Why Birmingham’s B-Side Festival Is Putting World Hip-Hop BACK On The Cultural Map.

Birmingham B-Side Hip Hop Festival

Do you know your beat-boxing from your breakin’, your freezes from your freestyle and your Ice T from your T-Kid?

When it comes to the ever evolving and constantly surprising world of British hip-hop, it’s safe to say that the UK’s second city has never been shy of ‘breaking’ new ground. From the entrepreneurial might of early pioneers [Juice – can you offer up some examples here? E.g. Goldie etc] to the freshest faces in home-grown grime, Birmingham’s little documented but long-standing reputation as a producer and consumer of all-things hip-hop continues to gather pace with the arrival of not one, but two major UK hip-hop events landing in Birmingham this May.

Swapping the streets of the Bronx for Southside, Birmingham Hippodrome’s B-Side Hip-Hop Festival will once again see the best of the UKs bboys and bgirls battle it out on the streets and stages of Southside in a three-day festival bringing together some of the most influential names in contemporary hip-hop from across the globe. Combining music, dance, rap, DJing, live performance and culminating in one incredible live finale taking place on one of the largest and most prestigious stages in the country, B-Side may be global in its outlook and ambitions but – at its heart – beats a talented core of Birmingham-based artists and producers who together, have helped cement and grow Birmingham’s reputation as a U.K leader in all things hip-hop.

Ahead of this year’s event, we chat to Festival Directors, Juice Aleem, Marso Riviere, Panda (a.k.a Flake) and Break Mission co-directors David Russell and Michael Glasgow (a.k.a DJ Silence) about British hip-hop’s revitalised role on the world stage, the valuable part contemporary hip-hop continues to play in the cultural life of Europe’s youngest city and how events like B-Side are helping to challenge perceptions of a movement with cultural dialogue, experimentation and creative collaboration at its heart.

Tell us a little bit more about your work as individuals and your involvement in the festival?

Dave Russell: Break Mission have been running for five years now. Our ethos is all about giving back to the local community through hip-hop culture, dance, music, rap and graffiti art. We raise food and clothes for homeless people through our events – all of which operate on a ‘Donate to Participate’ basis. We try to turn bad situations into good situations for our community, and all through the power of hip-hop.

Panda: I’m helping to organise the Graffiti art side of the festival which includes the Graffiti Jam – a meeting of some of the biggest names in UK and International graff art. I’ll also be working with our Sponsors POSCA to run a series of workshops giving families the opportunity to learn about basic Graffiti lettering and get involved with some artworks of their own.

Juice: I’m programming an event called Afroflux at this year’s festival, which is inspired by Afro-futurism. Afro-futurism is basically any point at which black cultures meet things and how those things change and evolve in the process. In hip-hop, that’s always been there. It’s something we’re really looking forward to expressing and expanding upon at this year’s festival.

“There’s a certain energy, a certain crackle that happens when all the elements of hip-hop come together…there’s a real electricity, a magic in the air”

Juice Aleem

How did you first become interested in hip-hop?

Juice: My root into hip-hop was a funny one really. I suppose it started the way a lot of people got into the genre – with brothers, uncles and cousins sending over reggae tapes from the US. It was only when they stamped hip-hop as a genre in the mid-80s that I realised what it was.

For me, it was the most interesting thing I’d ever seen or heard. Everything that I was into at that time, girls, comics, music, dancing – it was all encapsulated within hip-hop. That’s what got me in and that’s what kept me in.

Panda: Hip-hop first came over to the UK in about 1984 and that’s how I first got into graffiti. I was 12 then. I tried break-dancing, I was rubbish at that! I tried MC’ing with a Birmingham accent – that just wouldn’t happen at the time! I didn’t have money for decks or anything so graffiti art was the natural choice for me. I started my own business through graffiti via The Princes Trust when I was 25, working with young people. And 20 years later, I’m still doing my thing in Birmingham where I have a base at The Custard Factory.

What role has Bham played in the evolution of British hip-hop culture and how important is this to the city?

Juice Aleem: Birmingham’s role in the evolution of hip-hop in the UK is still a bit of an unknown commodity but it’s safe to say it’s an important one. A lot of graffiti lettering styles for example came to and from the West Midlands. You have legends like Goldie – a multidisciplinary artist with a background in Graff, dancing, music, production – and other artists of that calibre who would turn up at events to perform when I was younger in the 80s. I wasn’t supposed to be in at the time, I was far too young! I don’t think Birmingham’s contribution has been documented enough – people like Tiski, Zuki, Flyer, writers like Ground Patrol, Crystal Force, pirate radio stations like Metro FM, Power FM, PCRL…the list goes on and on.

Coming up to the present day, obviously you’ve got people like The Streets, Lady Lisha…Black Twayne, people who you wouldn’t necessarily know were from Birmingham or the Midlands, at least originally. It’s an amazing legacy and one we should shout about more and its growing and evolving every day with events like B-Side.

