In the world of Canadian party rocking, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” segues nicely into cheesy ‘90s pop-house anthem “Better Off Alone,” which in turn, is two short mixes away from the latest single by Jay-Z and Kanye West. In other words, when you’re DJing to a room of 2,000 clubbers to claim the title of Canada’s Best Party Rocker DJ, subtly is probably a liability.
On Saturday night, 10 DJs from across Canada battled for that very title at Toronto’s Sound Academy as part of the Red Bull Thre3style competition, an annual freestyle DJ competition that began five years ago in Kelowna, B.C. and has since spread globally.
The challenge: each DJ had 15 minutes to rock the crowd with a set that incorporated at least three genres of music. The ultimate winner was chosen by a panel of judges made up of music journalists, DJs and promoters. This year’s competitors hailed from Edmonton, Quebec City, Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Winnipeg, London, Montreal and Halifax and were tasked with dethroning last year’s champ, Ottawa’s DJ Drastik, to represent the country at the world championship in Vancouver next month.
As partiers filled the club complex, host Curtis Santiago (a.k.a. Talwast Santiago), a musician and veteran club MC, hyped the crowd and intro’d the format. A contingent of supporters for hometown contestant, DJ Mensa, and London, Ontario’s DJ Kid MK, held court up front, oversize inflatable plastic fingers and placards at the ready.
They’d have to wait a few hours, however, as DJ Creeasian was up first, the order having been selected through a random draw hours beforehand. The Edmonton turntablist opened the proceedings with a series b-boy beats and classic soul and funk augmented by deep house grooves. Next, beardy Quebec City fav Adam Doubleyou kept the soaring female vocals coming, but switched up the mood with a frantic, Brazilian carnival vibe, chunky British big beat and dirty Miami bass.
Ottawa’s Kid SL sonically forged an unlikely union between Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Carolina” with Lil Jon’s “Put Yo Hood Up” during a set that revisited Top 40 hits of yesteryear and French house mainstays.
The evening’s least predictable set came courtesy of Vancouver’s Hedspin, who opened with a cut by Big Freedia, the Queen Diva of New Orleans bounce music. He then slipped in a few pool party beats and pulled off the night’s most impressive scratching, all the while using a MIDI sampler to highlight thematic lyrical threads in his hip-hop song selections.
Tragedy nearly befell Calgary’s DJ Kato, who soldiered through technical difficulties to deliver the night’s darkest set. He started off slow, taking his time to work over Big Daddy Kane’s “Ain’t No Half Steppin’” beat before detouring into arena rock riffs, blistering noise and finally ending on with a raga-fied “99 Luft Balloons” mash-up.
Mensa sent T-dot’s inflatable fingers into a frenzy with a hit-laden set that ended triumphantly with a Drake verse, the “Welcome To Jamrock” instrumental and a gratuitous flash of his Blue Jays jersey. Not to be outdone, Winnipeg’s Hipnotic threw a meta curveball at the crowd by interrupting Justin Bieber’s “Baby” with a pre-recorded message that asked, “Are you really playing this punk-ass garbage during a national DJ championship?” (He recouped his cred by ending with Dead Prez.)
By the time London’s Kid MK hit the decks after midnight, the place was packed and there was little appetite among the audience for narrative arc, much less obscure funk and soul samples. He hit them with Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine, Eminem and break beats.
Halifax’s Plaeboi and Montreal’s DJ Hatchmatik kept up the pace, dropping fast and furious mix of hits with more of the night’s favourite nineties throwback genres, drum n’ bass and ‘80s b-boy beats. Finally, DJ Drastik rounded out the competitors with a skillful and fast-paced throwdown that was fun, but not unexpected enough to retain the title.
The judges ultimately crowned Vancouver’s sampler-happy sissy bounce fan DJ Hedspin the winner, meaning he’ll rep the country at next month’s Red Bull Thre3style world championship held, incidentally, in his hometown.
Kevin Ritchie is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He interviews pop stars, musicians, filmmakers, designers and other creative types for a living. Follow Kevin on Twitter here