Over the past few years, the Red Bull Thre3style DJ Championship has become the premier DJ Battle in the U.S., with competitors entering from all over the country. It divides the country into four regions with preliminary battles in different cities. The winners of each (judged by past winners and other industry veterans) continue on to compete in Los Angeles. Winning the national or even regional competition would be a huge step forward in any DJ's career.
But I think there's another reason so many DJs participate in this battle, a reason that I heard echoed by all three contestants whom I spoke with recently but was summed up perfectly by Miami's DJ Obscene: "Nowadays being a DJ is about so much more than talent, but this competition truly allows the talent to shine through."
In an industry where so much of your success or failure is influenced by things like your image, marketing, industry connections, money, location, and other factors, it's nice to enter a competition that is based strictly on your performance. All you have is your 15 minutes, your equipment, creativity, song selection, technical ability, and gift to make an impression. In a world where success is clearly not based on merit alone, theoretically everyone entering the battle has the same chance for success.
Last Year's Winning Routine by ESKEI83
There's a never-ending discussion (read: argument) in the DJ world about which cities produce the best DJs. After traveling to most cities in the U.S. and hearing guys from all over come play here, I can say confidently that South Florida is currently producing the best DJs in the country.
Of the six DJs chosen to compete in the Tampa prelims (February 19 at the Ritz Theatre), three are resident DJs at Vibe Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale. Konflikt, Obscene, and Nikko Calor are all set to battle it out with the winner heading into the finals in Los Angeles. Seems like this end of the state has an unfair advantage.
DJ Konflikt made it to the finals last year. This is his incredibly creative routine.
But why are we producing the best DJs? Like most questions, there's not just one easy answer. Nightlife here is a serious business. Only clubs in Vegas make more money. This causes club owners to put constant pressure on their DJs to create new routines and keep things fresh. The venues in South Florida are open until 4 or 5 a.m. regularly, so DJs here learn how to pace themselves and to keep the crowd interested during marathon sets. As someone who has played both locally and in cities like L.A. and San Diego that shut down at 2 a.m., let me assure you that this makes a huge difference.
South Florida never really sleeps. In most cities, DJs play at one of just a few clubs, sometimes private events. Between the weather and the sheer number of venues here, DJs never stop working. Clubs, lounges, rooftops, pool parties, yacht parties, afterhours, art walks, brunches, festivals, pop-up events, openings, and fashion shows. It never ends.
Finally, the sense of competition forces DJs here to improve. If you're constantly around talented people in any field, you must step up your game.
Now back to the Red Bull Thre3style DJ Championship and our three boys readying to compete for the title.
How are winners picked? Red Bull's website explains:
Red Bull Thre3style pits the world's best DJs in a competition that values technical skill as much as the ability to thrill a dancefloor. Competitors are judged on the dual platforms of technical ability and crowd reaction, and are given just 15 minutes each to prove that they're the best in the room. Judges work to a strict criteria that also marks DJs on their originality in song choices, confidence performing and mixing prowess.
So what are the three contestants doing to prepare? Each has his own process. According to Konflikt, he is "on a strict diet of egg whites and kale. I have been running five miles in the morning and five miles at night. I have been listening to 'Thriller' in my headphones as I meditate for approximately eight hours a day."
Obscene told me, "As far as preparation, I've focused on sharpening my skills. I haven't practiced every day since I was a teenager, so being part of this competition has gotten me back into a daily routine -- coming up with mixes and working on my craft, becoming the best DJ I can be." Nikko Calor has also been, he says, "going through my music and making sure I choose the right tunes that represent my specific style of DJ'ing. I want to put on a great show and to up my game as a DJ."
How do they feel about competing against one another, or against the competition from the other regions? Obscene said, "There are plenty of amazing DJs across the country competing, but I think our region has some of the absolute best. Konflikt is someone who I have worked with and looked up to since I began DJ'ing. Nikko is extremely talented and is somewhat of a sleeper in the sense that not everyone knows of him yet, so they don't appreciate his technical abilities. Nikko can rock parties with the best of them."
I spoke with Louis Rich of the Rich Group, who represents both Konflikt and Obscene, about the competition. "We have no favorite, but we do expect them to go one and two in any order. Anything else we see as a failure."
Louis represents some of the best talent in the country at the moment, so I asked a follow-up: Have any advice for aspiring DJs? "Accomplishments and success are not an overnight achievement. It is important that you continue to practice, stay hungry, stay patient, and the most important thing we teach is to stay humble through it all."
Quality advice. May the best man win.
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