introduced to his story telling during the title track after chants of "Im so glad… I'm not a part of your clique.”

More humorous story telling is found on the fun and funky "Snicka bar,” and this track along with the more mellow space funk of "Role Play" has me drawing comparisons with the godfather of funk, George Clinton. "Role Play" is certainly a stand out though, it is the type of track that would be equally at home blasting from festival size speakers or enjoyed through your own little boombox at a Sunday BBQ, it can be enjoyed on different levels.

Be careful where you play "Asako" however, as this number might just blow up your little boombox! The catch cry is "Ambitious ways and no sex today" and this track needs to be played loud. Hints of TV on the Radio and Saul Williams can be heard as the guitar drives and the drums crash. They are joined by electrified horns and Thomas' distinct vocal cries before the crescendo is reached. Including a somewhat unexpected jazz breakdown, this rock track ensures a nod to Thomas’ jazz roots. 

Soul tracks "Mandy Jo" and "Don't you Know" are the love ballads of the record and let Thomas really sing. Although they are by no means deadly serious lyrically, there is less of the humour of earlier tracks and this makes for definite highlights.
Overall this is an enjoyable album. Book ended by trumpet solo's (Thomas is a trumpet player by trade), there is no shortage of great horn hooks on this record. Though these are often accompanied by funk-style slap bass, some heavy drums and whining guitars. He certainly crams a lot into the hour of genre hopping, but nothing feels rushed! Fans of music in general, not any particular genre, should certainly give this record a spin.

4 stars.

 

For those in London you can catch Leron Thomas at his official Album Release Party on November 5 at The Jazz Cafe. He is also performing a string of European dates including the MAMA Festival in Paris on October 15.

Links: www.leronthomas.com

 

Tuesday
Jul072015

Glastonbury Festival 2015 Review

Glastonbury Festival 2015 Review 
By Harry Upton


This is it, the big daddy of them all. Ever since I could comprehend what a music festival was, I have been working towards this moment. All of the festivals I have been to over the past 15 years have just been pre-parties to prepare me for this. I am here! I'm at Glastonbury!

Since the first Glastonbury in 1970, the event has evolved and grown, now taking over more than 900 acres in Somerset, South West England. The site is huge! With several smaller festivals joining together to make up over 100 stages, hundreds of food stalls and bars, 180,000 punters plus countless artists, guests and crew.

Monday
I arranged to arrive nice and early on the Monday evening and with the sun out I was looking forward to finding the piece of grass that I would call home for the next week. The three hour journey from London featured an unexpected highlight when we passed Stone Henge (this tourist had to stop and take a sneaky pic!). After parting ways with my ride share pals at the festival gates I loaded myself up with tent, bag and booze (who knew it was B.Y.O!) and wandered into the festival. Within minutes I pass the infamous Pyramid stage and stop to take in the beauty of the site pre-people and pre-mud! Finding my camping area behind the stage I quickly set about erecting my tent and checking in to pick up my accreditation. A quiet night is in order as I can't see many more opportunities for sleep in the coming days.

 

Tuesday
Tuesday provided me with a great opportunity to explore the site in full before the majority of people arrived. One thing that struck me as I ventured from stage-to-stage was how much effort is put into the production! Arcadia, Silver Hayes, Shangri-La, Block 9, Unfairground, The Glade, The Common and the Park, all of these areas featured amazing stage set ups and art installations. Although the official program of music wasn't due to start until tomorrow, by the time night fell there was plenty to keep the thousands of us early-birds entertained. I enjoyed a few pints and some funk tunes in the Tow and Hitch bar before calling it a night.
Wednesday
Wednesday morning at 8am is when the gates officially open and within a matter of hours the rolling green hills were covered with tents, all of the stalls and bars were now open and the festival was in full swing! I took the opportunity to purchase an additional pillow from one of the many camping stores on site (turns out compact travel pillows just don't cut it) before making my way to the Common to check out some acts. But first I was treated to a tour of the local area by the Common's site manager, again the production levels were top notch with lots of pyrotechnics and one stage located behind a waterfall! I interacted with the roving street performers and indulged in a couple more pints before winding up at the Rum Shack. I got a good dose of hip-hop from the resident DJ's here - think Biggie, LL, Tribe Called Quest - and a couple of rums brought up the end of day 3.

Thursday
Work on Thursday meant I didn't venture too many acts until the late evening, checking out Circoloco on the Blues stage and J.e.S.u.S. at Sonic. Tomorrow was when the big stages started so I was happy with the acts I had managed to catch and decided it best to retire to my tent and recharge.

 

Friday
Bacon and egg sandwich in hand, I started at the Gully stage watching some traditional New Zealand Maori performances by Manaia. They invited a special guest onto the stage to partake in the ceremony, Michael Eavis - founder of Glastonbury. He said a few words and I felt like I had been officially welcomed to the festival by the main man himself. What a great start to a massive day of music!

