Balans, London, April 2019
Ivan was born and raised in Peckham and began his career training at The Place. He started working on music videos with Dizzee Rascal and Neneh Cherry alongside adverts with Adidas, Reebok and Samsung; after a successful commercial career, he went on to create his own work and co-founded BirdGang. This led to the creation of the critically acclaimed production A Harlem Dream at The Young Vic. Most recently he has focused primarily on being an independent artist and creating work via his alter ego SWNSNG.
IA: Can we start with your change in career? How is that affecting you and what is it you’re doing now?
IB: Yeah. Since 2015 I’ve decided to take a different direction in my artistic career...so I decided to create an event that can touch people who are outside the dance community. I’m trying to find platforms and funding - especially outside of the world of art - you know, so I’ve been building that event for four years now; it’s called CRXSS PLATFXRM. Basically it’s new directions and new approaches in street culture...we’re really interested in showing a different lens in street culture. I’ve been working with a producer called Georgina Harper and it’s kind of just growing. Within my artistic dance voice I rebranded myself as SWNSNG and I’ve been building a project called Traplord of the Flyz since 2015 and we’re developing the work with a major dance house at the moment which is really exciting, it’s got legs now. From 2015 until now it’s just been my own funding behind it and I’m in a place now where it’s been picked up and we’ve got some other roll outs we want to do. We want to put the narrative onto other mediums such as film, literature, still photography and fashion.
IA: Tell me about CRXSS PLATFXRM. What was the motivation to create that event?
IB: I think even if you are successful, most artists are frustrated. There’s not enough funds or they feel like they can’t really speak their true voice and do work on their own terms. So this festival for me was a frustration for myself and find where I sit within them at the time where I was still in the dance community. I dipped my toe in all realms, but I never felt at home in any of those places, and connected with other artists who were really successful in their own fields. I thought this is the process I like - a cross disciplinary, multi-disciplinary space. I felt like I was constantly fed, and it came in abundance...it wasn’t like one way of thinking, it was so many ways...I can now think of painting with my body, I can think of filming or still photography, or a graphic novel with movement. It’s just really interesting. It kind of came out of frustration and it came out of excitement. There was a time I went to a party and there was a guy there who said ‘I rap’ and I was like yeah I know loads of people that rap. But then he also said ‘I make robots.’ I was like ‘What?’ and he was like ‘Yeah I make robots out of coke cans and link it with Wii technology and then I kinda move it around and make it dance for my daughter and I spit a rhyme over it.’ I thought that was genius you know? Then I started realising a lot of my friends who are a lot closer to me have another skill. Not even that, they are working somewhere at Sainsbury's but then their art is like super crazy and super amazing. I was like ‘Ah there’s something there.’ I was approached by Central St Martin’s to programme some time in their Cubitt festival at Cubitt Square. I had a relationship with them before because I did some work there with Universal. I did a few other external projects. I did Deja Blues, which was an offshoot of A Harlem Dream which I did at the Young Vic. We had three days in 2016 and it was a multi-disciplinary dance festival, we had a European dance battle, I can’t say fully international, but people threw down from Romania and we had international judges as well. The next day we had Kenrick and Mikey from Boy Blue throw down together. Jonzi D was hosting and he did an amazing poem and Kojey Radical performed. We had a van which had VR experience with a film I was working on and on the last day was new directions in music when we had artists using new technology in music. It was really exciting and people loved it. I just decided I want to keep carrying on. We’re based in Peckham, and for me it feels like a 360 because I grew up in Peckham and I grew up on the road that the festival is on. It feels good to bring it back to a place where at that time I didn’t feel safe and I didn’t feel creative. We know that the regeneration that’s happening in Peckham...and one of the things I like about the residents of Peckham is that they are trying to hold on to ‘What is Peckham’ and I feel like I can contribute, especially with where I am right now in my career and where I am in my life.
IA: Is it about Ivan as curator hosting and holding a space for others? Or is it Ivan being fed by these other artists enabling you to do what you wanna do?
