Cred­it: Amelia Lancaster

“To live is to suf­fer, but to survive…well…that’s to find mean­ing in the suf­fer­ing”. This poignant, poten­tially time­less sen­ti­ment, over­stood and expressed by many through­out human his­tory, pos­sibly exper­i­enced by any per­son, if not any being, who has ever exis­ted, was power­fully inter­preted by DMX for the Hip Hop gen­er­a­tion on the intro to the clas­sic Slip­pin’. The track delves into the tra­gic and tri­umphant details of the legend’s dif­fi­cult jour­ney, encap­su­lat­ing and explor­ing all the pain, frus­tra­tion, loss, loneli­ness, aban­don­ment, rage, viol­ence, self-destruc­tion of being trapped in both the cycle of poverty and the ‘welfare’/ ’cor­rec­tion­al’ sys­tem where this poverty is often at its most intense. Slip­pin’ is DMX and Hip Hop at their greatest; bru­tally hon­est and raw, rip­ping open his wounds for the world to look at and into, to see without cen­sor some truths of the world that put them there.

Ruins, a multi-layered, mul­ti­me­dia col­lab­or­at­ive pro­duc­tion by Lon­don con­tem­por­ary dance duo Fub­u­nation is ven­tur­ing into this ter­rit­ory, offer­ing a fresh rein­ter­pret­a­tion of this ancient obser­va­tion for a new Hip Hop gen­er­a­tion with a slightly dif­fer­ent vis­ion from the one DMX per­son­i­fied at his peak. The piece is at least 2 years in the mak­ing, and uses con­tem­por­ary dance with a strong Hip Hop influ­ence, sound, film, install­a­tion and pho­to­graphy to exam­ine the lives and psyches of its cre­at­ive dir­ect­ors, cho­reo­graph­ers and per­formers Rhys Den­nis and Wad­dah Sin­ada. Ruins is centred around the battle for and between authen­ti­city, accept­ance, respect, self-defence, strength, vul­ner­ab­il­ity and sens­it­iv­ity, with­in and without, in an attempt to scru­tin­ise black­ness and mas­culin­ity in the cre­at­or’s exper­i­ences. It is a power­ful, engross­ing piece of artist­ic expres­sion, that is deal­ing with some cru­cially rel­ev­ant dis­cus­sion points for the world we cur­rently inhab­it and the world we might hope to, espe­cially in the Afric­an dia­spora and cre­at­ive com­munit­ies the artists are situ­ated in.

Per­formed this time at Camden’s Round­house, your first exper­i­ence as a spec­tat­or is an install­a­tion con­sist­ing of cloth draped in the round with first the title, then a film pro­jec­ted from the centre, through the hanging mater­i­al, onto the brick wall of The Hub room. The film, dir­ec­ted by Den­nis and Sin­ada along­side film­makers Don­nie Sun­shine and San­nchia Gaston expertly cap­tures seg­ments of the main dance sequence. The dancer’s bod­ies are wrapped, bal­anced and inter­twined in vast empty room spaces and on bare rooftops with the Lon­don sky­scape in the dis­tance, evok­ing the intern­al and extern­al battle­grounds – the mind and the ends – where the con­flict at the centre of Ruins is played out, privately and pub­lic­ally. The 6 minute film and the way it is dis­played add an extra dimen­sion to the world of Ruins, mean­ing it can be made share­able in this digit­al era (along­side pho­to­graphs taken by Sun­shine and Amelia Lan­caster), but also leaves the view­er intrigued by the ambi­gu­ity, with unanswered ques­tions that are explored in much great­er detail in the main performance.

Cred­it: Aless­andro Castellani

This begins with a darkened stage with what appears as a single body, barely lit at the back of the space. The body slowly moves, and you real­ise gradu­ally that there are two bod­ies, incred­ibly close togeth­er. The first major move­ment sees the rear body place a hand entirely over the face of the one in front. This pose is held for, what for me is an uncom­fort­ably long peri­od of time, and is a very power­ful state­ment. Hav­ing grown-up in the same city as Den­nis and Sin­ada, in a sim­il­ar time and com­munity, to place your hand on anoth­er man’s face – a punch, a slap, a poke, a stroke – is gen­er­ally deemed unac­cept­able; it is a massive state­ment of dis­respect, insult, viol­ence, mockery…or unwanted, uncom­fort­able or con­fus­ing affec­tion. Depend­ing on con­text, it would largely be met with vary­ing degrees of reac­tion and con­sequence, and in the major­ity of cases would be grounds for imme­di­ate con­flict. To begin this piece with such a declar­a­tion of defi­ance to this social norm sets the tone for what is com­ing in a for­mid­able way. The piece explodes, with raw power and del­ic­ate sens­it­iv­ity, into an inter­per­son­al war between two facets of a sin­gu­lar entity, the inner con­flict of a black man/community attempt­ing to resolve all that they must be at once; what they are, what they are told they are, what they aspire to be, what they are forced to be, what they can nev­er be, and all the con­tra­dic­tions, emo­tions, injur­ies, fail­ures and vic­tor­ies that are born from this struggle.

The two dan­cers’ bod­ies are rarely not touch­ing, with their bod­ies inter­woven, bal­anced, lift­ing, push­ing, car­ry­ing, lying in/on/under/above with incred­ible con­trol and a level of intim­acy I per­son­ally have nev­er seen between two black men who are not fight­ing, either on road or in a box­ing ring or MMA cage. And yet it is a fight, an ongo­ing beef between dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the self; the inner-battle raging from child­hood between the want to be happy, to play, to dance, to tell someone you love them, to hold a hand, to hug your child, to cry, to let someone in and the feel­ing that if you did you’d be ‘soft’, and if any­one ever knew or saw that you’d be a vic­tim, and vic­tims don’t sur­vive long where we come from. Because the war is not only with your­self, but also with the oth­er, their gaze and the way black chil­dren and adults are per­ceived in this soci­ety by the police officer, the racist, the teach­er, the col­on­iser, the screw, the employ­er who won’t hire, the par­ent who won’t hug you, the oth­er black man who’s watch­ing you or com­ing at you. Right now. With a shank. So that regard­less of how you feel, or what you want to do with your life, you are forced to be, as Klash­nekoff put it, “ever ready fi bury a guy” wheth­er you want to or not, or risk him bury­ing you.

