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The Bebop Revolution

[whitespace] Tableturns
Matthew Ipcar

Break-dancing Boys: Hundreds of kids, some of them surely under the age of 12, crowd the main room at Tableturns, a three-day DJ event.

All-ages parties are uncommon in San Francisco, but that's what makes the electric enthusiasm animating the young crowd at Tableturns so rare

By Michelle Goldberg

Sometime during the 1990s, rap and hip-hop became two very different things. While the mainstream radar focused on people like Tupac Shakur and Puff Daddy, a different, more organic culture simmered below, an exuberant teenage world that combines old-school break dancing with sophisticated, experimental music and a one-world city sensibility.

Tableturns, a three-day DJ event that included a showcase, DJ workshops and a mellow lounge event, kicked off with an all-ages party at the International Ballroom on Oak Street. Hundreds of kids, some of them surely less than 12 years old, crowded the main room. Boys in baggy pants were impervious to the heat beneath their fleece and down jackets as they sauntered around the room with sullen grace, hardly seeming to notice the smattering of impossibly beautiful girls in tight pants and sleeveless shirts or skirts and knee-high boots. In San Francisco, where cultures melt and meld and transmogrify into each other, the new hip-hop nation is unexpectedly and overwhelmingly Asian, from the prepubescent younger brothers staring in awe at the break dancers' contortions to the huge Samoan security guards standing like a brick wall behind one of the bars.

On the stage, DJs spun alone or in pairs, changing their records every 10 seconds and rotating sets every 10 minutes. A screen above the stage magnified the turntables and the ninja-quick hands dancing over the records and knobs. Occasionally, the scratches, breaks and samples would meld so perfectly that the crowd would throw its fists into the air and cheer. "I compare it to the bebop revolution," said DJ Sugarcuts, who founded Tableturns in New York City and helped set up the SF version. "People like Coltrane were taking jazz from dance music into deep improvisational stuff."

The most impressive DJ of the night was Total Eclipse, a member of the New York City-based X-cutioners. A chubby man wearing a "Phat Farm" T-shirt, Total Eclipse set one record whirling while he scratched the other. He'd bump the needle on the first to a spot that said "New York," then send it back, all the while spinning around and crossing his hands over each other, creating astonishing polyrythms out of stolen beats. The audience screamed and clapped.

After the show, Total Eclipse said that the music industry and MTV were responsible for the direction of mainstream rap because they highlighted MCs and put DJs in the background. "We're trying to make it to the forefront," he said. "If we were at the forefront, this place would be jampacked. This is the essence--a whole bunch of kids taking the art form to another level."

All-ages parties are rare in San Francisco, and our city's tough doormen keep most youthful energy outside the clubs. Sometimes that's a good thing. It surely accounts for the mellow, understated vibe that pervades most local events. But it also makes the kind of electric enthusiasm that animated the crowd at Tableturns rather rare. There was a tiny closed-off room at the party with a bar for the over-21 crowd, but it remained almost empty most of the night. Two girls gossiping in a bathroom mentioned a boy named Walter--"How old is he?" asked one. "He's 20," the other replied. "Ooohhh, so he's 'older'!" said the first.

A small, ponytailed, lightly mustachioed boy spinning on his head in a corner was all of 15 years old. Calling himself "Amoe One," he's a member of the Ego Smashers Crew, a group of six break dancers that, this being 1998, happily included one girl, 20-year-old Lady J. Amoe One said his brother taught him to break dance on his ninth birthday. "I'll be doing it till I'm 40, till my legs fall off," he says. His crew has started traveling around the country and will soon be competing in L.A.

They didn't get to compete at Tableturns, though. The night belonged to the Rock Force Crew, a group of rubber-band boys who cleared out the center of the floor and twirled on their heads, shoulders and backs, danced on their hands, and did flips and rolls and a hundred other lightning-precise maneuvers. They alternated between liquid flexibility and robotic precision as they pranced and posed for the audience. The air at Tableturns was thick with testosterone, but there's something undeniably fabulous about any subculture where a group of strutting, cocky boys get together and put on a dance show.

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From the April 20-May 3, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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