After being burdened by finals at the RMBA Culture Clash two years ago (where Dim Mak, Stones Throw, SMOG, and Dub Club battled with an achingly close win by Stones Throw over SMOG), the second I heard of the clash returning, I was all in. As a 100% admitted fan-girl of the stuff that Friends of Friends teamers Salva, Shlohmo, Groundislava, and Jerome LOL are pushing I was really excited to see them competing, but as we all know my blood is infused with SMOG. So my fate for the evening is sealed.
Emblazoned with a home-made band-aid painted with the SMOG logo on my cheek, I headed over to Exchange with my 12th Planet shirt on, as rocking a SMOG shirt over Franki Chan’s infamous anarchist bunny costume was a no-go for the evening (sidenote: slightly bummed it didn’t happen, but also relieved as it was fucking sweaty in the SMOG corner). Apparently my timing is impeccable, as I walked in precisely as the lovely Jessie Andrews held an enormous Round 1 sign over her head on the SMOG stage. Before I go on, the rounds are 10 minutes per team and go as follows:
Round 1: Introduce Yourselves
Round 2: Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better
Round 3: Entertain Us
Round 4: All Stars / Best of the Best
SMOG came trucking out of the gates with a heated set, packed with the latest SMOG tunes & topped with Antiserum’s “Brick Squad” and “$pend It”. SMOG MC Kemst was a great MC, I’m normally very iffy about MCs but Kemst is continually one of the few that is precise and never over-bearing with his words. It’s clear that the stakes are high after SMOG’s 10 minutes are up.
Jeffree’s is up next and the team takes the stage with “Real Trap Shit” shirts on. Without much surprise, the Mad Decent sub-label skitters across trap tunes, banking heavily on the success of the Gent & Jawns remix of Diplo’s “Express Yourself”. There are vuvuzelas. There are girls twerking. It’s a cot damn riot up there. Jeffree’s doing what Jeffree’s does best.
Friends of Friends time, and I get excited as I realize they are throwing caution to the wind and delivering a live set, where as the other teams are using mostly pre-recorded stuff. In a “classic” humor move, Jerome LOL plays the Klaas remix of “Infinity” to riotous applaud from me. Daedelus is on stage as well, and he’s probably one of the coolest performers I’ve seen, so 100 points to FoF for that. (another sidenote: walking in to hear a fan boy downstairs unbelievably stoked that his friend is “upstairs talking to Daedelus!! Like for real!!!” was pretty great.)
OK, Dim Mak time. Flurry of electro & some super cool scratching with the aid of Klever. He is wearing a LIVE WELL fitted. Way to rep, Klever. After wandering around to get a cup of water (seriously, no water on one side of the bar?), people are looking at me funny for walking around foreign territory with SMOG on my face, so I head back to my respective corner.
Round 2 begins with Jeffree’s “doing SMOG better than SMOG does” which I think they missed the memo on. They played some fairly irrelevant jams and a dubby remix of the macarena but really it didn’t seem like much of a diss or one-up. Friends of Friends, whom I’ve always appreciated for their unique and very original candor, cheekily came through and successfully accomplished the goal of “doing Jeffree’s better than Jeffree’s”. But maybe there should have been more twerkers. I don’t even remember to be quite honest what Dim Mak did to show up Friends of Friends, I was tipped off to what SMOG was up to in their diss round so I was too busy heading directly to the front of the SMOG stage to be a witness.
With clever samples tucked into their set before a dubbed over version of Chief Keef’s “Don’t Like” the kicks 12th Planet and crew had in prepping the set were extremely obvious. Dropping remixes of various Dim Mak tunes, a raft suddenly appears on stage and a Aoki-fied Franki Chan jumps aboard to surf to a mash of “Warp” with “Gangnam Style”. Hilarious. I remember hearing Dora The Explorer “WE DID IT! WE DID IT! WE DID IT! YAAAAY!” towards the end, a nod to the Friends of Friends crew. I’m impressed [again].