Cred­it: Amelia Lancaster

This is a real­ity that I have seen played out in myself, broth­ers, cous­ins, fath­ers, uncles and friends through­out my life. The so-called hyper­mas­culin­ity exper­i­enced and con­struc­ted by many of us to dif­fer­ent degrees and in dif­fer­ent mani­fest­a­tions, that is under the micro­scope so hard right now and attacked as tox­ic, which it often can be, that pre­vents us from so much relief, ease and hap­pi­ness, is neces­sary for so many of us to make it to and through adult­hood in one piece, in a soci­ety that so often views us as a threat, a bur­den, a tar­get. This is expressed in incred­ible depth and detail by Den­nis and Sin­ada, as they per­son­i­fy an array of emo­tions and actions, vying for the fore­front of the mind and body – joy­ous, gassed up, fear­ful, broken, defi­ant – bat­tling to both break free of the con­straints of their socially con­struc­ted man­hood and embrace it, even weapon­ise it, to manœuvre through their lives, through their industry, striv­ing to attain some kind of res­ol­u­tion to “the nev­er end­ing gun fight” the late great Prodigy said he was trapped in.

There is also an erot­i­cism at large through­out the piece, mostly loc­ated in the ten­der­ness of touch used to demon­strate the one­ness of the dan­cers, and per­haps also the care they have for them­selves, the indi­vidu­al and/or com­munity who is the prot­ag­on­ist of the piece, and per­haps for each oth­er. This subtly unveils the core of a con­ver­sa­tion that is urgently needed in the Afric­an and Carib­bean com­munit­ies of the Black Atlantic and bey­ond, that wheth­er people want to accept it or not, regard­less of reli­gious, cul­tur­al or oth­er atti­tudes, irre­spect­ive of con­spir­acy the­or­ies (that may be anchored in some truth), Afric­an-ori­gin queer people exist, and they are also going through the con­flict described above, with yet more added dimen­sions to this inner/outer battle we are all facing in some form. Even the ter­min­o­logy used to cat­egor­ise people in this way, along­side the racial­ising and gen­der­ing terms used in this piece are poten­tially prob­lem­at­ic, as none of us would be facing these spe­cif­ic con­flicts were it not for the his­tory of colo­ni­al dom­in­a­tion, which is the ori­gin of these socially con­struc­ted colo­ni­al assemblages and labels, expressed using a lan­guage that is not of our ancest­ors. As someone who has nev­er had to face this par­tic­u­lar battle, I’m not in a pos­i­tion to com­ment on it in-depth, but it is some­thing that Fub­u­nation have cour­ageously and com­mend­ably con­fron­ted in Ruins, which I’m sure will gen­er­ate and con­trib­ute pro­duct­ively to this vital discussion.

Cred­it: Aless­andro Castellani

Ruins is an absorb­ing, inspir­ing suc­cess, evid­ence of how power­ful art can be when the focus is turned inwards and out­wards, deal­ing with lived exper­i­ence, nav­ig­at­ing the dangers of vul­ner­ab­il­ity with sharp crit­ic­al­ity and the skill to mani­fest ambi­tions. Fub­u­nation have cre­ated some­thing amaz­ing, with the help of an incred­ible pro­duc­tion team. Through cho­reo­graphy, cine­ma­to­graphy, pho­to­graphy, light­ing and the unbe­liev­able dron­ing, atmo­spher­ic sound­scape com­posed by James Wilkie and Sam Nun­ez, an eth­er­e­al ‘oth­er-world’ is built to ana­lyse and express the key themes, offer­ing audi­ences the oppor­tun­ity to do so with them. These themes, and the clashes at the core, are of course open to inter­pret­a­tion; dif­fer­ent view­ers may see the piece, them­selves and their own psyche and envir­on­ment reflec­ted in a dif­fer­ent way to how I have, which per­haps is even dif­fer­ently to how the artists inten­ded, but again, I think that is the power of great art, great Hip Hop and of Ruins as a production.

Fubunation’s aim is to tour Ruins through­out 2020, so be sure to look for it, and be ready for fur­ther devel­op­ments, inter­pret­a­tions and pro­duc­tions by this immensely tal­en­ted collective.

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Apex Zero

An emcee, beat­maker, film­maker and writer from Lon­don with Gren­adian roots, Apex Zero has spent his life learn­ing and liv­ing Hip Hop cul­ture, using it to inspire and affect change. Based in Beijing for a few years and reg­u­larly tour­ing the globe, Apex is well trav­elled, and uses the les­sons this provides to inform his art and out­look. He is a mem­ber of the Glob­al­Fac­tion digit­al pro­duc­tion house and the inter­na­tion­al Hip Hop col­lect­ive End of the Weak.

About Apex Zero

An emcee, beatmaker, filmmaker and writer from London with Grenadian roots, Apex Zero has spent his life learning and living Hip Hop culture, using it to inspire and affect change. Based in Beijing for a few years and regularly touring the globe, Apex is well travelled, and uses the lessons this provides to inform his art and outlook. He is a member of the GlobalFaction digital production house and the international Hip Hop collective End of the Weak.