The afternoon (and the day in fact) belonged to Mary J Blige. Although I was not a massive fan before her show, I braved the rain and joined around 100,000 others at the Pyramid stage for the mid-afternoon set. I must admit, when seeing acts who are entering the “vintage” stage of their career, you do fear that their best days are behind them. This is certainly not the case with Mary J! She commanded the massive crowd like a pro and everyone soon forgot about the miserable weather. Her vocals, dancing and overall stage presence were something to behold, and the emotional rendition of ‘No More Drama’ in which she wound up belting out the final lyrics while down on the stage floor was one of the highlights of the whole festival. At the end of this number she needed a minute, telling the crowd “y’all gonna make me cry!” but it wasn’t long before we were back dancing again and the set came to a climatic end, as we knew it would, with ‘Family Affair.
 
Before arriving at Glastonbury, I had heard stories about how impossible it was to ‘stage-hop’ at such a massive event and this evening I intended to test out my stage-hopping skills with back to back sets scattered over four stages. Not to blow my own horn, but I pulled it off and took in sets from Australia’s own Flight Facilities (who had a very successful Glastonbury debut), SBTRKT, Caribou and Mark Ronson in the space of three hours! Another highlight of the festival was the very special rendition of ‘Uptown Funk’ that we were treated to with Boy George, Mary J Blige, George Clinton and Grandmaster Flash joining Mr Ronson on stage.
Saturday
Saturday night presented a very tough clash with Kanye West on the Pyramid stage at the same time as George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic at West Holts. However, after my successful stage-hop from the evening prior I decided to ‘try’ and catch them both.

My evening began with Sly and the Family stone (minus Sly of course) at the West Holts stage. Funk was certainly on the menu for tonight and The Family Stone know how to cook it. The groove was constant and mesmorising as the 10 piece wound their way through classic after classic. ‘Family Affair’ was a definite highlight (déjà vu?). Up next was George Clinton, a real hero of mine, and one of my all time favourite live acts, but at the other side of the field, Kanye had already started.. He had received a lot of bad press in the lead up to Glastonbury, with petitions going around to get him kicked off the bill. I had to go and see for myself what his set would be like, plus I knew Parliament Funkadelic would be playing for hours. So I bit the bullet and maneuvered to the Pyramid as quickly as I could. On the way there, I couldn’t help but notice a large number of people coming the other way (not a great sign). I arrived to see quite a quiet crowd by the Pyramids standards and a backlit silhouette of Kanye on stage. He hasn’t hired a stand in has he? Where’s his DJ or the band I was hoping for? Is that just a backing track? I thought. But after witnessing some pretty appalling versions of ‘All of the lights’ and ‘Touch the Sky’ including his signature cherry picker ride, I had to admit defeat and accept that this was in fact Kanye, but on a really really bad day. No time to dwell on it, I ran back to the West Holts stage, where the whole place was heaving with heavy funk. Catching regular set highlights ‘Flashlight’ and ‘We Want the Funk’ I was delighted with my decision to return to witness the godfather of funk yet again. 
Sunday
Feeling a bit dusty as I rose on Sunday, I took the opportunity to check out 7-piece hip hop collective Doomtree on the nearby Sonic stage before venturing to The Park stage to take in the view (below) and catch a set by a man I had heard so much about in recent weeks, Jack Garratt. His one man band style show was an excellent way to kick start my final day on Worthy Farm. The bass heavy beats and soulful vocals work so well in the sunshine, which was thankfully on its way back to us today.
The next name I had circled on the timetable was the one and only Lionel Richie. As the first act announced for this years Glastonbury, he had become somewhat of a cult figure for punters from all walks of life. There were at least a dozen flags featuring the Commodores singers’ face and thousands of t-shirts sporting “Hello.. is it me you’re looking for?.” Attracting the biggest crowd of the weekend (close to 200,000), Lionel was visibly excited to “finally” be at the festival. Swapping between the piano and the front of the stage, Lionel treated us to non-stop hits for his extended set. ‘Brick House’, ‘Dancing on the ceiling’ and ‘All night long’ whipped the crowd into a singalong frenzy, while ‘Say you, Say me’, ‘Three times a lady’ and ‘Hello’ left the star astounded at the accuracy at which the crowd could sing the words right back to him. His set had everything, including a peer pressured skull of what looked to be cranberry juice. Kanye could learn a thing or two from this old pro.


A-Skills and Krafty Kuts kept the party going in The Glade with a banging set of hip hop, trap, throwbacks and party jams but all too soon it was time for the grand finale at the big spider on the hill – Arcadia – with 2ManyDJ’s, flames, lasers and dancers.

Packing up my tent the following umm.. afternoon I was so pleased to have finally experienced the biggest field festival in the world. Hopefully I'll be back again next year!