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and we don’t dance neither

New article on Skratch Bastid up here, from the June issue of Exclaim!. The print version comes with a half-page closeup of homeboy’s face. Go clip that for your little sister’s locker.

Bastid is one of my favourite DJs, both for his mixtapes and for his live performances. He was one of the first people I met in Halifax when I first made my big move to the East Coast, and every single club or party set I hit up – from posh nightclub to grimy beer-soaked New Brunswick hole – Bastid always managed to work the crowd into a dancing frenzy.

He was in Toronto last weekend to play a few shows, and I caught his last gig on Saturday night – LOADED @ System Soundbar. It was a dope set, and I wiled out to his famous M.O.P. routine, wishing desperately that we were in some other city, any city, anywhere but Toronto. Because if we had been in Halifax, or Moncton, or even bloody Montreal, more people would have been dancing. There were three of us on the dancefloor Saturday night, and the rest of the crowd was leaned up against the wall or slumped in a chair, perfecting their screwface. Pffft.

When Toronto goes out to a hip hop show (or rock show, for that matter), Toronto does not dance. There’s this move we seem to have mastered that’s called the Cross-Your-Arms-And-Fake-Like-Rigor-Mortis, and it can be applied to any live bassline, riff, sax solo, scratch routine, triple encore, etc. We’re unmovable. It’s not like we don’t love great dance music – some of the premier dance music talents have come out of this city. Some acts, like the Pocket Dwellers, have even made careers out of making audiences sweaty. But still – for every person dancing, there are at least ten more doing the Carebear Stare. The hip hop crowd appreciates dance, and at any given show you’ll find an enthusiastic crowd (mostly still wearing the screwface) gathered around the one or two b-boy/b-girl circles that invariably form. So why is it that we love to watch good dance, we know good dance, but we’re so hesitant to un-cross our arms and dance ourselves? Regular dance nights like Souled Out or Love Movement don’t count. I’m talking about when you go to check your favourite emcee or a big-name DJ rock a club and you act like the jams that make you go co-co bananas through your headphones don’t have an affect once you’re in public. What is this?

In studying anthropology and migration, I’ve learned about how we’re losing an alarming number of languages with each ensuing generation. A language can only survive if it is passed down and used actively; once it drops from regular use, it becomes extinct. I worry that the same thing may be happening with dance. If we forget what it feels like to throw our hands up at a concert, to sway our hips, to stomp our feet, to tear our shirt off and wave it around our head like a helicopter – if we forget how to show a performer appreciation by having a good time, what sort of future can we look forward to? I’m being serious. I can see the same Rigor-Mortis stance seeping onto the stage; where someone who’s been around for a decade or more, like Roam or Fatski or N.I.Gel, will jump up in front of an audience, strike up a rapport and have a good time, the newest emcees and crews coming up don’t seem to want to crack a smile at all. They sulk and they pose, and it becomes a case of a screwface performer looking back at dozens of other mirrored screwface expressions, and everybody’s too concerned with proving something to have a good time. Body language speaks volumes for a person’s comfort level and how they regard themselves, and Toronto has got some major demons to deal with.

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