Words by: Emily Roney
Red Bull’s 2014 Culture Clash is one of the most fondly remembered events in British music history, and it’s not hard to see why.
With live music events feeling like a distant memory thanks to COVID:19, me and a friend found ourselves reminiscing about sticky club floors and mile long queues. We try to crown our favourite concert from pre-lockdown times. Whenever asked what my “favourite artist you’ve seen live” is or the “best live performance,” the night of the 30th October 2014 is always at the forefront of my mind. But this night isn’t just a fond memory for then 15 year old me. Red Bull Culture Clash 2014 potentially changed the course of UK music forever. Were you there?
Billed as the “world’s biggest musical battle,” Red Bull’s Culture Clash 2014 saw a 20,000 strong audience descend into Earls Court for a night that went down in the UK music history books. The air on the night was charged heavily with anticipation, and now, 6 years later looking back through nostalgic lenses, I come to realize that we may not see a night just like it ever again. Four crews battled it out in old-school Jamaican sound clash style for the title – Stone Love, Rebel Sound (David Rodigan, Chase and Status, Shy FX), New York’s A$AP Mob and, of course, 2012 reigning champions Boy Better Know.
The North London Grime collective we know and love brought out Stormzy, Flowdan, D Double E, Tinchy Stryder, and others to the eclectic event. Although Rebel Sound left with the title, it was BBK’s hard hitting amalgamation of Grime classics that set the clash off that won it for me. If you weren’t there to witness, they kicked the clash off with 15 straight minutes of iconic old-school Grime, and followed up with a medley of Funky House and Garage riddims. ‘Rhythm and Gash’, ‘Wooo Riddim’ and ’96 Bars Of Revenge’ and more all fired without a breather, inducing a skank like no other. With each round being judged by the volume of the screaming audiences, crews sent shots, disses’ and even the underhanded tactics of Rebel Sound bringing out Tempa T as a guest, much to the disdain of BBK.
The playful shots fired between crews over the sea of heads came from now cemented iconic names, from London to the Bronx all under one roof, creating a musical marriage that can’t be adequately described through words. A guestlist of dreams included Katy B, Wretch 32, Sir Trevor McDonald joining the crowd, and the then young and still relatively unknown Kurupt FM crew even introduced Rodigan onto the stage.
But why was the energy so high? Crowds poured through the doors for one thing, and one thing only – the music. But what made it so special was some of the artists on stage had no idea how they would rise to become some of the most influential, successful artists from the UK. Reminiscent to a group of mates sparring and spitting over their favourite beats in their living room, the raw authenticity that emanated off the BBK stage was what made it so sick.
The night signified not only a sound clash that gave everyone present goosebumps, but also arguably the real springboard that launched the resurgence of UK Grime. Not just in corners of the UK, but across the pond too, and potentially inspired collabs and even drove Drake to become BBK’s biggest fan and trying to claim his London citizenship.
The legacy of Culture Clash was enshrined into the very blueprint of the UK culture circa 2015. The event sent shockwaves across the scene. This manifested in a younger, more naïve Stormzy delivering bars like “don’t make man go back to Culture Clash” in his track ‘Know Me From‘. The night was also a potential PR poster for Tottenham’s grime veteran Skepta, who in the same year provided perhaps the pinnacle of the Grime revival ‘That’s Not Me’ the punchy nostalgic 18-bit beat banger that laced “I used to wear Gucci put it all in the bin cause that’s not me” into everyone’s ears. The battle didn’t end in defeat for either BBK or A$AP Mob though. Skepta and ASAP Rocky joined forces in 2018 to pay homage to their respective hometowns in ‘Praise Tha Lord (Da Shine)’ video, which pictured Skep and A$AP’s day in the life in both London and New York.
The energy in the arena from the BBK stage that night gave everyone a sample of what was to be served to the UK. Perhaps Red Bull provided a stage that evening that was long overdue for the UK Grime scene. The once underground subculture birthed from a 140BPM beat, mic and a story to tell from the Capital was for a strong while after heard blasting out the speakers of most 16 year old boys as a household genre. Was Culture Clash to thank for this?