Bay Area DJs Battle It Out at the Red Bull Thre3style Contest, 1/24/13
The Red Bull Thre3style Contest, featuring DJs D-Sharp, Dstrukt, J. Espinosa, Mei-Lwun, and Richie Panic
Jose Z. Lim, Jr./Red Bull Content Pool J.Espinosa
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013
Better Than: Being stuck in a crowded arena of people sucking on pacifiers wondering whether you are baby-sitting or just better off never going out again.
In a region that has helped launch the careers of such superstars as DJ Qbert, Mark Farina, and Kaskade, there always remains the question: Who will be the latest up-and-coming DJ talent to emerge from The Bay?
Thankfully, the Red Bull Thre3style competition, which has quickly supplanted the DMC as the world's preeminent DJ battle, exists to answer this question for fans in the Bay Area and across the globe.
Hosted this year at The Independent, the contest pitted five of the Bay's top club DJs against one another to see who could best rock the party in a 15-minute set -- including combining genres, exhibiting their best turntable tricks, and involving the crowd, all at the same time.
Before the festivities began, local quintet Hot Pocket warmed up the crowd with a lengthy set full of funky hip-hop covers and original tracks. The floor filled up with Bay Area music fans adorned in hoodies, ball caps, and T-shirts printed in support of their favored DJ.
As the room reached capacity, it was clear that this year's crowd stood in stark contrast to last year's event at Ruby Skye. This was a dressed-down, no-nonsense group singing along to hip-hop and funk classics and displaying a real awareness of turntablism and DJ culture. Heightening the awareness were the night's judges, DJ Shortkut of Invisibl Skratch Picklz fame, along with DJ Platurn of the Oakland Faders and Nate Mezmer, event producer and founder of EyeHeartSF events. Not surprisingly, an eclectic mix of the City's notable DJs were in attendance, including the Triple Threat DJs, Mr. E, DJ Dials, Sleazemore, Boogie Brown, CLAKSAARB, White Mike, and DJ Weapon.
Kicking off the event was the Golden State Warriors' diminutive hype man, Franco Finn, who warmed up the crowd with shout-outs to the Bay's many currently successful sports franchises, including a lead-in to his co-worker, Kelly Rowland tour DJ and current DJ of the Warriors, DJ D-Sharp. Asked if he had any bias toward cheering for his favorite DJ, he sheepishly grinned and said, "I respect each of the DJs, but I think it will come down to J. Espinosa and D-Sharp. If that happens, you know who I'm rooting for!"
No doubt the most composed and statuesque of the DJs, D-Sharp began his set with a series of crowd-involving pantomimes, followed by a tribute set to Jam Master Jay and late SF Red Bull Thre3style participant DJ Solomon. He finished with intermittent dashes of trap music, Bay Area hip-hop, and a tip to the "49ers in the Super Bowl", as he shifted from his very apparent scratch skills to occasional leaps in front of the still-building crowd, hoping to garner a memorable response.
Appearing second was Richie Panic, legend for his involvement in many of S.F.'s most forward-looking dance parties, including Frisco Disco, Wanted, and Lights Down Low. Earlier in the night, we caught up with him and asked how he felt about being the only DJ not known for scratching. Grinning, he answered, "I'm just going to represent myself, and have fun with it." Panic, sporting a baseball cap and jean jacket, began with Nas, but stayed mainly within the many subgenres of house, weaving electro with tribal with tech-house, but finishing with a light-hearted mix of Skrillex into Blink 182, as he danced across the stage to embrace the next competitor, J. Espinosa.
J. Espinosa, who's appearance onstage merely to drop off his laptop garnered one of the night's biggest crowd responses, took over next, with an opening that alerted everyone in the venue that this contestant was definitely going for the win and was not merely content to show up and be seen. Playing to a crowd filled with "Team J. Espinosa" T-shirts, he cleanly mixed Red Hot Chili Peppers and Blur with trance classics, at one point daring the competition to "just watch" as he dropped Trinidad James and finished with a series of pre-recorded diss samples dedicated to his competitors. After this set, many were whispering, "I think we can all leave now."
Next up was DJ Dstrukt,. Admittedly unknown among many of the San Francisco residents present at the battle, Dstrukt quickly asserted himself as one of the most creative and skilled DJs in the competition with his clever mixing of current club tracks and classics from Jay-Z, The Meters, and The Doors. Adorned in black-rimmed glasses and a gray collared shirt, Dstrukt played favorites to his large constituency of fans, mixing Treasure Fingers with Thugli and finishing with a series of opponent-specific insults. Despite the final result, it was this writer's belief that Dstrukt deserved second place -- he definitely impressed a group of seasoned San Francisco DJs. Also, we're pretty sure that those in the audience who rode the party bus up from San Jose were solely his fans.
The final contestant was DJ Mei-Lwun, best known for his Monday night party Manic Mondays at Matrix Fillmore, but also a staple of the Bay Area club scene. Dressed in a cut-off jean jacket and pompadour, Mei-Lwun put his many skills on display, beat-juggling the intro to "Thrift Shop" while mixing in Kanye's "Clique," Beastie Boys "Girls," and the classic 45 King "900 Number" beat. Although going last could be a blessing or curse, he powered through and kept the energy up, with an additional appearance by a girl fighting her way onstage only to get kicked off shortly thereafter.
Jose Z. Lim, Jr./Red Bull Content Pool
As the final set ended, the crowd murmured, each contingency convinced that their champion had outperformed the rest. However, host Franco Finn eventually stepped to center stage and announced the judges' decision. The winner was, to no one's surprise, J. Espinosa, one of the most sought-after DJs on the West Coast. First runner-up was awarded to D-Sharp, who likely asserted himself as the most skilled turntablist of all contestants entered. The second runner-up went to DStrukt, who in all probability should have been in the top two, but appeared happy to go home recognized as one of the best.
The debate raged on among the attendees as to who should've been awarded what. But as J. Espinosa took his place for an encore set, it was clear that no matter who you were rooting for in the night's competition, the true winners were the fans and the Bay Area.
Overheard in the crowd: "Wait this is Hot Pocket? I thought it was Hot Tub?"
Personal bias: At each and every turn, there were DJs. Too many DJs. Speaking of which...
Random notebook dump: "DJ's Love BJs" shirts really just shouldn't exist. Why only them, you know?