As well as providing a platform for emerging and established hip-hop talent here in Birmingham, this year’s festival features an incredible line-up of international artists. Who are you most looking forward to seeing at this year’s Festival?

Marso: All of us Directors are bringing a particular element to this year’s festival and part of that involves inviting special guests both from across the UK and the international hip-hop community. This year we have Poe One from the USA and Style Element Crew – an amazing Bboy and legendary teacher. We have Link Bink from France – an up-and-coming, multi-disciplinary dancer – he’s going to be one of our workshop leaders. It’s an incredibly diverse line-up both in terms of styles, disciplines, messages, history and background.

Juice: There’s a lot of people you need to keep an eye on and be aware of this year. You’ve got Lady Sanity who’s really doing big things in Mcing at the moment – she’s already headlining spots around the UK and in Europe. You’ve got Quartz Crystallus – another multi-layered graffiti artist, MC and producer – the whole gamut of styles. Birmingham-wise, I think Break Mission deserve a shout out all of their own. Their work is hugely important to bboy culture and its rebirth. It was always there, it didn’t go away but it’s getting more clearly defined again and more powerful – and that’s partly thanks to people like Dave and DJ Silence.

Last year’s festival attracted over 5000 visitors to Southside, bringing together over 70 performers, wordsmiths and artists from across the city, plus an additional 150 local street dance competitors from across the UK. Why are events like this important to Birmingham? What impact, do you feel, events like these have on the hip-hop community here in Birmingham?

Marso: This is one of the first festivals of its kind that is artistically directed by people who have been involved in the local, Birmingham hip-hop community for a number of years now. All of the Festival Directors have previously organised battles and various other events pop-up here in the city. We have a following here and we feel very proud of what we’ve built and very inspired to continue and built upon that legacy. The festival is really a platform for all of our years of experience and our collective creativity, bringing the community together for one incredible weekend. It’s a passion that all of us share but doing it together has really strengthened that vision. This year is going to be bigger than ever – we have more battles, more performances, a huge graffiti exhibition and an incredible line-up of local and international talent.

Juice Aleem: It’s important not only to but for Birmingham’s hip-hop community because it’s so wide, it’s so vast and so disparate – there’s a lot of history, a lot of lineage (which not everyone knows about) and there’s a lot of scope to take things further and grow the hip-hop scene, which is what we’re trying to do with events like B-Side. Personally, I’m looking forward to so much of the movement being in one place, in one space. It’s very rare, no matter how many elements of hip-hop you talk about or believe in – that you’ll get so many bboys, bgirls, MCs, poets, breakers, DJs and lockers all in the same space at the same time doing their thing. That, in itself, is something to behold and marvel at. There’s a certain energy, a certain crackle that happens when those elements come together. When elements are far apart, they don’t have much reaction but when they get close together, there’s a real electricity – there’s magic in the air. It’s incredible to watch and be part of.

Hip-Hop is a beautiful thing – it’s for black, white, Asian, Puerto-Rican, wherever you’re from in the world…open your mind and make it work for you”

Dave Russell

DJ Silence: It’s a chance for the hip-hop community to come together and showcase their abilities, talents and personalities and everything the culture brings, both in terms of what it does for individuals within the city, how it’s been a platform for them to break out and see the world and a way to convey information and knowledge and to provide a creative outlet for the next generation of artists.

How would you describe the atmosphere of B-Side?

Dave Russell: Last year’s atmosphere was amazing. It’s been a long time since there’s been a hip-hop celebration of that size and scale in Birmingham. To have live graffiti art taking place in the city centre was a huge thing for the city – and the art created is still there now for all to see. The collection of rap acts, MCs, DJs, and music producers is spectacular. It’s also great to see the previous generation of hip-hop enthusiasts and artists connecting with a new generation of fans as well.

Aside from that, it was also incredible to see so many young people making use of the theatre building, having so much to see and do.

What do you hope visitors will take away from their experience of B-Side Hip-Hop Festival?

Dave Russell: Hip-hop is a beautiful thing – it’s for black, white, Asian, Puerto-Rican, wherever you’re from in the world, hip-hop is for you. And the best thing about this festival is that it’s free to come and enjoy. Hip-hop is for everyone so don’t feel left out or excluded, come and get a connection, open your mind and make it work for you.

DJ Silence: Ultimately, we want people to see that hip-hop is fun – some people think it’s serious all of the time – it’s not, it’s fun and it’s open to everyone. I think that’s a really important message for visitors to take away.

B-Side Hip-Hop Festival runs at Birmingham Hippodrome from Fri 19 – Sun 21 May. For more information on this year’s festival, visit https://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/b-side-hip-hop-festival-2017/