Review: Red Bull Thre3Style DJ Championships – Part 3

It was a busy week, but on Saturday night the Red Bull Thre3style Championships pulled into the home stretch for the final round. What kind of party was it? Well, there’s a reason it took me til today to get back in shape enough to write it up.

For this last big show, the four winning qualifiers – Eskei83 from Germany, DJ Byte from Chile, Trentino from the USA, and Marquinhos Espinosa of Brazil – were joined on stage by two wild card entries to try their hand at the world championship. The wild cards were selected by the judges and were represented by DJ Bazooka of Switzerland and DJ Shintaro of Japan. I was particularly glad to see Bazooka up there – I felt that he hadn’t had a chance to truly show his stuff during the qualifiers due to some technical issues outside of his control.

The finals were held at the Kool Haus, an iconic Toronto music venue and home to some of the biggest events the city has seen. Saturday’s show was no exception, with yet another sold out crowd. And after stellar performances all week long, the expectations were very high. It’s a lot of pressure for any DJ to have to perform under, but it didn’t take long for every one of them to demonstrate why they’d made it this far.

Opening performances from Thugli, Canada’s own Grand Theft, and Keys and Krates left the crowd pumped up and ready for the main event. This kicked off with Japan’s Shintaro, who lay into the scratching hard right off the bat. As would be a consistent theme through the night, it was very clear that everyone on stage deserved to be there and was bringing the A-game. In fact, all of the sets were even stronger than the winning qualifying rounds, which is both hard to believe and extremely impressive.

dj shintaro

Shintaro’s set was a carefully calculated journey through an array of sounds and genres designed to showcase his Japanese heritage in a way that Canadian audiences could relate to, while also giving him plenty of opportunity to show off his well-developed scratching skills. From DnB to hip hop over to house and video game remixes, including a killer remix of the universally-loved Mario theme to close, Shintaro put together a technically precise and flawlessly mixed performance that won over the crowd and, we’d soon find out, the judges.

DJ Byte from Chile was up next and led off with a sample of Greg Nice MCing from the night before – impressive turnaround time. Then he opened up with James Brown’s “I Feel Good” – perfectly appropriate as he launched into a sample-heavy, feel-good set of classics and mashups. This was one of my favourite sets from the entire series, and the crowd agreed; Byte had plenty of audience energy to feed off of.

DJ Byte

Germany’s Eskei 83 followed up with a hard, driving kick off designed to get the crowd pumping and set himself apart. He’d also been at work in the studio, dropping a custom battle track with some choice words for each of the other competing DJs. Watching the judges, you could see they were impressed with his set.

Following him was the second wild card, DJ Bazooka from Switzerland. After Bazooka’s set at the Danforth Music Hall was plagued with technical difficulties, it was great to see him have a chance to really show us what he could do – and, man, did he! With a set that emphasized programming and crowd interaction, he led us through a slick routine that also didn’t skimp on the controller tricks.

eskei 83

When Trentino stepped up next I was stoked to see it; his set on Thursday had been stellar and I expected more of the same. Sure enough, he delivered a set that played well to his strengths in turntablism and controller toneplay, highlighted by his lead in to Piano Man with a cue point melody. He garnered an incredible and well earned crowd response.

Finally, Marquinhos Espinosa pulled through another Toronto-centric set with loads of DnB, smooth scratching, and his trademark beat juggling, and even a red poppy for Remembrance day – it’s clear he did his homework before playing here.

While the clearly impressed judges withdrew to deliberate, Canada’s own A Tribe Called Red took to the stage for a live performance worthy of following up the acts we’d just seen, while hometown master Autoerotique followed and brought to a close a week of incredible music. It was yet another good call by the promoters of the event.

In fact, that’s one of the things that stood out about the series. I had my doubts at first about the “Red Bull” DJ championships; I’ve been DJing in the underground for over a decade and there’s an incredibly deep culture surrounding the art that can’t be faked. But this was the real deal all around. Top-notch production values were a given with the budget that Red Bull can throw at a show, but top-notch talent and respect for the art were a pleasant surprise. This was serious DJing from top to bottom, and every one of these performances was an A-Level show on an A-Level stage. It was a clear show of support for Toronto’s legendary underground music community as well as a mark of respect for the art of DJing, which has truly come into its own.

At last, the final decision came through, and as I remarked at the time, I didn’t envy the judges for having to make their decision among such a tough and competitive field. It seems that DJ Shintaro’s smooth and precise performance is what won them over. There’s no doubt, however, that every contender deserved their shot.

All told, it was an incredible week for Toronto, for music, and for the world as a whole. There’s nothing that brings people together like music, and to see so many performers from around the world playing so many songs from across every genre was an experience to be cherished. This unity was perhaps best captured on the final night; when Trentino’s home nation (USA) was announced, one person booed – and was immediately set to rights by the MCs and the crowd.

Like all good music, this wasn’t about separating cultures, but about bringing them together and celebrating skill and art across all boundaries. In this, the Red Bull Thre3style Championships and all of the people involved succeeded admirably.

Want to listen to the final sets? Take a look at the Red Bull Thre3style blog’s final entry right here!

Words: Tim Ellis