Zoom, November 2020
Lucy Crowe aka TrubLroC is a writer and dance artist, specialising in bBoyin and creating work underpinned by Hip Hop culture. She makes art to revisit, capture, deconstruct moments, and test boundaries. Raised by Hip Hop culture, TrubL experiences art as a communal event, a dialogue of stories. She was born in London in 1975, and grew up with her adopted parents in Cambridge. By seventeen, TrubL was expecting her first child and expelled from sixth-form. She began her career as a professional dancer with the Sinstars bBoy crew five years later, and has performed, competed, and judged internationally, with a legacy of students. TrubL has been devising subversive, hip hop based theatre work since 2000 to define, reinterpret and extend the boundaries of bBoyin as a performing art. Her first degree was in Communication Studies, analysing of a range of cultural and communicative practices for which she produced a film on the portrayal of British bGirls. TrubL gained a Distinction for her second degree, an MA in Creative Writing, exploring the intertextuality of Hip Hop in written form. Supported by Arts Council England, TrubL is one third of the triumvirate of directors for the arts organisation, SIN Cru.
IA: Can you introduce yourself and what it is that you do?
LC: Even that is a tricky, tricky start, isn’t it? Can I introduce myself? OK, my name is Lucy, Lucy Crowe. My B-Girl name is TrubLroC. I am one of the directors of SIN Cru, which stands for ‘Strength In Numbers’. I am a writer and choreographer, a dance artist, an educator and a mentor.
IA: I want to go way back to start. I want to go back to Cassé? Is that how you pronounce it?
LC: Correct. [laughs]
IA: Can you talk a little bit about the origins of that? You and Dr. Jay and can you talk about your introduction to Hip Hop?
LC: My introduction to Hip Hop came much before Cassé, it came when I was living in Paris and it was 1982…and I saw the Rock Steady Crew. It wasn’t until many years later, when we were sat round a kitchen table with my mum and Ken Swift that I realised that it was Kenny and the Rock Steady Crew that I had seen in 1982. That was my first introduction. From that I came back from Paris, and everybody was listening to…my mates all had the seven-inch of ‘(Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew’. B-Boying was beginning to be known and seen in the UK and I started breaking in 1986, and it wasn’t until about ninety…wow…maybe ’93, ’94 that Cassé became a thing. I was still dancing in the interim…I was still breaking, but mainly doing New Jack. In the early nineties we formed Cassé, which was originally an all-girls crew and then we got some boys involved, including Dr. Jay and Mach-1 who is an amazing popper from Cambridge. That’s it in a nutshell, the beginnings of Hip Hop and Cassé.
IA: What was it about New Jack? That’s an interesting starting point.
LC: Everything was all…it was all social. So when I started breaking in ’86, it was in the school disco. It was with your friends, at the Friday lunchtime school disco just messing around. The first twelve-inch that I bought was Just Buggin by Whistle, that was around the same time…because that’s what everyone was listening to and the cover was attractive. I liked the style and I had no particular idea that it was all part of a bigger culture. Then, when I was about 13…14…that’s when I really started getting into the UK Hip Hop scene. With artists like Silver Bullet, Hardnoise, London Posse…it was all music and from that, there was all of the hardcore Hip Hop. Then there was, on the other side the American influence, not so much with Hip Hop, but more with what was called Swing Beat then, and then New Jack. That was the party, that was all the party tunes. When we would all go out to parties, you’d have the hardcore Hip Hop, you know, guys nodding their heads. But then the DJ would drop some New Jack and that’s when people were dancing, and that’s what was exciting to me. I was part of a posse, and everybody had an active role, so there were graffiti artists, there were DJs, MCs and dancers. When you’re a kid, well certainly for us, we kind of played around with a little bit of everything. And then, I just stuck with the dancing.
IA: The idea of crews, companies and posses…they’re the family you choose, they’re a kinship. Could you talk about your role in some of those crews and what it is that you brought to them and SIN Cru?
LC: Looking at Hip Hop as a culture, it is…the crew is vital to Hip Hop. It is something, like you say, the family you choose. And it’s multi generational. I think that’s what’s so important to familiarise yourself with, if you are from outside Hip Hop culture and outside the community, is that Hip Hop is young enough for us still to be able to reach our pioneers and speak to our pioneers. Crews arguably are a bit of a dying thing at the moment. But the ones that maintain, the real crews…they do have multi generations and that helps with longevity, that helps with passing down tradition and heritage, and all of that which is the culture side of Hip Hop, not just the latest dance technique or the latest, you know, whatever. It’s actually all part of something…a bigger picture. When I first got into it, crews were called posses. It was about your friends, you just hung out with your friends and we were all into the same music, we were all into Hip Hop, we all did a little bit of something, so we were proactive in our local culture and community. We used to put on jams…and it was…I guess in a way like a gang. But it was distinctly a Hip Hop posse. Then that, at some point, changed into a focused crew, so…the graffiti artists created their graffiti crew, the DJs were doing their thing and doing scratch stuff as a DJ crew, and the dancers all came together and became a dance crew…meeting other people and joining with others along the way. I think that for me…coming from the whole thing…as in people representing all different elements of Hip Hop, that’s always been foremost in my mind when I talk about a crew. It’s not specifically a dance or graffiti crew.
