Tasneen: How did the concept of Battle of the year come about?
Thomas: It was in the late eighties when Hip-Hop, especially breakdancing or b-boying, was almost dead in Germany and around the world. I had my former b-boy crew at this stage (Burning Moves) and together we decided it was time to do something about this, so we organized a little jam in '89 which was not only b-boying but also a bit of rapping and dj-ing. The next year we did the 1st competition - The International Breakdance contest. Our aim was to bring breakdancing back on the scene especially in our hometown of Hannover, already at the first event we had b-boys from Switzerland and England coming so that motivated us to do it the next year and again and again.
Tasneen: This years theme, "A change of direction", how did that come about?
Thomas: It was a decision made by a group of people like Mode, our graffiti artist, and Storm, a famous b-boy from Germany. We were unsatisfied with the Hip-Hop scene in general in Europe and Germany, and about the direction that Battle of the Year was going recently - it has gone very big. The kids are sitting consuming like when you sit in a cinema and eat popcorn and go home without being interactive or creative which is one of the original elements of Hip-Hop that makes Hip-Hop different from rave or house music, which isn't really a culture in my opinion. We decided to show the kids, especially the new generation, what Hip-Hop was and is all about. We decided to make it a little smaller this year but basically add some so called "side events" in a cultural centre which is very close to this year's main location where we will have a big panel discussion with international people. We have a photo gallery that will show scenes from Battle of the Year between 1990 and 1995, when it really was underground and the photos show the interactivity. There were no real stars because in the audience there were b-boys and on stage there were b-boys. Our aim with the change of direction is to show the public what Hip-Hop is all about to give them the right point of view of what we do in our culture but also at the same time to convince the Hip-Hop community that there is more to do than practising for Battle of the Year being on stage. People have to use their skills, we want to show the kids that they can use their skills for many different things in their life not only in Hip-Hop, like in theatres and also in their personal life. Hip-Hop is very educational and this is what we'd like to transmit to the kids.
Tasneen: Why do you think the kids today are not very creative?
Thomas: Everything is too easy for the kids in Germany, today you can easily buy graffiti video's and spray cans and so they lose creativity. We were looking very hard for videos 10 years ago and now kids get things easily.
Tasneen: Do you also find that the kids that are involved in Hip-Hop are getting younger?
Thomas: No, I started when I was 13 years old and I think the average ages of people attending our events are 14 - 21, with some exceptions. I would not say that within the last years the number of kids has grown, I saw this here in South Africa with people for example like Denzio (12 yrs old), I saw a lot of small kids but we don't have so many small kids in Germany.
Tasneen: Do you think that is something that is almost uniquely South African then?
Thomas: Maybe - I haven't seen all the scenes. I saw Denzio walking around with smaller kids and I noticed they were already looking up to him. It was very popular in Germany a few years ago, every crew had one young dancer or a girl to influence the judges but the judges don't look for this anymore. Denzio really can dance, he has expression on his face which is so funny when you watch him and most of the other kids in Germany I would say are abused, like a tool to impress the judges. I definitely think there are more talents here in South Africa, I told Emile that next year I would try to get some money to bring over a famous dancer like Kudjo, this crazy guy with the long hair who was dancing in the Run DMC remix video. He can teach them a lot about having their own style and not just watching videos and biting everything. You really have to develop your own style and be open to other influences like African dance or Jazz dance or Capoeira to make it more special. Today it is harder to make your own style whether it's breakdancing or graffiti because there are so many people doing it so a lot has been done before. In South Africa I wish the scene would spread all over to Jo'burg, Port Elizabeth, everywhere because it seems to be 90% in Cape Town and I'm pretty sure there is talent in Jo'burg and other big cities. This was my aim 12 years ago, to bring the scene back and now I'm so happy to see when I travel to Spain, New Zealand, South Africa that there's this scene growing and the feeling is the same everywhere. A lot of people ask me "Thomas why don't you start a b-boy federation or something like this to develop it somehow" but I say no, Hip-Hop is youth culture and the kids like it because they don't have rules, they can make their own. If you make a federation it will become like an Olympic sport which is not good, like snowboarding being made an Olympian sport and a lot of people don't go because they don't want to be pressed into rules. It needs to be kept underground so you have to be involved in the scene to learn it. It's the same in Germany, you don't go to dance studios, you go to youth centres where you learn and it's hard to get in if you're an outsider 'cos the community is so protective of the art, so that it does not become commercialised.