RYUGI INTERVIEWS EPISODE 8
Q. Please introduce yourself
My full name is William John Henry Smiles. I was born in Malaysia in 1984 and moved to Australia from the age of five where I grew up in Sydney. I now reside in Melbourne having moved here roughly 7 years ago. My Bboy alias is Willastr8, a name given to me in the early 2000s by Bboy Rush (Fresh Sox, $7 and MZK) after I originally called myself “IllaStr8”.
I presently represent Real Art Work (R.A.W.) crew and am one of its founding members. I have a longstanding connection with, and have represented heavily in the past for, 143 Liverpool St., while early on when I came into the breaking scene I was part of a crew called Mind of Style after connecting with a Bboy from Sydney, 2-12. 2020 is my 20th year of breaking.
Q. How did you meet breaking? How did you get into it?
I was into Hip Hop music probably from the mid 1990s as a kid, listening to the likes of the Beastie Boys, BDP, Tribe, Jurassic 5, Nas, Wu etc. However, it wasn’t until 1998 that my curiosity for breaking was invoked thanks to the famous music video for “It’s Like That” (the Jason Nevins remixed version of the original Run-D.M.C. version) featuring renown dancers like Kujo, Will-power and Asia-One. Later, in the year 2000, I attended a festival in Hyde park in Sydney called “Breaking in the Park” that had an open cypher.
Here I was fortunate enough to witness Bboys getting down live for the first time, including (if my memory serves correct) Australian Hip Hop legends Mistrey and Rangi (R.I.P.), and I believe at least one of the Rapid-Fire (Bboy Allstars) twins, Exit or Seize. I attended the festival with one of my closest friends who I grew up with, Ryan Stewart, and together we started learning from that point onward.
*Who did you get inspired when you started?
Too many to name all of them here. But I was heavily inspired by Bboys featured in one of the first VHS tapes I ever owned, Battle of the Year 2000, that I purchased from the long-since defunct “Next-Level Records” off George St. in Sydney. Notably, Amigo and Vartan from Flying Steps in Germany, and Chao and Jack from Waseda Breakers in Japan, were my biggest inspirations from that tape.
Thanks also to several other bootleg tapes I got a hold of, including (but not limited to) Bboy Summit 1999 and 2000 and the Rocksteady Anniversary, I was inspired by the following American Bboys: Juse Boogie (Massive Monkees), Lil John and Rudi Rexx (Havikoro), Beta-Rawk and Boo Rock (Ground Zero), EZ-Rock and Crazy Legs (Rocksteady), Ken Swift (7 Gems), Poe One, Jay-Rawk, Crumbs and Remind (Style Elements), Megas and Kamel (Boogie Brats), Gizmo (Bag of Trix), Roland (Battle Born), and Dyzee (Supernaturals).
* How did you create your moves?
Over many years I have learnt that style is everything, hence movement being superior to individual moves. Anything new that I create is therefore a culmination of my history in this dance; that is, who and what has inspired me, and all of my experiences therein (positive and negative alike). But ultimately what fuels my creativity is the music, as the music dictates movement in its entirety. Reacting to music that tells a story and is infused with a constellation of elements (e.g., the impact of the drums or the synchrony of the horns or the crescendo in the lyrics or the bass and percussion etc.) is the heartbeat of the dance. I find it so laborious to dance to soulless music, i.e. that which is purely manufactured and without deep meaning and purpose (sounding almost like something out of a slot machine). I additionally believe being self-aware for the creative process is critical. What I mean by that is possessing an intellectual understanding of how your body moves, knowing what you are capable of and how to exploit such capabilities without setting boundaries.
I discover a lot of movement by simply just learning to fall (not crash) and allowing momentum (the combination of the weight of my limbs and the speed at which they are moving) to take over, but using strength and control and finesse that I have acquired through years of training to dictate the subsequent transition (i.e., where I move to next). Further, just simply learning to change direction, even when it is subtle such as a slight repositioning of a hand or a foot, or movement of your neck, immediately opens up new lanes and avenues and the ability to form different shapes.
Breaking is also deeply personal for me, driven in large part by emotion (sometimes controllable and sometimes not so much), which in turn can give birth to new forms of movement (e.g., the speed and intensity at which I break can be influenced by controlled rage). However, I also find that one of the biggest hindrances placed on creativity, at times, is immersing yourself in too much footage of other dancers (something so easy nowadays with social media platforms like IG).
In fact, I believe this can be very dangerous because it has the potential to stifle creative thought, whereby other dancer’s ideas will physically manifest through your own movement as a result of imagery becoming embedded in your sub-conscience (intentional or not, it is still a form of plagiarism; i.e., ‘biting’); whilst it is not to suggest we cannot/should not be inspired by other dancers – quite the contrary, as we all are, and have to be, inspired by those who paved the way for us – I simply believe we should be able to harness inspiration from alternate sources other than just footage and clips. Personally, I very much enjoy film as an escape that stirs my enthusiasm for the dance, as breaking too, is an escape. But to belabour my point, music is the driver of my craft and creativity and passion for this dance; without it we’re lost. As I believe God Himself is the author of all creation, to Him I give ultimate credit and praise for who I am as an artist and a student.
*Please tell us about your crew
Hideboo and I founded R.A.W. in 2006 when we did a road-trip to Throwdown in Melbourne, entering as ‘Player Haters’ with Ninyo from Perth (Systematic Crew) who filled in for Leerok (Common Ground, NZ,) at the last minute; this group comprised the first 4 members of the crew. Not so long after, we put Monsta down (now also Team Cream) and I eventually came up with the crew name after meeting Jeremy, who previously ran ‘OzBboy’ and had moved to Sydney from Brisbane. From there we took off. We put down and battled with Bboys from Canberra’s Floor Pirates crew (Dan, Jules, Roy) and additional members of Common Ground (Grub-D, Jono, Akorn, Gosh, Indo), as well as Red (All Consciousness), enjoying a reasonable amount of success entering some of the major battles (e.g., Shadow Wars) at the time. During that period (~2006-2010), we were fortunate enough to have Ippy from Perth (now living in Melbourne) and Duc (also 143) join the crew, who have been some of our most active members to this day.
Nowadays only a handful of us still regularly compete, and we have established a relatively recent collaboration with Chequered Minds from Singapore (often battling as “Raw Minds” – e.g., at several RF Jams and the Freestyle Session World Finals, 2019). Our youngest and most recent members include Sean from Chequered Minds who was previously living in Melbourne, O’Shan from Brisbane (formerly Monsta’s student) and Dayong (Sydney; JUSE crew). Both Sean and O’Shan were battled into the crew, but Dayong has never paid his rounds and I’ll be coming to collect. Be on the lookout for our long-awaited anniversary jam in 2021 (pending Covid-19)
*What is your achievement?
Still gratefully representing. It is privilege to be a part of this artform.
*What is your unforgettable battle?
I really don’t forget any of them. Win, lose, draw, judges, or not… I remember all of them because I learn from all of them.
*As you have been traveling around the world for bboying, what is the difference between Australia and overseas breaking scene / culture?
Not a whole lot; many of the jams are quite similar in terms of structure, formatting, music, judging criteria etc. Even strictly cypher-based events are similar, although Nice Fest here in Melbourne is the best one, without question, I’ve ever been a part of. Nevertheless, the culture is what the culture is, and in my experience, it doesn’t vary a lot from country to country.
The biggest difference would be the opportunities to meet and connect with people from richly diverse backgrounds. That I believe is a true reflection of the beauty of the scene and perhaps Hip Hop culture in general; there are no language barriers. I will say this however, for some of the larger events I have attended internationally, the atmosphere has at times, felt more like a sports tournament rather than a straight up jam that still retains the competition element. Indeed, I can appreciate how breaking, with a move toward greater professionalism and commercial interest, will result in a larger number of events that are strictly competition-based, I also feel it is extremely important to never ignore the essence of the dance and where it came from; hence, as alluded to, block parties, good music, and getting down. With that said, you make any event for yourself, with the potential to create your own vibe; we should never be simply passengers, only consuming what we perceive an event has to offer us when we ourselves have so much to give back to the community through our craft and our passion. It is a relationship and thus, give and take.
*What do you do for a living?
*What is your next goal?
*Message to new gen bboys and bgirls
Education is lifelong and not achieved by clicks and likes and fire emojis. It is never too late to learn the history of how the dance evolved from the music of the time and the stories of hardship and strength and resilience told through that music; Bboys and Bgirls would break to the ‘breaks’ at block parties in the Bronx long before competitions ever existed. Learn the history of your own scene, too, before you obsess over who and what is trending on social media. And finally, be honest with yourself: be self-reflective and look to your own flaws first before you seek to scrutinise and chastise others that may displease you. Please never be complacent or comfortable with how much you have learnt: stay open-minded, remain humble, take risks, then take some more risks.
Venture outside of your bubble and comfort zone and take responsibility for your mistakes and learn from them, never blaming others out of fear and weakness and insecurity. Only let your ego off the leash when in battle where it can run wild. At all times we must build with one another and try to appreciate different points-of-view even if it challenges that of our own. Too much division and polarisation and so-called “cancelling” and de-platforming and silencing of contentious ideas prevails in modern society.
This is unhealthy. As dancers we have the advantage of being able to unreservedly release our hostility and anger and frustration in battle and through the dance where we can channel that emotion. But that’s where it can remain, because Hip Hop is universal and non-discriminatory and at its core, counter-cultural.