Thursday, February 14, 2008

Breaking: Happy Valentine's Day

What yo man cannot do

Highlights from the show including the grande finale

Some really awesome breaking

Interview with the dancers

Artists: B-Boy C Nice (Leopard suit), B-Boy Architect (dreds) and B-Boy Most (helmet)
Medium: Break dance
Location: Union Square station L platform

Sometimes a major subway construction project is a good thing, at least for me and my artist pals. If the Brooklyn bound side is running every 15 minutes, and the 8th avenue bound side ain’t running at all then you’ve got plenty of time and a captive audience for any performance you might want to do. In this case I think things worked out particularly well. B-Boy Architect, B-Boy C Nice and B-Boy Most had a fun, interactive show which was almost perfectly timed to the train schedule.

Although I filmed twice and he was only there once, B-Boy Architect didn’t need a second run to make his skills apparent. A master of motion, Architect has refined his skills over years of practice. Growing up in the Bronxdale projects in the 70s, Architect got into dancing and art just as hip-hip was exploding around 1974-1977 and Architect embraced the movement with open arms. A dancer, skater and graffiti artist, Architect asserts: “I practice hip-hop culture.”

Architect has as strong connection to the roots of hip-hop and “in ’78-’79…when a lot of B-Boys came to the streets and started performing – which we called hittin’,” Architect came too. Breaking and performing was, for many, “a poor man’s meal ticket” and “[f]or a lot of brothers that didn’t have no money and couldn’t a lot of doors open for them, this is how they made their presence known.” Architect continues to make his presence known through his art. He says he continues to love dancing and performing because he can express himself without anyone setting boundaries and enjoys seeing peoples’ reactions. Architect actually prefers working in the street to gigs, explaining that because breakers are, by and large, poor, people who set up gigs always try to short change them. On the other hand, in the street you can work until you’ve got what you want.

C Nice
The showman of the group, Queens resident B-Boy C Nice is one part comedian, one part announcer and one part outrageous dancer. Decked out in his leopard print spandex C Nice is a dancer to be reckoned with, combining breaking techniques with acrobatics, tumbling and a fair amount of contortion. Seriously, if you’re just reading this and you haven’t watched the videos yet, go watch the videos. C Nice gets his amazing abilities from yoga, which he teaches when he’s not dancing.

C Nice has been breaking for about 4 years and says that if you want to be as good as him it takes “hard work and dedication.” But he also says that “the world evolves around energy, if you don’t have energy and positive people around you, the show cannot do.” As a result C Nice is always trying to pump up the crowd and get them laughing. Also as a result, he prefers to work outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air. His main reason for coming down into the subway is because “it’s cold outside.”

Most has known Architect and C Nice for years but only in the past few months have all of them been breaking together regularly. You may remember that Most was in a previous dance group on Concretebeat with Float Master John. Unfortunately, John was locked up but Most refuses to allow that to keep him from dancing. “I was dancing before I’m going to keep dancing.” Most describes the break dancing community as a big family. When John got locked up, he was able to hook up with Architect and C Nice and get back to work. “I’m cool, they’re cool, we just get together, it’s nothing big…it’s just like a big family.”

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tuba, trumpet, drums vocals - Jazz/Punk: The Stumblebums

The Stumblebums playing (double header)

The Stumblebums Playing (explicit language)

Interview with The Stumblebums
Artists: Jesse Wildcards (Tuba), Smidge Malone (Trumpet and vocals), Jonny Carwheels (drums and vocals)
Medium: Tuba, drums, vocals
Location: 2nd avenue station on the F line.

Let’s talk musical innovation and cutting edge. While we’re at it, let’s talk about the NY subway system because the two go hand in hand. As the Stumblebums Brass Band fusion of Jazz and Punk demonstrates, the openness of New York provides space for unique and new music to develop and be refined. Composed of three urbanites, I was fortunate enough to experience distinctive sound of this group.

There are two aspects of this music which really impress upon listeners. First is the use of traditional jazz and big band instruments such as the tuba and trumpet. The Stumblebums use the unmistakable and sonorous power of these instruments in an unconventional way to compliment the second defining feature if their music, the ferocity of their punk inspiration.

At the heart of the ferocity of their music is lead singer Smidge Malone. With a gravely voice you might expect from jazz singers like Louis Armstrong Smidge screams out intense lyrics over the competing tuba and drums, both of which offer no quarter. Furthermore, the visual contrast of his pin-stripe suit and tattooed face makes the contention between the power and timbre of his voice even more pronounced.

Smidge hails from Queens, NY and says he got into singing and trumpet by accident. When he was going to school in Brooklyn, he sat down in the trumpet section and he became a trumpeter. He then took up singing because “I needed compliment, I needed a backup and I didn’t have anyone to back me up so I had to back up myself…until I met these schmucks.” In any event, regardless of having backup or not, Smidge has been playing music since Jr. High School and has decided to make a career out of it. Which is what he likes most about the subways “it gets us work, you know?” Of course, he says, he’d rather play gigs since they pay more.

Jesse Wildcards also adds to the distinct sound of the Stumblebums with oft neglected sounds of the tuba. Jesse is also a native New Yorker, born in Manhattan and now living in the Bronx. Jesse picked up the tuba in Jr. High School and has stuck with it until now. Jesse is the one who helped define the band as a mixture of jazz and punk and added that one of his favorite things about developing this music is making people dance. Jesse also really enjoys playing in public for several reasons. First, of course “playin in the subway makes it possible for me to play music full time.” But on top of that, Jesse adds that the subway is a great place to rehearse because of the interaction with people. In fact, playing in the subway is where he met Smidge 7 years ago. “I prefer working on my music in the subway than working in my own apartment.”

Jonny Carwheels is the band’s drummer and brings his intense drumming and singing skills to the group’s unique dynamic. Jonny, who lays down the essential beat and tempo for the Stumblebums actually met Jesse at a gig where he was playing the accordion. After playing together in the street for a time, Jonny revealed that his main instrument was actually the drums and Jesse tried him out for the Stumblebums. Johnny has been playing drums for 12-13 years and says that the Stumblebumns are the “best music I’ve played for a while…I have a great time.”

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