My mind is running a mile a minute. I’ve been waiting for this moment since 2014. That was when I experienced the best live music show of my life. The 2014 Red Bull Culture Clash was nothing I’d ever experienced before and one I thought I’d never experience again. I was so wrong.
I watched everyone around me was preparing backstage with precision focus. This was serious. The time had finally come. All the planning, the collecting of dubs and special guests had brought MixPak, UKG All-Stars, Taylor Gang and Eskimo Dance to the O2 Arena to battle each other for the coveted Culture Clash trophy. This was a big production and Red Bull had pulled out all the stops. Tall flames erupted illuminating the arena, as I stood in front of a massive stage that hosted all 4 sound systems. I felt the heat. The energy was amazing as Annie Mac walked onto the stage to explain the rules of the clash – then it was time to begin. I saluted the sound system I was repping, Eskimo Dance, and hung a blue bandana from my back pocket.
‘Wot you call it” blasted through the speakers as the Godfather and Eskimo Dance co-founder Wiley ran onto the stage and pointed and shouted “Wot you call it, Garage!” as he faced the UKG stage.
As Wiley ran off, Chip ran on jumping around like he’d been held captive backstage. With an intense screw face, he came for war. After performing some crowd favourites, ‘Hear This’ finished where Stormzy would normally come in. The room fell quiet as the instrumental for ‘Where Do You Know Me From’ dropped and so the Merky Don confidentally walked on stage with an Eskimo Dance bandana wrapped around his face and dressed to battle – the crowd shouted back every word.
Man know I’m a beast on stage / Don’t make man go back to Culture Clash — Stormzy, Eskimo Dance
Following with a track that captivated the entire arena. ‘Feed ’Em To The Lions’ is one of those songs that makes the crowd lose their shit! As Solo45 walked out onto the stage with his arms stretched out, the noise from the audience was almost deafening.
As the lights went down, the ladies walked out waving flags, the MixPak sound system were ready to start. I heard the first customised dub plate and instantly remembered the talk with David Rodigan at the Red Bull Studios about the importance of custom dubs and MixPak came prepared. Over the instrumental from Soul 2 Soul’s “Back To Life”, Mixpak let the female voice sing out about how they were going to murder the other sound systems.
Murdah dem, Murdah dem / In a competition Mixpak a-go murdah dem — MixPak Dubplate
Mixpak dropped back to back custom dubs, as dancehall artist Kranium walked on stage and performed a dub of ‘Nobody Has To Know’. The DJ played a Big Tobz introduced dub of ‘You Know My Style’ and Tony Matterhorn jumped on stage and performed ‘Dutty Whine’. MixPak were definitely showing everyone that the culture of sound systems is in their blood.
“Wiz on a new level / Wiz on a new level / We bought him a new shovel / put you other sounds in the dirt” – Up next was Wiz Khalifa and Taylor Gang. I was apprehensive of this crew and not sure if they were going to fall victim to their fellow Americans in the clash. Boy was I wrong! Taylor Gang most definitely did their homework. With an introduction from DJ Khaled, Wiz ran on stage calling for Wiley as Ty Dollar $ign gave the middle finger to all of the systems shouting out “We did our homework. Ha!”
The first dub, and what a dub it was, had Charlie Puth singing custom lyrics to the sound systems. They followed it up with amazing custom dubs from A$AP Ferg, Big Sean and in my opinion, the best dub of their set, a dub from Fat Joe rapping;
“It’s time for an Eskimo Burial / UKG ain’t f***king with the Taylor Gang / Nothing can stop Wiz, he’s all the way up!”
When I heard that dub, I was shocked. Like, proper shocked. Taylor Gang came out spraying. Straight disrespectful. It was brilliant.
“If you want to clash us, you need to show me dubs. Songs are so easy to play. You need to show me dubs. ” When UKG All-Stars hit the stage, they weren’t wasting any seconds, after that Eastenders intro, So Solid front man Megaman walked on stage and made his way to Eskimo Dance shouting “Dem man can’t play dubplates like us”. Neutrino ran out performing a customised “Bound For The Reload” as nostalgia kicked in with that old Casualty theme song. Then Megaman introduced MC Neat with another dub of one of the most famous songs in Garage, going against everyone.
With a likkle bit of dub, we gon’ slew soundboy tonight — Neat, UKG All-Stars
Dubplate after dubplate, UKG weren’t messing around, even drawing out a dub from Kyla who sang a version of ‘Do You Mind’ bringing the crowd firmly on side. UKG Allstars came prepared with dubs that gave them a clear run, playing counteraction dubs with an energy on stage that won them the first round.
There were many standout moments from round 2 of the clash. A surprise appearance from Sneakbo performing his most popular song, twerk queen Spice jumping into a split whilst telling Wiz Khalifa where to put his tongue and a dub from Shaggy dropped by MixPak. But it was when the unruly Popcaan ran on stage and performed his popular tracks that the crowd went off, confirming that dancehall music was hitting the mark with this new generation of UK fans.
Taylor Gang, proved they had more dubs in their arsenal, before bringing out Joey Badass who performed a whole verse filled with war bars for all their opponents.