Third round begins with Friends of Friends this time, with Salva absolutely barreling through the set. I hear his & RL Grime’s remix of Ye’s “Mercy” come in which is no surprise (although I am humored by RL Grime’s alter ego Clockwork standing right next to me on the Dim Mak side), but suddenly Power 106’s Yesi Ortiz comes on stage and announces FUCKING PUSHA T AS THE SPECIAL GUEST. I lose my shit. Pusha’s got my favorite verse on the track and I am unabashedly entertained by the rap scene, so I’m infinitely pleased.
Photo by Amanda Martinez
The Dim Mak stage is a whirlwind of activity as Pusha T is finishing, looks of concern on the management team’s faces. Everyone is whispering in my ear about “Do I know the special guest” and all of a sudden I see a massive dude in a DMX jacket and rumor becomes reality. Fuckin’ DMX. Crossing my fingers that he will do something absurd like re-do his version of “Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer” he instead sang all of his hits and I’m almost positive went way over the allowed time limit.
Chants of “SMOG” drown out the close & the SMOG crew continues on with their energetic sets, jumping around on stage & joined by the likes of a tipsy AC Slater, SMOG bosses Danny United and Drew, etc. There were some drummers and BReal jumps out with a huge blunt in hand as the special guest. I have never seen Danny United happier. Jeffree’s brought out George Clinton, whom everyone fondly regards as “funk personified” and I am pretty sure will aid Jeffree’s to win the round due to his outfit and stage presence alone.
The final round begins, and Clockwork takes the stage in the Dim Mak corner. Everyone is still lit from the crazy DMX performance & Clockwork is doing a hell of a job getting everyone to dance. I definitely heard “Trap On Acid” which is again not a Dim Mak thing but what can ya do. It’s a TUNE, and Clockwork is fun to watch and listen to, so no complaints here. SMOG closes out with an air of confidence, TOO SHORT comes out for a quick performance of “Blow The Whistle” but I am too distracted by the drunk girl who’s been falling or leaning on me for the past 5 minutes to pay full attention.
Jeffree’s seemed to have blown off all their energy twerking and blowing vuvuzelas to finish the 4th round, half of the songs were the same as the initial round. Friends of Friends closes out the final round, proving to only get better each round and bringing out a bunch of break dancers to the front of the stage. Everybody on each stage is more or less drunk at this point so automatically things are more entertaining. The MC of the event asks for the winner to be chosen by crowd response, and as he hovers over each team it is clear that Friends of Friends and SMOG are the winners. In a final craze of cheering, SMOG is announced the winner, and by the looks on the team’s faces, redemption sure is sweet. In a wave of success the SMOG crew closed out with a champion set, and were the last team to leave, lead no less than by Drew Best surfing down the Exchange steps in an inflatable raft.
What pleases me so much about Culture Clash is the pure sense of camaraderie. In the music industry and almost everywhere else we are ruled by a sense of politics and a social media numbers-driven “popularity contest,” but for once, it was a solid crew, bonafide talent, and what’s most important: THE CROWD which added up to the winners of the competition. What I love so much about this industry is what I witnessed afterwards: embracing friends on opposite corners, sharing laughs and experiences, and coming together to prove that even though we have different backgrounds and may play for separate teams, in the end it’s really just about music.
The importance of Red Bull in cultivating this amazing, life-changing, riveting thing called MUSIC is not lost on me. I’m the girl who categorizes 12th Planet, Clockwork, Shlohmo, and Paul Devro into the same “talented and driven musician” folder, who will remain forever indebted to ANY musician across the beautiful expanse of electronic music willing to put their entire heart and body into this. Although I am incredibly proud of SMOG, who are so near and dear to my heart for more reasons than I can count, I’m so thankful for each team for representing LA and music in such unique ways. I came into this industry only three years ago being OK with the idea that maybe electronic music would never really get big, but here we are getting nominated for Grammy’s and topping charts and getting millions of radio plays. And it is, perhaps in no small part, thanks to these four teams and each of their representatives. And shouts to Red Bull for continuing to be such an honest and integral champion of good music and the people making it.
To Red Bull, to Dim Mak, Friends of Friends, Jeffree’s, SMOG, and to everyone who attempted to lose their voice as much as I did last night, I salute you. Long may this fucking incredible ride that we are all on continue. Last night RULED.