[Words by Junu Phillips]
[Photos by Michael Komessar]
Metro, Chicago’s perennial Northside music venue, has been the stomping ground for acts such as The Foo Fighters, LCD Soundsystem and Daft Punk. Its been the launching pad for bands from the four corners of the earth and remains a cornerstone of Chicago’s art, music and dance culture. I can’t think of a better place to host the best party rocking DJ event in the world, the Redbull Thre3style World Finals. Before we jump into the competition, the showcases by Cosmo Baker, ?uestlove, DJ Jazzy Jeff and arguably the biggest dance party of the year, let me bend your ear for a minute on how this movement has caught fire…
In the midst of the meteoric rise of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) over the last few years, its important to remember how the role of the “DJ” was actually spawned. A dude from the Bronx, Kool Herc, started throwing block parties in the early 70’s where he would cut two records back and forth extending the instrumental part of a song, and called the “break.” Over time, the hip hop (and house music) culture grew by leaps and bounds and inspired other pioneers like Grand Master Flash, Afrika Bambaataa and Frankie Knuckles. To them it was all about who could make the crowd dance and throw the best PARTY. Fast forward 30 years, and today’s music scene is owned by the DJ. Whether its mad scientist talent of artists like Diplo or A-Trak, or old school turntablists like Z-Trip… DJs are the puppet masters of party rocking. Last Saturday was the culmination of all styles of DJ party rocking. I mean ALL STYLES. Mixing, scratching, beat juggling… you name it – these wizards on the decks threw down their best 15 minute set. Thanks to Redbull, a sold out crowd got a chance to see six of the best DJs from around the world to compete for the title.
The six man final was packed with talent. D Beam from Spain was up first as he pieced together 15 minutes of rock, hip hop and dubstep. Canada’s DJ Shub followed him a strong performance beat juggling ma range, salsa, reggae, classic rock and hip hop. He even managed to throw a couple of jabs at Four Color Zack, the American finalist, in proper hip hop battle style. I caught up with DJ Nicco back stage for a hot second before his set where he said he made a few adjustments last minute for the finals. He showed his home country of Jamaica some love with cuts from Bob Marley as well as re-editing Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock” into “Welcome to Chi-Town.”
Perhaps my favorite performance of the week was by the Chilean, DJ Drummer. The pint sized mix master put together a whistle sequence of songs which had the crowd and judges rolling. Picture The Andy Griffith Show theme song, mixed into Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” finished with “Ni**as in Paris.” Yeah, it happened and it was RIDIC. But then Nedu Lopes from Brazil brought some serious heat with South American flare peppered with 80s pop… and it seemed like it could be the winning set.
But one competitor remained. Enter stage left – Four Color Zack. Anchor leg. Representing the USA. Fighting for the world title on American soil. Manifest destiny? You’re damn straight. The Seattle DJ dazzled the crowd singing every lyric, dancing and cheering from start to finish. It was clear who won. As “Born in the U.S.A.” played and confetti fell from the ceiling, Four Color Zack raised the trophy above his head. It was pure bliss.
The night was capped off with two excellent DJ showcase performances from ?uestlove from The Legendary Roots Crew and the magnificent DJ Jazzy Jeff. Questlove took the stage, hair pulled back in corn rows just looking like the gangster giant that he is. He took us through a tour of classic funk and break beats. Only set back of his show was the terrible hype man roaming the stage while he DJ’d. Dude looked like a homeless guy off the streets on Brooklyn, shit… maybe he was? Jazzy Jeff surprised me with variety of tracks in his set. Everything from dance hall, reggae, trap, rock and hip hop. There’s a reason he’s called The Magnificient. He definitely lived up to that billing.