It’s the day after World Clash New York 2012, and I still smell as if I bathed in a spring of ganja… for a week. I will try to give you a rundown of the night’s proceedings as only a layman can. While I have Jamaican origins, my knowledge of the culture and history of my parents’ homeland is rather incomplete. Sound clashing has its origins in the island of Jamaica, and can be described as DJs battling one another for crowd supremacy. But before we get to the sounds and their performances, let’s talk about the atmosphere at the venue, Amazura of Queens, NY.
A wall of herbal essences is the first thing I noticed upon entering Amazura. It was inescapable. It was engulfing. Anyone with an aversion to weed would have puked out his or her small intestine. There wasn’t a moment during the night where you didn’t see a puff of freshly inhaled smoked being released into the atmosphere. I can’t stress this enough, it smelled and felt like we were all in one large hotbox. Even if you weren’t trying to get high the fumes in the air would still send you that serene place only Rastas know about.
My party and I arrived 30 minutes late. Well, I don’t even know if you can call it late because no one really goes to these things on time. That’s why I was surprised when we saw the place pack up. It was Mission: Impossible- World Clash when trying to get from one spot to another. And then people wanna get upset when you gotta give em a little nudge to get through. “Get the f*** out my way you f***ing herb… slap the s**t outta ya b**ch ass.” I must have muttered that to myself at least three dozen times throughout the night, and I only moved from my spot twice.
There are seven sound systems (usually just called ‘sounds’) all pitted against one another. David Rodigan of England, Fire Links of Jamaica, Earth Ruler (pronounced “Eart’ Rulah”) of Brooklyn, Tony Matterhorn (you may know him from his hit single “Dutty Wine”) of New York and Jamaica, Bass Odyssey of Jamaica (specifically the country- up inna di hills dem), Black Kat of Jamaica (also from country), and Poison Dart from Florida, were the seven sounds featured in this year’s edition of World Clash. A sound is a group of DJs (or something) who mix music in an attempt to please the crowd. What’s makes a sound appealing and well known is the quality of their dub-plates. A dub-plate, in regards to sounds, is a track that has been recorded over by the original artist to big up the sound, or to bun fiyah pun di other sound dem. For example, Fire Links can pay Mavado to record over “I’m am Blessed” to say something like, “Fire Links bless, Fire Links bleee-eee-eesssed, every day, every clash Fire Links blessed. When sound boy here di Fire Links tune, them haffi lay themself to rest. Every clash, Fire Links stay blessed…” or something like that. Basically, its like if Funk Master Flex got Jay-Z to switch up the lyrics to 99 Bitches to say something that hypes Funk Flex and discredits and bashes his competitors. The point of the dub-plates, and the end game of sound clashes, is to get the crowd on your side. That is how you win a sound clash. The crowd decides who the winner is in the end, so the tunes you play must be pleasing to them. Sounds are looking to "kill" other sounds in di dance, which means they want to best the other sounds, not actually kill them, silly. Now this is World Clash, and the winner gets to call themselves the best sound system in the world for the next year.
By the time we arrived the first sound of the night, David Rodigan, had finished his first round and Fire Links, the second sound up, was already on stage playing some good tunes. Actually, I’m not sure if the tunes were good or if I was lifted off second-hand smoke. I didn’t recognize much of the songs being played, but I used the crowd’s reaction to judge whether it was a tune to be bigged up. Whenever people put up their lighters, lifted their hands, or blew foghorns I knew a sound had done something well. Can’t really judge for yourself when your eardrums are banging because of the overblown bass and constant fog-horning.
The first round came and went, nobody really blew the place up with their dubs, mostly because there aren’t any eliminations after the first round. Sounds play it safe and wait to bring out the bad tunes when the elimination rounds start.
When the second round started, I saw British sound mixer David Rodigan for the first time. The man looked out of place. Rodigan is a middle-aged balding white man who thought it a good idea to wear a tight striped button-up tucked into his jeans. He looked awkward on stage trying to hype the crowd up. I wanted to laugh, but everybody was jamming to the tunes he was playing. The man is respected among people who attend sound clashes and know his work. Every time he starts a new dub, he’ll give the crowd a mini history lesson on the artist and the backstory behind the tune. For some reason I don’t think the people who attend these events care that much. I could be wrong.
I could tell Rodigan brought out the big guns for the first elimination round because the crowd was vibing with the tunes for most of the 10 minutes he had on stage. All the sounds did pretty well, with the exception of Black Kat, who was booed during the first round and booed again during the second round. Apparently Black Kat’s hype man, Panther, who usually addresses the crowd during sound clashes didn’t show (probably frass backstage, or attending to his illegitimate children, or couldn’t get a Visa). Boy were they booed… mercilessly. At the end of every round the host will announce each sound by name- people raise their hand for sounds they think should get the boot. The host announced the sounds once and it was anonymous, Black Kat would not win another World Clash this year. Nobody raised their hand for the six other sounds, but when Black Kat’s name was called, the whole crowd raised their hands like Jesus was about to return to bun fiyah pon Black Kat. Better luck next year.