UKG All-Stars came back to transport everyone to Ayia Napa with dubs of Migraine Skank, Are You Gonna and Flowers. Their ace for round 2 was a special dubplate from UK lyricist, Wretch32. His wordplay on his song ‘6 Words’ mixed into ‘Racing Green’ had the whole arena jumping. Dubs from Rudimental going against Eskimo Dance were hard to hear. So cold.
I come thru and I rise up mi nine yeah / licking’ dreadlocks off clean mi nuh nice ‘ere — UKG All-Stars, Wretch32 dub
When it was time for Eskimo Dance to take centre stage, the pressure was on. They answered by bringing out Lethal Bizzle to a rapturous crowd, performing ‘Rari Workout’ and ‘Pow’. A custom dub of ‘Box’ from Bizzle cam next and if that wasn’t enough, gaming sound effects filled the venue as Grime veteran D Double E walked on stage performing ‘Street Fighter’ with everyone doing their version of his sound effects. Fellow Newham general Footsie was alongside to carry everyone into another grime classic before P Money ran on stage and performed ‘10/10’. A highlight for me was when Birmingham native SafOne performed his hit single with everyone singing the chorus. With stellar appearances from Ghetts, Kano and Ruff Squad, the crowd didn’t stand a chance to calm down. Levels kept going higher for the duration of their round. For the people that have never been to an Eskimo Dance before, the sound system did a great job bring the Eskimo Dance to the o2. Although there was a lack of dubs in this round. The crowd were on their sound and gave them round 2.
Sleeping With The Enemy
Tasked with playing music from the other cultures, Taylor Gang, after a blasting introduction from his baby mama, Amber Rose, played a dubplate from UK finest, Krept & Konan. Ty performed a counteraction dub for Lethal Bizzle, Wiz Khalifa rapped over Stormzy’s ‘Where Do You Me From’ and the whole of Taylor gang named members of Eskimo Dance, calling them backup dancers over ‘Shut Up’. Moving on to UKG and MixPak with dub plates, a special appearance from Stylo G covered the Jamaican culture. But for me, the biggest surprise of the round, if not the whole clash, was the return of Ice Kid. Everyone in the world of Grime will know how crazy that was.
Eskimo Dance started the next round with the legend Tim Westwood introducing Fekky. If you’ve seen Fekky perform, he’s crazy energy in human form. But it was Chip who was the highlight of this round.
UKG All-Stars put on a custom advert on the big screens playing the pop singles from the Eskimo Dance artists. Following that with multiple customised dubplates from Lady Leshurr, Flirta D, Maverick Sabre and Grizzy. Megaman paid respect to MikPak, before telling them that his crew were gonna murda dem with their own sound. Many dubs were designed for the demise of every other clashing sound systems.
MixPak started very strong by bringing out Big Narstie. Being a Grime representative, Narstie brought his BDL energy that shook the arena. MixPak brought dubplates from every culture in this round. Although there was a exclusive dubplate from Giggs, it was J Hus who took the highlight moment of the round. Performing a dub of ‘Dem Boys Paigon’ JHus had the crowd in the palm of his hand after returning from his hiatus. It was amazing to see him on the stage again. The crowd clearly felt the rush and gave MixPak Round 3.
With Eskimo Dance, MixPak & UKG All-Stars all having won a round, the final dubplate round was the decider.
UKG All-Stars started the round with a dubplate from what sounded like Justin Bieber, while everyone looked at each other in disbelief. Was it him? Who knows. But one thing was clear, everyone reacted to it.
Wiz Khalifa & Taylor Gang drew for a special dubplate from Tove Lo’s ‘Habits (High all the time)’ and just to add to the experience, threw large inflatable splifs into the crowd.
Mixpak decided to play what they called a “Real dub. Not a, mates sing a song dub”. Playing a customised dubplate from Major Lazer’s ‘Something To Lean On’ they had the crowd singing along.
Eskimo Dance played a dubplate from two of the biggest exports from the UK, Ed Sheeran & Adele. I noticed Stormzy was walking with the biggest smile on his face. I figured he had a hand in the acquisition of this special dub – many more questions marks were being raised.
The second part of round 4 was filled with more exclusive music. Eskimo Dance playing a Jess Glynn dub, UKG playing one from Sia and Wiz peforming his own song. But everything was over shadowed by MixPak’s selection. Even before the Culture Clash started, one question was on everyone’s mind. Who would be the sound system to bring out a dubplate from Drake? Despite digs from Fekky about Drake, it was Popcaan who walked on stage and introduced the most exclusive track of the night with a customised version of the reigning No.1 single ‘One Dance’, turning over the entire arena. At that point, nothing else mattered. MixPak sealed the deal. Winning the final round, MixPak ultimately won the Culture Clash.
To witness the culture that started it all, go on and take the clash, proved exactly why sound systems are all about the art of the battle. Whether you knew the sound systems before the clash began, by the end, every single person in the arena and those streaming it live had been re-educated about the culture of the clash. No doubt it’s the event that’s going to be talked about for time, and whether UKG and Wiz Khalifa decide to release those dub plate specials or not, there’s no doubt that those classic moments will last in the minds of the people forever.
Red Bull, bring on 2018!