Local sound systems, their selectors, and recording artistes must all be abuzz with excitement for the upcoming Red Bull Culture Clash. For its eighth instalment on Saturday, November 2, the competition will finally make its way to Jamaica – the birthplace of the sound system battles that inspired the big brand’s contest. But it is not exactly a sound system clash. It’s a culture clash.
“It’s not an individual sound system clash. It’s a group made up of artistes and communities,” Billy Slaughter of Stone Love Movement told The Gleaner. In 2014, Stone Love Movement competed at the culture clash in London, England.
“When we were there, we represented as Stone Love Movement, but we still added artistes who helped us in our group.” Stone Love Movement took support from pre- Dumpling Stylo G and Gappy Ranks. “The artistes who we wanted at the time, we didn’t get them.” Capleton was one-such act, but he had US visa issues.
According to Billy Slaughter, their clash amassed a crowd of approximately 20,000 young people. “Ours was the biggest of them all. And it’s not no hard-core dancehall. You’ll hear hip hop, reggae, dancehall, Afrobeat, underground music like grime because it’s a clash of all different cultures. It’s a culture clash, so it’s not reggae clashing against anything. But anything you have, you have to pull the loudest noise. Whoever generates the loudest noise is always the leader. You play what you want to get the loudest noise.”
Red Bull’s modern layout will comprise four stages, led by four crews and a decibel reader, which is used to measure which group excites the audience into the loudest, most thunderous pull-up, gun salute, or torch-blazing moments. “When I went, I see something I’ve never seen before. About five or six different loud, powerful, sound systems set up – and you could choose which one you want to play on,” Billy Slaughter shared. There are also big digital clocks for the teams to monitor during their timed sets. In this format, four teams will square off against each other for the title of Red Bull Culture Clash Champion.
Why Billy Slaughter specifies that the teams “play what [they] want” is because although the concept derives directly from Jamaica’s sound system culture, and the clash is all about music, it is not dancehall specific. In its history, Red Bull Culture Clash has taken place all over the world in cities like Atlanta, New York, and Berlin. As a result, the musical menu is as varied as the event’s locales. Regardless of where in the world it has been, Jamaicans have represented successfully on the stage. In 2016, the Mixpak team took the win, with Popcaan and his Unruly squad in tow. The following year, Unruly formed its own team, taking the win from Eardrummers featuring Mike Will Made-It, Disturbing London, and Enjoylife.
“It’s always exciting, but it’s not going to be the same as, say, a Boom clash,” Billy Slaughter said. He recalled when Stone Love Movement competed and an opposing team played a particular song seven times in seven different ways. “We were kind of upset about it. When we said it to the judges, they explained that even though it was played seven times, it was all different versions. It’s a real exciting clash,” he continued.
In his experience with the Red Bull Culture Clash, the target market is youngsters who have had limited exposure to sound clashes. “In England, they promote in the colleges and pull up to 20,000 people. Most of them are of this generation, not those who grew up in the ’80s. And if they’re doing it here, they might do the same things to generate the same amount of people.”
Despite the varied presentations across the world, Billy Slaughter believes that this instalment of the Culture Clash, at the National Arena in Kingston, will feature more reggae and dancehall. “You’re gonna hear hip hop and underground music, but you’re gonna hear some things that you haven’t heard before. It’s gonna be different,” he said.
While competition is all in good fun, it’s still a clash. Calling out opponents, making mockery, diss records, and counteractions are expected and encouraged.