DJ culture is imbued with a competitive edge that seeks to separate the visionaries who push the craft forward from those who seek shelter in the comfort of the status quo. Red Bull’s Thre3style competition is largely responsible for fostering an unprecedented era of (mostly) friendly skill-driven one-upsmanship that evaluates DJs in a comprehensive manner. Thre3Style competitors are required to blend multiple genres in their sets and are judged on both technical skill and their ability to engage an open-format crowd. DJs from around the world go head-to-head in regional heats to be recognized for their talent and creativity–hoping to join the ranks of the party-rocking global elite. Entries are currently being accepted from applicants in the United States (submission deadline is November 15, 2014) for the upcoming world finals in Tokyo, Japan. We figured we’d reach out to our friends (and verified experts in the art of party-rocking) Skratch Bastid (Thre3Style Judge) and Four Color Zack (2012 World Champion) to see what advice they had for aspiring applicants.
Toronto-based turntable technician Skratch Bastid needs no introduction. While he (playfully) claims to be partial to sets that “include deep M.O.P. album selections” (shoutout Brownsville!) he also emphasized the importance of preparing and executing a well-rounded set. “We want DJs who impress with technique AND musical taste” he says, adding, “Starting off with a strong intro, clever mix or unique musical idea is a great way to grab a judge's attention. It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to start your set off intensely or with a big tune, just something that shows us that you've got talent and you 'get it,' and makes us want to listen for another 14 minutes.” However, Bastid cautions against kicking off your routine with a track that’s too mainstream. “Starting your set off with the Banger-Du-Jour can actually work against you…‘Turn Down 4 What’ loses its charm after hearing it for the 150th time listening through these submissions.”
World Champ and Seattle staple Four Color Zack added “Practice and be true to yourself. Be confident with what you are saying about who you are as a DJ and sharp with how you say it. When both of those things are on point, a DJ is hard to ignore. A perfect balance of skills and selection, momentum and personality” is key.
An internationally recognized turntablist, Skratch Bastid enjoys a well-executed juggle and scratch routine, but made it clear that there’s no “checklist” of scratches or tricks on which points are awarded. “I just want to see [applicants] rock it. Do it well. Make it look easy. Show us you are using the gear on stage to it's fullest and take the music to another level…A DJ who can scratch very well but not put together a solid musical 15 minutes is not winning this competition.”
A DJ who can scratch very well but not put together a solid musical 15 minutes is not winning this competition
When I asked about their pet peeves with regard to competition sets and application videos, Zack was quick to emphasize the importance of being unique. “Don’t replicate existing Thre3Style sets hoping for an easy win” is about as direct as it gets. He also made it a point to mention that “there's no magical list of songs a DJ has to play to win, the low hanging fruit won't cut it. Show what makes you different and why people need to listen up.”
Skratch Bastid’s word to the wise revolved around tone-play routines. While tone-play has existed since before the days of the DMC and ITF competitions, DVS technology has taken this melodic art into exciting and uncharted waters. Popularized by 2012 World Champ Four Color Zack & 2013 US Champ Trentino, tone-play involves rearranging the notes in a particular song to transition into another song that uses the same notes. When executed well, it’s nothing short of a jaw dropper. In his encouraging and sage-like manner, Bastid unpacked his critique of poorly designed tone-play routines saying “I always tell people that if it sounds even a little bit off, it probably is. It has to be a strong sell, especially when you're performing it live in front of a crowd who is hearing it for the first time. If in doubt, ask a friend who plays piano if it makes musical sense…[tone play] is not a prerequisite! You don't have to do it. So don't do it unless it's awesome.”
When talking about the "big picture" with regard to Thre3style and DJ culture, Skratch Bastid eloquently described it as a global DJ conference and competition. “Each DJ represents their vision of what a solid 15 minute set is that year. Musically, stylistically, and technically: a snapshot of the culture from that DJ's perspective. We have seen Thre3Style evolve quite a bit in its short five-year World Finals history, and the conversation continues on as new sounds and genres develop, and new hardware and software is introduced. We want to move with DJ culture, and give DJs the ultimate stage to showcase the art form that they love.” Both Skratch Bastid and Four Color Zack seemed to agree that the community fostered by the competition (in addition to the competition itself) has proved to be a life changing experience.
Zack, while relating his story about being catapulted into the global spotlight after advancing through regional and national heats, wanted aspiring applicants to know that seeing this endeavor to its full potential requires true commitment.
"When Hedspin won, he was a respected touring DJ. I had already respected him before he had won, even though we weren't friends, I didn't know him. On the other hand, I had fallen back from a lot of DJ stuff as I had other interests going on, like design stuff. When I had to commit in order to put everything into the World Finals, that was when I realized 'I can't split my time anymore, I have to get back in to DJing full time again.' After the win it let me do everything that I would have wanted to do, win or no win, but it gave me the opportunity to not to have to force it to make it happen. It gave me a lot of opportunity to do the kind of gigs I had wanted to do in the first place."
It gave me a lot of opportunity to do the kind of gigs I had wanted to do in the first place
Bastid conveyed a similar sentiment, underscoring not only the life (and career) altering potential of the competition, but the way in which it encourages some of the most talented DJs from around the planet to collectively push the culture forward. “I truly think that entering Thre3style can be not only a career but life-changing experience. Just the practice hours alone will make you a better DJ. It gives you a goal to work towards. It is an event that will help you network with DJs locally, nationally, and internationally, as well as meet other people in the DJ/EDM industry. The stage you play on is a world class production level stage and the packed-house crowds are your new fans-to-be. Plus it doesn't cost a thing and is an opportunity to see (and play for) a new international city…
"I look at Thre3Style as more of a showcase than a traditional battle. Of course there has to be a winner, and there can be some dissing that comes with a shared stage & competition, but it doesn't get you very far if you can't back it up by rocking the house for the rest of your set. The community that has been built up around this event is more important than one winner alone.”
The community that has been built up around this event is more important than one winner alone.
It’s no secret that despite its relatively short history, Red Bull’s Thre3Style competition has become the premiere global DJ competition, uniting technical ability with the timeless and treasured foundation of DJ’ing, party-rocking. If you think you have what it takes to make history and push this culture forward, submit an application today! The deadline for US applicants is November 15. More details regarding the competition can be found here.
ENJOY this exclusive Live Guestmix by Four Color Zack from the 2014 Red Bull Thre3Style World Finals in Baku Azerbaijan: