As a DJ, there are risks to consider when playing the Whitney Houston classic "I Will Always Love You" to a club full of party-geared Millennials. Typically reserved for 8track binges or your aunt's second marriage reception, it's a song that the modern day DJ would likely shun. But at Red Bull Thre3Style, the 90s cover hit rouses stadium-level cheers.Red Bull Thre3Style is the world's largest DJing competition where club DJing, technical prowess, and gifted showmanship all coincide under one roof. On Saturday, May 9 in the flatlands of Winnipeg, Manitoba, seven finalists plucked from across Canada descended on The Met Center to battle for the title of Thre3Style National winner. Judges included Skratch Bastid, Tom Wrecks and Pat Drastik of Toronto's Thugli, Vancouver's Flipout, Winnipeg favourites Co-Op and Hunnicutt, and former Thre3Style participants Z-Trip and Hedspin. The all-out mixing warfare left the judges in a grueling position—destined to pick one DJ to wear Canada's Thre3Style crown. Saskatoon's unpredictable Charly Hustle ultimately proved himself as the MVP and will represent Canada at the Thre3Style World Finals in Tokyo, Japan.
"I think the people who aren't afraid of competition are the ones who get so much out of this experience. The competition is just one part, it's more so about like minded people grouped together taking this art seriously," says Skratch Bastid, the Toronto-based scratching aficionado and DJ. "We may all be at home downloading our music and playing our own gigs but there are few things that actually bring us together." He pauses to wipe an invisible tear from his cheekbone. "I'm gonna shed a tear here just talking about it," he laughs.
Each competitor is required to follow a set of rules and each is graded based on five categories: skill, creativity, track selection, stage presence, and crowd response. The turntablists are expected to mix in at least three genres—songs like the Whitney Houston ballad would fulfill one of those. And it all must be neatly packaged in 15 minutes. "Something about the 15 minutes limit is helpful," says Bastid. "Thre3Style gives you a goal, it pushes you to get to the point." Though these rules and regulations seem a bit daunting, Bastid says they're not set in stone. "We have to leave these categories up to interpretations because DJs are up for interpretation by the dance [music] community."The final showdown in Winnipeg laid all cards on the table. Each Thre3Stylist took turns drenching the crowd in their own brew of turntablism, scratching, and song and beat juggling. The finalists, whose fate was determined in previous Regional competitions in Eastern and Western Canada, each doled out their own mesmerizing bag of tricks.
DJ Trapment from Sudbury, Ontario was the lucky enough take the stage first. Unlike some of his fellow combatants, Trapment is a newcomer to the Thre3Style competition. He started his set by broadcasting the names of each of his competitors; followed by a sample that boomed, "I don't like you." Trapment is a newcomer with the confidence of a veteran.
Shambhala devotee, Wakcutt, delivered a notable set stuffed with drum and bass breakbeats. His transition from Phil Collins' slow-jam "In the Air Tonight" into a Kootenay forest-ready bass strain sent the crowd into orbit. The lone soul in a spirit hood at the front of the dancefloor is probably dialing her chiropractor today.But even C-Sik, the defending Canadian champion, was no match for Charly Hustle. In Bastid's words, Charly Hustle (aka Sean Daniel Grant) is like "Napoleon Dynamite meets a Wal-Mart employee meets Paul Simon." (We'll call it a natural charisma.) The Saskatoon-based producer has an impressive backlog in Thre3Style competitions, winning the runner-up title at the Nationals in 2012 and first place at the Regionals in 2013.Taking on the notoriously repetitive "Turn Down For What", Hustle swiveled it on its head. As the build reached its tipping point, "Sweet Home Alabama" erupted from the speakers. And instead of the typical lyrics, he rigged it to say "Sweet Home Manitoba." But it was his manipulation of "Family Affair" by Mary J. Blige that caught the judge's attention. Using two Dicer midi-controllers, Hustle chopped up the familiar R&B melody and programmed layers of the song on either side of the turntable. Swiping meticulously, he suddenly had complete control of the tempo by each hit and scratch, and practically played the whole song by hand. Like Blige says, there was no need for "hateration."
"This whole competition, win or lose, makes you better. It's all encompassing," Hustle tells Red Bull after his win. "This year I finally understood the work I would have to put into my Thre3Style set to be a better DJ and the confidence I would need to have to show such a huge crowd. It's surreal. I'm on top of the world right now."What started as an underground experiment in Kelowna in 2007, revering Mat the Alien as one of Canada's first Thre3Stylists, is now active around the world. This year's World Finals in Tokyo will host the top DJs from more than 20 countries. "Everyone brings their own home cooking now," says Bastid. "But Canada's involvement is still one step ahead of any other country."As Flipout puts it, "Thre3Style is about the culture, the community, the music…and eating pizza and drinking beer."Charly Hustle will represent Canada at the Red Bull Thre3Style Finals in Tokyo in September.Red Bull Thre3Style is on Facebook // Twitter // MixCloud Charly Hustle is on Facebook // Twitter // SoundCloud