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DJ Battles and Skratch Music Enjoying Peak in Popularity And Creativity As Proven By 2015 DMC NYC Regional At Webster Hall

Posted by Billyjam, June 2, 2015 12:20pm | Post a Comment
2015 DMC NYC Regional winner DJ Dwells photo above and all photos used in this Amoeblog
are by kind permission of
Ignacio Soltero (more pics/info here and here)

 

DJ battles and skratch music are enjoying a peak in both popularity and creativity right now. Age matters less than passion and commitment when it comes to skills and style displayed in turntablism. And Lord Finesse is a hella funny guy! Those are just a few of the things made quite apparent in Manhattan recently at the highly competitive but ever-entertaining 2015 DMC New York City Regional DJ battle where 15-year-old DJ Dwells took the title for the second year in a row, with the Bay Area's DJ Dstrukt coming in second, and As-One in third place. 

Overseen by Christie Z-Pabon (pictured right), the smoothly run, perfectly on schedule four-hour event took place on May 23rd at Webster Hall where the widely diverse and appreciative audience proved the point that the turntable-based art form, which has gone through some highs and lows in popularity over the past couple of decades, is indeed in a most healthy state currently.

Attendees were clearly enjoying every moment of the heated battle in which 24 determined DJs, many traveling in from well beyond the five boroughs, battled it out over two rounds in an impressive non-stop display of skill via a diverse array of sounds. Onstage the battle was presented by returning DMC host Lord Finesse who is not just a talented emcee and DJ but also a gifted (to paraphrase Rakim) M.C. as in "move the crowd" with his knowledge of DJing, sharp eye for detail, and quick wit. Here are just ten of Finesse's memorable comments as host of the night. An overview of the DJ battle follows below. 

 

Lord Finesse Top Ten Comments As Host @ 2015 NYC DMC Regionals
 


1: "You got a date?" "You gotta catch a movie?" quipped Finesse to DJ AJ when the
contestant was rushing into his set without waiting for Finesse to do the count down intro.

2: "To hell with Barbie dolls. This is what I want to do!"  - what Finesse figured DJ Pearly said the day she decided to become a battle DJ.

3: "I think he just left Precinct 13" - after seeing New Jersey DJ Mysterio in handcuffs.

4: "I think you just got made a whole lot of female fans" - to DJ Stay High following his impressive set's super rapid finger movements.

5:"Left me hanging like that Floyd Mayweather fight" - in reaction to the promising but ultimately anti-climatic routine by Mysterio.

6: "At least he got a Mac" while joking about FNF's delayed start, and making fun of those who use Dell laptops, which the following DJ up -  Xcalibur - shouted out he uses.

7: "How many females came by themselves?" asked Finesse of the audience in surprise, noticing the unusually balanced gender ratio.

8: On the same topic of so many women in attendance he further joked suggesting that their boyfriends must have tricked them into coming, telling them that were taking out to dinner at some nice Thai restaurant, then saying Oh let's stop in here for a minute.

9: "The dirty roommate" -  he jokingly called DJ Esquire.

10: "If you're a new artist, this is where you come to find your DJ," announced Finesse to the crowd, likening this NYC Regional battle to a "DJ draft."






2015 DMC NYC Regional First Round Contestants

Ned Nice, Mysterio, DJ Spiral, Suspicion, Dylemma, DJ Pearly, FNF, Xcalibur, DJ Feat, Boba Sett,

DJ AJ, DJ Stay High, DJ N.E.B. Kerim The DJ, D-Spliff, DJ Shame Lenn Swann, Dskrukt, DJ Remedy, As-One, Esquire, Lou Demo, Petey Complex, DJ Dwells


2015 DMC NYC Regional Second Round Contestants
Ned Nice, Kerim the DJ, Dskrukt, As-One, Esquire, DJ Dwells
 

2015 DMC NYC Regional Top 3 Contestants
1st Place Winner: DJ Dwells
2nd Place: Dstrukt
3rd Place: As-One




New York City, May 23rd: By the time the Webster Hall doors opened there was already a good size crowd outside waiting to get in for this latest in a series of 2015 DMC Regional battles that have been taking place since early this year and leading up to the US Finals.  Ten minutes past six and the place was filling up inside with attendees heading into the main room where DJ Red Alert was throwing down classic hip-hop joints from such crowd favorites as De La Soul and Wu-Tang Clan. It was the first of two amazing sets by the hip-hop pioneer. Meanwhile on the other side of the doors in the lobby, a large group made up mostly of the competing DJs in the battle had crowded around DMC main organizer Christie Z-Pabon who, despite suffering from a bad cold, soldiered on and ran through a list of the basic battle details such as the fact that all competing DJs would be using exclusively the provided Rane mixers and Technics 1200 turntables, and that each DJ would have exactly two minutes each for the first round. Out of that elimination round the top six would be chosen by the judges to go onto round two for which they each would have six minute sets. Those six sets would decide the top three winners.  Despite it being a NYC regional, the 24 contestants (out of the 30 registered) had traveled from not just the Tri-State area but from all over the US with one shared goal in mind -- to compete for the coveted DMC US Finals in August that decides who gets to represent the US in England in  October in the DMC World DJ Championships 2015

From years of witnessing how challenging it can be organizing DJ battles and having them run on time, this NYC battle was most impressive in that, despite its inordinately large number of DJs competing, it both started on schedule and neatly finished by the 10pm deadline so that Webster Hall could clear the room and make way for their dance club night. Credit for this went to hard work of all the behind the scene DMC participants, the professionalism of the on-stage crew, plus the wise decision to have not two, but three DJ battle turntable set-ups on stage so that absolutely no between routines time was wasted.