IB: I think it’s a bit of both. I don’t know...who knows? Maybe CRXSS PLATFXRM won’t be around in 10 years time because I would be in a different place. I won’t be as connected to youth culture and street culture as I feel I might be at that age and I think right now I’m responding to what’s happening. I think I’ve always been a natural curator. I think my first curatorial experience was a Wild Card at Sadler’s Wells; I used to do events called The Social where I’d have different disciplines - beatboxers, rappers, violin players and then I’d have dancers in the room - ballet dance, contemporary dance, and we showed films as well, just visuals I was really interested in. We would play social games where everyone would offer a response to that - so we’d have visuals in the background and musicians would respond to that and dancers would respond to that. But who knows what will happen in a few year’s time. I don’t think, touch wood, at this stage I’m not looking to sell if off or pass it on. I would like to pass it down to someone who feels that...
IA: It’s not going to be BC1...
IB: Yeah, I don’t want it to have tonnes of branding all over it. But I am interested in collaborating with brands. I think with CRXSS PLATFXRM what I had in the back of my head is being a bridge between art and commerce. Finding a way people can pass through these bridges. I can step over here get some money for a little bit but know how to work in this field and new networks appear so people know how to work in these fields. Like I say not branding all over it but educating them and knowing how to treat artists well, that’s what I’m interested in.
IA: I’m interested in ideas of edges and centres. Some brands and artists that were on the edge are of invited to the centre and Hip Hop is definitely one of them. Who is in control of that relationship?
IB: I think that there’s multiple things that come into my head. There’s survival. You know that we all...we all are so frustrated and wanna make a change. There’s a level of growing up and the reality of life. There’s a level of security in some places. You can be here and be rogue and live on the edge, but there’s also a level of eating. You can choose to starve and you can choose to eat. There’s also a level of how you disturb power, how you give power and how you take power. For me I just want to know that my power...the power is with the people. It’s bigger than us. You know for me, I just want to...how can I say, build an easier road for the next generation. Sometimes for some people they want to work inside, for others they want to work outside. I think outside can still be working with the inside, does that make sense? That’s where we should be reaching to. This divide thing is fucking - sorry for swearing - you know it’s messing us up. We shouldn’t be dividing. We should be understanding and learning to accept. You know, acceptance is an important thing. Certain groups can’t do certain things here, certain groups can’t say certain things because it belongs to this group and it’s OK. Not everything is for you. I think we’re - especially now - in a place of metamorphosis and I think things are changing; things are going in the right way if we stay aware that some things are not for us. Same as for my artistic work; as much as there’s a level that’s for me, that I need to survive, that I need to nourish myself so I know I have this power. The message is for them. Creating work with narrative is important for me...because it’s needed in the scene. Sometimes it’s OK. to go abstract but sometimes we need clarity. We need things to be clear for us sometimes. What’s clear for me is coming together and not making divides.
IA: Who in your orbit are your three go to people?
IB: I would say my woman. She’s been a very strong person in my life. She’s definitely held me up for many years, and understood what I’m trying to do. She’s a dancer herself and her profession is burlesque but she used to train in voguing and waacking; she decided to focus on creating art because she felt she couldn’t be an artist in that field. She’s been a strong influence for me and we’ve been together for 10 years and she’s been the soldier I need by my side. The second would be Jonzi. Jonzi is a person that understands my artistic voice. Whereas my lady doesn’t really understand what I do and that process, because she doesn’t really work in that sort of way. He’s been mentoring me since I was 19, and right now I’m 32 so it’s been a while. I feel like I can fully go there with him and don’t feel like it’s his criticism; I don’t feel any form of attack. You know it could be very outlandish and it’s fine. Then the third is…it’s hard because I feel like I have a group of women around me. Jenn Nkiru who is an amazing film director and she created an award-winning film called Rebirth is Necessary...I’ve been working with her for a few years. I worked with her on that film as well. Recently she’s been working with Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Gucci so she’s just killing it. A friend called Jodie Simone...she’s a costume designer, ex dancer as well, and she just knows me before I do you know? After those two people I have a big bubble – not a big bubble but a bubble of people I can bounce off. Because for me my mood changes a lot, I don’t know if it’s a gemini thing or how the world is treating me, but I change and each person caters for different needs. Obviously I have my BirdGang family who are there, me and Simeon are always checking in on each other and he’s got his wedding coming up and I’m so happy for him. So many people I can just bounce around. So yeah those are my top 300...
IA: If you were a stick of rock what would be the words that run through your centre. What are the most important things to you?
IB: Love. Companionship. Lust. All the stuff that you know. I lust for the stuff that I do. I lust for my woman. I lust for my friends. I lust for art. Humility. I’ve realised I’m going through a constant phase of that as I’m growing up...learning that it’s OK to fail, it’s OK to say I was wrong and I can’t do everything. There’s that. Then there’s…a level of…spirituality which I think I constantly go in and out of. Sometimes I believe it, sometimes I don’t believe it. Having faith you know. Not hope. I think hope is…just do it. Not hope you gonna land. I feel like I’ve taken a lot of risks to get where I am.
IA: Personal risks? Financial risks?
IB: Everything. Like leaving BirdGang...we were at a point where we were associate artists at the Young Vic and I left at that point. You know there’s the time I left home at a young age as well. I dropped out of London Contemporary Dance School when someone paid for my fees and tuition. I’ve taken financial risks as well where I’m like I’m gonna do this thing, go to this place and I’m gonna carry on despite having nothing.
IA: I’m interested in the idea of self care and mental health. Because in Hip Hop dance there’s not much talk about that. How do you support your own mental health and those in your team?
IB: Well we’ve got CRXSS PLATFXRM and luckily it’s not as ‘argh’ and I feel like it’s very equally balanced and the pressure comes from getting a kick step done in two days time. Yes it could create a lot of issues but I think that there’s someone who I can bounce off, someone that Georgina can bounce off and things we can delegate within the team when things get a bit too much. We’re all kind of open to take on other people’s parts. Even when it comes to personal curation, I trust Georgina that if I can’t curate this thing that we need, I can trust her to do that. As an artist it’s different. As a dancer I’ve had a lot of trouble trying to understand how to survive as a dancer within dance. That’s why the multi disciplinary dancer or artists or whatever you wanna be is the way forward for me. A lot of people have a side hustle, something where they can get pocket change. And with dancers...some dancers especially more from the Hip Hop dance industry...they live in Neverland when it comes to survival...basically I feel like I need to have all my hands in all the pies. I still need to work in the commercial world. I still need to work in the theatrical realm. Still be present in the underground world. Carve my own lane. I also mentor and I also teach. The hardest thing is staying on top of all the scheduling and organisation. The mental health right now in the scene is very prevalent. I think part of it is survival. I think for some dancers it’s hard for them, or they’ve been told or brainwashed to think it’s wrong to have a side hustle, a job, a normal job to pay the bills and they feel like they’re going to lose their training or their skills gonna deplete just by changing the process. Even if you’re not in places that challenge you to work in different ways...find a process or place where you have to…how can I say...do something that you don’t like. Because dancing is something that we all like as dancers so we’re gonna constantly do it. But the stuff you don’t like is sometimes the stuff you need to do that is gonna elevate when you’re at the place of ‘I don’t want to do this flipping windmill right now.’ It pushes you. It works both ways. Going back to what I’m trying to say...I think most of it stems from survival and some people feel like they can’t survive and they don’t feel welcome in this community. They don’t feel like they can feed themselves because financially it’s not there. They don’t feel like they can survive as an artist...so it all comes from that, not all comes from that, but some of it comes from that for some dancers. Then there’s life and for me what I have been doing from last year is doing yoga at home. I find that it’s a great release for me because Hip Hop moves very fast and it’s all a full stop. There’s something about steadying myself...it steadies me for the week. Usually my mind is zipping around; I’m learning, even in just the way I speak, I’m learning to take my time and I think it’s working for me. It doesn’t work all the time...but the physical activity outside of dance, the going back to the gym, running or just you know dancing without a purpose. Usually for me, I am a natural mover, I’m constantly dancing at home. But sometimes because I’m working in so many fields, what puts me in a meditative state is moving for a purpose, dancing for a purpose, yoga for a purpose. I’m doing this because I’m trying to get into a state that will calm me down. I’m training now in my floor work because I want to get better. Instead of just moving, instead of it just being free, there’s a goal. Some dancers they just move, and it’s a clarity thing, because there’s so many options, it’s just blurred. You know, it’s just kind of being still and it’s hard when you live in London. There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot going on in the dance world, in the news, walking down the street to work. It’s hard. I think for me I’m aiming to work hard so I can be still in the long term. So everything I’m doing right now is for the long term. I think it can mess with your brain constantly working for this short term thing. Especially now as everything is instant. Instant likes, instant this, instant that. I can understand how people are feeling under threat, especially men - outside of dance I’ve seen it more - there’s a lot more female empowerment groups. CRXSS PLATFXRM is working on something.
IA: Can you talk about Swan/SWNSNG?
IB: So SWNSNG. Swan was BirdGang. SWNSNG is the kinda rebirth. Shall I say rebirth? It’s the evolution, the ever changing, the ever moving. It keeps on moving and SWNSNG is...a phantom, a ghoul, a sprit, a person, an energy that wants to share messages of how...it’s a lens. A lens. It’s a prism. That’s what it is. I rebranded myself after leaving BirdGang, it was about spreading messages, and at this stage, showcasing a lens on my life and what I have experienced. It’s interconnected with other young Black males, other Black families, and other ethnic backgrounds. It keeps on spreading, it keeps on working to build a message while it penetrates to everyone. At this stage it’s showing a lens on Black identity.
IA: Black British male identity? Or Black identity?
IB: The Black British male, because I’m a Black British male. It all comes from an internal space. Sometimes it might come out my mouth, sometimes it comes out my arse, but it comes out. I’m developing a project called Traplord of the Flyz and have been developing it since 2015...it’s showing Black mental health in crisis. It’s a very multi layered narrative which has a lot of inspiration from personal things to philosophical things to religious doctrine. Plato’s allegory of the cave, Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, obviously William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Jesus’ Last Supper. There’s a lot of stuff in there. I wanted to create and find something that will penetrate males that look like me. A lens on road life...but not what we usually see in the media, that’s the gangsta way and not everyone who lived on the road is a gangsta. Some people mutate into beings or things that they weren’t put on this earth to be. Sometimes it’s out of their control. But I’m also showing that they have a choice to choose still. It’s a project I’m still in development with and I’m going back into R&D this month and then we have our first performance in Autumn 2020 before hopefully taking it on a European excursion. Hopefully to Paris and Amsterdam and then back to London and Manchester. That’s where I’m at with it. With SWNSNG...SWNSNG isn’t a dance company or group...it’s a being. The idea behind this is that I was interested in experimenting in different spaces as a dancer. So with Traplord of the Flyz I’m interested in exploring with music artists how they will work and present themselves...so I’m applying some of those ideologies into this work. I want the dance artists to be as respected as the music artists. I want them to be on that magazine. I want them accepted on the Brit Awards. It’s letting the dance artists know that they will disappear, especially if you’re dancing to Bruno Mars or something like that. You need to start making your own music or start collaborating with people who design music for your art and for your voice. That’s what I’m doing...taking a different trajectory and there’s going to be different roll outs before a live performance. It’s the same as how a music artist will tease people with a single or an EP...building audience is important to me right now. Building a community of people who like my stuff. That’s where SWNSNG is at at the moment. SWNSNG is dabbling in different mediums, films, photography, art, painting, drawing, because for me that’s what I’ve been doing since I was a child...trying to create like a child but execute as a professional. That also came out of frustration out of why have you given licence to music artists to create clothing lines, record labels...dance artists can do that too. Why haven’t dance artists painted themselves? Some dancers can paint. Some can do photography...but haven’t done that themselves and these things are baffling to me. Part of this was creating an eco system where I can make a passive income. Again, it all comes back to survival and what’s feeding me as an artist is what’s feeding me as a person. I can create this product and it’s still dance and get paid. I can be at home and share my art still. We did a version of Traplord of the Flyz at Breakin’ Convention and had some international promoters come to see the work...some of the promoters were like ‘We can’t take this. We were up for it, we came and saw it but now we can’t take it...’ For some people the work is very political or it’s too political. I’m trying to build something so you can’t escape the work and I’m going to use what is around me right now which is social media, using my network and looking at the current landscape. Something landed in my head and when they said ‘You can’t do that.’ Who are you to tell me I can’t do that? I’m in a place of using dance as my anchor and moving to other places with that.
