Easy as 1, 2, Thre3style: A DJ showdown primer

After starting out as a Canada-only contest.

After starting out as a Canada-only contest in 2007, Red Bull Thre3style has grown into the largest DJ competition on the planet. This year the world finals are in Toronto – DJs from 21 countries battle it out all week in clubs around town.

The concept is simple but challenging, even for experienced mixers. Each DJ has only 15 minutes to impress judges, and must span at least three genres of music within that time. While competitors can use laptops, they aren’t allowed to use that handy sync button to cheat and must use the supplied turntables or CD decks to beat-match.

The format forces DJs out of their musical comfort zones, which could make for some unexpected juxtapositions of genres and rhythms. And the short sets mean competitors must cram a lot of exciting moments and tricks into a barrage of beats.

In addition to being scored on their mixing technique, DJs are also awarded points for the originality of their track selections, the creativity of their mixes, crowd response and stage presence. Custom edits, remixes and dubplates are encouraged, which can definitely help DJs stand out.

Playing alongside the competitors and closing out the nights is a who’s who of international DJ talent, many of whom will appear on panels and participate in daytime Q&A sessions at the Thompson Hotel (550 Wellington). That means the public gets to pick the brains of big-name talents like A-Trak (pictured) and DJ Jazzy Jeff, and also watch turntablists like Kid Koala rock the decks up close.

The contenders

Adam Doubleyou

Canadian champ Adam Doubleyou has stiff competition from Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and beyond

DJ Inferno (Jamaica)

Even before hip-hop took turntable manipulation to new levels, DJ battling was already well established in Jamaica, where dubplates were often cut specifically to tear into an opponent’s reputation. This is DJ Inferno’s second try at the world championship, and he won’t pull any punches.

Eskei83 (Germany)

Germany’s first Thre3style champion, DJ Eskei83 has some truly impressive battle skills, which is probably why YouTube videos of his performances consistently get big numbers. He’s also got a packed gig calendar and far more international experience than most of his competitors.

Dee Jay Ray Ray

Up Against The Wall / Red Bull Content Pool

DeeJay RayRay (Taiwan)

DJing is a disproportionately male industry, and DJ competitions even more so. DJ RayRay is not only the first (and only) woman competing in the world finals, but she’s also Taiwan’s first ever Thre3style Champion. She brings a classic jazz-influenced hip-hop vibe, with a Taiwanese twist, to the event.

Turntable timetable

November 4

The World Finals kick off with Welcome Night at the Drake Hotel. Doors open at 9 pm, entry is free and surprise DJs will spin. Get there early – the dance floor will fill up soon.

November 5

The first night of DJ duelling begins at the Great Hall. International contenders square off then Canada’s own Kid Koala (also of alt hip-hop group Deltron3030) takes over. Plus, Shortkut adds a video set and Toronto’s TurnStylez takes a spin.

November 6

International winners won’t be the only ones competing on Thre3style’s second qualifier night at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club. A slightly higher-profile battle will go down between East Coast Canadian kid Skratch Bastid and Jazzy Jeff, the DJ who’s spent the most time getting thrown out of a Beverly Hills mansion by Uncle Phil.

November 7

The tournament continues at the Hoxton, with sets by locals Torro Torro and Calgary’s Smalltown DJs. The main attraction is Montreal’s A-Trak, who founded Fool’s Gold and has performed at the Grammys. Hey, if he’s good enough for Kanye….

November 8

The final qualifier night goes down at the Danforth Music Hall with two hip-hop legends in the house. In the early 90s, Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest and Maseo of De La Soul ruled New York hip-hop with creativity, positivity and Afrocentricity. Tonight, the Native Tongues brothers determine who’s tops at the turntables.

November 9

It all comes down to this. Thre3style moves to Kool Haus to accommodate larger crowds, and the finalists will battle for the crown and international bragging rights. But it doesn’t end there. Ottawa powwow steppers A Tribe Called Red and Toronto’s own remix masters Keys N’ Krates keep the party going till late.

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