IA: How did you get into SIN Cru? What was your arrival or introduction?
LC: So…Cassé, the B-Girl crew, by that point had guys in it as well, we were booked to perform at an event…I can’t even remember what it was, a corporate event in London, and they’d also booked Sinstars. We met up and we were chatting, sharing knowledge and exchanging in the circle and everything and it was a really nice vibe. It wasn’t a big stand off battle kind of thing, it was just sort of…we were both there, sharing space. We got talking and I was speaking to Kilo, who is one of the founding members of SIN Cru, and we shared a lot of the same vision and a lot of the same ethos around Hip Hop as a culture and around the movement, and how, at that point…I mean, that was in the nineties…there was a lot of attention on Hip Hop as a commodity and as a vehicle to promote the big corporates. At that point we were actually in a corporate party for whatever reason. So we were having these discussions about the idea behind SIN Cru, behind being a collective of like-minded artists to protect the culture and to ensure that our artists were getting paid and acknowledged properly for the work that they were doing, and it wasn’t a case of ‘Oh, you know, you’re one of those street dancers. Here, come and dance at my thing all night and have a t-shirt, and you know, we’ll give you certain cans of drink or whatever.’ It was actually elevated to being taken seriously, both from inside the culture and externally. So we were talking and I got down like that. I didn’t have to battle in, but most people do. That is a very traditional way of getting down with a crew. And most of the subsequent Sinstars…so Sinstars are the dance side, specifically the dance side of SIN Cru, they all battled in. Certainly in the last, I think ten years. So Cassé dissolved and everybody who was involved in Cassé became involved in SIN Cru. I’m just thinking back, that was an age ago, that was like another lifetime.
IA: For those who don’t know what it means, what does it mean to battle in? If somebody wanted to join Sinstars now, what would they have to do?
LC: Very, very…crudely, they would literally dance against other members of the crew, and if they were good enough they would be accepted in. They’d be given a sweaty t-shirt that somebody else has been wearing for the last thirty years. It’s all part of the bigger picture so…it’s about building a relationship because there’s no point having somebody who is an amazing dancer in your crew if you don’t get on with them. Like I said, I do feel that this sense of crew is a dying…it’s disappearing. And I think a lot of that has shifted with the fact that B-Boying has kind of become its own scene. It’s separated away from Hip Hop culture, and not just B-Boying, all forms of dance that are under the umbrella of Hip Hop, they all seem to be creating their own scene and I’m finding that a lot of people, especially new people that are coming into those dance scenes, have no awareness, understanding or even interest in the other styles of Hip Hop, the other things that form Hip Hop.
IA: In your network, who are the three people that you go to who support, who nourish, who feed you…and it has to be three only.
LC: Wow. OK, so when you talk about ‘in my network’…
IA: Lucy’s network, not necessarily just within SIN Cru.
LC: Oh my gosh! [pause] Oh my gosh! Wow…three people?
LC: [pause] That’s impossible! [laughs] You’ve got like…you’ve got different people for different things haven’t you? You’ve got…oh you always knock on this person for this, or you knock up this person for that. Three people. [long pause] Shit, that’s terrible. [pause] Can I have a collective?
IA: [laughs] No! Three people.
LC: Oh my god. [laughs] OK. Now I’m trying to section my life into three categories. [long pause] I would say…ask me the question again.
IA: Who are the three people that you go to, who support, nourish and feed you?
LC: [pause, then whispering] Support, nourish and feed me, shit. [long pause, then speaks at previous level] OK, so I will narrow it down to three, but overarching I would say there’s certainly somebody from family. If this is a bigger thing, there would be somebody from family, there would be somebody from organisation, around the business side of things, but that also might be the same person in terms of crew. Within the crew, there would be somebody from the youth division, so JNR Sinstars or the young people that I work with. They are always a form of inspiration and they keep me humble. Of course there would be my children, but I don’t know how I’d choose one of them! And then, my friends, my kinship, my sisters in this world war that we’re finding our way through. So, to narrow it down to three…fuck’s sake. [laughs]
IA: That was your get out, for everybody who’d be like ‘Why didn’t you mention me?’
LC: [laughs] That was my Oscar, my…yeah, yeah, yeah. [pause] OK, my bestie Dr. Michelle Nyangereka. A hundred pesetas. We have discovered that we are possibly…[laughs] the same person, just in two different bodies which is very, very frightening at times. There’s one. [long pause] I would say… [pause] I would say…oh shit. No wonder this is ninety minutes long!
IA: [laughs] It’s fifteen minutes just to answer this question!
LC: Yeah, exactly! Exactly! [long pause] OK…I’ve got one. I’m gonna come back to the other two. I’m making a note. How can that be so hard?
IA: Talking of Dr. Michelle…going into Hip Hop theatre now, with ‘Fly No Filter’ she was involved with ‘Only When Its Feathers Are Grown’.
IA: Can you talk about your approach to Hip Hop theatre, before we get into some of the individual works? Can you talk about how you craft and what are you trying to say through Hip Hop theatre?
