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Culture

Hip-Hop Stars Face Off in Leipzig

Leipzig has a strong musical tradition, though hip hop isn't the genre that first comes to mind. But over the weekend, it wasn't cellists and violinists at center stage, rather DJs, breakdancers and beat boxers.

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Breakdancers showed their stuff in Leipzig

At Leipzig's Kohlrabizirkus venue, technicians were busy behind huge boards during sound check. The bass and treble levels have to be perfectly balanced since the world's best DJs were about to go head to head during this first hop-hop championship.

The Hip Hop World Challenge, hosted by top German hip-hop star Thomas D and the American MC Freestyle, aimed to demonstrate Germany's openness to youth culture and artistic expression. It was supported by the cultural fund of the German Football Federation, which is eager to show the country in the best possible light ahead of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which will take place in Germany next summer.

Still, that the fund's committee would give the green light for a hip-hop competition was nonetheless a surprise to organizer Norbert Seiler, known to hip-hop fans as "Parago."

"Hip hop is an integral part of German youth culture today," Seiler told DW-WORLD. "Everyone runs around in baggy pants, you can see it in the language, in the music. So I told the committee, if you want to encourage culture -- and the point of the cultural program is to show Germany as a tolerant and artistically cosmopolitan host country -- then the hip-hop fest can't be left out."

More than just music

Since its beginnings in the mid-eighties, hip-hop has developed from an underground subculture to an art form with three disciplines. For the Hip-Hop World Challenge, participants competed in break-dance, beat box, and DJ skills.

Hip Hop World Challenge 2005

Hip Hop World Challenge 2005

"Break dancing is a kind of rhythmical floor acrobatics. These are the kids that roll on their backs and pedal the air with their feet and stand on one hand," Seiler said. "The DJs play with records, scratching them and juggling the beats. In beat box you make sounds and rhythms with your own voice, there's no instruments allowed."

Among the competitors at the Hip Hop World Challenge was the Belgian threesome Pyro-man. In perfect rhythmic and melodic harmony, the trio beat boxed effortlessly between styles. Pyro-man member Jerome said beat boxing allowed him full artistic freedom.

"Beat Box offers you all possible stylistic options; you aren't restricted in any way. Pop, jungle, drum and bass, funk, punk: anything goes," said Jerome.

Scratching and juggling the beats

The French DJ PFel then took center stage. With a look of intense concentration on his face, his hands fly over the vinyl spinning in front of him.

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He is no newcomer to the hip-hop scene, having competed in the DJ world championships in 2003 and 2004. He came to Leipzig to show off his stuff, but said the competition was sure to be stiff. "The jury looks at a lot of things. You've got to be musical and original. You can't use a sound that's been used a thousand times," he said. "Then there's the technical part. You have to avoid goofing up with your hand work. Finally there's the show. That means you have to communicate with the audience. You can't just stare at the turntables."

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