Break Expectations

Vol. 9, No. 13 (Aug 30 – Sep 6, 2001)

How Jake Evans and other local street-dancers are turning Halifax on its head.

Break it up

Local street-dancers put a new spin on Halifax.

Break Expectations

Jake "Per-verse" Evans, brown hair peeking out from under his baseball cap, leads a group of track suit-wearing friends down to the wave near the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Evans previously used an old refrigerator box to battle friction, but now he and the Lokdown Crew mark their territory with a sheet of red linoleum fastened to a stage-like portion of the boardwalk with strips of red duct tape. Funkadelic’s "One Nation Under a Groove" starts to blast from the battery-powered CD player, and George Clinton’s cry of "Feet don’t fail me now" never sounded more apt. Soon, a crowd gathers as the crew members clap in unison. Eagerly, they groove on the sidelines, as each one takes a turn busting a move for the audience.

It’s Saturday, around 7pm, and Evans and his crew are passing the evening breakdancing, the way they do most Saturdays. The hip-hop dance form that emerged on street corners in Los Angeles in the late ’70s, and has been claimed by New York since the early ’80s, went mainstream in major films like Flashdance, Beat Street and the Breakin’ series. Not long after, it faded from view, even becoming a bit of a joke in suburbia.

But today, international competitions like the B-Boy Pro-Am in Miami, the B-Boy Summit in Los Angeles and Freestyle Sessions in Seattle, Houston and Chicago prove the dance has lasting power. Here in Halifax, breakdance competitions at the Khyber Club draw crowds, raves feature hip-hop and breakbeat DJs and school dances are battlegrounds for a new generation of breakers. Hip-hop fans here, as in other cities, are helping to keep the form from being tossed on the heap of forgotten fads. "It went underground. In Nova Scotia it was gone, dead," says Jake Evans. "People were probably embarrassed to do it. I tried to find original breakers. I know they’re out there. Probably laying tile somewhere."

Twenty-nine years old and working in corporate sales, Evans started watching videos in 1998 and imitating the originators. His interest in hip-hop stems from his school days. "A group of breakers came to my junior high and I was blown away," says Evans, now both a teacher (every Sunday evening at the Dal Studley building) and student (he recently returned from The Underground Dance Masters Training Camp in Los Angeles) of the art of street-dancing.

And he’s not the only one in town to keep the art alive. Armada, the SuperCity’s other main crew, featuring Dartmouth native Brendan "Kojak" Sutcliffe and Bathurst-born Christy "Kinder" Wade, splintered from Lokdown early on. They fuse Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, with their own style. "It all just kind of evolved," says Sutcliffe. "Certain people that you click with-a group of friends-you end up dancing with them. Every one of us has our own style. We are not built from any mould."

That individuality also appeals to Evans. "There’s your move, and then there’s what you do with it," says Evans. "How you make it your own style is really what hip-hop is supposed to be about. You can be pretty generic about it-like a technician-and have no feel, but for us it’s all about attitude." His crew may be playing with street gang imagery, but he says Lokdown Crew is "just like a sports team or a social group."

Like any sports team or social group, breakdancing crews try to find their place in the life of the city. "We were at the Marquee retro night every Wednesday, and after a few times, DJs would see us and expect us to be there and put aside five songs," says Evans. He hopes that kind of support will spring up in closer quarters. "Halifax is awesome for its hip-hop. I totally support local artists, although it hasn’t really come back to us yet. Hip-hop is supposed to be four elements, and it seems in this town, it’s only the MCs and DJs. The graffiti writers and the breakers are doing their own little thing on the side, but it’s not supposed to be like that."

Still, Evans says, interest in breakdancing is on the rise, from commercials for clothes to selling pop music. "It can get much bigger. When I first started, there may have been 20 people. I must have taught six or seven hundred people since I started teaching."

Later that night, at the Marquee, members of Lokdown, Armada and several free agents are around to check out a hip-hop show. In this environment, dancers have to be on their toes to deal with broken glass, cigarette butts and puddles of mystery liquid-not to mention strobe lights, rowdy crowds and overactive bouncers.

Sutcliffe and Wade are unstoppable forces on the floor tonight. Sutcliffe has lots of flavour when he dashes about in between flares, but has access to even more powerful moves. Wade, in her fully zipped up jacket and no-nonsense toque, combines crazy L-kicks with even crazier 360-degree crouching head-spins that would make a chiropractor cringe. It’s no surprise she competed at Miami’s Pro-Am last spring. "It was pretty intense," she says. "Anyone can go but once you get there, you have to make it through the preliminaries. Everybody in Miami was so full of style." She didn’t come home with a blue ribbon, but she did build her already strong repertoire.

