UNDERGROUND SOCIETY: MEET THE PEOPLE BRINGING HIP HOP BACK TO THE STREETS OF SPLIT
When one thinks of hip hop, it's inevitable to think of the streets of Bronx, NY and the names of forefathers such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. But hip hop has gone a long way since the '80s: it's become an international culture, a movement connecting MCs, beatboxers, DJs, graffiti writers and dancers throughout the world, and Croatia is no exception to that. Just this weekend, Split's Koteks complex will be turned into the best playground for hip hop heads in the region: the xSTatic festival.
Koteks is one of the finest examples of late modernist architectural heritage in Croatia and in the '80s it was the place to be in Split. The Mediterranean Games were held in its sport hall, in 1981 it became Yugoslavia's first shopping mall, and even the Dire Straits started their 1985 world tour there. Since then, the complex has lost some of its shine, but the festival of urban culture tomorrow will renew the function that Koteks was always supposed to serve: giving Split's youth and all its citizens a public space where even the most average Joe and the plainest of the Janes can enjoy their free time.
To find out more about the state of hip hop and urban culture in today's Split, we've interviewed Sara Pavić — dance teacher, community organizer, president of the youth association Underground Society, and member of the xSTatic organization team — and Aleksa Mijatović (a.k.a. Leksa) — the youngest crew member of Underground Society and member of multiple hip-hop collectives, a dance teacher and an emerging producer at Belgrade’s Faculty of Fine Arts. You'll find both of them on xSTatic's dancefloor tomorrow, Sara being the host and Leksa serving as a judge for the All Styles battles.
Since Underground Society was established, it co-organized multiple events (xSTatic, Graffiti Na Gradele and Freestyle on the block, to name a few) and has proven itself as a motivated social actor in making sure hip-hop as a culture and a way of life gain more recognition in the public sphere. — We started dance at a very young age and we travel to a lot of competitions. I started organizing events when I was 17 years old. Leksa brought his kids to dance at one event we did and the rest is history. I think there’s no one thing that I can single out as the thing that keeps us passionate. All these things we do, I think that’s what we live and breathe and what we’re born to do. We’re lucky that we can do all of that, that people support us and that we can be recognized as people who work on raising the local hip hop culture.
The ambitious crew is everywhere. Among the dance squad you can find people from Germany, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, but if you count in all the members who are also MCs, DJs and graffiti artists, there are more than 100 Underground Society members promoting the culture and its values all over the world. Leksa explains their love for hip hop is what maintains their passion and a sense of togetherness — We’ve connected through the years of our similar paths in this culture. From the first day we met we've been supporting each other. It's been a while since we last saw each other because of the global pandemic, but I can say that we’re connected on a deeper level. We are all friends, we understand each other's different paths in life. That can only be good for us. If we work hard on ourselves, the knowledge we get can only be useful because when we do finally have a chance to meet again, we share our knowledge and with that, we can only grow and learn more. Focusing on our individuality, we raise our society.
Considering the diversity of their crew, we asked Sara to give us some perspective on the differences of the state of hip hop in different cities like Split and Belgrade. Does hip hop live different lives throughout the region? — I think there are huge differences, not only because they’re different countries, as, if you ask me, even the scenes in Split and Zagreb are different. Every city and country have something unique. One thing I can say for sure is that the scenes in the Balkans are very small, and there is a lot more space for hip hop culture to improve in these countries. It’s a nice feeling to see our impact grow, I can’t lie, but sometimes it is very hard. During all these years we’ve knocked on many doors, and a lot of them stayed closed, but we’ll never stop our work. Every project motivates us for more, and to keep working harder and bigger. We definitely know that the seeds of our impact have been planted not only in Split, but in other cities of Croatia, as well as other countries, and we’re proud of that.
Coming back to the 8th edition of xSTatic festival that will take place tomorrow, Leksa shared with us what we can expect to see. — Battles are 1vs1 all style. It means that dancers are expressing their own style on different music. We're expecting a big variety of dancers and styles. I'm looking forward to seeing them on the dance floor.
When asked for some last words for our readers, Sara and Leksa had only this to say:
PEACE, LOVE, UNITY AND HAVING FUN. ONE LOVE, HIPHOP.
See you tomorrow on xSTatic!