Review: Red Bull Thre3Style DJ Championships – Part 2

Friday nights are made for sharing great music with great people – even if you’ve never met any of those people before. So it was fortuitous that the fourth and final Red Bull Thre3style championship qualifying round took over the Danforth Music Hall last night for a massive celebration of the state of the art of DJing. I grabbed my trusty camera (which was easy, since it’s built into my trusty phone) and headed down to check out the acts.

Unfortunately, my years of raving have primed me to expect shows to start at 9 PM at the earliest, so I didn’t catch the 8 PM start time and missed the wide-ranging hip-hop set from Numeric that kicked off the night. I did arrive in time to catch Cosmo Baker running through an array of genres across the board. He tried to use a “Beamz” device but couldn’t get it working; in my opinion that worked out just fine, because he nailed it on the decks. Nice N Smooth MC Greg Nice hopped on the mic to pump the crowd up and at one point jumped right into the audience to take part. It was a great lead in to the main event.

With this the final night of the competition, the pressure was on for the five remaining DJs. We’ve witnessed some killer sets through the week and the bar’s been set very high for everyone. But these are the best guys in the world, so it should come as no surprise that every set delivered something special.

Marquinhos Espinosa of Brazil started off the contest with a killer intro, including having a bit of fun on a hand drum that he brought along. If you followed my Twitter feed through the night, you already know that he pulled some excellent trick scratching (behind the back, under the leg, you name it) and smoothly mashed up genre into genre. Highlights included a club-wide singalong to Marley classic “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” and the solid Dum’N’Bass section – you could tell this guy had done his homework and knew that Toronto was a DnB town. Stellar set.

2013-11-08 22.46.06Marquinhos Espinosa

Following up on the other side of the stage was Switzerland’s DJ Bazooka, plagued by a few technical difficulties (I haven’t seen a DJ lick a needle connector in ages, definitely brought me back) but he pulled through for a solid set. I had to feel bad for the guy – really successful DJing requires that you get in the zone and lose yourself in the music, and nothing brings you out of that zone like dealing with equipment malfunctions. He played a very solid set, but it’s impossible to put on your best show when you’re worried about gear and I bet he would love another shot to really show off. I hope we see more of him under better conditions.

2013-11-08 22.55.49DJ Bazooka

Third on the decks was DJ Vicky of Albania, and this man played one of my favourite sets of the series. I noted last night that he was working the controller well, but it turns out I misspoke – he was using the built in effects on the mixer and turntables, as he was the only DJ playing with nothing but CDJs. No controller, no laptop, just two decks and a mixer – my kind of DJ!

As such, the set featured fewer turntablist staples, but instead was heavy on the mashups, all of which were layered extremely smoothly and most of which were built on crowd-favourite anthems. Think Michael Jackson lyrics over AC/DC guitar riffs and you’re in the right ballpark.

2013-11-08 23.21.17DJ Vicky

With just two contestants to go, DJ Laese of Spain stepped up to the decks, and he proceed to drop such a set that I was convinced, by the end, that he was going to walk away with it. Right from the start he lay hard on the trick scratching and beat juggling while seamlessly mixing across any genre you can think of. Coupled with a comfortable, engaging stage presence, Laese threw down such a set that I have to assume that the judges had a tough time picking between him and Marquinhos Espinosa.

2013-11-08 23.30.22DJ Laese

Finally, Madfingaz wrapped up the show with a smooth and poppy set coupled with plenty DMC staples and some especially good controller work. As I noted on Twitter last night, I’m an old-time DJ used to vinyl and CDJs, so watching what the new breed are doing is absolutely fascinating, and Madfingaz put up some great examples of the style.

As the judges withdrew to deliberate, Maseo of De La Soul and Ali Shaheed Mohammad of A Tribe Called Quest stepped out to keep the crowd lively in the intervening time. The two legends played exactly the kind of set you might expect, with plenty of 90s upbeat hip hop – but what you may not have expected is that De La Soul’s Posdnuos also showed up and hopped on the mic.

2013-11-09 00.07.48Maseo of De La Soul & Ali Shaheed Mohammad of A Tribe Called Quest

I have to hand it to Toronto – this was a very musically educated crowd. No matter where the DJs took it, the crowd followed along handily. And everybody in that club was singing along through this final set.

Tonight’s the final night of the show, and Marquinhos Espinosa will join the other winners (and one more wild card entry chosen by the judges) for the final showdown at Kool Haus.

You can also listen to all the sets from last night.

Words: Tim Ellis

2013-11-08 22.43.40