If there's one city that's long lived up to its reputation as a melting pot, it's most definitely New York. With five boroughs and eight million residents, there's space for everyone — regardless of culture, sexual orientation and gender identity — and one of the places that's always reflected this the best has been the dance floor.
This in mind, Red Bull decided to bring out four of the city's most prominent DJ crews to Brooklyn for Culture Clash, where they faced off against each other in a multi-round competition inspired by Jamaican soundclash culture, all in an effort see whose sets could elicit the biggest (and loudest) response from a sold-out crowd.
And the result? An electrifying, high-energy event that saw Latin American label Apocalipsis take home the crown after an intense sonic battle against the hyperpop aficionados of Club Cringe, the hardcore-loving community organizers behind Queens' Corpus collective and the masterminds behind Half Moon, a crew honoring dance music pioneered by members of the African diaspora through radio, events and workshops.
So ahead of Culture Clash, PAPER sat down with Half Moon's Surf Allah and Rhea Prendergast, as well as Club Cringe's DJ Trick, DJ Fuck and DJ wallh4x for a friendly conversation about mutual admiration, reinterpreting each other's sound for Round Three and, of course, Red Bull. Read our discussion with both crews, below.
Let’s start with the basics! Can you both tell me a little bit about how your collective?
Surf Allah: [Half Moon] has always been about what’s coming next — that’s our tagline. We like to find artists before they make it to the next level; that are super on the come-up.
I’m from South Brooklyn and my family is Caribbean, so I grew up around hip hop and Caribbean music dance. But then I got introduced to newer dance music [through DJ duo AceMoMa]... like the stuff that was going on in North Brooklyn at these places like Bossa Nova, Mood Ring and H0L0. I wasn’t aware of these spots, so I just started tapping into that stuff and exposed myself to it, and I saw a bunch of people with a lot of talent but who didn't really have a lot of backing, especially POC.
DJ Trick: For me, I was really inspired by the sounds that were coming from the people all around the world who were mostly releasing stuff online. There were these really fresh, new sounds coming out of the middle of nowhere, but I felt like [a lot of these musicians] didn’t have access to club scenes and didn't live in large major cities with these communities. Like, these people who had never been to a club or played on CDJs before were getting really amazing at producing. And when COVID kind of brought all that online, it really exploded. It didn't matter where you were.
So in the early days [of Club Cringe], it was about trying to integrate that with what was happening in New York and give it a space. A lot of what we were doing was providing a kind of personality to tie all that together, kind of providing a lore and canon for all this music. And there ended up being a big community response [from people who weren’t necessarily out clubbing] because, a lot of the time, they were just listening to this music while sitting on their computer or gaming.
Half Moon (Photography: Colin Ridgway)
What made your respective crews want to do Culture Clash?
Rhea Prendergast: I'm originally from Kingston, Jamaica, so this whole type of event comes from where I'm from. It’s based off Jamaican soundsystem culture, which I grew up listening to, so it was really personal for me. I think that's one of the reasons I was like, “We absolutely have to do this.”
I think also coming from a small island in the Caribbean [was part of why I felt like we had to do it]. Like think of the size of Jamaica, and then the size of the cultural impact it’s had on the rest of the world... it's an honor to see stuff coming from minority communities broadcasting to the world.
DJ Trick: I think our community has, over the last few years, been working really closely on all these different projects but never really got the chance to do something of this scale together. So when we saw this come in, it was just immediate. Like, this is the thing we've been waiting for: an excuse to put together a lot of original music.
DJ Fuck: And it’s done in a theatrical, fun way. It’s a different kind of format that's more exciting, and I think everybody rose to the occasion when it came to thinking about weird shit to do. And trying to do a new format that has kind of a competitive context or whatever, as opposed to just like “here's your set time" is cool.
And for me, I’ve been a turntablist since I was a kid in Texas, but there's not really a scene for that there. Or I guess, I was just one of the only people in Dallas who was doing that kind of shit, which I kind of left behind for years and years. Like I only did a few things in a battle context [when I lived] in Chicago, so getting the opportunity to hop on and do a little bit of the DMC stuff I listened to and watched as a kid is very fun.