IA: What is it like to be Ivan right now?
IB: It’s very fast paced. It’s not much time for social life. Trying to understand the new wave I’m on...and the new wave has a bigger current. I’m trying to find a space for the research and development of everything. I’m trying to still be visible...visible within everything. But also trying to get people to know who I am so people can understand what I’m trying to do...also that I’m human and I make mistakes. We’re all growing and it’s OK to fail. It’s OK to know that I can’t please everyone all the time. That’s where SWNSNG is Ivan and Ivan is SWNSNG. It’s forever evolving. SWNSNG is part of me. I don’t feel like I share a normal plane of existence…I know Ivan is at a place where he is changing and trying to be a better person. Be a better man. Be a better artist. Be a better cook…everything! Everything I say, I also try to take as gospel and do what I say. Most of the time I do it. But I’m trying to learn to execute it quicker, or have enough courage to do it. Sometimes I say stuff but it takes five years...seven years. Most of the stuff I said I wanted to do I’m doing it. I said I want to be everywhere and I would like to have my own company. Obviously I’ve been in different phases of that...I would like a major commission, I’ve got that. I wanted to go on a major world tour, I did that. I wanted to be a dancer in a West End Musical, I did that. I just believe in myself that I can do it. But I’m trying to clear the fog. There’s different ways of clearing the fog...even for myself…as a dancer I’m trying to find different ways of communication. Public speaking. Breaking down or fighting my social anxiety. I don’t really know how people perceive me...I know a small pocket of it. I’m trying to be brave enough to show it and I am finding different ways of doing it. Right now I can’t do it like that...so I’m here finding ways through...CRXSS PLATFXRM, SWNSNG, teaching…yeah I think that’s where I’m at.
IA: What role does race play in your work?
IB: In what aspect?
IA: In Traplord of the Flyz, is race your prism or lens?
IB: We can’t run away from it. I feel what we’re seeing in the news at the moment, we’re seeing all of this xenophobia. We’re trying to find equity in all of that...where I’m at with it it’s...I’m in a space of trying to understand it. I’m in a place of willing to understand it. I’m trying to use, trying to go to a truthful place and look at it. That truthful space for me is my mind, body and soul. That’s where I’m looking at it from. I’m a Black man and for people that haven’t lived a certain type of experience, Black experience, they will never understand. What I’m trying to do is give you an understanding of it...and also a different approach maybe...like I said, not everyone came from the road. I want to show how someone went through it and this is where they are now and they’ve held onto it. This is what the media does. If you’re willing to look at yourselves in the mirror. This is what we do. I’ve had many bad experiences with race, you know, and it’s traumatised me. I think that people don’t...people like...it gets to a point where that trauma can change into a thing of fear, and fear can change and become many things. I just want...it’s a really tricky subject, especially when it comes to Traplord of the Flyz...people might have different ideas of it.
IA: You said some of the programmers had an issue with it?
IB: Because they’re in Blackface that’s why. They’re in Blackface. There’s people killing each other, not literally killing each other. There’s a lot of imagery in it, there’s ideas of police brutality there’s a lot of that...at that time a lot of stuff was happening in the media. They didn’t want to programme it. For me part of the Blackface is a mask that we put on ourselves...that is put on us and that isn’t who we are. It’s a warped understanding of who we truly are. I want to show people that this is a warped understanding...we’re all different and it’s not a monolith. I want people to accept differences. It’s very layered and getting people to accept the narrative is very...the way I like to make work is to use what I’ve learned from Hip Hop. I feel that when I’ve understood my life - and me trying to understand my life and experiences relates to old stories - I would like to create new stories and shared experiences. I look at Brer Rabbit and Tar Bab. I relate to um...I don’t know Dante’s Inferno. I relate to Jesus. That’s what I have done...I’ve looked at when I’ve studied, I’ve looked out instead of in the bubble and gone to spaces that I’m not comfortable with and I have to learn how to navigate. Sometimes I have to go into spaces to show that I am present. It’s an amalgamation of things. If I had to pinpoint it...it’s my experience. I can’t really talk for anyone else but myself. At the core of it I talk to myself. Especially with Traplord of the Flyz. This is the first time I’m very conscious that this work is based on my life. Before I was making work, it was about...but this time I’m very conscious this is something that I went through. I want people to - who are not Black - to have to make a choice. If you make a certain choice, it’s an active decision. I’m not saying it’s the truth...it’s just my truth.