On the surface, breakdancing looks like it’s all about strength, but it’s really about balance, flexibility and agility. The most important ingredient? Rhythm.

"Some people forget that music is involved," Evans says. "It helps to know your music. I can get the most obscure funk, disco song and bug out to it. With that, you have to know all the stops, all the horns."

"Originality-I think it is extremely important," emphasizes Sutcliffe. "It just goes with the music. Sometimes I think what’s my entrance move going to be and maybe I’ll have a grand finale move instead of going in and haphazardly moving around. Enter with a bang and leave with a bang. It punctuates the routine."

Of course, there are always people who come out to see flashy power moves. Sutcliffe is often asked if he can do the worm. He replies almost without thought, "Yes, I can, but I don’t." Evans reports similar experiences. "Yes, I can do a windmill. But no, I’m not showing you. It’s like running before you can walk. A continuous windmill or head-spin is impressive, but there’s very little rhythm in it. Keep it in the context of the dance."

Back at the wave, Brian "Hednsholdas" Sanchez, one of the first inductees into the crew, wears a green Lokdown shirt with shorts and kneepads as he practices what looks like ultra-fast yoga moves on his head. Before long, his face takes on the same tint of red as the mat. Adam "B-boy Stylez" Reddick, looking the part with his afro, white head band, tank top and black Puma pants, spins around and around on the ground and then across the ground on his hands. Kim "Check-It" McKenzie, whose quiet demeanour could be mistaken for shyness, is the lone female member of Lokdown. When it’s her turn to hit the floor, her deliberate hand movements and intricate footwork emphasize the art. John "B-boy Rock-it" Strugnell, the youngest at 17, wears a mesh LDC hat half-cocked to the side. Although he’s slight of frame, he is forceful enough to skip the CD when he ends a routine of summersaults with a suicide-dropping suddenly to the ground and landing flat on his back. Kyle "K-Low" McMullin, with wide laces and goatee, is a top rocker, which means his arms and legs snap to the music gracefully in all directions. He places his brown hat between crew and crowd, and tips pour in.

The street lamps gradually replace the sunlight. Jake mentions plans for the crew to appear in Trailer Park Boys (which explains his choice to "rock the mullet"), and that the crew will be packing the linoleum to New Brunswick for a battle with friendly rivals NDE (Near Death Experience). On this day, The Lokdown Crew is joined by b-boy Roger "Unique" Sparks from Dartmouth. He’s a link to an older school, having retired from breakin’ a year before Evans even began. Sparks is now getting back in the game, and looks to the first wave of breakdancers, like legendary pioneer Ken Swift, for inspiration. "You gotta know what the history is about," says Sparks, "When you see where it came from you will have a understanding of what’s going on." *

You can find Lokdown Crew on the waterfront near the wave most Saturdays starting around 7pm. Breakdancing classes are Sunday afternoons at Dalhousie. Armada can often be found busting a move at the Khyber on Wednesday nights.

There are many styles of street dancing, but locking, popping and breaking are the three main categories. Locking is when you freeze a particular pose, with exaggerated arm movements. Popping has to do with isolating muscles, a series of arm movements that are at once fluid and jerky, caused by contracting muscles to the beat. Electric boogaloo is a form of hip-gyrating popping, that turns a regular person into a cartoon character. Breaking, the term bastardized by the media, is actually uprocking, footwork, power moves and freezes. Moves can go from basic old-school soul dances to jaw-dropping acrobatic feats. -IKM

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Copyright or Copywrong: The subtle but important distinction between downloading and freeloading

Will MP3 kill the video star?

Confessions of a music junkie, or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the Napster.

The Coast: Napster

It wasn’t so long ago that I used to tape songs off the radio, from friends and even from TV. I was part of the underground conspiracy of song sharing and the music industry believed that my actions were taking money out of the hands of retailers, record companies and artists. As a wave of warning labels began to proclaim that "Home taping kills music," I wondered if I really was the problem or if my defiance was actually feeding the flames of a developing passion for music.

A couple of decades later, the paranoia of the music industry has returned. The technological advancement spurring this panic is a simple computer application called Napster, which allows users to share, copy and reproduce sound files freely on the Internet. Napster and its community of users are the latest threat to the music industry status quo-a status quo challenged in the past by printed music, phonographs, radio broadcasting, cassettes, DAT and mini-discs. What’s different this time is that the threat blurs the lines of traditional promotion and distribution by facilitating copyright infringement.