At 7pm Lord Finesse got everyone's attention and shouted out DJ Red Alert, big upping him as an "icon" and "trailblazer" and imitating the pioneering hip-hop DJ's signature  expression "YEAAAAaaaaaah!" that so many New Yorkers grew up on, hearing Red Alert on KISS FM. Finesse then proceeded to introduce the first round of competitors who had traveled from near (DJ Shame, in a Biggie T-shirt, from nearby Staten Island) and far (DJ Suspicion who had traveled to the Big Apple from Nashville, TN). Surveying the audience, which (for the stereotypical sausage fest that DJ events tend to often be) was noticeably balanced in its gender make-up, Finesse made jokes about how the women in the audience must have been tricked into attending by their boyfriends. Finesse's sense of humor - coupled with his knowledge - made him the perfect host. The first DJ contestant Finesse introduced was the long-haired DJ Spiral whose set included tricks such as using no fader and just one hand. Later on in the next round Kerim the DJ would also employ the one hand trick, as well as taking it a step further by then covering his eyes. Many contestants displayed arms behind their back or under their leg body tricks. But of all the tricks on show that night the most ambitious was by Plainfield, NJ's DJ Mysterio whose highly promising, albeit anti-clamatic trick heavy first round routine opened with his having both his wrists in handcuffs and ending abruptly after him raising up his turntable, taking off the record and putting on a CD disc with the readable side up, and on his turntable arm affixing a laser reading light so that he could do a lil CD skratch motion. But then his set stopped suddenly, with time still left on the clock. "Left me hanging like the Floyd Mayweather fight," quipped Lord Finesse to loud laughter. Throughout the whole battle the audience were treated to lots of entertaining moments, like when Harlem based DJ D-Spliff bust out a scratch ...deez nutts bit or when, his first set, Dstrukt brought the voice of the battle's host back in the speakers when he broke out Lord Finesse's 1996 "Hip 2 Da Game" segment "Im like Stevie Wonder....."

Genre-wise, collectively the contestants covered many styles of music such as Xcalibur who kicked off his two minute routine with a reggae flavor and N.E.B. whose set included him, as Lord Finesse noted, "went a little SONY Play Station" [Note: he was also the only DJ to use vinyl exclusively]. Other DJs' routines altered tempos such as Suspicion who started out low tempo and then built up speed into a hard rocking skratch routine. Dylemma delivered an old school flavored routine that the crowd seemed to really enjoy. Meanwhile As-One, in his first round set, juxtaposed a series of classic battle record phrases over modern electronic beats. Present day battle DJs who use Traktor or Serato are opened up to endless possibilities of found sounds to instantly draw from but gone are the traditional battle ways of DJs bringing a crate of records, or as it became, bringing a handful of battle records. The result is that you don't hear as much of those once standard battle soundbites off classic Dirt Style battle records. Hence it was refreshing whenever a DJ included those sounds in his routine. I say "his" because, with the exception of DJ Pearly as the sole female representative in the battle, it was all male DJs competing. However the DMC crew orchestrating the battle from backstage more than made up for this gender imbalance onstage, with Christie Z-Pabon's DMC crew of Marilyn Alonzo, Emily Elizabeth Wessel, and Rachelle Chua (aka DJ Raichous) keeping things on point and on time.  In charge of the technical sound responsibilities on stage was three time DMC US champion DJ Precision who jumped in at a moment's notice whenever issues occurred like when he had to adjust things during routines by DJ Feat or FNF.  Highlights of the first round included sets by such DJs as Ned Nice, Kerim the DJ, Stay High, As-One, Dstrukt, Boba Sett, Petey Complex, and returning NYC champ DJ Dwells (who Finesse intro'd as "the child prodigy," and two time US DMC champ / crowd favorite Esquire whose impressive set propelled him into the second round.

Determining who would make it onto the second round was the panel of judges seated on stage behind the competing DJs. I was fortunate to be one of these judges and hence in the company of such legends as 1986 DMC World Champion DJ Cheese, Boogie Blind from the X-ecutioners, 2x DMC World Champ DJ Shiftee who would also later do a special showcase performance, J-Smoke, DJ Spictakular (both from the Allies), IXL, and Johnny Juice from Public Enemy. While the votes for the first round were being tallied up Red Alert got busy for his second party-rocking set of the night that included a pleasing quick mix of various uptempo tracks ranging from ole skool to funk, breaks, and disco - and with some scratching too. Then about half-way into his set Red Alert and Lord Finesse  briefly switched roles when Red stepped aside to let Finesse impress with a real nice cutting routine as Red Alert gave him props on the mic. Lord Finesse's short but satisfying turn on the turns was further enhanced when from, over his left shoulder, DJ  Boogie Blind joined him in a sick improvised routine. Great stuff and the crowd loved it!
 



