"THE HIP HOP WON'T STOP" FACE MAGAZINE MAY 1984
Trevor Birch is a B-Boy. That's 'B' for Bad, Beautiful, Black, Breaking, the Bronx. But in Trevor's case, 'B' for British. He couldn't teIl you which subway line leads to the New York borough north of the Harlem river that has given him, at 18 in East London, an activity, an identity. But he has heard the records, seen the look, knows the moves. He practises them up to four hours a day, during lunch breaks at the Community Project where he works with his old school-friend Gengiz Ozkadi painting murals, and later in the evening in the bedroom at Ozkadi's council home. To records like Newcleus' " Jam On It" and "One For The Treble" by Davy DMX, taped from Radio Invicta on Sunday nights because they can't afford to buy the records - thus pirating the pirates - they rehearse the flamboyant gestures of a satellite subculture, dancing a zany improvisation on the micro-electronic pulse of the age. And every Friday night they travel six miles to the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town.
Both wear yellow peak caps and identical red and blue Adidas jogging suits over. ..it's impossible to say over what, because they never take them off, never even unzip their anoraks. Oblivious to the writhing bodies around them, they stand facing each other on the crowded dance floor, waiting for the mutant crack of the Linn Drum, the signal that galvanises them into tense, jerky spasms, swapped back and forth like a balI of invisible voltage. "We like doing it," says Trevor. "We don't do it for money. It keeps us from doing something stupid."
He picked it up three years ago from his elder brother, when it was called Robot Dancing. At the Tidal Basin club near his home, he kept abreast of the dance style that evolved into Body-Popping and Break-Dancing. He has never been to Covent Garden, where at times late last summer it seemed there were more Break Dance Crews than tourists to fund them. He and Ozkadi call their crew Technical Poppers, and they like to keep their moves up their sleeves. Once, at the Kensington club in East Ham, Trevor made the error of showing off his best style. "So many people took my moves that I had to go home and startall over again! "
Competition is fierce, reputations are waiting to be made and lost, The threat of 'Pirates' or 'Biters' - people stealing your moves - is always present. The Technical Poppers, who never make their best moves at the Ballroom, have eight or so friends locally with other crews. "They're looking for a challenge, but I don't think we’ll oblige them." Right now, their main concern is track suits: Hummel red and blue track suits with diagonal white stripes that they've seen in a local sports shop.
Trevor asks if I know of any clubs that want to promote a crew in return for the price of two Hummel track suits. They've got to have those suits. In two weeks' time there is the third heat of the All-London Independent And Team Body-Popping, Cracking And Break-Dancing Championship. The Technical Poppers reckon they have a good chance: "We've seen everybody else's moves, but they ain't seen ours!" But first they need those suits. "You ought to have a flick book to explain it," says Robert Henry, a 22-year-old DJ and promoter who has been involved in organising the championship. " Popping by pros is a violent manoeuvre of the muscles. What they say is: you get tight, and you pop! "
He clenches the muscles on his arm and releases them suddenly. "Cracking - that's a manoeuvre of the joints, like when your elbow or shoulder cracks." This time his arm snaps at the joints, as though a knot were passing along from one to the next and across the chest. " And Breaking is where you are more likely to be horizontal than vertical!" But there is no room to demonstrate the startling acrobatics that arose in the eight-bar rhythm breaks characteristic of late Seventies soul and funk discs.
No doubt about it though, this is the biggest dance craze to hit the UK since Robotics. "So many teams have come out of the woodwork," enthuses Robert. "We always knew the UK had the same creative power as the Americans." The first heats were held at a club near Brick Lane in East London. "We wanted to put the show on where Body-Popping came from. It's like a concrete jungle around there; it's the nearest thing to the ghetto." Teams and individuals came from all over; Battersea, Catford, Dagenham, Balham, Leyton, Tottenham -" Any run-down area in London." Robert has a theory: "It's caught on because it's such a radical form. It's expressive. AIl you need is the music and a street-corner, and you can get away from the pressures."
His theory isn't new but it fits. And it goes turther. Young Blacks in Britain who might five years ago have looked to reggae, with its potent figurehead of the late Bob Marley, for the trappings of cultural identity, now turn to the Bronx, to the Beat-Box and the Ghetto-Blaster.
A style imported in the grooves of "Planet Rock" by the Soul Sonic Force in 1982, glimpsed on the taddish videos of mainstream pop and soul acts, a tough, city-spawned seed, has taken root on England's pavements. It has been nourished by the burgeoning electronic beat, rapid and solid, fast and frantic like the Swarmers on the third wave of Defender. It finds its spirit in raps like "Gettin' Money" by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. "Everything is funny when you're gettin' money," they chant, adding a sardonic "Ha-Ha Ha!"
It has its fast-moving entrepreneurs in people like Morgan Kahn of Streetwave Records who, like Chris Blackwell with Island Records' ska and soul releases in the Sixties, is making this new sound accessible with his best-selling "Electro" compilation albums. It is sustained by DJs like Herbie of the Mastermind roadshow, who mixes the "Electro" albums for Streetwave and who, along with Paul Anderson of Trouble Funk, can be guaranteed to draw the crews. It has even had its popular successes, if sometimes fake (Break Machine's recent "Street Dance") or trite (the Rock Steady Crew's hit last vear). And it has an audience hungry for information.