IA: Did you work on The Octoroon?
IA: Can you talk a bit the things that you’ve done previously with Company of Elders, The Octoroon, BirdGang and other things? How are they still present for you?
IB: I think everything is a good thing. It’s been…some parts I’m still working through it you know. We’re going to have mini traumas in our lives which build who we are. My dream as an artist wasn’t to be a dancer, I wanted to be a singer or a rapper. I saw Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, MC Hammer and that was like ‘Whoa!’ I grew up and I saw Usher and that was what I wanna be. I realised I can’t sing and I can’t rap but even in this current time I’m learning to use my voice. So, I became a mute. I think dancers become mute at times and they forget how to use their voice...that’s even explaining their work or talking about their work. I’m coming back into that light of using my voice. For me I wanted to be an artist and dance was the medium where I felt it brought me to a space where I fully went somewhere. I think people won’t understand if you’re not a dancer...dancers go into this meditative state and you fully go somewhere. That’s fully amazing because you can channel that and be in both spaces at the same time. You time travel and the body is an amazing thing. You can time travel you know. You can go back into the past and learn that dance. You can go back and embody that physicality. You can go into a space of remembering your childhood and physicalising that. You can go into the future and create something. I think I discovered my spaceship quite young and that’s taken me on a journey where I didn’t want to ride my spaceship any more...it’s taken me to...I think I want to go back on a voyage, and this voyage has taken me into learning about what I just said stuff like Plato. I failed all my GCSEs. Unfortunately, I have some of that story of growing up in a bad area...I’m not going to get into that because it’s typical bullshit. But that spaceship has taken me around the world, it’s taken me into meeting new people and learning about race, learning about gender, learning about myself, learning about love, learning about relationships and learning about my body, my own sexuality and my own gender. I’ve realised it’s a full body thing and that’s why I’m interested in my own voice; the sound I can make from moving dance in my own voice is interesting to me.
IA: What’s your strongest memory of dance?
IB: That’s a good one. My strongest memory of dance is...talking about the space ship. I’m not talking about when I’m dancing in a rehearsal or when I’m in my own space and I’m excited about something or feel the need to escape. It’s the portal I go through, it’s really weird and sometimes you don’t know that you’re really there. But you come out of that space feeling better. I use that a lot. We’re talking about mental health, and sometimes I subconsciously...unconsciously use meditation and therapy. Sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes it’s in Neverland.
IA: What is Neverland? You mentioned it before...
IB: Neverland is in the space of euphoria. But there’s other parts of Neverland that look like shit - the ghetto of Neverland...and some people stay in that part, you know. We see the Lost Boys and Peter Pan but there’s parts of it that aren’t that nice and some people want to stay there. There is a level of reality that I have come into...coming into myself and I have to be here. I need to move OK without it. And it’s a tool. It’s not me, it’s a tool. I’m sure music can do that. When people go into their drums, writing or anything. But I found it a tool that I tapped into and it is really something transformative. But I find people that ship and stay there and they find it hard to navigate in real life. They lose connections with people, what they’re doing it for, life, financial, whatever. For me I just wanted to know I can go there. Sometimes I go parts of Neverland and I don’t like it and I have to come back to this space, the real life space...and maybe there’s something I need to learn, maybe it’s a thing where it’s a Castor and Pollux thing - Castor and Pollux are the twins of the gemini...and I’m a gemini. For years, one of the brothers - I can’t remember which one - his other brother says I want to be with my brother for eternity, he is my closest friend. I think it’s Zeus that says ‘OK. I can grant you that wish but you can only cross paths for a very short amount of time.’ So they say one of the brothers was living in the underworld and he would come up to the real life, then go back to the underworld and basically when they cross paths they would pass on messages. They say the reason why gemini change a lot is because they’re constantly taking messages from somewhere you know. I feel that. That’s what I’m kinda like. I’m getting messages from Neverland and from here, and I can pass messages when I go into a space. You know, look at real life and try and create life. You know look at some art and bring that back into real life.
