LIVE: Red Bull Culture Clash, Manifesto Festival, Toronto, Canada

Photos by Voltaire Ramos (@voltaireramos). Please support. 
Red Bull has become somewhat of a pioneer in stunt marketing. Whether it’s fluetags or air races, the brand has done stuff that is rather out of the norm for a beverage. And that goes to the music space as well. Take the Red Bull Sound Clash. The overly ambitious event pitted several different crews together for what was billed as a “no holds barred” competition based on reggae Soundclashes of yesteryear.
The event, hosted by hip-hop mainstay Kardinal Offishall, featured some interesting competition. There was the scrappy Scottish indie label Lucky Me (with their secret weapon Just Blaze), Mad Decent, The Toronto All Stars (a collection of T Dot DJs and performers) and the venerable Afrika Bambaataa and Zulu Nation.

Round 1

I arrived at Molson Amphitheatre just as Mad Decent was gearing up their set. The “warm-up round commenced with MD crew throwing in DJ Sega to get the crowd hype. And it works. We all know Sega is a beast on the decks and his club-breaks set got the crowd going. The downfall of Mad Decent’s set was their dancers who look like the just stepped off the set of Fame. The Toronto All Stars’s set was rather reaching at best, as they

The early crowd was most certainly looking forward to Afrika Bambaata’s set as you can see the excitement in the young suburban faces when he got on. Unfortunately the set underwhelmed as Bambaata traded his classic hip-hop for the likes of DMX and more modern tracks.

Who Won? Lucky Me
Who Should’ve Won? Lucky Me and Mad Decent (tie)

Round 2

The second round was the “entertainment” portion of the night as the crews would have to do their best to whip the crowd into a frenzy.

Lucky Me came out strong, with Just Blaze mixing in his East Coast Hip-Hop and balancing it with Hudson Mohawke and Lunice’s more electro fare. It’s a set that I have seen before (Just DJed with Chromeo at SXSW) and somehow oddly it works. Just is just as comfortable over breakbeat electro as he is over his trademark hip-hop, and the crowd–versed in both–went crazy.

Mad Decent brought out it’s secret weapon. The Major Lazer hypeman SKERRIT BWOY was introduced, hyping up the MD faithful with their combination of Major Lazer tracks interlaced with hip-hop and breaks and dubstep. The downfall of their set.

Unfortunately the Toronto All-Stars, consisting of DJ Mensa and Lissa Monet  were again weak in this round. Honestly their set conjures up all of my notions about pre-Drake hip-hop in the city. Don’t want to hate but their over-reliance on 90s East Coast hip-hop didn’t spell Toronto to me and it seemed like the crew had no voice or vision. A better set would’ve consisted of more home-grown fare, but this is an outsider talking.

Zulu Nation’s set was not much better. Again, the crew eschewed the old school hip-hop format that people were expecting as Bambaata went in heavy on a drum and bass set. DnB is an amazing artform and it shares its lineage alongside hip-hop, but unfortunately it’s not a great choice to get a crowd going wild in North America?? Just sayin’.

Who Won? Lucky Me
Who Should’ve Won? Lucky Me

Round 3

Round 3 is stated as the “mix-up round,” as the crews are supposed to step out of their element. Lucky Me did exactly this as Just Blaze went in hard on the electro, probably harder than most people were expecting. Unfortunately the Lucky Me’s set underwhelmed

Mad Decent went in on the hip-hop, playing more Kanye than necessary and having a somewhat lackluster set overall.

It was the Toronto All Stars who redeemed themselves this round starting with “no DJ,” bringing Terry Im, out one of the livest beat-boxers I’ve seen in a minute. On top of that, the crew played to T Dot’s Caribbean roots with a reggae tinged set, along with cameos by first lady of Canadian Hip-Hop Michie Mee in addition by an appearance by recording artist K-OS.

Unfortunately it was Zulu Nation’s set that sent people heading for the exits. Who would think that obscure head-nodder hip-hop with no name MCs combined with technical difficulties wouldn’t work in an arena setting? Okay, I’m being harsh here but never in my 31 years would I’ve seen Afrika Bambaata booed and agree with the masses.

Who Won? Toronto All Stars
Who Shoudld’ve Won? Toronto All Stars

Round 4

Round Four is slated to be the final round as the crews are supposed to bring out all of the stops to win over the masses. Lucky Me handed the reins to Just Blaze who pretty much played his own production for the entire set. But hey, it works. Who dosen’t like early 2000s New York production?

Mad Decent went where I was expecting them to go the whole night as they played an entire set of Mhoombaton preceded by Skerrit telling Just Blaze, “I’ve never heard so much old school hip-hop played in my life.” The genre won over the MD faithful as well as got the entire amphitheatre rocking. Moom is the perfect genre in a lot of ways, as the BPM is slow enough for head nodders while crazy enough to have people wild out.

Toronto, emboldened by their win in the previous round got cocky as the hypeman decided to diss the other crews, calling SKERRIT Sisqo and playing “real music.” Their emboldend set worked as the hometown crowd coalesced around the performance. Again, their set was filled with East Coast hip-hop, but hey

Bambaata came out strong, going for what they know–old school hip-hop and breaks supplanted by breakdancers in the middle of the floor. It won back the crowd, but they lost so much social capital from their last two rounds that it wasn’t enough.

Who Won? Toronto All Stars
Who Should’ve Won? Mad Decent

Who Won?

Surprisingly, the Toronto All Stars sparked a come from behind victory. Honestly, I believe that either Lucky Me or Mad Decent would’ve went home with the bragging rights, but I take it the Canadians couldn’t get their hometown crew go out with an L.

Honestly, after a 12 hour bus trip I wasn’t planning to stay here long. However, this was quite possibly one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen in music in a while. Props to Red Bull and Manifesto for flipping the script.