For SF WEEKLY: In the spirit of classic DJ battles, the Red Bull Music Academy will host a Culture Clash DJ competition Wednesday at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, the latest in a list of more than half a dozen Red Bull events to take place here in recent years. The caffeinated beverage company has held similar culture clash events in London, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York since 2010, which have featured Major Lazer, Usher, Soul II Soul, and others.
TV and radio presenter Sway Calloway will emcee the upcoming event, in which veteran DJ crew Triple Threat, house crew Dirtybird, nu-cumbia collective Tormenta Tropical, and the dub and roots reggae team Dub Mission will go up against each other in what’s designed to be a competitive but good-spirited music event. An event spokesperson says the four crews were chosen for their longstanding presence in the local music scene. Organizers are expecting roughly 1,000 people to attend.
Red Bull Music Academy’s Culture Clash events are modeled after the Jamaican sound system competitions that date back to at least 1952, in which DJs try to out-do each other by playing popular and exclusive records through heavily amplified sound systems. Speakers would often be pointed directly at each other, and crowd response determined the winner. Heavy bass has always been important, and sound clashes have been called the musical equivalent of boxing: each new song played is like a jab in the ring.
Each crew will bring in their own sound system and special guests, and go through four rounds of competition. Calling out opponents, mockeries, diss records, and counteractions are encouraged. Violence and other non-peaceful behavior are not.
Previous Red Bull music performances and events in San Francisco have taken place at venues like Monarch, Mighty, DNA Lounge, 1015 Folsom and elsewhere. Red Bull’s larger, national and global presence in the music industry is vast: they run a full-service independent record label and a 24-7 online radio station, publish a print and web magazine dedicated largely to board culture, and curate stages at several music festivals worldwide. A 2013 New York Times article credited Red Bull as creating its own “shadow music industry.”
Figures released by a Red Bull spokesperson estimate the company to be worth upwards of $6.8 billion; their larger portfolio also includes Formula One racing and soccer. But the company’s growth has not come without growing pains.
The family of a 33-year-old Brooklyn man, whose heart allegedly stopped after drinking a Red Bull during a basketball game, sued the company last year for $85 million. In 2013, the law firm Skadden began representing Red Bull North America in the defense of multiple putative class actions challenging Red Bull’s advertising that claim its drinks improve mental and physical performance. Skadden also agreed to advise Red Bull in responding to congressional investigations into the energy drink industry.
In August, Red Bull reportedly agreed to pay $13 million to resolve a class action lawsuit accusing it of falsely advertising its energy drinks as having functional benefits beyond what a cup of coffee or caffeine pill can offer.
And yet, Red Bull Music Academy events offer fans access to a wide range of influential artists year after year. Artists involved in Red Bull events have, over the years, offered both high praise (the events positively bring musicians together for dialog, collaboration, and performance) and critique (the brand is louder than the art).
Red Bull Culture Clash San Francisco starts at 10 p.m. Wednesday at the Regency Ballroom, 1290 Sutter Street. Tickets are $15 – $25. 21 and up.