LC: Theatre has always been something that I have been involved with since I was a kid, since going to youth theatre. It’s a very natural platform, for me, to use, to share, to talk, to say things. I feel that there are a lot of barriers for theatre to be as accessible as I would like it to be. As a platform, theatre is something that is kind of second home to me, and has been since a child. And then because my language is Hip Hop, the two things automatically come together for me. But, that creates lots of questions around how we present Hip Hop in a theatre space, not just the space, but how as a discipline, how it then accepts Hip Hop. Then where you get the cross over with audiences and how people feel about one or the other, and so on and so forth.
IA: Hip Hop has a language, a set of knowledges behind the original styles and foundations. There are some people who want to preserve that and there are some people who want to evolve that. Where do you sit in that evolutionary versus preservation conversation?
LC: For me it’s like building a house. You build your foundations solid, you throw up your structure, and then you can do whatever you like with the décor. You can take it wherever you want it to go. But if you haven’t got the foundations in place, you haven’t got a solid structure, then it all falls down and it is no longer a building, or a house or whatever you set out for it to be. This is what I strongly believe and where my practice comes from. Whether it’s teaching, whether it’s creating work for theatre, whether it’s writing, whatever it is that I’m doing…for me, if I’m being true to myself and authentic as a Hip Hop artist, as a member of the Hip Hop family, then I need to understand my roots in Hip Hop. I need to understand my Hip Hop lineage, I need to listen to the pioneers, I need to listen to the people that come before me, and bring through their techniques, bring through their styles. But I also know that nothing stays the same. So, we have this acknowledgement to the past, but then we need to bring it forward into today and thing about where it’s going tomorrow. But we can’t take it into tomorrow, if we haven’t collected what we need from yesterday.
IA: In one of the videos after ‘...Feathers’, you talk about the practice of layering, and how an artist keeps coming back to a universal theme or story. What is the thing that you keep returning to? What are you trying to answer through Hip Hop theatre?
LC: [long pause] Why the fuck we’re here! [laughs] What are we doing? I think at the moment, everything…all of my lines of inquiry relate in some way to love. I don’t know whether that’s just at the moment, for the last fifty years or whatever, or whether that this is my ongoing inquiry. A lot of it is about relationships. A lot of it is about self-defining and identity. But, if you put it all back, it all comes down to the big question of love. Saying that, that does also sound I think like a bit of a cop-out, because I think most things you can pull down to that. I guess that’s where I’m at, a reoccurring story. The thing that we were really exposing in ‘Feathers’ was this idea of the descent, which again is a reoccurring theme throughout a lot of people’s work, this idea that you have to hit rock bottom before you can be reborn, so you can…you go through trauma, whatever it is, and then how do you rebuild yourself? That’s a storyline across most of Disney’s work, across many fairy tales.
IA: What is the relationship between Hip Hop and love then?
LC: Wow. Well, Hip Hop is love, you can say that. It’s a big Erykah Badu track…‘Love of My Life’. You think it’s a love song to another person or whatever, but ultimately it’s her discussion about her relationship with Hip Hop. That’s what I think it is. Why else would people devote their lives to it? This thing that’s supposed to be a youth culture, by the time you get a job and you’ve left school, you’ve grown out of it. [laughs] Who says that? Do you know what I mean? And because it’s a struggle, it is a challenge. I’m talking about being involved in Hip Hop culture is a struggle, is a challenge, trying to create a career out of Hip Hop certainly in the UK, that isn’t easy. There’s gotta be something more to it, hasn’t there? I mean, we’re not in this for the money. Because of it being a culture, because of the family, the community, the crew…all of that, the only thing that holds it together is love.
IA: In terms of Hip Hop theatre, your work ‘The Glorious Tour’, can you talk about that, but then I also want you to go back to ‘Stone Seeds’.
IA: That was 2006 I think, and you’ve got the beatboxing, the spoken word, you’ve got breaking in there and looking in terms of history…that’s quite a moment.