Then before you knew it the performance came to a close and it was time for the all important second round of the battle. Once it began you could feel the energy level of the room go up several notches with the audiences' attention on the remaining six battle DJs noticeably more focused than earlier. The six minute routines, compared to the two-minute ones of the first round, were totally different in that they allowed each DJ to stretch out and get comfortable, and show who they really are with time to demonstrate their depth in style and technique.

"Do you feel like you've arrived?" asked Lord Finesse of the second round's first contestant, Kerim the DJ. "Absolutely!" he replied demonstrating a level of confidence and self-assuredness that seems to be a prerequisite of being a successful battle DJ. Up next was Ned Nice who did a nice beat juggle routine that he preceded by a well chosen sample about 'juggling' in the traditional sense. His satisfying set included him teasing in that classic battle sound bite "coz I just…..made the muthafucka up last night" while Esquire's set found the Brooklyn DJ amping up his style and speed and incorporating reggae and 8-bit sounds.
 






Then for his six minute routine, third place contestant of the battle As-One called on his perceived main competitor by utilizing an Arnold Schwarzenegger Kindergarten Cop sample ("who is your daddy…") designed to diss the 15 year old Dwells. The battle's runner-up, San Jose's skilled DJ Dstrukt who took full advantage of the special effects on his mixer, also took aim at the baby faced Dwells via a carefully constructed skratch sentence that posed the question: "Dwells how does it feel to wake up every morning and you're Justin Bieber?" Then for his expertly chosen, impressive and dramatic set finale for this Memorial Day weekend DJ battle, the visiting California DJ played part of the Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings song "This Land Is Your Land" including the line "From California to the New York island" as he picked up the carefully folded US flag he had brought with him and then, with outstretched arms, raised old glory up above his head, symbolizing such things as (no doubt) that he should win this title and the next one and hence go on to rep his country in the DMC Worlds Finals. And he might have too had the next and final competitor of the night, DJ Dwells, not made the judges decide that, for the second year in a row, that the young NY DJ would be the DMC NYC Regional champ. In his winning routine Dwells, who was only 14 during last year's DMC US Finals, displayed a diverse style and set of skills that defied his young age. Even most of the hip-hop songs that were so expertly woven into his set, such as ATCQ and early Nas, were recorded years before this high-school student was even born. In an interview after last years US Finals Dwells told me how he had put in hours upon hours studying, via YouTube clips, past decades DMC winning battle routines and learning from each of them. For his winning routine at the recent 2015 DMC NYC Regional Dwells not just stylistically matched his bygone era DMC DJ battle heroes but added his own flair, demonstrating that he has not just the skills (undoubtedly the result of hours of practicing) down pat but also his own performance style - all the while proving that age ain't nothing but a number.
 


Before the winner was announced, while the results were being tallied for the second set, DJ Shiftee took to the stage for an impressive showcase set that was a reminder of what a young DJ could become. Thirteen years ago in NYC at the 2002 ITF East Coast Advancement Battle, held on July 28th of that year at the Manhattan Center, I was among the panel of judges. Back then DJ Shiftee was a fresh faced young sixteen year old whose parents were in the audience for moral support. Although just a kid and a newcomer to the battle scene the teenaged Shiftee showed promise, even if he did get eliminated early on in that particular battle. He did however, as he reminded me at the recent NYC DMC, place in the top ten at the DMC Regional that same summer.  I asked Shiftee of that early time period in his DJ career and asked him, if back then, he ever envisioned himself going on to become a two time DMC World champ and renowned and accomplished DJ as he is today?  "Yes," he smiled without missing a beat and displaying the type of self-confidence that, along with a passion and sense of determination, are the qualities that help turntable artists succeed in the DJ battle scene - one that now features the even younger DJ Dwells - whose second NYC Regional win could this time around mean a US Finals win in August. If so he could possibly repeat that landmark feat by Canadian DJ prodigy A-Trak from back in 1997 when, at the age of 15, he won the DMC World DJ Championship. But first Dwells has to compete in the US Finals in August.
 


Relevant Tags

Ned Nice (1), Dmc Battle (3), Dj Dwells (7), Lord Finesse (5), 2015 Dmc New York City Regional Dj Battle (2), Christie Z Pabon (30), Dj Shiftee (7), Dmc (51), Dstrukt (1), Ignacio Soltero (4), Fnf (1), As-one (2), Red Alert (2), Skratch Music 2015 (1), Dj Precision (9), Dj Feat (1), Turntablism 2015 (1), Boba Sett (1), Dj Stay High (1), Kerim The Dj (1)