IA: I have a few more questions, but is there anything that we’ve not spoken about so far that you want to talk about?
IB: I think...touching back on interconnection and networking. I think that we’re getting there. We can do more. And mental health we need to do more...I don’t know how. I think it can start from one to one discussions and then bring it into spaces where it wouldn’t be but for people who need it...putting it into a digital space. Looking at how commercial companies can come into theatre, theatre can come into underground, it just needs cross pollination. Cross pollination is the only way to evolve. Also respecting what has been laid before, also giving that space. But we are…dancers, Hip Hop dancers...I feel like we are crabs in a bucket. We have the power to not become crabs and become something else. Maybe it’s snakes...I hope it’s not snakes. We can help each other. What I’m seeing at the moment is there’s only a few that I can count on my both hands that is like OK ‘They’re fully doing something.’ You don’t have to be a star, you’re a star already. That’s what my power is and I am confident in saying it...I am fucking dope. You might not think it, but I know I’m amazing. Part of me feels I have to fully show and find ways of helping people...also build allies, not enemies. We have a foundation to get to where you need to get to. I feel like some people are trying to get to some places but there’s no foundation and I’d like people to build foundations, build networks, build a fan base…because you don’t know where that person is going to be in 10 years time. I try not to burn any bridges. Bridges might disintegrate over time, and if that happens we’re just in different spaces now and this thing is over here. Even for me I’m not as crazy, as creative, as cool...I’m not as anything...you know. I think when people fully truly know who I am...if you think I’m a super genius, thank you very much. If you think I’m really cool, thank you very much. If you think I’m an idiot, thank you very much. Yeah I’m an idiot sometimes. I’m a human, I change, I contradict myself, I make mistakes. Sometimes I’m going through things, and I’m going to be an arsehole, I’m going to be a dickhead you know. Or maybe you were the dickhead to me so I need to show you by being a dickhead. I think that’s kinda it.
IA: There’s the purists that want to protect the origins of Hip Hop. There are those who want to evolve and transform whilst paying homage and respect. I’m interested in your thoughts on those worlds and where you are in relation to that.
IB: No matter what I feel like there’s gonna be Chinese whispers. Just because that person has good intentions doesn’t mean they’re righteous. Just because they’re right, doesn’t mean they’re righteous. You can’t stop something that is good, you know. Even for people that have created different dance styles, like this is how you do it. You haven’t realised what you’ve done. You’ve gotten some kids out of some real crap, real crud and you’re saying this is how it’s done. That’s more important to you than some little money? You’ve done something bigger. That’s the legacy I would like to leave. It’s bigger than me, I would like to leave a path. Say to, like British ballet dancers like Margot Fonteyn. To a Hip Hop dancer who is Margot Fonteyn? Even contemporary dancers are like ‘Who?’ It doesn’t matter. It matters that you’ve created a dance style and that you’ve helped that young kid or that elderly person go through the last bit of their life easier. It helped that someone saw that work and decided to get help. For me that is preservation, I believe in that fully, but where is the line? When is it toxic? When are you holding on to it for nostalgia? ‘It’s not how it used to be back in the day, look at these young kids blah blah blah.’ It’s crap you know. That’s where CRXSS PLATFXRM comes into it. It’s not for us to say ‘That’s what street culture is.’ We’re in the process of something new, but we haven’t coined anything and maybe it’s not about coining anything, it’s OK for them to call it this. If you feel like you’re part of that community...you are. People can be part of more than one community. You don’t have to be this one thing. That’s what I think. Yes there’s a divide, but that’s where it gets confusing.
IA: Who comes to your events? Who are the audiences? What is the community like in Hip Hop?
IB: I think, when I look back it’s been people trying to be cool, trying to be the ‘It guy.’ Trying to be that person in this community. Even in school you want to be the cool guy, even in the Hip Hop community I’m not that cool guy. In Hip Hop theatre, I’m not the main name, I’m not that in the underground scene or the commercial scene…sorry what was your question again...