LC: Thank you. Thank you for recognising ‘Stone Seeds’ as a moment, it certainly was for us. It was a massive, massive shift in our work and how we felt about ourselves as artists and as a crew/company. We threw out the ‘Stone Seeds’ project…we got to work with Ken Swift, I think that was the first time we worked with him. We went over to New York, he took us around and we went to his studio and that was phenomenal. In terms of Hip Hop lineage, in terms of understanding more detail in B-Boy technique, that’s what we went to him for, to bring that back to the UK to disseminate, not only throughout our classes, but also as the basis for our choreography for the show. We’d been creating theatre for about six, seven years previous to that. But we hadn’t really, really exposed it in this way. All of the shows that we’d done up until then, we’d always included all the different elements so we would have rappers onstage, we would have this, that and the other, and try and find ways to, again to layer it and to create a story. ‘Stone Seeds’ was the first production that we did that had funding, so we were able to pay more attention to certain things and redevelop ourselves as artists. That was 2006, and…then you were asking about The Glorious Tour. That was 2016…ten years later! That came about…actually, funnily enough, I was prompted in 2015 by Hakeem Onibudo from Impact Dance. He was like ‘Where’s, where’s all your theatre? How come you’re not putting stuff out there?’ We’d been doing a lot of short pieces, festival pieces, ten-minute, fifteen-minute, whatever, done a lot of work with the JNR Sinstars, our youth crew. They were regulars at Youth Dance England with U.Dance. Hak had followed our journey, seen a lot of the work, and said ‘Where’s all the professional stuff gone mate? What’s happened to it?’ So it was a prompt from him, because we’d been struggling with our identity as a professional organisation as well as youth dance. I’m not saying that youth dance isn’t professional, I’m not taking away from the skills and the abilities of youth dance, but it was like ‘SIN Cru, yeah, they do education. They work with kids.’ Not ‘They do education, they work with kids and they’re developing professional artists, emerging artists and creating tours, you know, all that kind of thing.’ So, we had a long look at that and a lot of it was about marketing, so we changed the name. Instead of being ‘SIN Cru: Theatre’, or the creative department of SIN Cru, we relaunched as ‘Fly No Filter’. Hakeem commissioned me to create a work for one of his platforms at one of Sadler’s Wells theatres, I think it was the Peacock but I can’t quite remember. That was a piece that had come from a piece of writing, a monologue that I’d written…so I was developing a monologue alongside some dance and the juxtaposition between those two things on stage, that became not only the launch of ‘Fly No Filter’, but the launch for The Glorious Tour. That was great…[pause] the cast was all girls except for one guy, and this was deliberate because, again, looking at all the marginalisation that happens with women across Hip Hop, they were all, with the exception of one of the girls, they were all really strong B-Girls in their own right. The girl that wasn’t, she’d come from a contemporary background and that mix really worked. Having a really strong cast of B-Girls, and having a contemporary dancer, it wasn’t like a case of…you often get contemporary or street dancers being taught a bit of breaking, it was actually the reverse.
IA: Where are you now? What is bubbling at the moment in the theatrical guise for you?
LC: Well…what does theatre work look like post-COVID-19? [laughs] We’ve got three theatre projects. One is ongoing - ‘Only when its feathers are grown’ - which is a performance installation piece, and we’re looking at ways that that can be…if not fully, part digital. That’s a piece that I feel really strongly about. It looks at mental health and well-being and conversations that mothers and daughters could have, should have, would have. I think there’s a lot more to be done with that work and everybody who’s been involved in the different developments of it has really appreciated it and they’ve all been like…you know, it’s not been one of those projects that…’Oh that was great while that happened and now it’s done.’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, we want more, we want more of that.’ Another one is called ‘What if we are all dead?’ This is a solo piece which my producer will be very…always very happy to hear when I talk about solo pieces as opposed to company pieces. [laughs] ‘Oh yeah! We can get the funding for that! One person - excellent!’ It’s a solo piece and the name has come from one of the kids that I used to work with, he just came to me one day, he was about eight years old…he came to me and he was a little bit…I mean, he was always a little bit vacant, but he was particularly vacant this day. And I was like ‘What’s going on?’ And he said, ‘I’m just wondering, what if we’re all dead?’ And I was like ‘What do you mean?’ It was this massive ethereal conversation about life and death and reality and at that moment he was in this idea of exactly that - what is real? What isn’t real? What if we’re dead? We’re developing it off the back of that idea and based around the big storm that happened in…I think it was 1987. It really hit the east of England, which is where I’m from. There were deaths, it was massive. We’re creating a piece which James, one of the SIN Cru directors and our principal company dancer…he’s going to perform. It’s contextualising it within the great storm, but then looking at this bigger question of life and death, one of those subjects that we don’t talk about in our culture. I think there were three things that we never discuss - death being one of them. Then the third one is a really, really important project for me…working title is ‘East Anglia’s Finest.’ I’ve written it and we workshopped it at Hotbed’s New Writing Festival the year before last. When there were festivals. It’s about my cousin who has sickle cell. It’s looking at, again, these discussions that we don’t have. It’s looking at his…obviously it’s been fictionalised, but he’s a very strong character in real life, and he’s a great storyteller…the things that you think are fictionalised are the real things, and the mundane stuff that you think is real is the stuff that I’ve made up to try and tie it together. He’s a popper. And the question is, what happens when, what defines your identity, the ‘Oh you’re that one - you’re that guy who pops,’ when you can’t do it any more? Through sickle cell, he’s lost his shoulder. His shoulder has literally crumbled away. And he can’t do the thing that he loves and the thing that got him up in the morning for the majority of his life. So, what happens to you, for you - yourself, and who do you become to all those people that only knew you as the dancer? That’s another solo show! [laughs]
IA: You mentioned it a little bit there, but what has changed for you this year? How has 2020 affected you, the company and your approach to things?