Even though the media, the labels and some artists themselves-Metallica, for instance-cry that Napster signals the beginning of the end for music as we know it, Napster, and applications like it, may be the very thing that can save and streamline the music industry by educating listeners and empowering artists. Industry fears aside, Napster is just another way for fans to hear music. Perhaps what scares and angers record labels the most is that they didn’t think of it first.

My early passion for pop singles quickly evolved into buying full-length recordings in the ’80s, either on cassette or vinyl. Vinyl had warm analogue sound and rich artistic covers while cassettes-and cassette players-were portable. Both formats were successful even though their quality degraded with each use, which I hoped had more to do with the limitations of materials than with planned obsolescence. Even though I could hear popular songs around me for free on the radio, in videos or standing in line at the store, I didn’t let that devalue the work of artists I wanted to hear by refusing to buy music. Once I did take the plunge and purchase an album, there was no turning back. It was the closest thing to gambling and drugs a kid could legally partake in. Good music was pure ecstasy but since there was no guarantee all the tracks would be great-I couldn’t return an album the way I could a sucky stereo or Walkman-sometimes I’d be left with a bad taste in my mouth and a worse record in my collection.

The music industry thought it had trumped home taping through the introduction of the compact disc. The new format was marketed as a convenient way to listen to high-quality music in a futuristic shiny package, and it appeared the industry had found a way to foil pirates, since digital technology was expensive and out of reach to the general public. CDs were a way to keep a tight reign on the means of production and at the same time create a demand-music-lovers rushed to re-purchase their old favourites in the new format. I did so with a big fat smile because I was in no position to challenge the price of CDs-I didn’t know then that it costs less to press one disc than to manufacture a single cassette tape.

And that’s the paradox at the heart of the current debate. Music is at once abstract and concrete-abstract in that it is one of the more ethereal, intangible art forms. You can’t possess a song the way you can a painting. You can only possess a recording of a song. Music’s abstract nature means it will endure any socio-economic turbulence. Its concrete nature-the physical reproductions of songs from which the music industry makes the bulk of its money-is the foundation of the risky business model for record companies that must find new ways to make up for lost returns and unsuccessful artists. The system needs to maximize control of artists’ work in order to succeed. In fact, more music is being lost to corporate mergers than could ever be endangered by something like Napster. When one label is engulfed by another label, projects in production and albums in the can enter a release limbo that hinges on the new company’s desire to distribute and promote both the recording and the actual artist. Such mergers have cut loose artists like Ron Sexsmith, who found himself without a home when Universal took over Interscope Records, and left work by bands like Whiskeytown mouldering on the shelf two years after it was recorded.

But the music industry isn’t the only source of technological innovation, and therein lies its problem. Several years ago, a German institute patented the MP3 (Moving Picture Experts Group-Audio Layer 3) format, a process of compressing high-quality audio files down to about one-tenth the regular size with only a slight loss in sound quality. That’s nerd talk for making an electronic audio file small enough to be portable on the Internet but still sound good. You can store these files on your computer’s hard drive, a recordable CD, your MP3-playing Walkman or wherever else you store digital information.

MP3 compression allowed software developers to create programs that could encode, decode and play music on their computers-for free. User-friendliness combined with the increasing accessibility of CD burners and the growth of the Internet were all the ingredients necessary to spark one heck of a market trend.

That’s not all that was sparked, though. MP3 technology has simplified the music-sharing process while complicating the music industry and bringing its attendant copyright concerns to the fore. The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada has already implemented a tariff structure for the public broadcast of copyright-protected work. SOCAN also plans to charge Internet Service Providers in order to recover lost royalties through Internet music broadcasting, the same way it charges radio stations. The Canadian Private Copying Collective has placed a levy on every recordable CD sold in Canada, regardless of its intended use, just the way blank audio cassettes were levied. This time, though, graphic artists, writers, network administrators, software pirates and even struggling musicians are supporting the music industry each time they buy blank CDs. So every time my computer crashes during a burn and I end up making a metallic coaster, I am directly supporting the Canadian music industry.

Love it or hate it, file sharing is an inherent byproduct of networked computers and e-mail, instant messaging, Web sites and so on. They all operate by downloading and uploading text, images and other multimedia features that can cause the same copyright injury and insult to intellectual property Napster is accused of perpetrating.

This is just like tape trading but on a much grander and more efficient scale. MP3 trading was able to flourish on an open system of digital audio in much the same way music played at private parties and songs sung at campfires have spread the words and melodies of artists without direct compensation. The industry can’t control how people use, interpret, mimic or remember recorded music and oral traditions unless it adopts a closed, encrypted system.

