Phoenix – We’ve just finished the second qualifying round at the Red Bull Thre3style competition’s USA National Final, held here at Club Red in Mesa, Ariz., and, in a surprise, we have three more finalists for Saturday night’s championship round. L.A.’s Dynamix and San Francisco’s J. Espinosa were joined by Philadelphia’s Reed Streets, who earned the judges’ approval as a last-minute “wild card” finalist.
J. Espinosa’s ultra-tight routine opened with a dazzling scratchfest, then punched up a bit of trap and dubstep before finishing with a manic “Turn Down for What.” Dynamix’s blazing, trick-filled set hit on some classics (“The Breaks”) and a few other bona fide party-starters (“Get Ur Freak On”), before ending with the famous warning from “Breaking Bad” TV character Walter White: “I am the one who knocks!”
Reed Streets opened the evening with a wildly varied affair that differed from most of the contestants, as it included plenty of rock entries: Zep’s “Black Dog,” White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” flipped with Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll, Part 2,” Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” and Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.” The evening ended with Skratch Bastid, Jazzy Jeff and Z-Trip cutting it up before a full-house.
Friday’s three finalists will join Thursday’s winners, D.C.-based Trayze and Phoenix’s own Akshen, tonight at The Pressroom (441 W. Madison Street). The USA champ will head to Tokyo, Japan, in September for the Red Bull Thre3style World Championship.
Red Bull Thre3style DJ battles require participants to present three different musical genres in a 15-minute routine. In addition to their technical abilities, DJs are judged on how well they rock the room and their musical selections. Arbiters for this weekend’s competition include industry notables DJ Jazzy Jeff, Z-Trip, Four Color Zack, Grandtheft, and Skratch Bastid.
Before the competition, we caught up with Z-Trip, a former America’s Best DJ titlist himself, to discuss his judging approach for the Red Bull Thre3style competition. And after Friday event, we connected with Four Color Zack, who offered his own thoughts, plus thumbnail descriptions of the five finalists.
DJ Times: As a judge and someone who’s competed in more than few DJ battles, what are you looking for in this competition?
Z-Trip: I’m always looking for someone who’s pushing the boundaries of music selection. That’s always the first line of defense for anything. If your selection is on-point, you already have people’s attention. If you select the wrong tunes, it’s more of an uphill battle because you’re forcing yourself to do amazing stuff with it. That’s not to say that if you didn’t pick the right tunes, you wouldn’t win, but I always feel like if you can stand apart from everybody else… but after awhile there are probably some “do-not-play” songs that you can take out of the mix.
DJ Times: For a DJ, that can be difficult because they want to play tunes that the crowd knows and reacts to, but they also want to avoid songs that previous DJs have already played. Kind of a fine line there…
Z-Trip: That’s the constant battle, and that’s the crux of it: How do you separate yourself and stand out?
DJ Times: This competition requires that DJs play at least three genres. As a judge, does the level of a genre’s obscurity—something like be-bop, for example—impress you more than playing, say, another AC/DC tune?
Z-Trip: Most definitely. To me, and this is something that I’ve been trying to get [the competition] to really emphasize, is the diversity of the styles. Having a house mix of a rock tune, then a pop tune, then a hip-hop tune that’s got four-on-the-floor on it, then you’re really not departing from a style, you’re just sort of interweaving them. But yeah, playing a be-bop tune or a free jazz tune or a marching band thing, playing any of those things can be interesting because the listener isn’t fatigued by hearing the same style over and over.
DJ Times: But you’re probably going to be the only one in the club that knows that it’s a tune by, say, Ornette Coleman, right?
Z-Trip: Yeah, well… [laughs] there’s something to be said about that, too! Game recognize game! If you put in the work and you’re digging, I’m going to find that as a favorite because I know what you went through to get that.
DJ Times: As a judge, what are you looking for in a contestant?
Four Color Zack: We all agree that original selections stand out, but I also like to look at the details. I like creativity. I like the conceptual approach. It’s not just things like using pads, but if it’s a good thought behind it, if the mix is in key or some instruments go together, or even if it comes down to basic stuff like wordplay or toneplay, I can respect it. There’s always that fine line between what’s corny and what’s not. If you can walk within something that enriches the soul and you’re still playing good music, it’s game over.
DJ Times: Give me a word or two on each of the finalists.
Four Color Zack: Fun.
DJ Times: Akshen?
Four Color Zack: Original.
DJ Times: Reed Streets?
Four Color Zack: Risk-taker.
DJ Times: Dynamix?
Four Color Zack: Fast as fuck.
DJ Times: J. Espinosa?
Four Color Zack: Pshhhh… Just pshhhh…