09/05/2010

Just Blaze vs The Alchemist - The Sound Clash Live @ East Village, London 06.05.10


The shock of Guru's death put us out of action for sometime, while we re-played every Gang Starr and Guru track that we own (there's many of them). Attending The Sound Clash was therefore a great reminder of all the kick ass talent still alive in hip hop; it took away the sadness we felt after the death of a hip hop icon and brought back the energy (for real, with some of the boomiest bass lines we have ever heard vibrating our rib cages) that drives this culture forward.

It may have been a coincidence that just as we walked in, one of the supporting acts (Spin Doctor, Mr. Thing, Chris P Cuts & Dj Snips) was playing 'Above the Clouds', and damn it sounded good and felt good to see everyone on the dancefloor applauding the choice.

Shortly after, the show began (pics here, thanks Doctor's Orders). Alchemist and Just Blaze took up their positions behind the decks and ignited the crowd with all of their top productions. The beatmakers alternated their bangers in a format, that as beatmakers ourselves, we absolutely love: the original sampled track first, with the beat dropping in after. This creates a beautiful build up, as the crowd immediately recognises the sample and anticipates the drop of the beat, skillfully chopped and skrewed by the beatmaker. No fear here of copyright infringement or unsolicited sample calling, just pure appreciation of the talent of the hip hop beatmaker.

All of this was made even cooler by improvised cuts and scratches by the two, with the highlight probably being Just Blaze beat juggling Rick James's 'Super Freak' and then dropping 'Kingdom Come'.

As the set heated up though, it unfortunately became clear that the venue chosen wasn't ideal for a battle event. Unless you were one of the early arrivers sweating it in the first two rows, seeing the beatmakers in action was near impossible, therefore turning a battle event into what resembled a club night (where seeing the deejay doesn't really matter). A venue with an elevated stage would've made more sense, since a core part of the show was the live entertainment provided by Jus and Al on the mic.

The set lasted for two hours, and while the energy released during the night was unmeasurable, we were surprised not to see (or hear) more of a 'battle' going on between the two. We had read that the same set in the US featured some on the spot improv with the beatmakers responding to each other's beats in clever ways. The London event felt more like a joint deejay set than a battle, still cool, but not really a 'clash'...

And as pointed out by many reviewers, the set really brought to life the difference in styles between the two. Just Blaze is a hip hop hit maker, driving the crowd wild with practically every track he dropped; his beats have a bouncy feel and intricate rhythm patterns that you can't help moving to. Alchemist is instead more of a story teller, cooking up emotional soulful and dark samples into exciting soundbeds; not party tracks but intelligent boom bap bangers. It was therefore not surprising to see a stark difference in the crowd's reaction to the two beatmakers; people recognised and sang Alchemist soul vocal samples, but they broke into wild dancing when Just Blaze spun yet another hit. Not necessarily a bad thing, but in what was supposed to be a 'battle' it kind of automatically favoured one beatmaker over the other based on 'hit count' and not really talent.

The set finished with the instrumental version of Exhibit C at 2 am (great finale track by the way) and we happily exited the club, ears ringing and satisfied at having had yet another session of real head nod hip hop.

But, while outside lighting up a well deserved post club cigarette, to everyone's surprise, Alchemist walked out to hang out. Cool, unpretentious friendly dude, he had his picture taken with everyone (including us) before walking off into the Shoreditch streets with his black back pack. Guess it really is true, 'our boy Al, everybody's pal'

...and to wrap it up in his own words from Twitter:

London has been blessed. I never knew Just Blaze / ALC beats could create such a pungent body aroma ! Salute!
AlanTheChemist

Look forward to more people...

TheRapBuzz.com in house trade union activist Ru1 posing with Al, happy days

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