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Arts & Culture
This article was excerpted from Tapestry, a weekly newsletter that examines the arts and entertainment world in Charlotte and North Carolina.

CLT DJ Battle Shows 'Charlotte's A Music City That Doesn't Know It'

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CLT DJ Battle
DOMii spins records at the 2019 CLT DJ Battle at Dupp & Swat in Camp North End.

One day, Charles Sledge II hopes he can look back on this time and think of how he started something big in Charlotte. Something that helped the city find its identity and discover the talent within his underappreciated community.

Sledge is better known as DJ Sir Charles, and last year he partnered with David “Dae-Lee” Arrington to begin the CLT DJ Battle. Year 2 continues Saturday at 7 p.m., with a free virtual finals battle.

And maybe – just maybe – it’s the start of really putting Charlotte DJs on the map.

“I would hope that you could look at CLT DJ Battle 10 years from now and just see Charlotte’s legacy,” Sir Charles said. “You know, like DJ after DJ. How New York has Kool Herc and Kid Capri and Philly has their DJs, and LA has their DJs, Miami has their DJs. I feel like Charlotte could have a space for our DJs.

“I think Charlotte's a music city that doesn't know it. We get credit for banking and things, but we don't get credit for our talents.”

More than a year ago, Arrington was approached about finding a way to highlight the music community in Charlotte “to bridge divides.” Even though he’s not a DJ and has no experience with the form of performance, Arrington does have a resume as a music producer and recording artist.

A DJ battle seemed like a way to both fill a void in Charlotte and bring people together.

“It was my way to leverage the power of music and bring DJs from, if you want to say, the four corners of Charlotte together,” Arrington said. “As well as bringing their audience and fans for the sake of enjoying an experience together. Which provides opportunity for them to be exposed to other facets of the city that they could hopefully, potentially love -- but just because of the way we exist in silos, otherwise would not have the opportunity to.”

Four finalists were selected by judges to compete in a party rockin’ style battle at Dupp & Swat in Camp North End. The place was packed, with the crowd spilling out from the open garage door, and DOMii was crowned the champion based on fan support.

This year, like everything else in the world, the battle went virtual because of the coronavirus.

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Zoom participants watch the CLT DJ Battle semifinals last month, commenting on what they hear.

An open call for DJ submissions was whittled down to the top four among fan votes on the CLT DJ Battle website. Judges selected another four to create a semifinal group of eight DJs.

The four head-to-head semifinal battles were recorded and broadcast via Zoom a month ago, with judges selecting the finalist from that pool -- based in large part on crowd reaction.

Six DJs now remain for the finals, including last year's winner, DOMii.

“I mean, cheering, of course isn't the best via Zoom, but we're going to be utilizing chat to gauge the audience interaction, as well as hopefully visually for those who turn on their camera,” Arrington said.

Sir Charles is one of the judges, and he says he’ll be looking at not only crowd engagement, but song selection and DJ style – that includes how DJs use their equipment and their showmanship.

“This year was a little difficult with the battle because we prerecorded it and filmed it,” Sir Charles said. “But you had to own that showmanship and that engagement. You had to kind of imagine that engagement.”
 

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CLT DJ Battle semifinalists perform virtually.

Finalists include everyone from 17-year-old DJ Do All to a surprising star, DJ Bezzie Beats. Others include: DJ Rob1Der, FIJIBOI DLO and DJ Raquest. The winner will be awarded up to $1,000 in cash and prizes, and the coveted title of CLT DJ Battle Champion.

But more importantly, Sir Charles hopes the event will bring together DJs from across the city so that they can learn from each other, collaborate and boost the art form. DJing is a pricey profession, Sir Charles said, with average equipment costs ranging from $7,000-10,000. DJs who connect in person can share and loan equipment to make it easier for everyone.

“We need more of that DJ community and more of a music group community in general, that's just more support,” said Sir Charles, who has spun records at big events like Charlotte Hornets games and even venues like Belk department stores.

“You have a lot of great talent in Charlotte. We want to just keep saying we have a space. We don't want to stop at the CLT DJ Battle. We want to create other spaces wherever we can just say, ‘Hey, come here; perform here.’ You know, put your talents on display.”

And maybe the CLT DJ Battle can be the start of developing all that.

This story originally appeared in WFAE's weekly arts and entertainment email newsletter, Tapestry. Subscribe here