Culture Clash 2016 was where I realised that I am an ancient freak. I was lurking round the backstage area of an event aimed at people 20 years my junior, sweating out a hangover born from last night’s session spent mainlining Czech moonshine and slurping greedily on Red Bull as though it contained the invigorating blood of young ravers. Jesus I’m old I thought, as the young handsome children cavorted to the warm up DJ playing trap music I hated. But then, thank fuck, the UK Garage Allstars appeared in the press area. I realised that age is entirely relative, especially when you’re within fist bump distance of a chap who is probably a dad, is most likely in his 40s, and, despite these first two facts, is most definitely still calling himself MegaMan.
The UK Garage Allstars were fucking tremendous at Culture Clash is a sentence I wasn’t expecting to write. The last time any of them had a genuine hit, kids were more into happy slapping than snap chatting. I dare say 98% of the audience were papping in nappies when Flowers by Sweet Female Attitude came out. This didn’t matter at all, and the dubs that UKG dropped – including a re-vocaled Flowers, alongside other favourites such as With A Little Bit Of Luck, Ramp, Little Man & Monsta Boy’s Sorry (wot no Dane Bowers?) sounded as fresh as next week’s My Nu Leng, and served to remind just how many bangers the UK was putting out round the millennium. The way UKG played also highlighted the main difference between the grime and garage scenes – UKG came from a scene where DJs ran the ting – so their approach to the event was defiantly DJ based, with more energy being put into sick dubplates than show stopping cameos.
Eskimo Dance were pretty much the opposite. Unsurprisingly for a scene that revolves around the cult of the MC, Wiley’s sound based their strategy on wheeling out guest slots. This would have worked way, way better if the absence of anyone from Boy Better Know wasn’t such a ragged hole in their line up. Stormzy was bought on early and predictably tore the place down- 'specially helped by being able to drop the line ‘don’t make me go back to culture clash’ in Know Me From. But after Stormz had done his typical merky best, there was no way Eskimo could take it higher. Fair play to Chip though, for an MC who gets shots & hate fired at him by everyone and their gran, he’s a resilient little fucker, and was bounding the stage spitting with all the fire of a million youtube beefs. D Double, Kano, P Money Ghetts, Solo 45, Trilla from Brum, they all sounded heavy, they’ve all got grime classics, but none of them were a massive surprise. Yeah, it was an amazing 'greatest hits of grime' showcase, but no, it wasn’t clash winning territory. As UKG kept on pointing out; this is a clash not a live show. If ever there was a chance for Wiley to bury the hatchet with Dizzee (and judging from his recent Time Out article he’s up for it) Culture Clash 2016 was it – I think Raskit bounding onto stage or even a dub of I Love You would have been clash done- and commanded the papers the next day, giving Eskimo an emotional momentum that couldn’t have been stopped. It wasn't to be. Obvs I’ve no idea what the situation between the two founding fathers is, but I can’t help feel there was a missed opportunity there. As it was, we had Prez T performing Skepta’s That’s Not Me bars, another stark reminder to the crowd of just who was missing from the Eskimo stage. Still, let's not moan about a chance to actually see Wiley, actually on stage, actually smashing the shit out of a performance of Wot U Call It
Taylor Gang, I salute you. It’s easy for Americans to come to Culture Clash and totally flop. See: ASAP Mob, 2014, who pretty much humiliated themselves, dicking about onstage on quad bikes and delivering precisely zero dubplates. In contrast Taylor Gang were hungry for it, with highights including their getting Krept & Konan to switch on the UK with a Don’t Waste My Time dub (a dub that was understandably short on bite – fair enough K&K giving the yanks a plate, they weren’t gonna get themselves barred from London in the process), and an amazing 3rd round which saw Taylor Gang murdering grime beats. Ty Dolla Sign over Functions on the Low needs to happen on record someday, cos on the night it sounded superb. The crowd gave the American sound massive love, and even though they failed to take a single round, they were clearly impressing everyone in the building- Wiz Khalifa just built himself a whole mansion of good will in London, and he’s welcome back anytime. It’s a weird thing about the British; we don’t mind if you mock us, as long as you do it properly. As such, Taylor Gang bringing out Ice Kid and Stylo G, both MCs from Chip’s past, showed some deep level homework, and a honed appreciation of the fine art of taking the piss. Splendid work. Closing on a massive version of We Dem Boys was tactically heavy, and probably would have taken the day if it wasn't for those pesky kids...
And so onto Mixpak, the underdog winners who were really and truly the closest thing to a soundsystem playing on the night. For me, they took it early on - specifically the minute Spice came out, jumped into the splits (she’s light on her feet for a big girl) and told Wiz Khalifa to suck her pum pum. When she started bodying Eskimo Dance over the rhythm from Section Boyz Lock Arf, all bets were off. Keeping with the vibe of heavyweight (take that however you want) Jamaicans, they wheeled out everyone’s favourite Big Narstie, sweating it out in a stupid dreadlock wig. He pulled that off along with his top, flashing his builders crack and waggling his mantits like a stripper from David Cronenberg’s nightmares. Jokes aplenty.
Even with a bunch of fun and a finely honed set of dubplates (shout out for getting one from J Hus who – and this well-known industry secret now appears to be public knowledge- is currently residing at her majesties pleasure*), Mixpak wouldn’t have had a chance if they hadn’t had a monster of a secret weapon. Once they’d closed the final round with a dubplate from Drake – particularly after all the grief the other sounds had laid on Popcaan for having his verse removed from Drake’s Controlla – it was so palpably obvious they’d taken the day I don’t know why anyone bothered dropping another cut. Drake’s got a funny old relationship with the UK – I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to make an appearance on Mixpak or Eskimo Dance’s set – and whilst he begs UK culture relentlessly, we’d be lying if we didn’t acknowledge that we’re flattered. But even if there was an element of ‘Drake made a dub? For little old us?’ to the crowd’s complete submission to the One Dance dub, the fact remains it was the best closing record of the evening – especially compared to Wiley’s bizarre choices of Ed Sheeran, Adele and – erm – Clean fucking Bandit. I will always love Wiley for being mental, but c’mon. Jess Glynne is not about to win you a clash.
* A note on this- I've since been told it was actaully J Hus on the mic in the O2- man pretty much walked out of the nick and straight to Culture Clash. This makes him man of the match forever.
Out of all the sounds, Mixpak had the most to gain from this victory. They strolled in the building larely unknown, took the event seriously, and showed up with Jamaicans who have clashing coursing through their blood. It was a deserved, career boosting win, and a good look for the Clash – although the fact that there are now two reigning champions in Rebel Sound and Mixpak is a bit of a problem – I can’t help feeling that the ultra-slick Rebel Sound would have murdered Mixpak, Chase & Status’s horrible, bass-heavy pop aesthetics going down particularly well with a Clash crowd.
On a final note – kids are constantly demonised as too stupid, too violent, too consumerist, too straight, too absorbed with social media, too young, too fucking teenager-y etc etc. It’s draining to be honest, and I’m ancient. So, for the record, as I left Culture Clash 2016, there were a few thousand young people piling out into the night with me, kids split fairly evenly between sexes and ethnicities. Even as the tube station shut it’s doors, trapping everyone outside in a stressful scrum, there were literally no bad vibes. There was singing, pisstaking (I believe the youngsters call it ‘bantz’) and the occasional England chant. But there was fuck all trouble. They’d come, had a rave, most of them had got totally battered, and they were still grinning. In a country full of miserable arseholes jabbing argument fingers at each other day and night, that’s something to celebrate. Well done you little shits. You’re alright.