Red Bull Thre3Style is no longer underground

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      Much like deejaying itself, the Red Bull Thre3Style World DJ Championships started out as a largely underground affair, but it’s since exploded into something much more. As it gets set to return to the city where it was born, the competition can now lay claim to being the biggest event of its kind. This year’s Canadian Red Bull Thre3Style finals—taking place on July 26 at the Commodore Ballroom—may qualify as a local event for those living on the West Coast, but the overall scope of the showcase is definitely global. Once a Canadian champ is crowned for 2014, the winner’s next step will be getting on a plane to compete in the Red Bull Thre3Style World Finals in exotic Baku, Azerbaijan.

      But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with a quick history lesson.

      When the first Red Bull Thre3Style World DJ Championships finals took place in Vancouver back in 2007, the cultural landscape was somewhat different than today. After seeming larger than life in the late ’90s, turntablists saw a pop-music palace revolution occur at the turn of the new millennium. Thanks to acts like the White Stripes, the Hives, and the Strokes, DJs retreated to warehouse parties, spinning for the hard-core faithful rather than weekend warriors.

      In other words, deejaying had in many ways returned to its roots.

      Red Bull’s first Thre3Style World DJ Championships was, in hindsight, the start of a rebirth, except that the emphasis was different from old-school scratch–DJ competitions. Pretty quickly, it became obvious that organizers were primarily focused on throwing full-on block-rocking parties.

      So just as the fabled DMC championships, which prized ’90s-style technical precision above all else, faded into the sunset, Red Bull Thre3Style roared in and caught the imagination of an iPod generation raised on the philosophy that there’s no such thing as too much mixing and matching, not to mention too much fun. To catch one of the past competitions was to watch participants throw downevery thing from classic hip-hop to cheese-dripping pop. Dabbling in multiple genres isn’t an option; instead, its a requirement that factors into the judging.

      That’s made for the kind of battles that are etched into the brains of those who’ve been lucky enough to be part of them. Throw your hands in the air if you were fortunate to witness the Red Bull Thre3Style World Finals at the Commodore in 2011, where you heard Spain’s Bitcode play connect-the-beats with the Police, Kelis, and ABBA. You might also remember that same show featuring Vancouver’s Hedspin hopping from Ray Charles to Guns N’ Roses before jumping into an inflatable dinghy and crowd-paddling across the heads of those on the sweat-drenched dance floor. Thanks to such must-see moments, the Red Bull Thre3Style World DJ Championships has blown up into what it is today. Determined to keep things as fresh as they are fun, this year’s event marks some changes in Red Bull’s format. Where last year featured eight regional qualifying heats, this year we get two showdowns.

      At the East Qualifier on July 11 at the Hoxton in Toronto, eight eastern Canada deejays will each showcase a 15-minute original mix. The action the shifts to Calgary’s Commonwealth on July 20, with the West Qualifier featuring combatants from the western provinces.

      On July 26, the top six survivors of those competitions square off at the Commodore for the National Finals, going up against each other as well as Red Bull Thre3Style 2013 Canadian champion Adam Doubleyou. The winner punches the highly coveted ticket to the World Finals in Azerbaijan.

      As if that’s not enough, along the way you get a cavalcade of star judges and performers, the short list including Skratch Bastid, Thugli, Hedspin, Four Color Zack, and much-beloved icon DJ Jazzy Jeff.

      By the time the global competition wraps in Azerbaijan, thousands upon thousands of fans will have watched DJs from as many as 20 countries around the globe showcase their best stuff. The Red Bull Thre3Style World DJ Championships might have started small and underground, but there’s no arguing it’s become something bigger than most of us ever dreamed.