Dozens of young Canadian hip-hop enthusiasts from across the country are likely too excited to sleep this week due to the imminent return of Yukon hip-hop celebration Cypherfest, which will be held from July 17 to 23.
The 2023 incarnation of the festival will see 36 youth from Halifax to Vancouver, and many places in between, travel to the Yukon, where they will join the territory’s hip-hop dance devotees for a full roster of events, including workshops, battles and fireside talks.
In a notable first, 2023’s Cypherfest will see events being held in both Whitehorse and Carcross. All visiting artists and festival participants will also be camping near Carcross. Prior to this year, all the festival’s events were held in the territorial capital.
“Being in Carcross and being so close to those big mountains, it’s just like the perfect place to bring all these people from the city to experience, like, some true Yukon wilderness,” Riley Simpson-Fowler, one of the festival’s three organizers and its artistic director, told the News.
Cypherfest was launched in 2009 under the name Cypher For Change and got its current moniker in 2014. Whitehorse-based arts centre The Heart of Riverdale is the organization behind the festival, which has been held annually since its inception, albeit in a modified and reduced format during the disruptive years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while hip-hop culture is composed of diverse elements, including rapping, DJing, street-style fashion, dancing and street art, Cypherfest primarily focuses on breakdancing – or breaking, an art form the three organizers are passionate proselytizers of.
“The three event coordinators, myself, Oleksii, and Alex, we’ve all been breaking for 20-plus years […] The main energy or the main thing [at Cypherfest] is breaking, but there’s also, like, all these other things that go into it,” Simpson-Fowler said.
Several high-profile judges and instructors will be in attendance this year, including Yukoner Nick Robinson, who is the strength and conditioning lead for Breaking Canada, as well as Nindy Banks from Montreal and RoxRite from California.
According to Simpson-Fowler, Cypherfest 2023’s marquee events are the breaking battles that will take place at the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse on July 21 and the block party at Haa Shagóon Hídi in Carcross on July 23. Both events are open to the general public and free to attend.
“We’re doing a big battle [with] a couple of different categories. So there’s 2v2 breaking, there’s all styles, seven to smoke, and there’s a youth battle, and that’s all going to be happening at the Yukon Arts Center and that’s free,” Simpson-Fowler said.
“[The block party will] have performances from 2 to 3:30 p.m., and then we are going to have vendors, live music, live painting from 3:30 p.m. [onwards]. And then we’re having a big free meal, a big, free barbecue meal at 5 p.m.”
In addition to promoting hip-hop dance culture and fostering connections among Canadian breakdancing aficionados, Cypherfest 2023 will raise funds to support some of those impacted by Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
“We’ve also been really lucky to have permanent staff additions at The Heart with Oleksii, Violetta and Sasha; all incredible dancers from Ukraine, who have provided us with their talent, expertise and professionalism. We hope to gather donations over the week for their friends and families who are still struggling in war-torn Ukraine,” Simpson-Fowler said in a press release for the festival.
Speaking to Cypherfest’s future, Simpson-Fowler tells the News that the 2023 festival’s arrival in Carcross — if successful — could lead to further expansions into other Yukon communities in the coming years. He mentions the possibility of a tour across the territory that stops off in communities the festival has yet to visit.
“Best case scenario, we can do a huge tour [to] a bunch of different cities for Cypherfest that takes over 10 days.”
Contact Matthew Bossons at email@example.com