“You Can’t Flatten Culture Into A Tagline” NYC Nightlife Collides For Red Bull Culture Clash

“Real New York shit. Real culture shit. New York for the win. Culture for the win.”

Parading a catchphrase of “pierogis meets punk,” Brooklyn’s Warsaw hosted a whole new world on May 19th with Red Bull’s illustrious Culture Clash. Bursting with the best selectors in New York City nightlife, four crews went head-to-head for an evening inundated with tension, dubplates, and a whole lot of shit-talking.

Each corner of the 1,000-cap venue was dedicated to a specific sound system (or DJ crew). Left of the main stage, CORPUS boasted a gritty juxtaposition of metal moshers and cheek-clappers. On their right, cutting-edge Club Cringe’s fresh take on music kept everyone on their toes. At the back left, street signs for Brooklyn’s epochal intersection of Church and Flatbush Ave marked Half Moon’s presence. And across their way, Apocalipsis represented uptown with a flag raised high reading “ABOLISH ICE” in big, bold lettering.

Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Anyone who is tapped into the city’s nightlife scene was crammed into Warsaw, pressured to claim a corner, as the winning sound system would be measured by a decibel reader after each round. Invited by Apocalipsis to attend, but also loosely linked to Half Moon, I opted to stay on the main stage to observe. But not before I stopped by the merch table to visit Juan Ortiz, the manager of three artists on Apocalipsis. He knighted me with a whistle to distinguish who my home team was and snatched the whistle straight off my friend’s neck, who was there to see Half Moon.

The competitive nature of the clash was felt before I even entered the building. I looked on as competitors from each camp fired shots with shady Twitter posts and Instagram memes. But at the end of the day, voyeurs and performers alike were here for the same reason: to celebrate New York City’s music and culture.

While I had an idea of what each sound system would be doing, the first round provided a sample of what we would partake in for the rest of the night. CORPUS’s stage filled with dancers, encouraging a party-like environment right from the jump. Exactly as you’d expect from what was dubbed the “hyperpop crew,” Club Cringe touted the stage in Slendermanesque uniforms, as skinny, long-haired characters sword fought their way through their introductory set.

Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Apocalipsis grabbed everyone’s attention by yelling, “Shoutout to my boricuas!” as soon as it was their turn, and nostalgia kicked in as they played edits of throwback titles like “Lean Back” and “Roman’s Revenge.” Then, dripped head-to-toe in matching black Adidas tracksuits and kicks, Half Moon breezed through technical difficulties, lavishing listeners with an unbelievable, never-before-heard sound selection.

The showmanship of each sound system was already at 100, and it was only the beginning of the night. Although each group had previously been labeled with a niche, the selection of each set was dynamic and unpredictable. “You can’t flatten culture into a tagline,” RIOBAMBA, head of Apocalipsis, later notes to Clash Magazine. Similar to the architecture of New York City itself, artists relate to multiple identities, so to categorise a crew—made up of several DJs of different backgrounds—would be impossible.  

Half Moon resident SUPR SPRT speaks about his team with reverence. Acknowledging that most of the crew is of Caribbean descent and have lived in Brooklyn their whole lives, the Russian immigrant couldn’t have felt more flattered to be invited to compete with them. “I felt honored to be a part of the clash,” he tells us.

Courtesy of SUPR SPRT @suprsprt

The producer-DJ undertook the third round for ‘Sleeping with the Enemy,’ where he had to put on a set in the style of Club Cringe, which was unexpectedly one of my favorites of the night. While doing research on the crew, SUPR SPRT learned Club Cringe’s blend of hard dance, experimental breaks, and dubstep was “exactly my shit, so they asked me if I wanted to do this round and I said yes.” Donning his own donk tunes sprinkled in with eclectic edits of PinkPantheress and Crime Mob, the Brooklyn beatmaker immaculately took on the challenge of mimicking Club Cringe’s eccentric energy while also proudly proving what Half Moon is about.

But as clashes go, there could be only one winner. And at the end of the night, Apocalpsis took home the championship with a complete wipeout of all three rounds. It wasn’t surprising. Apocalipsis’s presence could be felt throughout the crowd, making itself known from every corner of the venue. Their supporters didn’t stop moving. Flags of all different countries were raised high all night. And when it came to voting, they were equipped with whistles, air horns, and the strength of their voices.

Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Dana Lu of Apocalipsis shares, “I think we won because our community showed up for us.” She continues, “We can’t take all the credit because our people came out for uptown. People make fun of uptown because we don’t leave it, but if we have to come out to Brooklyn, we will.”

RIOBAMBA adds that it was a collective effort from the Apocalipsis sound system, advocating that it’s more of a family than anything. “We came in prepared,” she states firmly. And it also helps that the DJ grew up watching Red Bull’s Culture Clash, so even with less than two months to prepare, RIOBAMBA knew what to expect. “Everyone [in Apocalipsis] has their own lane. There were expectations set that we were reggaeton experts, but we bring in much more. And May 19th proved that.” RIOBAMBA also adds, “[We had the] showmanship, visuals, special guests.” When asked if there was a special ingredient that each member had in common, the frontwoman answers, “We’re all disruptors.”

For Half Moon, the ending was bittersweet. Especially for its benevolent leader, Surf. At the beginning of the night, he braced himself for the clash by sitting alone with his headphones on, listening to Phil Collin’s ‘In The Air Tonight.’ For Surf, this event was the NBA championship. His crew certainly came dressed for it, decked in identical Adidas outfits, which they switched up every round.

Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

While it was clear what the loss meant to Surf and Half Moon through their comments on social media after the clash, it was even more apparent while speaking to him directly. “I’ve looked up to RIOBAMBA for a long time, and the clash was my one chance to prove it to my role model,” he shares. He notes that he believes with regard to sound clashes, his team brought the better dubplates – which is arguably the competition’s most integral deciding factor. “But we can’t compete with air horns.”

Understandably, the results were felt heavily. However, Surf makes sure to shout out the love he has for his rival crews. The overwhelming support from everyone in attendance also proved that regardless of the outcome, Half Moon represented New York City proudly by bringing something special and memorable with each and every round. Surf says solemnly, “We didn’t win, but we didn’t get beat.”

In the spirit of the clash, smack talk is welcome—even judged upon. But as the strain of the event simmered down, it was doubtless that each crew has respect for one another. Now, all of the competitors are even in talks about joint parties.

Once the winner was announced, I made my way to Apocalipsis’ green room. Team members RIOBAMBA, Dana Lu, Bembona, Dos Flakos, Nino Augustine, and Jfuse and LITA began pouring in, celebrating by shouting “APOCALIPSIS!” and “WINNERS!” as soon as they walked in.  

“Was there ever a doubt?” Juan Oritz asks rhetorically.  

Courtesy of Francis Montoya @slingshotmenace

The room was beaming from the high of victory, plotting out their next move to the after party while simultaneously taking photos, hugging each other, and taking their turns giving motivational speeches (unless they lost their voice, which some of them did). Chris of Dos Flakos commands the room with his final thoughts: “Real New York shit. Real culture shit. New York for the win. Culture for the win.”

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Words: Arielle Lana LeJarde
Photos: Red Bull Content Pool / Sixteen Flowers NYC / Francis Montoya @slingshotmenace / SUPR SPRT @suprsprt

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