LC: This has been a really good year. It’s been a really great year. There’s been a lot of horrific things that have happened and, you know, we lost one of our artists - TY, who was an MC and had been part of the SIN Cru family for…fifteen, twenty years. Obviously that was a massive, massive blow. And one of the people who I would have put down as my three people is a woman called Caron Freeborn who was an amazing writer and poet and was a massive, massive mentor for me for many years, and we lost her in April as well. There’s been a lot of trauma, not just for SIN Cru, but for everybody. But ultimately, this year has been an amazing, amazing year for SIN Cru. It’s our 25th anniversary so, just that in itself, to be able to say that we’re still standing, even if we’re all sitting down or propped up, we are still here twenty-five years later. And not struggling and hating it, we are here and still loving it, and still feeling life. We were able to spend some of the year working with Kenny again - Ken Swift, who’s one of our long-term associate artists. Also checking back in with people like Poe One, and all these people who have been on our journey…Pervez, from the UK. All these really significant players in our field who have really supported us throughout the last twenty-five years, and very honestly and genuinely. We have done a lot of organisational development - shout out to Arts Council England for funding that - so, finally twenty-five years in we are now actually registered at Companies House. [laughs] Actually, that’s been an amazing stepping-stone for us. And a big, a big plight for the work that we do is about finding stability for Hip Hop artists, and I know that those things don’t marry up…stability and art don’t marry up. Looking at how Hip Hop artists can become more empowered, can feel that their art form is just…so that they don’t have to keep defending it. So we, I’m including me in that, so we don’t have to keep defending what we’re doing as something more than just street art…which has so many negative connotations…and looking at building more positive futures. We started creating an ideal structure which for people from other art forms wouldn’t seem so bizarre, because we’ve taken a lot of structure from contemporary dance companies, and football, the way that football teams work. These are all established sectors that are recognised and funded, so we’ve taken ideas from that, and how to support our dancers, to give them what they need so that they can up skill and have longevity in the game. Things like regular company classes, looking at technique, looking at creative stuff…having regular massages with massage therapists - shout out to B-Boy Lil’Tim who has made the side shunt. That’s what we’ve been doing this year.
IA: Can I ask about Cambridge, and your relationship to the city? And I’d like to hear about the Kings Hedges Estate project as well.
LC: Ah! Cambridge…so SIN Cru was born in London, and when we started to become more established and structured, we based our office in Cambridge. Because that’s where, at that time, me and Kilo and Rob Ill Boogs…we were all sharing a house. So we based it here in Cambridge. I was born in London, funnily enough in the same hospital as Ben Swift, which we discovered…like, a week apart, and we meet like, twenty years later. I’ve always been in Cambridge and since I left home I’ve always been in North Cambridge in Arbury/Kings Hedges, so a lot of our work, a lot of our community, our grass roots work has been centred around this area, which is seen as an area of deprivation. It’s one of the most troubled areas of Cambridge. Lots of…the statistics show high violent crimes, and that kind of stuff…which is useful for funding applications. Cambridge is a very strange place because obviously you’ve got the university and you’ve got all the money that that brings…I mean there’s this old saying of ‘The town and the gown,’ and there’s definitely a split between the two. I’ve been very fortunate to have taught at the university over many years, which has been great and it’s given me an insight into the whole other side of Cambridge that I never saw growing up. But it’s very closed. The two things are very separate, so anybody who hasn’t experienced Cambridge and just has this imagination that it’s this really posh place, etc., etc., with loads of amenities and all of the stuff that a very elite university brings, that’s not the case. It’s split. You don’t get to go into the university unless you have a reason to be there and unless you’re a student or a tutor. There’s a lot of amazing stuff that happens in the university, and amazing Hip Hop stuff. There was the whole Hip Hop Psych stuff. That was all sort of generated through Cambridge University but, unless you’ve got a contact, you don’t ever hear about it. The other side of Cambridge has a very long history of being involved in Hip Hop, since Hip Hop started and came over to the UK. A lot of those people…they are your neighbourhood heroes, the people that I looked up to when I was at school. And we had a…not the summer just gone, but the summer before that, when we weren’t on lockdown, we had a BBQ where we invited a lot of the old heads to come down and they were DJing and, I remember being at the BBQ and just looking at the line-up of DJs, and it was the same guys who DJed for my 14th birthday. It was wicked. Hip Hop has a long history in Cambridge, but like most places outside of London, it has its moments where it just disappears into somebody’s bedroom, and then it’ll all come back out again, and then it’ll just disappear into somebody’s bedroom. There’s no consistency. For about ten years, we were producing a lot of events. We ran ‘The Bridge’ we ran ‘Trackside’…all of these kind of things. But again, as the music scene changed, that started to drop off…we had amazing artists come through for that. I think we gave Estelle her first gig outside of London, and obviously TY came through and Blak Twang and Rodney P, loads of people. But then the climate changed and so that wasn’t really relevant any more. Cambridge is close to Stevenage, Hitchin and Letchworth and all of those areas are overspills to London. Again when I was growing up, there was a lot of activity happening around those areas, a lot of DJs out there. In Stevenage, we used to get the train down to Stevenage on Saturdays for their graffiti jams at Bowes Lyon. It was a skate park and it had a hangar kind of thing and some sort of basement-y thing where they used to run jams as well. They were wicked. Really nice stuff. Just because you’re out of London, doesn’t mean that stuffs not happening.