The Internet has been heralded as the death of everything from common decency to books-in fact, it has already proven itself a tool for disseminating etiquette tips and selling and promoting books. The increasing popularity of the Internet in the mid-’90s gave me access to out-of-print 7-inch records through auctions, bootleg CD and mix-tape trades through newsgroups, and the ability to log into an on-line record store with a credit card number in hand. Import CDs that would take months to arrive when I ordered them from the local bricks-and-mortar record store were now delivered to my door in record time.

These new options augmented my regular shopping habits, rather than replacing them. I became a more fine-tuned music consumer, provided I kept my Internet connection and computer upgraded. I was willing to open the flood gates to a tremendous opportunity for cost-effective, one-to-one marketing techniques that would have been impractical in the old system of focus groups, mail surveys and fickle radio exposure. Music fans like myself could quickly and easily discover new styles and brands of music from all around the world and keep in closer contact with other fans, artists, record companies and media outlets. Just as Canada Post held its breath in the face of large scale e-mail usage, but didn’t anticipate the demand on shipping that came along with e-commerce, so the music industry bemoans the advent of music-sharing applications but neglects to see the possibility for expansion it brings with it.

In the constant tug of war over taste, ownership and profit margins, Napster upsets the balance and lets the fan-who doesn’t have a large lobby or industry watch-dog looking over their shoulder-sample, listen and then decide where and when they will plunk their money down. Napster is just the killer application of the moment for peer-to-peer MP3 sharing. There are many more shit-disturbers like Shawn Fanning (Napster’s founder) pulling all-nighters in their college dorms thinking of ways around the new legal and technical roadblocks in their path (see Aimster, Audiogalaxy, BearShare, Gnutella, iMesh, LimeWire or Napigator for starters) because fans want to find ways to exchange music with each other. The industry will be forced to keep reacting if it doesn’t soon become a proactive force in linking fans and artists using the most convenient ways.

Sure, Napster is fueled by the music fan’s desire for free, accessible music, but it is actually derivative of an even loftier idea. Hotline Connect is a no-holds-barred file trading program created in 1996 as a way to tap into the unrealized potential of real-time interactive communication in a limitless manner-users could trade anything from essays on copyright infringement to kiddie porn. Creating the world’s largest, most comprehensive music library by linking together music traders is just a drop in the bucket compared to the completely open exchange of ideas on Hotline. Though it’s mostly illegal under current copyright laws, Napster actually looks like the Mayor of Simpletown compared to Hotline’s anarchistic Master of Puppets.

Another difference is that Napster is quickly becoming a model for the music industry to cash in on the downloading fever. As soon as Napster begins asking for a fee from users, it could either cause its users to flee to the competition or help the system evolve into a profitable business that can compensate artists, plus link with retailers, record companies and artists in ways people have never imagined.

So it’s no surprise that Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG, which is one of the five major record labels and also a financial backer of retailer CDNow.com) chose to partner with Napster to develop a subscription-based service by summer. This system, which takes its cue from grassroots models in the computer industry like shareware and the open source movement, does not mix well with traditional notions of music promotion and copyright control. If the rest of the industry were to hold off on prosecuting Napster and persecuting downloading fans, it could expand its perspective-that is, it would, in the grand tradition of the unwieldy behemoth that is the music industry, be able to co-opt a few fresh ideas. These it could add to its stable of promotional and business tools, among them sponsorship, licensing to advertisers and long-term exclusive contracting of artists.

But the remaining major record labels will probably not embrace Napster, because it levels the playing field and forces them to rub shoulders with the independents. There is no advantage for a large corporation to support a system that makes Ricky Martin as accessible as Mike O’Neill-especially when the large corporation can start its own system under its own rules and terms (Universal and Sony Music have plans to launch "Duet" this year and no doubt Warner Music, or AOL Time Warner, has something up its sleeve). Napster’s success has been driven by its users and the tremendous amount of press, mostly negative, it has endured over the last year-that kind of exposure is difficult to record over, even with the help of the court. The law alone cannot reverse the paradigm shift registered Napster users and countless music fans have experienced since they started using the ‘Net to listen to, research and buy music.

Napster will not kill the music industry any more than home taping did. At best, it can only alter it, because the music industry will not roll over and play dead. The traditional solution would be a format change that will render your current CD player as useless as an 8-track. In fact, BMG, EMI and Universal have recently announced plans to support a digital storage format called Dataplay (www.dataplay.com), and its success will depend on how sexy it can be made in the short-sighted eyes of the consumer.

