The word on the roads for the last couple of weeks is Culture Clash. Everyone is talking. Everyone is guessing what will happen. Who are the special guests? Who’s gonna get the exclusive dubplates? So much excitement is building up and all for good reason.
If you were one of the 20,000 at Culture Clash in 2014 you already know how crazy it was. If you weren’t there, you definitely heard about it. I recently watched the clash on YouTube to remind myself about what happened. The thing is, when you’re in the middle of the crowd with the speakers blaring, all you care about is hearing a dub that’s all about how the other sound systems are going to get murked. But what about the history behind the dub. How was it created? What does it take to get Emeli Sande to cuss bad words on a customised record? I headed to the Red Bull studios to find out.
The atmosphere was buzzing with people expressing their excitement about the clash and taking advantage of Red Bull hospitality with the various flavours of their canned wings. In the main area I spotted the host for the discussions, MistaJam. If you wasn’t able to attend the clash in 2014, you were listening to MistaJam’s voice on the live stream and it will be the same this year. MistaJam is the kind of radio DJ who’s energy keeps you tuned in. Never one to be afraid of reloading a song three times, he loudly displays his love for a tune. In this setting however, his other great quality was his musical knowledge. But when it comes to knowledge about clashing, the name David Rodigan is feared and respected on a worldwide stage.
As a pioneer on British radio, who harbours a self described ‘obsession’ with music from Jamaica, David Rodigan has been clashing sound systems for decades so it was an honour to hear him tell stories about his journey and how he used his skill to defeat his opponents.
You need to have the confidence in your dub to be able to pull it up seconds after you get a forward — David Rodigan
Listening to MistaJam and Rodigan talk, it was quickly apparent that the art of clashing is much more than who shouts the loudest on the stage. The roots of sound system culture started with whoever had the loudest speakers on the roads, and that’s how you won. Since then it’s evolved into something much more strategic. Rodigan told stories of battling different crews and how he used different tactics to overcome the barrage of dubs coming his way. Counter attack dubs – when the other side plays a riddim, you fire back with an exclusive dub on the same riddim – clashing takes a lot of planning and a lot of thinking goes into a clash.
As MistaJam leaned forward and turned on the CDJ on the table in front of them, I got excited. The reason why Rebel Sound won 2 years ago was down to the fact that every single song they played was a direct dubplate to the opposition. They spoke earlier on dubs that Rebel Sound didn’t play and one of them was the elusive Tom Jones dub.
“It’s not unusual to kill a soundboy in a clash” — David Rodigan talking about the Tom Jones dubplate
I saw the excitement in MistaJam’s face when he referred to it. On top of having Trevor McDonald on the big screen reporting in his newscaster voice that all the sound stages are going to get murdered, if this legendary dub by Tom Jones blasted from the speakers that night, I would’ve lost my mind.
The room perked up as David Rodigan inserted a CD but he quickly quelled any expectations of us hearing the Tom Jones dubplate. I have a feeling that it will live forever in Culture Clash folklore. What he did play was dubs by Damien Marley and an artist that made MistaJam very happy, the Don Gorgon himself, NinjaMan. This is why I appreciated Mistajam hosting this event. His love for the music left him speechless as the dub was playing. Rodgian was telling the story of how the dubplate was created and Jam just sat there, hanging on his every word. This first session was really engaging. MistaJam’s brilliant questioning allow David Rodgian to drop gems that had everybody paying full attention. The farda had spoken.
Seriously, We need to get David Rodigan a Knighthood — MistaJam
After a tropical Red Bull and a conversation with DJ Chuckie Online about an Asian sound system crew during the break, we were back in our seats ready for the second session. This time, it was a panel with 3 individuals that know a few things about music and are not afraid to voice their opinions. As the crowd applauded, Caroline SM, Becca Dudley and Poet made their way the couch. I know each of them to be opinionated but also, knowledgeable about music and the surrounding environments so I was looking forward to their views.
After talking about their first experience with Culture Clash and reliving the Diplo video dub, they got into their allegiances. For Becca, her loyalty lies with MixPak. Hearing her speaking about the history of Jamaica sound systems and her views on the level of excitement that Mixpak will bring to the clash makes sense. If you look at the members of the crew, the potential is great. Speaking to Caroline, MistaJam mentioned last years US representatives, A$AP Mob, and how they basically performed a concert. Caroline, after spending some time with Taylor Gang during her recent trip to the states, assured us that it would not be the case this year. It seems that Wiz and the crew have learned from the mistakes of the Mob and will be focussed. Poet spoke passionately about memories of his younger days, creeping into raves to see members of UKG AllStars and how this is their time to show everyone what they are made of. Having an opportunity to speak to the UKG All Stars recently, I know they’re making efforts to make this clash one to remember.
These guys are going to come to the battle prepared. Culture Clash is now a thing. If you look dumb, it’s going to be in the history books now — Caroline SM
The conversation was engaging and extracted loads of ‘ooh’s’, ‘ahh’s’ and laughter from the crowd. Poet, being completely himself, sang UKG songs that had everyone finishing the lyrics. Poet was right saying that UKG have classics on their side. Grime was born out of that scene so the history is deep. With the rise of online radio stations and the ability to stream almost any song on the planet, Garage music has got an opportunity to fall on the ears of younger listeners. The debate was a lively one.
After getting distracted by good conversations and missing out on the complimentary pizza and chicken, the final session took place.
Mixpak are a viable crew in this clash and one name will ring true amongst young people that will be the majority of the Culture Clash crowd, Popcaan.
Since this is his first time in the UK, his spirits were high. Walking in with a smile on his face, telling the engineer to put the volume ‘pon the microphone, you could see the confidence. Once again, MistaJam asked great questions that would have Popcaan talking about his youth and interaction with the sound system culture, trying to bring a positive message through his music and the many request for his visit to the London.
I know there are other sounds that have a big following. I don’t care mate! Boy better know blud, we’re ready — Popcaan
The UK has a vibrant dancehall and bashment scene. The energy of the genre will be welcomed in the clash. With Popcaan naming big names such as Ninjaman, Vybez Kartel and sound systems like Killamanjaro, it’s evident that Popcaan is well versed in the art of war. Another member of Mixpak who is no stranger to clashing is the legend, Tony Matterhorn. Winning several international clashes, including World Clash Jamaica and the UK Cup Clash, Tony knows what it takes to shutdown a sound system. This experience will be needed to win over the young UK crowd.
Popcaan was charismatic and full of energy. Paying respect to JaimeXX on the success of ‘Good Times’, he made it clear that he’s been paying attention to the UK sounds for a while. Preparing counter dubs and surprises, this clash promises to make Mixpak a force to be reckoned with.
We’re cooler than the Eskimo dem. Even though we hot from Jamaica — Popcaan
This clash is wide open. Ready for whoever has the right dubs, energetic stage presence and surprise guests that will make 20,000 people shout out loud for who they want to win the Culture Clash.