A DJ battle is a little like a Home Run Derby for people who hate sports. Pyrotechnical display, gratuitous spectacle, the ever-present myth of heroic, rugged individualism, crowds that tend to care more about statistical minutiae than is absolutely necessary or healthy—the parallels are boringly obvious.
So what to make of Seattle's first Opticlash, held this past Saturday, Aug. 20, at the Capitol Hill Arts Center? This wasn't a DJ battle—it was a VJ battle, which seems almost like a contradiction in terms. As someone who spent a couple years in a different city putting visuals on a nightclub screen—a job whose primary point was aiding and abetting the DJ, the dancers, and the light show—this seems like a task uniquely unsuited to competition. Anyone want to shell out for a Shortstop Derby?
Yet there was some measure—not a great deal, but some—of competitive tension during the battle itself, which took place on CHAC's upper level, with two large screens occupying the back wall and eight large tables with the VJs' equipment scuttled to and fro by Arts Center staff. You might even call it eventful. At least in the thick of action, accompanying music played by Nick Tornetta (first heat, generic-bore trance that picked up some toward the end), Kid Hops (second heat, dancehall, drum and bass, and hip-hop, quite good), and DJ Flave (final round, "freestyle mash-up," which apparently means a lot of "Now I'm spinning the record slowly with my finger! Now I'm spinning it very fast with my finger!" shenanigans), it seemed that way. It helped if, like me, you took notes along the way, notes along the lines of: "Round One, Heat Three. Porchlight Star, right screen: More abstract, like outtakes from early R.E.M. videos. Scobot, left screen: Overturning cars, boats crashing into windshields, trucks ramming a Subaru (?) off-road. Scobot has figured out the first principle of human nature: You can't keep your eyes off a car crash."
Scobot's eye for derring-do didn't make it to the second heat, though—the judges' panel apparently preferred their abstraction a bit more watercolor, which is one reason the final round ended up mirroring the competition described above. On the left: Killingfrenzy, a casual-suited, bespectacled gentleman with a floppy haircut who carried an ax with him all evening and kicked off the 30-minute end round by alternating an early-'70s movie with some dude carrying an ax around a small city block, pulsing multicolored heartbeat patterns, and footage of African dancers. On the right: Xiayu, who was more abstract overall and at one point was leaning on Wild Style so hard it began to resemble a crutch. Final champion: Killingfrenzy. I eagerly await a lighting-director contest.