Preserving the artform

National DJ competition takes multi-genre approach

It’s lobster and beer on the mid-afternoon menu and the classic Halifax feast makes a real Kodak moment due to the fact that it’s happening in the childhood home of the now-adult Toronto-based host. The red-headed Skratch Bastid born Paul Murphy is one of the nation’s top DJs: in his 15-year career he’s swept up three Scribble Jam DJ awards blown the Internet’s mind with an absurd scratching rendition of the “Imperial March” via a Buck 65 track and released an assortment of pristine DJ mixes. Today he’s back in his hometown with fellow top-notch turntablists Four Colors Zack and DJ Flipout following a brief detour to Moncton on an off night to play an extra show.

But it’s not just the tasty crustaceans that have drawn the trio to the city. Tonight is the eighth and final regional qualifier for the fourth annual national Red Bull Thre3style contest. Murphy’s judged six of the eight including the Halifax contest (he’s also served as a global “ambastidor” of the contest travelling to Japan New Zealand Germany and Brazil to show them how to run the comp). Each city has featured eight contestants who qualified by having their 15-minute mix featuring three different genres of music picked by a panel of judges. The in-person contests are judged mostly on creativity and technicality but also factor in originality stage presence and crowd response. The winner of each regional goes on to compete at the national level and then if they’re the victor to the worlds; Kid SL (Ottawa) Charly Hustle (Winnipeg) C-Sik (Calgary) Wakcutt (Edmonton) Nick Bike (Vancouver) and M-Rock (Toronto) are competing in the Canadian contest along with the Halifax victor. It’s a complex event one that occupies an important niche in DJ competitions by emphasizing multi-genre performances.

“We think it’s best representative of what’s been going on in clubs in North America especially over the last few years” says Murphy. “It was sort of born out of the mash-up culture when multi-genre nights started coming together. With the iPod generation and with the average person having more open tastes — rather than being a metal head or hip-hop head or whatever — with the access to music people like a lot more diverse stuff. That’s influenced the dance floors and the mash-up thing — if you can call it a craze or a movement — happened. It was just a reflection of what was going on in clubs. So instead of making it a niche thing that’s only about the skill or technique part let’s make it more about what’s really going on in the DJ world.”

The roster of showcasers — that is legendary DJs who show up at these events to school the young-uns with some seasoned talent – over the past few years serves as pretty exceptional evidence of the mark the Thre3style competition is making. In the past few years the likes of Pete Rock DJ Premier Just Blaze Z-Trip and Peanut Butter Wolf have performed such sets at either the national or international level. This year A-Trak — who made the cover of Billboard magazine with Skrillex and Diplo back in February as the trinity of EDM super-duper-stars — is starring in the top slot at the Canadian qualifier. It makes a lot of sense considering that he’s a native Montrealer founder of Fool’s Gold Records and Kanye West collaborator.

“A-Trak’s a perfect fit for a showcase ’cause that’s a guy who came from competitive DJing who took his sound worldwide and is now one of the EDM superstars one of the biggest DJs in the world” notes Murphy who’s also showcasing at the finals (as well as judging). “He started from what might seem like a small competition. Having that stage gave him the platform to become a worldwide star. It really shows you the potential of the handwork and dedication that you put into something like a competition like this.”

But in addition to drawing out the legends from their caves the contests play a crucial role in ensuring that DJing is preserved as an art form. Sounds silly perhaps? Back in August both Skratch Bastid and DJ Jazzy Jeff called out a DJ duo for allegedly faking a set (in Jazzy Jeff’s online words: “the 1 thing that I will absolutely HATE ON IS FAKING IT!!!!”). The duo were pretending to turn knobs crossfade and search Serato for tracks but the whole mix was actually pre-programmed on their computer. Few in the crowd would’ve realized it. Good thing that there were some experts milling around ready to unleash some Internet fury.

“Moving forward if we don’t say it then it could turn to a thing where people don’t understand why it’s an art form or what it is” says Murphy. “It’s just kind of like saying ‘hey slow down there there’s definitely an art form that changed my life here and I want to make sure people understand the value of it.’ This competition’s really good because it does really focus on the DJing aspect.”