10 Oct 2018 12:33
Photo: Ian Walton for OIS/IOC
In most sports involving music - think figure skating or gymnastics - the athletes know every note by heart, with routines perfectly choreographed for each moment. In breaking, it is all about spontaneity. Rooted in the culture of hip-hop, the DJ and the dancer are equally important. Breakers do not know what beats they will be moving to, and there is a back-and-forth between the two that produces a unique chemistry.
That means the person spinning vinyl on the turntables is a hugely important part of a breaker’s success. Luckily, at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, they have got two of the best hip-hop music maestros in the world to keep things authentic: Lino Delgado, aka DJ Lean Rock, and Steve Fleg, aka DJ Fleg. “We both started out as dancers, so we understand the energy and components of what they want,” said Fleg, 32, from Baltimore, Maryland. “I can feel ‘this would be good’, because I’d want to dance to it myself.
“There’s a basic formula, but the dancers don’t know what is coming up. You try to present them with something that can dazzle and surprise them, just as they’re trying to dazzle you with some new moves. And you’ve got to be able to mix the old and the new, music wise.”
The DJs stick to the formula that was invented by the ‘father of hip-hop’: Clive Campbell, aka Kool Herc, from the Bronx, New York. At those original parties, Herc noticed that the ‘break’ section of a record, where the vocals stop, produced a rhythm perfect for dance.
He would therefore purchase two copies of the same record and play them alongside each other on separate turntables - prolonging the beat. This gave breakers the perfect platform to do their thing.
“This is the foundation, how it all started,” said Fleg, gesturing to his set-up. “The origin of hip-hop and breaking are all the same. The pioneers found those parts of records where it is just drums, because that’s where the dancers would go the craziest. It would go off. We use the original method of looping the break. We are practising an art.”
For breaking battles, the DJs generally play records at 110-125 beats per minute, and the types of groove also pay respect to the masters of funk. “Imagine a James Brown song, and the funkiness of the drums,” said Fleg. “What we are doing is more or less based on that, the funky type of groove.
“Lots of hip-hop is based on slowed-down James Brown. It’s great to dance to, but to keep it interesting, we have to throw in variations. The buzz comes when you get a new combo that works together nicely.
“The breakers are experimenting with moves, and we want to see their new moves. It’s an evolution, so we have to hold ourselves to the same standard.”
There has been something of a modern twist on the old school, however. “We also mix with laptops now,” said Fleg. “Instead of having to carry five crates of records on the plane to Argentina, we have the crates inside the computer. The interface translates with what you’re doing with the vinyl.”
Fleg DJs professionally around the world, as well as working as a producer. He is fully in favour of the latest step forward for his art form, into the Olympic world. “I think it’s super cool to have it in the Games,” he said. “You’re being legitimised and getting exposure through an organisation that everyone knows.
“To a degree, Breaking is a sport, but we also want people to get interested and delve into the cultural element of it. We can’t lose sight of where it started,” and added: “This all came from people who had nothing in the Bronx. The reason they created it was because they couldn’t afford sports equipment or expensive things.”
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“I’m hoping some people will get pulled into Breaking from this. Then they can enjoy their local scene, the camaraderie of this world, and become influential themselves.”