A new New York sound is struggling to be born
Scenes from a somewhat-poorly-run Red Bull corporate event that may have been the most important cultural event in the city this year.
At a soundclash, a form of musical battle pioneered by Jamaican dancehall DJs, four New York musical collectives battle over who can provoke the most raucous audience reaction. Warsaw, the Polish community center in Greenpoint, is surrounded by Red Bull delivery vans and cars. Workers wearing Jordans and earpieces swarm the block, smiling and giving out wristbands and lanyards. Attendees are given two drink tickets for free Red Bull drinks, the Polish bartenders are exhausted with explaining that you can’t get beer with them.
In the line to get in, fans of hyperpop rave kids Club Cringe sketch anime portraits of the bouncers. Jacob Stone, who makes glitchy, dark dance music under the name Tendryl, draws a sword on stage, parodying their team's weird-kid image relative to their opponents.
Club Cringe at the Red Bull Culture Clash. Photo by Jesus Presinal for Red Bull.
On every other stage, flags from different Caribbean islands are everywhere, even Corpus’s, an eclectic label featuring different kinds of aggressive music but fronted by punks, who are in an adjacent corner. When it was time to cheer for them though–an applause meter determined the winner–some white dudes wearing Corpus shirts just smiled serenely, a little too cool for it. These are the hiccups of retrofitting a traditional format to a new sound.
And the new sound of New York is almost here. The third round, where competitors must outdo opponents in their own style, is uncanny. Under mockup Flatbush Ave and Church Ave street signs, the dancehall DJs of Half Moon play drum'n'bass–a dancehall derivative–to imitate Club Cringe's ravey sound. Time and space warp at this moment: these genres are at once worlds away and just a few generations of lineage removed from each other. Apocalipsis operate under a banner of Afrolatinidad, and they attempt to copy Corpus by playing a noise version of “Mi Gente”. In the final round, when Corpus bring out Brooklyn rapper 2 Milly, after Show Me The Body’s Julian Cashwan-Pratt opens up the pit, their fans half Milly Rock and half mosh while strippers in mesh bodysuits shake ass.
By the end of the night, though, Corpus are among the losers. They can't quite catch a vibe. They are at the artistic forefront, doing the most work to shepherd this clusterfuck into being. It’s a messy smear of sidewalk sounds ranging from punk to hip hop to noise to dancehall. It doesn't quite make sense–yet. Their finale is bringing out Mobb Deep’s Havoc, and the punks scream the words to “Shook Ones” back at him, in the late Prodigy’s absence. It’s vicious: rage, sorrow and ecstasy strobe rapidly, until each resembles the other.
Half Moon’s and Corpus’s stages. Photo by Jesus Presinal for Red Bull.
The melting pot boiled over at some points. Half Moon's quip about representing the "real Brooklyn" sets Corpus off. It’s a classic tension: does Corpus’s genre eclecticism make them less authentic? Does their queerness? Does their palatability to scene-y white guys? “Suck my dick!” is their retort.
Shoddy sound fucks everybody up, a big deal when a soundclash is typically won with dubplates, re-sung songs where a famous artist shouts out the crew. Half Moon can't get their shout out from Coney Island rapper Nems–famous for saying "bing bong!" on Tiktok–to play. “Listen!” they urge “This is a dubplate!” but the crowd can’t cheer and hear the dubplate at the same time. Club Cringe's Angel Money, as their final round begins, yells, “Whoever did sound tonight, you need to get fucking fired.”
Half Moon played most by the rules–they are dancehall DJs after all–but even they can’t argue with The Kid Mero and M.O.P. doing “Ante Up” under an “ABOLISH ICE” flag, and Apocalipsis take home the gold.
The Kid Mero with M.O.P. on the Apocalipsis Stage. Photo by Jesus Presinal for Red Bull.
The afterparty is at Cafe Balearica, a two-floor lounge a short walk away. Angel Money still has fake blood smeared across her white suit. "I think it was really disrespectful how the [microphones] were handled," she says when I ask about the sound, and it’s true, whether purposeful or not, throughout the set you could not hear anything she was saying. Corpus' Yo Chill agrees: “you couldn't hear anything above the bass.” The more media-trained crew members just say it was amazing. Jubilee DJed for the house, and is a signee of Mixpak, who won a previous Culture Clash by playing a dubplate of Drake's "One Dance." In the basement, she simply says, "I fucking loved it. I thought it was the most New York shit ever."
I've been trying for awhile to make this point about this new, genre-ful New York sound that's emerging. Here’s a first swing at it.
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