“Everyone talks about doing things for the culture. This is the culture.”
A-Trak‘s words rang true over the sold-out crowd at Brooklyn Steel in New York City Thursday, Sept. 7. It was the first-annual Goldie Awards, the culmination of two years’ hard work and a new kind of DJ battle where fresh global talent showcased and celebrated creativity, skill, attitude and raw passion for a scene that puts confetti canons and main stage festival bangers to shame.
If anybody can reinvent the battle, it’s the guy who won the DMC World Championship at 15, founded Fool’s Gold Records and helped launch the careers of Kid Cudi, Danny Brown, Flosstradamus and more. He gathered an esteemed panel of judges, representative of every corner of the DJ and production worlds. Soulection’s Whooligan, Mija, Diplo, Craze, Chuckie, Mannie Fresh and Just Blaze judged contestants on everything from technical skill to how much variety they showed in their sound, even crowd response.
There was a beat battle and a DJ battle with eight contestants each, some flown in from as far as Japan, New Zealand and Portugal. Each category had two rounds, the first where contestants take the stage one at a time and then a head-to-head double finalist showdown.
First came the beat battle: Contestants performed two beats up to a minute each, one of which had to include a sample given to them one week before the show. Brace was first, representing Canada. He’s a DMC World Champ DJ, but this was his first beat battle and you could see his turntablist background hard at work. Fingers flew over decks and MPC buttons as he worked out a couple of melodic head-knockers.
Fresh Kils from LA brought mad attitude to his soulful sound and fellow Californian STFU filled the room with trap hysteria. But no one’s finger drumming could compare to City the Beatmaster and later MSCLS came through with heady tech house and electro beats. R!ot represented for future bass, playing his MPC tilted toward the crowd for full effect, but the strangest showman was Young Sidechain. Dude got on stage with a tripod camera and pressed play on his beats, straight up. He got some shade from the crowd, but A-Trak reminded everyone that at The Goldies, it’s not about how you do it, it’s about the quality of the sound.
At the end of the day, though, this was a battle, and if you were gonna make it to round two, you had to attack from all angles. It was foreshadowing when A-Trak made a big to-do about this dude Holly from Portugal. He was a beat-making master with a lot of attitude boasting super heavy, glitchy, grimy experimental bass. Judges deliberated, and in the end, it was Holly vs. Brace.
Brace was definitely playing up his technical skills, working scratches and beat juggling into his two final round beats, but Holly delivered a more polished sound, and the crowd was definitely feeling his vibe. Everyone had to wait to see who won until the end, and next came the piece de resistance: the DJ Battle.
“Mannie, you ever enter any battles?” A-Trak asked.
“Yeah, when I was younger, before any of you was born,” the Big Tymer joked. “I was there when they created the first turntable. I DJed Moses’ house party.”
Everyone was feelin’ sauced up and frisky. Something must have happened to Dave East, because he kinda disappeared, replaced by the hilarious and admittedly-drunk Desus, star of television’s “number one show on late night,” Viceland’s Desus & Mero.
Each DJ had five minutes to show their skills. It started with a bang from five-time World Champion Vekked. He came remixed a recording of A-Trak’s own voice into Daft Punk‘s “Harder Better Faster Stronger.” The Fool’s Gold founder was cheesin’ behind his phone camera on the judges’ couch as Vekked proved himself the gadget king, mixing beats from a Sega controller and coming out to work the crowd with a turntable that looked and operated like a guitar.
“I came here for the free beer, and y’all got the hardest n—-s in the game,” Desus shouted over the screaming crowd. “This is the Goldies. Next year, when the whole world is out here, you guys’ll be like, ‘I was at the first one, y’all n—-s slept.’”
It definitely had the energy of something really special. The DJ Battle talent was absurd. Next up was Miles Medinas and he let everyone know he was not playing, dropping his top competitors’ names and throwing dirt on ’em, blowing minds with a live juggle of The Simpsons theme song edited into the beat of Lil Uzi Vert‘s “XO Tour Lif3.”
“That’s the first time I’ve enjoyed The Simpsons theme song in 20 years,” Desus gagged.
Next was a long-haired fella named John Beez who invented his own crossfader to manipulate pitch and take his classic scratch mixes to the next level. Then came Rocket Jackson, a first-timer who’s only been DJing for eight months and got all political, working police brutality recordings into his Pioneer performance. It illicited some “Fuck Donald Trump” chants from Desus and the crowd that became a running theme of its own.
Representing females all ovary the world, Kayper from London absolutely smashed, earning the biggest cheers of the night by far with her machine-gun mixes, and it was only her first battle.
“My boy texted me the other day and said he had a crush on Kayper,” Just Blaze busted out. “I said, ‘Who is that?’ Now I get it.”
Just Blaze spoke too soon, because he was immediately deaded by Yuto, a Japanese DJ who was mixing Brooklyn rap songs with his arms all tangled and his back turned and all kinds of wildness. His best move was when he live-crafted “Show Me What You Got” from scratch, giving no heed to the mark that his time was up.
“Can I pull a Jeff Sessions? Can I recuse myself?” Just Blaze said, throwing his hands in the air. “How do I explain to my kids how I just watched a Just Blaze beat happen in real time?”
This next little dude from New Zealand is on his way to being the new A-Trak. He’s only 14 years old, and he performs behind a mask that can’t even fit his face, but his fast little fingers blew people away. His competition took shots at him all night, but in the battle scene, that’s how you know you’re truly accepted. The round wrapped with Germany’s Rafik, a legend in the turntable scene who showed everyone up with live edits of “All The Way Up,” crazy finger drumming antics and a live performance of the Tetris theme.
In the head to head, it was Miles Medina vs. Yuto. It was downright Mortal Kombat, a bloody beatdown that split the crowd down the middle and left the decks shrouded in smoke. This is the energy that battles are made of, it’s an excitement that can’t be replicated in regular clubs or festival shows. It’s balls to the wall, the living edge of what DJs can accomplish.
“This is like the Olympics,” A-Trak quipped. “We brought the Olympics to Brooklyn.”
Holly claimed the grand prize for the beat battle in honor of Portugal, winning himself an official release on Fool’s Gold and a dizzying array of professional studio gear. Miles Medina took the crown for the DJ battle, but not without some chanting from Yuto’s supporters. In the end, Desus shut complaints down with a wild round of applause for each that showed Medina had the clear win. He gets a spot on the next Fool’s Gold Day Off show, and of course, all the damn clout the scene can stomach.
Big congrats to Holly and Miles Medina on a super job well done, but they weren’t the only winners. Everyone who competed should be proud to show their unique prowess in front of those insanely talented and influential judges, not to mention the world. The Goldie Awards were also a giant win for the culture and everyone who came out to support.
As A-Trak said himself, this kind of event is the breeding ground for the next wave of talent. A year or two from now, those of us who were there will be talking about the time we saw Just Blaze bow to Kayper, when K-Swizz made his prodigal debut and when East met West in a mind-numbing flash of ferocity.
We can’t wait to see what happens to the Goldie Awards in the future, and if A-Trak keeps this up, we can say with total assurance that #RealDJing is far from dead. Indeed, the culture’s grand revival has only just begun.