Information has to be free-or at least dirt cheap-to reach the greatest number of people possible. And just because something is free doesn’t mean people are going to find it, use it, abuse it or even like it. It has to be free in order to make the initial connection an enjoyable one, and if that feeling is nurtured it becomes easier to find ways to exchange money for a product or a service based on the original familiarity, trust and ultimately added values. Thanks to the Internet, music is the information that now wants to be free. Every time a music fan logs on, an artist or label has a chance to develop a fan base and encourage people to buy music, videos, DVDs and fashion. Downloaders should not be viewed as freeloaders but rather as potential customers with valuable demographic information and disposable income to spend.

The artists who embrace the flexibility of information technology can still shoot to the top of the charts by encouraging their fans to tape shows or by injecting a first single into the Napster system, like the Dave Matthews Band did. If you’re an artist and millions of people are downloading your songs, that’s a good problem to have. Those downloaders turn into record-buyers, concert-goers, song-requesters and video-watchers. If you are an artist and you think you can sell lots of records without people hearing your music, you better have one hell of a good gimmick or look great in a thong.

With the Internet, competition should be getting stronger, but the SoundScan charts still reflect a homogeneous list of hit-makers from city to city. The death of the CD-single is much talked about in music circles these days, but the success of singles-compilation albums like Big Shiny Tunes, Oh What A Feeling and 2001 Grammy Pop Nominees indicates the single is still very much alive. It may be impossible to challenge the major labels’ marketing networks and media connections that dictate buying patterns and influence radio programming across the planet, but at least we can say we had some fun while the dream lasted. Welcome to the grey new world of killing the music industry.

From The Coast, March 15 – 22, 2001, Volume 8 Number 39 (#290)

Review: The Needfire (Toronto)

The Royal Alexandra Theatre in downtown Toronto is home to the second incarnation of “The Needfire,” a Celtic blend of songs and stories that is designed to pull on the heart strings of the many expatriate maritimers, curious Ontarians, and nearby tourists that get their hands on a ticket. The mix of Irish dance, highland fling, Ottawa valley step dance, and some down home square sets will have your feet itching to glide across the floor as the numerous dancers make it all look and feel so natural. Comparisons to the watershed of “Riverdance” should be checked at the door, as this performance piece is grounded in the world of theatre and not simply a vehicle for music and dance.Joe Dincol plays Ben, a young wanderer who stumbles upon an eccentric fisher named John Michael, played by former-Papa Denny Doherty. The old man shares anecdotes hinged on Canada’s Celtic heritage while the young boy learns about the roots of community. The actual legend of the Needfire revolves around the transfer of flaming embers from a communal fire to the many personal fireplaces throughout the village. It is said to be a symbol of tradition, memory, continuity, and renewal…all important characteristics of growing up on the East Coast.

For starters, Mirvish productions has more than made up for the lack of lasers in Celtic Music over the last several hundred years. It was the theatrics that made this form of entertainment a very new experience and made me realize that different perspectives of Culture, that I may not be familiar with, can interpret and present the music of ‘home’ with several interesting twists. While I initially cringe at the disney-ified forms of kilted music (that could be better exemplified in the town halls, churches and community festivals throughout Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and PEI), I think that this show could potentially open people up to the source. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy myself. I just think I found the structure a little to rigid throughout and I am sure I was laughing at times when my blue haired neighbours were busy scratching their heads.

Musically, all the performers are top notch. It is a great showcase of some of the best talent we have to offer. From Con O’Brien, of the Irish Descendants, leading the crowd through “Barrett’s Privateers” and Mary Jane Lamond softly rendering “E Horo” to a captivated audience. Laura Smith gives it her all on “My Bonny” in a performance that will leave you weak in the knees and Sandy MacIntrye sets the tone with a traditional set of strathspeys and reels. Fine Newfoundland singer/songwriter Jim Fidler will surely win you over with the “Rhythm of the Goat” and John Allan Cameron will have you reaching for a refill before it starts “Getting Dark Again.” Slainte Mhath drive the “Jigs” and former world champion pipers The Campbell Brothers brings things to a climax with their duel chanters and drones.

The ingredients are all splendid…like fine cheese, fresh pasta, and rich cream. The problem with “The Needfire” comes in the presentation and packaging. We are given Kraft Dinner instead of a [insert your favourite Italian dish here]. Nothing wrong with Kraft Dinner, just with ticket prices ranging from $26.50 to $76.50, you will end up eating a pant load and not really be that satisfied.

With the show coming to a halt on February 12th, I am sure there will be many satisfied customers that will have curled up next to “The Needfire” and take off to that magical place down memory lane. I guess I just have the luxury of saying it ain’t nothing like the real thing. A multi-million dollar extravaganza like this would not fly at home, but is sure to be scooped up and appreciated by a much larger American market and palette.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Higher if you order music over the tv and lower if you have been to Glenco

Posted to Cape Breton Music Online