Phoenix – After three evenings of competition saw 12 party-rocking DJs drop 17 sets of music, the verdict finally came in: The Red Bull Thre3style USA Champion is J. Espinosa from San Bruno, Calif.
In battling four other Thre3style finalists at The Pressroom in downtown Phoenix this past Saturday night, the Bay Area jock earned the title with a Serato DJ set that balanced a bevy of turntable tricks with a tight selection of hip-hop touchstones, house moments, metallic riffs and a few pop hooks. But in the end, Espinosa impressed the judges more than the other finalists—DJ Dynamix (L.A.), DJ Akshen (Phoenix), DJ Trayze (D.C.), and Reed Streets (Philadelphia), who finished second with a wildly diverse set.
“Everybody’s sets tonight were amazing— I really didn’t think I was going to win,” said Espinosa immediately after taking the title. “I looked at what killed it with the crowd [from Friday night’s qualifying set], and then I brought some of it back tonight and changed it a little bit to make it different.”
But The Pressroom crowd was noticeably more enthusiastic than the one at Club Red in Mesa, Ariz., the previous evening. “I feel like this crowd was into seeing you doing your thing,” he continued. “I did a little bit of beat-juggling. I did some toneplay, some scratches and played some stuff that I thought was cool, and the crowd did, too. I played some ’90s stuff, I played some rock.
“When you put a set together, you never really know. It’s a guess, always a guess. Wherever you sit down to put your set together, you’re guessing what’s going to go on. It’s really a gamble. You don’t know if it’s going to work or not. Luckily, for me tonight, it did.”
And now J. Espinosa can join other national champions in Tokyo, Japan, this September for the Red Bull Thre3style World Championship. “It feels amazing,” he said, still clutching his newly earned trophy. “I’ve never been to Japan. I always wanted to go and it’s going to be really crazy going out there to represent the United States.”
And for those who have followed turntablism and DJ battles for the past few decades, it should come as no surprise that Espinosa hails from the San Francisco Bay Area, home of some of the world’s most innovative DJs.
“I grew up watching all the Bay Area turntablists—Invisibl Skratch Piklz with QBert, Shortkut and others,” he said. “There were always so many crazy, talented turntablists from the Bay Area influencing me, that I always incorporate scratching and turntablism in all of my sets, even when I’m DJing in clubs and on radio. I always represent for turntablism. Any time I touch turntables, I have those guys as an influence.”
Red Bull Thre3style competitions require its 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. Judges for this past weekend’s finals and qualifying rounds included industry notables DJ Jazzy Jeff, Z-Trip, Four Color Zack, Grandtheft, and Skratch Bastid.
Second-place finisher Reed Streets earned his finals berth by impressing the judges enough during Saturday’s qualifier to take a “wild card” spot. His set covered the widest range of music, everything from Stevie Wonder and Chuck Brown to Neil Diamond and Diplo. “It’s been such a great weekend, hanging with all the DJs,” he said. “It’s been an experience I won’t forget.”
After the competition was completed, but before the winner was announced, hometown hero Z-Trip dazzled the crowd with a memorable and varied set that included Diplo’s mix of Marlena Shaw’s “California Soul” and Luniz’s “I Got 5 on It.” Additionally, the audience enjoyed the unique contributions from Four Color Zack, who cut up hip-hop classics and relative obscurities, like Dinosaur, Jr.’s indie-rock fave “Feel the Pain.”
But in the end, the night was all about J. Espinosa, the 2015 Red Bull Thre3style USA Champion. Congratulations, and we’ll see you again on Tokyo time.