IA: What about the building, the container? That looks really interesting.
LC: [laughs] Yeah! That would be really interesting, if it was where it’s supposed to be, but at the moment the container is stuck in the woods, about sixteen miles away. It came to be delivered last Monday, and there was a mix-up with times, so the crane had been here since nine in the morning, and then the container didn’t turn up and didn’t turn up and didn’t turn up. Then the crane said ‘Well, it’s getting dark, it’s half four, we’ve gotta leave.’ So the crane left, and then the container was like, at quarter past five, ‘Oh, we’re fifteen minutes away.’ [makes exasperated noises] So now, the container is in some woods, sixteen miles away and we’ve got no way of getting it back here, or crane-ing it up over the garages to drop in place. It does sound very exciting, but I’ve no idea what’s gonna happen! [laughs]
IA: I’m interested in the idea of archiving and documentation. Most companies and Hip Hop crews and posses - don’t do that very well. But SIN Cru are an exception. It was interesting having a look through your archive and what’s fascinating is the plurality of voices that you use. It could have been you at Hothouse with Storm in 2005, through to a JNR Sinstar going to see a work and reviewing it. I’m interested in the thinking behind that and why you’re documenting like that.
LC: Ah, well. I’m glad you picked up on the archiving. We currently have an archivist. We’ve just got Supernoodle, he used to be one of the JNR Sinstars, he’s now a Sinstar…that hasn’t been doing a lot of dancing recently. He has just come back to work as our archivist. He’s in two days a week, and we’ve got storage which was supported by Big Yellow Storage Company, they’ve given us a storage unit…and he’s over there two days a week, going through all of our boxes of photographs, of project stuff, of lesson plans, course overviews…everything. Anything and everything you can think of. I’m a hoarder! [laughs] I’m like…this is all gonna be so important one day. So, we are finally going through it all with some kind of system that isn’t mine, so it will be a good system, and then digitise everything, so that we can have online resources. Because, as you say, we have a wealth of stuff and it’s not good just sat there getting dusty in some storage, we want it to be an open resource that anybody who is interested in Hip Hop culture and Hip Hop history and Hip Hop techniques can access. That’s part of our development that we’ve started this year. Talking about previous archives that you’ve read on the website, and the plurality of voices…that’s again really interesting because we’ve been having discussions about how there’s no one face of SIN Cru. You know, Boy Blue for example, you’ve got Kenrick. He is the face of…and so on, you’ve got other dance companies or crews that have a very strong personality coming from one person, and at SIN Cru, we don’t have that. For me, I think that’s really important because we have always been a collective, this is the point of it. It’s SIN Cru, it’s not ‘MC SIN’ or something. I’m using the example that you had of having a report written by me and then another written by one of the juniors…again, we try to get the young people that we work with involved as much as possible, and to have their voice heard. As with any kind of youth activity, they come and get involved for a multitude of reasons and quite often, the last reason is because they want to be a B-Boy. Quite often it’s because of all different things, from a social perspective to a getting fit perspective, to a ‘Actually, I’ve got no friends and I wanna connect with something.’ Which is also where this sense of crew becomes really important, especially if they’re experiencing difficulty at home. And, for goodness sake, when you’re fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, who doesn’t experience difficulty at home? So having a representation across all angles from our archive all the way through to our teacher training programmes…having the voices of youth is really important.
IA: I’d be interested to hear you talk about your methodology of teaching, education and that idea of knowledge sharing because that sense of family and cross-generation is really present in SIN.
LC: Well one of the very first things Kenny said to me about teaching was that he doesn’t consider himself a teacher, he doesn’t consider what he does as teaching, he considers it sharing. And, that really, really had an impact on the way that we continue to develop our teaching programmes. This idea of an exchange, rather than a dictatorship…however [laughs] I’m sure the majority of people who come through any of my education programmes will disagree and say that I am that dictator! So we were residents at a secondary school in Cambridge for many years, going from being there to teach classes in the evening or after school, to having an office and a studio and I was running their dance GCSE. That was a massive learning curve, being resident in that school. As part of that, we really started to think about how we structure our classes. The idea is that we have a kid who comes in at pre-school with his or her parents and they do Hip Hop Tots with us and then at seven they move into B-Boy Foundation. And then they stay working with us and join the JNR Sinstars, and then from the JNR Sinstars they come into eOTo which is ‘Each One Teach One’, it’s our scheme for emerging artists. And then from being an emerging artist, they then battle in for a Sinstar. That’s the ideal longevity…obviously we know that that isn’t for everybody, and some people just come for a term. Some people won’t even come for that long, they just want to try something out with your mate one day. But to have that long-term vision, we realised that we needed to have a programme that supported that. So it wasn’t just a case of playing it by ear, and turning up every week and just seeing who was in the class and teach them something relevant to their level and skill set. It was actually about putting into place, OK so next Monday and the Monday after that, what happens when they learn all of that…where do they graduate to? What’s the next learning curve? So with the information that we were getting from the school’s residency, and me understanding how to teach dance GCSE and how to apply the more structured side of teaching that you would obviously learn in a normal PGCE course, we implemented course overviews and lesson plans, which…again, anybody who’s come through our teacher training - that’s the bane of their life, me saying ‘Have I got your course overview and have I got your lesson plans?’ They look at you, and they’re ready to headbutt the wall and ‘Fuck off with your course overviews!’ But that, in terms of a long game, that has been absolutely instrumental. One of the things that Noodle’s doing in the archive, is collating all the old course overviews and lesson plans, so we’ve actually got modules and modules of work, ready just to roll out. With that we can then start to be able to have discussions about how the techniques evolved, and how…’OK, if your endgame is you want to learn that move, if we break that down, what do we start with?’ So, what actually do we wanna be teaching the new youth that come in, from the beginning, so that they’re gonna effectively get to there…without having gaps in their information. I know that’s a very straight…every teacher does that, every teacher breaks down a move. But to think about it in a much bigger programme, I think is what made the switch for us with our teaching programmes.
