A week in Taipei, Taiwan, surrounded by DJs from around the world both at the breakfast buffet and into the nightclubs will teach you that competition for them isn’t really about winning or losing; it’s an opportunity to touch the global DJ pulse. DJs were not competing for space, but working as a unit to propagate their ability to thrive.
“The better, more rounded DJs we have, the better, more rounded clubs we have, the better, more rounded parties we have which means that everybody in this room continues to do what they do and can make a living off of that,” DJ Jazzy Jeff, one of Red Bull Music 3Style’s judges, says. “So it’s really about strengthening the community. I think the days are gone of ‘I want to be the best and only DJ in the world.’ I can’t be the only DJ to play this club or else the club will close down. It’s about building a network.”
This is a deviation from the culture Jeff came up in, which taught DJs not to swap music, to put labels over music. But Jeff’s adopted the mantra of throwing something in the pot, not throwing something out. “As you get your footing in this industry, you start to realize how important it is to reach back and grab someone or mentor someone new to make sure that they don’t fall into the same pitfalls and also pay attention to realize that when they’re not engaging it’s not a personal thing, they’re going through the same growth period that you did,” he says.
That’s not to say this isn’t, at its core, a competition. “There have been instances where the club is really wild for stuff that I have not enjoyed at all and it’s often the simplest stuff,” says judge Nina Las Vegas. “We can all play the big records, and that works, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to impress me. It just means you know what the big records are.”
What did impress Las Vegas, Jeff and the other judges was J Espinosa—the American DJ who edged out DJ Fummy of Japan and DJ Trapment of Canada (plus the 1,200 other applicants) to take the win. Espinosa, who is the hometown DJ for the Oakland Raiders, was previously a finalist in the 2015 competition. “I was done with it, I wasn’t going to do it again,” he says to us. “I feel like there are certain things that I knew I needed to strengthen up on and I had to learn that by losing.” But the experience is what he missed. “It’s great to be here and inspiring because you’re hanging around people who are the best DJs from all over the world.”
The competition took place over five nights: four nights of semi-finals, each of which produced a winner advancing on to the final, and two wild cards are chosen. On night five, gathered under the stars at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, each of the six finalists was given 15 minutes to put their best set forward. In the end, Espinosa was the favorite, not just from the judges’ scores, but also the audience’s reaction.
But for Espinosa, it’s less about the win so much as the experience. “You know, Kenny?” Espinosa asks, referring to Kenny Macintyre, the founder of Red Bull Music 3Style. “I was just hanging out with him and he was talking about last night at the competition and having a moment, looking around seeing everyone up on stage, looking at the guy from Chile hanging out with the guy from Japan hanging next to the guy from Canada with the dude from Argentina. Everybody is together, networking with each other, but not just that, they’re having fun. And I couldn’t agree more.”
Images courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool