There are 20 artists on stage, flexing muscles, doing backflips, pelting back and forth, hollering and spitting lyrics at machine-gun speed to a spine-shuddering baseline. At their feet, the 7,000-strong crowd roars its approval. Boy Better Know, plus friends, are about to take the crown at Red Bull Culture Clash 2012, leaving international dance music heavyweights, reggae legends and global pop stars in their wake. Even Major Lazer’s persuasive combination of vuvuzelas and special guest Usher couldn’t beat the grime collective’s relentless display of skill, proof that in this battle, nothing is predictable.
Red Bull Culture Clash is a unique test: four stages, four sounds and one winner, judged by a crowd of thousands voting with their feet and lung power for the crew that’s killing it. It pays homage to traditional Jamaican sound clashes and the long history of sound system culture in the UK, where the size of your name and marketing budget means nothing next to your ability to deliver the heaviest sound and the most exclusive tunes. It’s not as simple as playing the best set. Victors will need to have the strength, stamina, invention and personality to consistently deliver fresh and original dancefloor impact throughout the night, over four demanding rounds. The mocking and dissing of opponents is actively encouraged to stir up competition and win the crowd’s favour, and outside the basic rules of engagement, anything goes.
After a year’s break, Red Bull Culture Clash is back in 2014 to show what the next four crews can bring to the stage. BBK are determined to defend their title in front of a record crowd of 20,000 at London’s Earl’s Court. Hoping to stop them are Harlem rap collective A$AP Mob, Jamaican reggae stalwarts Stone Love, and Chase and Status’s bass-heavy Rebel Sound, featuring David Rodigan and Shy FX, all with help from some top-secret special guests. Predicting a victor is as tough as ever, but one thing is certain: the fight will be fierce.
Boy Better Know
North London’s seminal grime collective are defending their Red Bull Culture Clash title. Crew Member Frisco talks wisdom, wit and winning.
THE RED BULLETIN: Do you think the battle tradition of grime and hip-hop gives you an advantage for Red Bull Culture Clash?
Frisco: Definitely. A sound clash is different to an MC battle, but it has the same fundamentals. You’ve got to be on point. You’ve got to be aware of the rules, fast-thinking and witty.
In 2012 you didn’t bring on special guests like Rita Ora and Usher. You stuck to family and friends. Did that help you win?
Yes, because people can’t relate to big superstars in the same way they gravitate to someone like Lethal Bizzle or Chipmunk who joined us on stage. When they see us as a unit, they know it’s real. It’s genuine and from the heart.
Presenter Tim Westwood seemed surprised you won. Were you?
We were all surprised, we didn’t expect to win. Not to say that we didn’t deserve it, but we’re used to getting the short end of the stick. I’m not moaning, but it’s the truth. When we got the justified win, we were so happy.
How did you celebrate?
We celebrated for a whole month. Not just going out and partying, it inspired us to make more great music. Off the back of that win, we put out a few good singles. The win put us in a creative space.
BBK crew travelled to Kingston to explore the roots of sound clash culture recently. Any memorable moments?
Meeting legends like Ninja Man, Lady Saw and Ricky Trooper was very special. Trooper gave us some good advice for Red Bull Culture Clash. He said, “You need to have your dubplates in check and represent your sound to the fullest. Don’t try to go there with anyone else’s sound.”
Who’s your biggest Culture Clash competition this year?
We’re not taking anyone lightly, but obviously David Rodigan [of Rebel Sound] is a legend. He’s been doing this sound clash thing for years. I’d say he probably is the main guy to look out for.
The New York rap collective can’t wait to bring their skills to bear in London. Mob member A$AP Twelvy is so confident, he may take to the stage in his swimmers
THE RED BULLETIN: When did you first discover you’d be competing at Red Bull Culture Clash?
a$ap twelvy: This summer, and I thought ‘this is dope’. We get to do what we do best, against some of the best out there. I can’t wait. And I love London, aside from the gloomy weather. It’s like my second home. At night it reminds me of NYC, people outside having a good time until the early hours.
A$AP stands for ‘always strive and prosper’, but why Twelvy?
It’s short for two-twelve, which in New York means the art of conversation, a one-on-one. I take it from there because I can talk that talk. For me, A$AP also stands for ‘assassinate snitches and police’, but strictly with my lyrics you understand. Words are way more powerful than a gun.
You and the rest of the Mob have a reputation for style. In a musical battle, does what you wear matter?
I think when it comes to style we have the advantage, as for us it’s second nature. There’s power in an outfit. But then again I could pull up in some swimming trunks and win it. At the end of Culture Clash, the girls are going to rip my clothes off whatever I’m wearing.
What would be your ultimate on-stage collaboration?
I’d love to get on stage with the homie Usher. If I wasn’t rapping I’d probably be an R&B singer. I’ve got the moves, I just haven’t got the voice, so maybe I should start lip-synching.
Who’s your main Culture Clash competition?
Boy Better Know won the last clash, and defending champs have always got to come out with that extra fire. But we’ve got things up our sleeve and we’re coming for them. We’re going to win: there’s no other option.