IA: What do you want to dismantle in Hip Hop?
LC: Ha! [laughs] Oh…where to start? There’s so many things to dismantle. Fundamentally, the dismantling is from within the culture itself. There’s nuff people that are complaining about the way that the wider world look at us, and treat us or don’t treat us. But actually, we need to look amongst ourselves and pull ourselves up on a lot of shit. I think a lot that starts with self-worth. With every individual acknowledging their worth and that what we’re doing in Hip Hop is more than valid, is essential in many ways…and is bigger than writing a few bars or throwing down in a few circles. It’s much more powerful than that. When we start to feel genuinely proud about what we’re doing, and holding our heads high, that’s when the world will stop and listen, you know. Stop fighting between ourselves and all this kind of stuff. There’s a massive shift going on, it’s been going on for the last few years on all the misogyny within Hip Hop and all the rudeness about different genders, in terms of sexuality. All the homophobia. It goes without saying all the racism as well.
IA: Can you talk about self-care and mental health in Hip Hop? I think it’s quite under documented and not very spoken about. Are there any practices that you do?
LC: On a theory level, people should check in with what Hip Hop Psych are doing. They are doing amazing, amazing work…literally pulling apart lyrics that have been written by many different artists and explaining…like you would pull apart a poem when you’re studying English Literature, but really looking at the undertones of mental health in there. They’ve also been doing…adding that to scientific experiments where you can measure the heart rate and the amount of endorphins in your blood when you’re listening to Hip Hop and it’s amazing, it’s literally amazing. I clearly know I’m talking shit, I don’t know all the right terminology for all of the stuff that they’re doing but certainly for psychology, and for all that well-being then Hip Hop Psych are the people to check. For SIN Cru and the way that we practice, again it comes from us as directors and what helps us. If something helps us individually then, we like to share it. I do a lot of meditation, a lot of yoga, I look to holistic things like Chinese medicines rather than Western medicines. Always looking around solutions rather than medicating for one. If you’re looking at rehabilitation, if you’re looking at injury, we’re always trying to look at the prevention, rather than the cure. Initially, let’s look at prevention - what can we do to put ourselves in the best place to absorb this practice, in terms of breaking, but also to just survive this life. Our artist development…when I’m doing company class, we will start with meditation, we will finish with a sort of yin-inspired practice, holding stretches for a long period of time, working on our breath work, looking at ways to de-stress and how effective breathing is gonna help you in a battle. It’s constantly transferable.
IA: I’ve got a few more questions, but is there anything that you’ve not spoken about so far that you want recording and documenting that is important for you? It could be a memory, it could be a time, this is a space for something that maybe hasn’t been mentioned yet.
LC: [long pause] I don’t think so.
LC: Ooh, I can show you…well I can’t really. I can show you my ring. Style is really, really important to us in terms of Hip Hop culture. For our 25th we got these sovereigns made up, they’re ‘SIN Cru’ and they’ve got the running man and shit on them, they’re just ‘Rahh,’ just dope.
IA: What are your answers to the other two people please?
LC: Oh my god. I thought you’d forgotten.
LC: Ah… [pause] I… [pause, followed by faux scream] I would say…James, as in James Therobot. And B-Girl RascElle.
IA: Do you want to expand upon why those two?
LC: I say James because as one of the other directors of SIN Cru, he’s also company dancer as well, so we are doing a lot of stuff together and deferring to each other quite a lot so we have to have a synergy between us, to make sure that, everything stays like this. So if there’s something in terms of the crew, or something in terms of work that I’m querying, he’s my sounding board. He’s also very good at calling me when I’m talking shit. Yeah. RascElle, she is number one daughter. She’s basically been on this journey with me, all of her life. We’re now getting people that were born into Hip Hop. For us lot, we came to it in some kind of rebellion or tryna find ourselves, but her and people of her age, are probably the first generation born into it. The first little kids from heads. It’s always been around her and she doesn’t see it as something else. For her, it’s just life. And with that, that itself created a lot of issues, I mean, she’s been dancing since she was…well she did the UK B-Boy Championships in ’99, when she was six. We work with a body worker who does lots of body assessments, and she’s done a lot of work with us over the years and looked at how our bodies have actually become what they need to be for breaking, and because RascElle is one of those people that was doing it at a very young age, her body’s growth was informed, wrongly or rightly, by a lot of the movements that we do. So that in itself is a very interesting concept. She’s not gonna be alone - there’s a lot of kids that started younger and are getting older, who have similar physiques and physiological traits.
