After a hiatus in 2014, the Red Bull Thre3style competition – where DJs battle in a series of shows to be crowned World Champion – is back in the USA. The competition, which originated in Canada, has grown into a worldwide event that features DJs from more than 20 countries, but in 2014 they didn’t schedule any events in America. But this year, the competition comes back to the U.S.A. – and lands right here in Indianapolis on Friday.
The Vogue will host one of three North Regionals qualifiers. The winner moves on to the US Finals in Phoenix, and a chance at a spot in the World Finals in Tokyo. This year’s regional competitors are DJ Muff, DJ Topspeed, DJ Alee, DJ SpareChange and Cool Hand Lex.
In Thre3stlye, competitors have just 15 minutes onstage each; they’re judged on both technical ability and crowd reaction, based on a set of five criteria: skill, originality, creativity, stage presence and audience response. So yes, bringing out fans and getting the crowd hyped during the 15 minutes will help each DJ’s cause, but this isn’t a high school prom king competition: being popular isn’t going to win it for them.
We got a little bit of wisdom from 2011 US Champion Big Once, one of the three judges for Friday’s regional, before the show.“The DJ that brings the most friends doesn’t always win, which is a good thing,” he says. “Obviously you want to get the crowd engaged as much as you can, but it’s not a popularity contest.”
Fellow judge and 2012 World Champion Four Color Zack backs the sentiment. “The competition is a party at its core, so of course we love seeing the crowd fall in love with the DJ. With that said, crowd participation is only one part of the judging criteria.”
This is what makes Thre3style such a unique competition. Each competitor must be well-rounded and excel in each judging criterion in order to win. With five competitors battling for one spot, a slip up in any criteria could very well cost them the victory. And there’s only one rule for the competition: play a minimum of three genres of music during the 15-minute set. Whether that’s country, rap or trap, play three and they’re in the clear. This allows DJs to play the music they want to play, to take a risk, to be different.
Song choice plays a large role in determining a winner, and the DJs each agree that variety will be the key. While most DJs may primarily spin a certain genre, they’re usually big music fans in general.
“15 minutes gives us time to travel through multiple styles, maybe those even outside of our normal comfort zone,” competitor DJ SpareChange says.
DJ TopSpeed agreed that no one style would reign supreme during his set. TopSpeed says he plans on being tricky and playing things “the other cats don’t have.” And DJ Muff? He’s said he’s “hoping to drop stuff that’s from way out in left field,” in an email interview.
And that’s what the judges want. Four Color Zack strongly advised against playing it safe.
“It’s refreshing to hear new sounds,” he says. “The same old Top 100 club songs are low-hanging fruit.” He said replicating what other competitors think is a winning set isn’t going to win, but originality and risk taking would.
Big Once has the same idea.
“If somebody comes up and plays three completely off-the-wall random songs, as long as they’re set is the best, it doesn’t matter what the styles are. It’s more about the DJ’s taste and what they want to do,” he says.
As with any competition, it’s safe to say the crowd is going to see a few surprises when the competitors take the stage Friday. But as Big Once notes, “Some of the trickery that the competitors might be doing, people in the crowd might not catch that. They’re just there to have a good time and support their friends.”