Trevor Birch missed the New Vork rap movie Wild Style when it came out, but when the Rock Steady Crew performed at an electronics fair in Olympia last vear, the Technical Poppers were there. They weren't the only ones. The hall was full of Biters, who must have been disappointed. "Their Breakin' was alright but their Poppin' was dry." In a suburban semi in Wood Green belonging to their manager's parents, the Soul Sonic Rockers are gathered watching a video of their heroes, an American crew named Dynamic Rockers. "That's wicked, man!" "His body's like rubber. ... ." "Murder! "
On the video, a frazzled, black and white copy of a copy, one of the Dynamic Rockers is doing a Windmill folIowed by a Headspin. "That's my move, says Eddie. "That's one of the hardest moves! The Dynamic Rocker comes out of the Headspin, flipping upright into a pose, legs and arms intertwined. All Breakers gotta have a pose, " laughs Eddie. And all Breakers must have a nickname too. The nicknames of the Soul Sonic Rockers are Virgo (Eddie, aged 19), Cream Cracker (Bec, 18), Sleepy Legs (Mussy, 18), Back Flip (Sonay, 16), Crazy Kid (Ozzie, 18) and Exterminator (Mus, 16). Nineteen-year-old Andrew's nickname is Chisel, because he sculpts the Soul Sonic Mixes they dance to, buying two or three US import singles a week with his dole money, and taking eight hours to mix a 45-minute tape with techniques culled from seeing scratching on TV and watching Herbie mix with the Mastermind roadshow.
Eddie and Sec, the two leaders of the crew, met at work in 1982 and formed what was then called the Breakers Crew. Outfitted in Tiger anoraks – "because," says Sec, "all the other crews were wearing Adidas and we wanted something unusual. The Breakers Crew, which soon grew to comprise several of Bec's Turkish friends, began going to discos like Bananas, Buzby's, the Pink Elephant and the local Nightingale. By last summer, they were Breaking every weekend in Wood Green shopping Mall or the West End. "First time we went out, we got challenged," Bec recalls. A challenge works like this: "If we do fifteen Headspins and they do ten, they gotta walk away! " Simple.
They quickly absorbed the language of Hip-Hop: Back Spin, Head Spin, Helicopter (spinning on the shoulders), One-hand Glider (spinning on one hand), Body Slam (falling on the back), Scorpion (walking on the hands), Crab (it helps if you're double-jointed), Waving, Cracking, Popping. Jeffrey Daniel is the first person they can recall doing Robotics with a hint of Popping when Shalamar appeared on Top Of The Pops in 1980 and '81. And they admire the Dynamic Rockers because "they don't Pop, they Smurf and Break". There's an English way of spinning that used to get laughed at in America, they explain, because it was slower, American Poppers use their hands and feet simultaneously so it's harder to copy.
Towards the end of last year, their parents started telling them off for dancing in the streets. Just then, as luck would have it, Ozzie's elder brother saw them and offered to be their manager. They changed their name to Soul Sonic Rockers, after Soul Sonic Force and Dynamic Rockers. Now they have bookings at Hombres and Studio Valbonne, a Thursday night residency coming up at the Royal Rooms in Edmonton, and their parents are happy. What about their girlfriends? "They like it, man. They like the funny moves!" Mus gets up to demonstrate, Popping his hips in a curious square motion. "But they can't do it. Good thing. Guys hurt themselves enough! "
Nowadays, when people ask them to demonstrate a move, they decline. There are too many Biters around. "We learnt rough, really," muses Eddie, "off the streets. That's where it comes from: The best place for anyone to learn is on the streets. You gotta have all the people around you. Not at home by yourself." As befits their emerging status, they all now have new red and yellow track suits; but, since that status is not yet assured, the same old Hi-Tec and Mitre trainers. "It doesn't matter what trainers you use", says Mus. "But you gotta have them. It shows you're a Breaker, you got the style"
Like their Puerto Rican counterparts in New Vork, Algerians and Africans in Paris, the sons of Germany's 'Guest Workers' in Berlin, they have the style. An intemational style that suits any urban backdrop; fast and madcap like a video game, loose and light like the clothes, portable as a ghetto-blaster, plugged into the digital rhythm. They are the technological primitives, the Future Tribe. And, as Man Parrish predicted in 1982, they don't stop.
Along with crews like Klymax, Phase 2, The Kleer Crew and Phinx, the Soul Sonic Rockers have come through to the semi-final of the All london Body-Popping, Cracking and Break-Dancing Championship. In the individual stakes, Horace Mills, Ricky Facey from Plaistow, a white teenager named Brian Webster who impressed everybody, and the well-known Soul Boy are all in the contest - which, incidentally, has as its mascot the '1994 Breaking Champ', a seven-year-old called Luke Skywalker.
At the finals in August at the Lyceum Ballroom, they will be competing for prize money of £2.500 - and the chance to emulate the professional success of crews like Zulu Rockers and Sidewalk, the first team to come out of the UK. If the Technical Poppers win. Trevor Birch wants to use the money to go to New York, where it all started. "I know they're not all that good but I wanna find out." he says generously. "lf I go somewhere where the action is good - clubs open all night - I know I'll get better quicker." In the window of a sportswear shop in Canning Town is a red, blue and white Hummel track suit, the only thing standing between him and the biggest break of all.
Face Magazine, 1984 . COPYRIGHT © FACE MAGAZINE
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