IA: Can you talk a bit more about the body work? I’m interested in how that has knowledge has affected the breaking body…be it your body or those that you work with.
LC: OK, so take this company class we’re starting. We’re due to start that tomorrow, and obviously, the following weeks have been postponed, due to our lockdown. But before we went into it, I asked all of the company members to do a body assessment with Joules, who does our body assessments. So that she could take check of where they are physically, if there’s any pre-existing injuries, where their strengths and weaknesses are, so that with her I can design exercises work on the techniques that are really gonna benefit them and look at why they might be struggling with certain B-Boy techniques, because of how their anatomy is. That was the starting point…so I get the information back from Joules and then create the work based on where their bodies are at. Then she’ll come in and check on them, periodically through the next twenty-five weeks. So it’s things like…there’s a curvature, a closing off of the chest, because you’re holding this stance… a tilt of of the hips, thinking about where you sweep from and how people generally work to one side rather than being both-sided, across our training we ensure that we drill everything, both sides…we didn’t always, but since we’ve become more in line with all of this, in the last fifteen years, we’ve been making sure that we drill everything both sides. That’s not the same for dancers who haven’t come through us. We’ve been looking a lot, this time round, at the feet. The majority of all other dance styles, people dance in soft shoes, like ballet shoes for example, or they dance bare-footed. In B-Boying, we never, never take our shoes off. In fact, our trainers are a massive part of the cultural identity, our cultural silhouette. You know, what trainers have you got on? Your trainers have always gotta look fresh and sometimes you don’t even pull the laces tight, so they’re a disaster waiting to happen in that respect. But, aesthetics over practicalities, always. So how do we make that work? This is what we’re looking at now, and we’re starting to do a study on the feet. Because, if you have any knowledge about how the body works, you understand that, if your feet are misaligned that throws your knees off, throws your hips off, throws your back out and, effectively can change your whole posture. That’s what we’re talking about - how we can work proactively with our feet, knowing that we’re gonna be dancing in trainers.
IA: What does success and happiness look like for you?
LC: Yellow! Bright yellow and big sunshine and a nice field with lots of yellow cornflowers.
IA: What was the first piece of Hip Hop theatre that you saw?
LC: Wow. [long pause] That’s a really good question because, when we first started making theatre, it wasn’t a genre. It wasn’t ‘Hip Hop theatre’. It was just theatre and we were Hip Hop artists. So the title ‘Hip Hop theatre’ came into play, actually quite a lot later. I think the first piece of theatre I saw by a Hip Hop artist…which wouldn’t have been classed ‘Hip Hop theatre’ because, that term came later…would have been Jonzi D’s ‘Aeroplane Man’. I was working at my old school, and took a group of kids to see it. We’d already produced some theatre shows by that point, and so we were really, really excited to see somebody else who was creating theatre, but coming from our viewpoint. I think that was around ’98, ’99…maybe.
IA: Finally, what is your strongest memory of dance?
LC: Pah! What?! [laughs] This is another one like, ‘name your three people, your top film in the whole world, ’ [pause] Strongest memory connected to dance? Oh, there’s just so many. [pause] I mean… [laughs] It’s a really stupid one to come to mine, so the first thing that came to mind when you said that, was when one of the then Juniors was in training and he hurt his shoulder. He just lay on the floor… [laughs] ‘Stop the music! Stop the music!’ [laughs] That was it! And he just…it was just really amusing. He was such a drama queen and in this particular incident, actually he wasn’t being a drama queen but every other moment he was, but this particular incident he wasn’t being a drama queen and we didn’t have any ice or anything because of where we were. It was really cold, it was winter…December or something and so the windows were all frozen up. I sent him outside to stand topless with his shoulder pressed up against the window…[laughs] With his shoulder pressed up against the cold glass to try and ice it. Jesus. I should think of a better one that. We’ve completely thrown all of our health and safety out the window.
IA: Is there anything else?
LC: Backspins in the Chinese takeaway. The beginnings of me learning a technique in breaking. So, yeah, I started in the school disco and that was literally, just copying what you’d seen and throwing myself around. Then, when I got a little bit fearless I wanted to…this is maybe ’88, ’89 now. I wanted to learn a backspin, so the only place that I knew that had a good floor was the Chinese takeaway. So we used to go in their after an evening out, and I would order some plain rice. [laughs] Like, 85p and while it was being cooked I’d have my backspin lesson. [laughs]
IA: Who was teaching you backspins? [laughs] What was going on?
LC: My mates and my posse, that would have been MC Demo, Smurf…shout out of Demo, Smurf and DJ Smooth. [laughs]
IA: What did the staff think? Were they accepting and did they think it was cool?
LC: It was a very small, family run business, so as soon as we placed our order, nobody was out front, so it was just us…and a rubber plant.
Photo credit, Simon Richardson https://sincru.co.uk/