Last week, the sprung hardwood floors of the Regency Ballroom bounced with bass. At Red Bull’s first annual San Francisco Culture Clash, four music collectives of varying electronic music stylings competed for the affections of fans.
Underneath the ornate, baroque ceilings and antique glass chandeliers, each group laid claim to one corner of the ballroom and took turns rocking the audience.
The Culture Clash was hosted by Bay Area Hip-Hop Radio legend Sway Calloway and featured the stylings of four internationally recognized, but S.F. based artists: Dirtybird, Triple Threat Djs, Tormenta Tropicana, and Dub Mission.
Audience approval was decided by a questionably accurate “decibel meter.” Whistles, vuvuzelas, and air horns were dispersed throughout the audience and combined with the custom sound systems of each group, the effect was deafening.
Competition was fierce as disses and response tracks were as Red Bull put it, “explicitly encouraged.” In order to win the competition, groups pulled stunts, brought out special guests, and roused the crowd like Pentecostal preachers. The event was divided into four rounds, giving each group ample time to showcase their prowess on the 1s and 2s.
With the rules set, the event commenced.
Dub Mission, a reggae-infused collective, juxtaposed heavy baselines, with an exuberantly charismatic, leather-vest-clad, megaphone-toting-front man, and a live three horn accompaniment. Their finest moment came with a live sampling of the sumptuous horns from Outkast’s slow jam tour-de-force “Spottieottiedopalicious,” placed over a meandering reggae beat.
Appealing to the Bay Area affiliation of the crowd, they brought out local legends, Luniz, for a rendition of their classic hit, “I Got 5 On It,” which sent the crowd boogieing down memory lane.
Tormenta Tropical was pure energy. Their style was a trifle commonplace with only a sprinkling of Island flair to separate them from swarming hordes of electronic artists, but they brought unparalleled personality.
Among their ranks was: an unsmiling twerker with no inhibitions towards headstands, an exceptionally sassy blue haired diva, a hype man with five gold chains clad in a Louis Vuitton leather jacket, and an intensely muscular Jamaican singer with a strangely high-pitched voice.
Their shining moment came when they tossed fried chicken from buckets labeled “Dirtybird” into the crowd to a bombastic styling of “I Like to Move It, Move It.”
These two collectives were wonderful side dishes to the sonic feast of the event, but the dual entree from the get-go was Triple Threat Djs and Dirtybird.
Triple Threat Djs were as their name suggests, three Djs with a classic education of the turntables. As Leon from Curb Your Enthusiasm would say, “they brought the ruckus.” Backed by a large contingent of towel-waving fanatics, they slammed the crowd with juicy baselines.
In one round, a sneering, unsympathetic front man scowled at every other group as the Triple Threat absolutely banged the other collectives’ styles with the confidence of Bobby Flay challenging a local chef at a dish they spent their entire lives to perfect.
They entranced the crowd with their bravado and twisted hits like “Trophies” and “Move B*tch” in their appeal for the championship.
However, in the humble opinion of yours truly, the most impressive collective was unquestionably Dirtybird. Captained by a bearded Buddha, they welcomed us to the Dirtybird BBQ with a hairy-midriff-bearing, red-and-blue-striped-suit-wearing chef who tossed wrapped burgers into the crowd. Then, after blue jay and owl mascots danced on stage, things got starry quickly.
They brought out Too $hort to conduct the crowd with his mega-hit “Blow the Whistle.” Next, super-trio Major Lazer (Diplo’s Collective) apparated and dropped their omnipresent, super-salsa horn sampling “Watch Out for This,” which sent the gathered into hysterics.
Then, before their final performance, Dirtybird announced, “We have a very special guest.” Like mythic gods, the gold and silver helmets of Daft Punk emerged from the delicious fog that hung in the air and played “Get Lucky.” The collective hive mind of the audience was lost.
Suspiciously, the legendary French duo exited after the song, leading many to believe that this was a case of costumed stage hands rather than an ultra-rare performance by the elusive pioneers.
Potential trickery aside, when Dirtybird concluded their final set, they were met with chants of their name reverberating off the walls of the hallowed ballroom. They appeared to be the favorite.
Speaking over the deafening chants, whistles, and buzz of vuvuzelas, Sway reemerged to announce the winner. In a surprise upset, Triple Threat took the first annual title and celebrated by snapping an onstage selfie with the trophy. Triple Threat provided a rumbling outro for the event as the sweaty and satisfied crowed filed out into the warm San Francisco night.
On my way out, I spotted a white-haired woman who had at least a couple decades on the rest of the audience. She was the mother-in-law of Dub Mission’s female turntable savant. Surprised to see her demographic, I asked if she had ever been to a show like this before. With a twinkle in her eyes, she said, “Not since the sixties.”