Whitehorse might be a small town of 25,000 people in the Canadian north, but its hip-hop scene is not to be underestimated.
And this week, its rappers and breakdancers will get the opportunity to show the city what they can do.
July 25 to 28 marks the return of Cypherfest, the annual Whitehorse hip-hop and breakdancing festival organized by staff at the Heart of Riverdale Community Centre.
“The goal is to make Whitehorse as cool as we can possibly make it,” said Andrea Simpson-Fowler, executive director of the Heart of Riverdale.
The opening night of the festival is a “vinyl therapy” party at the MacBride Museum at 8 p.m., where attendees can bring their own records to see them played by a DJ at the party. The next day there will be a set of two-versus-two dance battles outside the Wharf on Front Street at 5 p.m.
The weekend portion of the festival includes two shows at the Yukon Arts Centre at 7 p.m. on both days. The night of July 27 will be a show featuring locals, which will include performances from Borealis Soul and the Come up Kidz. The next night is the main show, which will feature Tentacle Tribe, 7 Starr, Vic Versa and another performance from Borealis Soul.
Cypherfest first came together nine years ago thanks to the efforts of people within Whitehorse’s hip-hop and breakdancing community. As one of its organizers, Simpson-Fowler said she wanted to help build culture and community in Whitehorse.
“I grew up here myself. I came up here in 1981, and as a young dancer there was really not much for me, and I was lacking a sense of community. So in a way, I just basically supported the growth and development of a community that I needed when I was a kid.”
Simpson-Fowler has been central in bringing dance programs into Whitehorse — she also founded the Leaping Feats Creative Danceworks studio. She’s also helped develop hip hop at the Heart of Riverdale.
“We have music studios where people are producing beats and rapping — lots of young people are rapping. We have b-boys. We have dancers that are poppers, we have dancers that are lockers. A lot of them are off in the big city and they’re working professionally. Some of them come home, which we’re really lucky, and are teaching at the Heart of Riverdale.”
One of the acts from Simpson-Fowler’s programs that you’ll see perform at Cypherfest is actually her son, Riley Simpson-Fowler, a breakdancer who also co-organized the event.
“I’ve been breaking for — how many years? Since I was a baby,” he said.
“(My mom) used to have these classes, she’d have contemporary ballet classes and she would force me to go in the class if there was one other boy just to make him feel cool. So that was my beginning into dance, and then she started breaking classes and I was just put in them.”
Another performer and co-organizer of the event is Kelvin Smoler, who raps in Borealis Soul and will be co-hosting the vinyl therapy party July 25. He describes the Whitehorse hip-hop community as small but tight-knit.
“You become aware of all the players involved pretty quickly,” he said. “But to be able to speak on the success and the development, I’ve watched a lot of folks move out of Whitehorse and influence the cities that they move to, namely Toronto and Vancouver.”
As Smoler recalls, one of the main goals of previous Cypherfests was to bring in acts from out of town. However, since the amount of funding that the event gets has declined, organizers now want to put more focus on local acts while also bringing in Outside acts to inspire people.
“We really try and build up the local scene and bring in a couple acts from out of town still to show the professional bar that’s been set, and hopefully inspire the kids here to aspire and build up to that,” said Smoler.
“To me, I think initially it was a destination (for Outside acts). We wanted to show the people we were inspired by across the country where we live, and I think there’s a little bit of reciprocal inspiration.”
According to Simpson-Fowler, anyone who hasn’t gone before will be impressed by what they see.
“We have a lot of repeat audiences, people that come back every year, and we just want to get the word out that it’s a great family event. And for music lovers and dance lovers, there’s really no other event like it.”
Contact Joshua Azizi at firstname.lastname@example.org