When sounds are on stage, there is usually one guy who doesn’t deal with mixing and whose sole purpose is to attend to the crowd. He’s what we would call a hype man. The hype man has no discernable skill other than jumping up and down on stage, yelling into the mic (I remember a couple of artists were calling the mic the “Michelle” for awhile because holding a “mic” in your hand was seen as gay. Mic = a man named Mike. ‘Caan hold mic, that a batty man ting. Mi only hold Michelle cuz mi nuh waan hold no mic…’ homophobia knows no bounds in the Caribbean), and poking fun at the other sounds. The hype man tells the crowd what tune is coming up next, then says that no other sound can find a dub-plate for this particular tune because they aren’t as bad as them, or something like that.
Tony Matterhorn must have sucked Poison Dart’s mudda because they could not stop insulting him. In between every tune something derogatory was said about Matterhorn and how he likes to nam pum pum. (I find this funny. I’m sure 100 percent of these people nam pum pum, yet they always use it as an insult to their contemporaries. You telling me your wife/girlfriend doesn’t want you namming her pum pum? Stop frontin’ yo.) Poison Dart, and a few other sounds, also pointed out that Matterhorn left the sound game to become a recording artist, so he isn’t as skilled as the other sounds are. Another thing about these clashes, there is no love lost between the sounds. As critical as it is to have an artist record a dub plate bigging up your sound, it is just as critical to have an artist bun fiyah pon the other sound dem. The weird thing about what Poison Dart was doing was that they weren’t even going after any of the other sounds, only Matterhorn. It was pettish and stupid, and it didn’t reflect well on Poison Dart. I wondered whether Poison Dart was trying to win the clash or just used the clash as a platform to get at Matterhorn. It got to the point where it looked like that was their only focus, shit on Matterhorn as often as possible. Sadly the crowd did not take their display of concentrated hateration too fondly, and they were booted in the next round, along with Earth Ruler (Eart’ Rulah). Earth Ruler had a decent first couple of rounds, but they flamed out when it got tight. At least they won the best name contest that every sound system was secretly entered into in my head.
Sound clashes are like dunk contests. You want to make sure you make it out of the early rounds, but you still need to save some of your good stuff for later. Getting to the later rounds is important, but if you have nothing to play once you get there then it’s all for naught. Some of the sounds from World Clash met that fate last night.
Four sounds were left- Matterhorn, Rodigan, Bass Odyssey, and Fire Links. Tony Matterhorn, probably the most well-known individual on the 1s and 2s last night, flopped hard. I thought his name would get him some hot dub-plates and he’d easily take the title, but boy did he suck. I haven’t seen someone mail it in like that since… Dwight Howard last week. So it hasn’t been that long then. He made it this far only because of his name and because Poison Dart decided that bashing him was more important then taking the title. Another one? I haven’t been this disappointed since I realized Obama-rama was full of crap on the campaign trail. I thought Matterhorn was ‘bout to do some big things. Guess we’ll see you next year, but hopefully not. One more? I haven’t seen someone no-show like that since the Lebron James stepped on the court in the fourth quarter. OK I’m done. I joined in on the chorus of boos and the hand-raising when Matterhorn’s name was called at the end of the round. He deserved it.
Fire Links had some good tunes all night, but Bass Odyssey and David Rodigan blazed some real slick tunes in the next round. They would meet in the final showdown, where both sounds would face off in a tune-fi-tune. Each sound would alternate playing one dub, and the crowd would judge the winner of each round of dubs in a best-of-10 format. This is why sounds have to save some of their best dub-plates for later rounds; you run the risk of being burned out early.
Before the final showdown, there was a brief, but heartfelt, shout-out to Trayvon Martin and a young man who was shot to death in his house by police in the Bronx not too long ago (excuse me for not remembering his name), along with a plead from the host to stop the nonsense going on in the Afro community. No more worrying about who got the big car or the big chain, we need fi step up and realize big ting a gwan. That’s basically what he was saying.
I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody got stabbed outside the club last night.
It looked like Bass Odyssey was gonna run away with it from the start with a 3-nil lead. But David Rodigan had some old-school tunes on deck to get the crowd on his side. He won four strait rounds, making the score 4-3. Rodigan botched his dub in round eight- you know you failed when the crowd is silent while the dub is playing- and Odyssey eventually took a 5-4 lead heading into the final, round 10. Rodigan came back with another crowd-pleaser to make it 5-5. We got some free dub-plates tonight! Both sounds played sweet tunes for the tiebreaker, but the crowd made it clear that Rodigan earned the World Clash title (“tie-kle” in Jamaican) this year.
Out of all the sounds, Rodigan received the most respect. It could be because he’s white, or because he looks like an elder statesmen. The man loves to give history lessons for every tune, and he looks like he really enjoys the music that the plays and the way it makes the crowd feel. Everytime he plays a tune he tells the crowd that no other sound can make a dub-plate like this one, and it’s probably true. He was playing tunes from the 70s and 80s last night. Despite his ostensible awkwardness on stage (“EY! EY! EY! EY!” while fist pumping) he won the crowd over last night. And that is what you’re supposed to do. It was a good showing from Fire Links, Bass Odyssey, and Earth Ruler, but they didn’t have enough to match the potency of Rodigan’s dubs. Another thing about Rodigan, he’s the only one who doesn’t go after other sounds in his dubs. Even when other sounds get at him they are mild-mannered in comparison to what they say about each other. The level of respect for this man is uncanny and a little scary to be honest. It only proves that in order to get respect, you must give it.
The second leg of World Clash is Monday night in Jamaica (what is this? Champions League Football?), but we’ll have to wait until next year here in the states to catch another live event like this one. In the words of Bart Scott, CAN'T WAIT!