So are you familiar with the other collective’s work?
DJ wallh4x: Yeah, they’re one of my favorite crews in New York.
Rhea Prendergast: Aww, thanks! For me though, I honestly didn’t know a lot [about Club Cringe]. But I also feel like since moving to New York, what I listen to and the kind of stuff I've gotten into has really expanded, because there's not really a big electronic music scene [back in Jamaica] at all.
Mobb Deep for Corpus (Photography: Jesus Presinal)
Since you weren't super familiar, what kind of artists did you listen to? Especially in order to prepare for the third round, which is all about reinterpreting Club Cringe’s sonic bent?
Surf Allah: I was listening to Miss Madeleine, because I know her personally. But I also got told to start with the real basics like Shygirl, Charli XCX and SOPHIE... and then there were those... 200 gecs? [everyone laughs]
There’s just so much shit out there. But, I guess, what exactly would you all call hyperpop?
DJ Fuck: Hyperpop is like the Spotify name that contextualizes like 20 different scenes.
DJ wallh4x: The secret behind hyperpop is that it’s just pop music made in the last five years. We’re less like PC Music and more like music made on a PC.
Okay, this one's for both sides of the room. Has the other crew done anything conceptually or organizationally that you've found really inspiring or interesting?
Surf Allah: What I like about y’all though is that you’re not afraid. You just do what feels comfortable to you.
DJ Fuck: I'd love to look at the infrastructure that y'all have been building with like the radio and the documentary, in addition to the community stuff [you’ve been doing]. It’s been very inspiring.
DJ wallh4x: Yeah, like you were saying earlier, you created [Half Moon], because there’s a lack of institutions for that kind of sound in New York — and I would totally agree. Like, [before Club Cringe] there wasn’t like an institution for losers. Losers and gay nerds. [everyone laughs]
Apocalipsis (Photography: Jesus Presinal)
Half Moon, what hole do you see yourselves filling in the New York scene, since "losers" is apparently already taken?
Surf Allah: I’m born and raised in Brooklyn, so I've seen the scene and city change so much, but I'm the kind of person who likes change, because it brings together so much different shit. Like I would have never gotten into dance music if the landscape hadn’t changed the way it did.
Bushwick became a neighborhood I could walk in. Back in the day, I would never fucking go over there, especially as a Black person because some Puerto Rican guys would stab me. That’s just a generalization we got from that area, but it was like, “You don’t go there.” But now it’s changed from when all these neighborhoods were isolated from each other, because there’s no train that connects South Brooklyn to North Brooklyn. And if you look back in history, the MTA made it that way on purpose to keep minorities separated. So for me, I’d have to go through Manhattan or take a bus for an hour, and it was so disconnected. But now, with all this stuff happening and all the change and all these people coming in and all these cultures coming on and adding, it’s like, “Oh shit. This is a whole new fucking world.”
Like I said though, I really like change. But I also feel like it’s our mission to still keep tradition alive — as far as representing New York culture — but we also want to keep the door open and be welcoming.
Final question! What are you both looking the most forward to in terms of this event? Particularly when it comes to facing off with one another?
Surf Allah: Round three [when we have to reinterpret another crew’s sound] is going to be very different. That’s going to be very interesting, because we’re not going to sit here and try to think of the “best hyperpop set.” But we have someone on squad who knows about all that.
Rhea Prendergast: I’m looking forward to it, because it’s different from a party. It’s a showcase, so I’m excited about the production aspects. I’m excited to see [Club Cringe] set design, the props and how everything comes together.
DJ Trick: [jokingly] We’re looking forward to winning.
DJ wallh4x: I'm looking forward to the other competitors' attempts, and I’m looking forward to enjoying some Red Bull products. [everyone laughs]
Photography: Jesus Presinal (Courtesy of Red Bull)
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