IA: It was around audiences and community.
IB: Yeah...I’ve been putting out work and putting it in different spaces and it’s just been people. They say ‘Oh you choreograph?’ Or they don’t even say... they say something weird, or they say ‘I saw your show’ or ‘I saw your thing’ or ‘I was scrolling on Instagram and I saw your thing.’ When I look at CRXSS PLATFXRM it’s local people from Peckham or people who saw it on Instagram or whatever. That’s exciting to me. Keeping people that wouldn’t necessarily get a chance to see this type of work, inspiring the artists that need it, and even artists who are well established in an industry coming to me and saying - because as an industry we don’t do it enough - because there was one choreographer came up to me and that’s a thing we don’t do enough as an industry, express gratitude 'I’m not looking at anyone else, I’m looking at you for inspiration.' That was quite big and we forget that. These big pros who are making work, who inspires them? Even for me, it’s like knowing that I don’t know that I don’t know. This road man that now wants to dance or wants to get into art. This person who has seen this amazing work at CRXSS PLATFXRM and now wants to be involved and is like ‘I want to be involved’ and they say ‘I don’t create art but I want to be involved in this thing.’ It’s important for me to make sure that right now I am working in lower income communities, working with our communities and giving them some hope with wherever they want to go and take the next step with. I’m learning over time, that I can’t do so much. I think as with most artists I have big dreams, and I’m still there and that’s exciting for me that I still have the fire to change the world, that I’m still a kid in my mind. It’s like ‘I wanna change the world’ but I’m now finding my way of doing it is outlandish. Instead I can plant a seed and that’s what it’s about. I just want to give seeds and some might plant them whilst others will give them away. I just need a holiday this year and find those little pockets of resetting. I don’t need that much but I need a few pockets of time and I need to reset. Right now I’m choreographing a fashion show, I’m about to go into R & D, I’m programming CRXSS PLATFXRM in November and there’s another summer event we’re doing where I’m looking at commissioning. I’m mentoring at the moment for BBC Young Dancer and I’m teaching with Breakin’ Convention, it’s just many things. Weekends...I don’t see weekends. Sunday I’m in the studio prepping for my rehearsal for the fashion show...but this is what I asked for, for me I wanted it to be like a mogul. I remember watching MTV Cribs going ‘That’s what a mogul is? That’s what I wanna be.’ I know what I’m doing, even though some people think I’m this new cat. When I do things people are like ‘Who is this new guy here?’ When I do things...and some people have doubted me...I’m laying foundations. I’m not going anywhere. That’s the one thing you haven’t realised. I’ve been doing this since I was eight years old. I’ve been doing it longer than some of you that are NPOs. I have seen some of you at your really bad early stages. We all have different journeys but what I’m trying to do is cement something. I’m not saying any of them aren’t doing that but we all have our own agenda, and that’s specifically what I’m trying to do with SWNSNG. CRXSS PLATFXRM is wide and hopefully if this master plan works out people will see how to survive as a dancer and not rely on certain cultural institutions, certain funding or certain agencies, you know. The only way to keep growing is to give back. And some dance people get to a certain point, touch wood even if I remember it for myself, I’m only human, but I need to remember it’s not about me. The more I can find ways of giving free feedback...I get a reminder on Facebook, and I think I’ve been posting it for the past four years; I don’t have that much time, but if you need any mentorship, or sit down for a coffee, give me a buzz. Only three or four people have taken me up on that. I’ve been posting it for about four years. I feel like there is a lot of opportunity and people don’t take opportunity. People don’t take mentorship and are saying ‘I can do it on my own.’ You can’t. I had to learn how to delegate, I had to learn how to trust my producer and I had to learn how to trust my cast to really deliver this show and to better trust me. You can’t do it by yourself. The more I have grown as a dance artist the more I have learned that community matters and creating an ecosystem matters. So I can keep on eating. And that’s important to me. Surviving financially in this life is important to me now. I am charging. I was undercutting myself for many years. Even certain ‘Mates Rates’ has changed, because I’m like ‘I’ve given you enough’ how about you try giving me that or proving that you’re doing this so I can see you’re looking to make a change.