Herc Your Enthusiasm (25)

By: Franklin Bruno
August 30, 2013

thelockers

Twenty-fifth in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating old-school hip hop.

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THE LOCKERS

It would be hard to make a case that the musical side of West Coast hip hop was a major pop-cultural force before the late 1980s, the contributions of Egyptian Lover and The Future MC’s (or, even earlier, the Watts Prophets) notwithstanding. But when it comes to street dance, an equally important element of the culture, styles invented or perfected in Los Angeles have been influential from the beginning — or even before the beginning, in the case of The Lockers, whose joyous, funk-based style gained national exposure, mainly from 1973–76, through television appearances on Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, and specials with Carol Burnett and Doris Day, all nearly a decade before Bronx b-boying hit Hollywood and the cover of Newsweek in 1982–84.

The move the group was named after was invented by Don Campbell, then a twenty-year-old Los Angeles trade-school student, around 1971: Unable to remember exactly how to do the Funky Chicken, Campbell froze or “locked” in position between motions, inadvertently creating what dance historian Sally Banes calls “a framing device that, in the competitive spirit of street dancing, called attention to his performance.” (An offshoot of the style adopted by gay and transvestite clubbers, variously called “punking” or even “Garbo,” became vougeing, but that’s another story.) Campbell’s related instructional record, “The Campbellock,” is tough to track down, though you can hear a fragment of it toward the end of this latter-day demonstration by Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quiñones, a founding Locker who made a smooth landing in the hip-hop era proper as Ozone in both Breakin’ films.

Campbell and others danced individually (and probably unpaid) on Soul Train, but they were brought together to work as a professional unit by dancer/choreographer/cultural magpie Toni Basil (who has had a hand, or foot, in everything from the T.A.M.I. Show to Talking Heads’ “Once In a Lifetime” and her own “Mickey”). The routines for which they became famous combined the Nicholas Brothers-inspired unison precision of Quiñones and Campbell’s disciple Greg “Campbellock Jr.” Pope, flurries of between-the-beat freakiness, and breakouts for the individual members’ specialties, including the cybernetic jerks of Bill “Slim the Robot” Williams, one progenitor of “popping,” and Fred “Mr. Penguin” Berry’s patented “Master Butt Drop.” (Later, as Rerun on the otherwise stupefying What’s Happenin’, Berry’s dancing supplied some of the only moments of genuine aesthetic pleasure to be found on television during the Carter administration.)

Though the clip included here features Tribe’s steamy 1974 track “Coke,” the variety-show contexts the Lockers often appeared in were rarely this hip; as Basil once said, “Did you ever hear a TV orchestra try to play ‘Jungle Boogie’?” And the cultural politics of their good-natured self-presentation seems quite distant from the volatility associated with other (and later) street-dance styles, from uprocking to krumping, or the “attitude” that’s de rigeur in the form’s recent reappearance on network talent competitions. But the dancing itself is no less bodily and musically engaged for that, nor less exciting and fascinating to watch, and there’s no guessing how many ’70s kids took the Lockers as models for their own moves, and their crews, whether or not they ever went pro or not, and whichever coast, if either, they were born on.

LOCKERS ON SOUL TRAIN


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2013: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (old-school hip hop tracks): Luc Sante on “Spoonin’ Rap” | Dallas Penn on “Rapper’s Delight” | Werner Von Wallenrod on “Rappin’ Blow” | DJ Frane on “The Incredible Fulk” | Paul Devlin on “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | Phil Dyess-Nugent on “That’s the Joint” | Adam McGovern on “Freedom” | David Abrams on “Rapture” | Andrew Hultkrans on “The New Rap Language” | Tim Carmody on “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | Drew Huge on “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | Oliver Wang on “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | Douglas Wolk on “Making Cash Money” | Adrienne Crew on “The Message” | Dart Adams on “Pak Jam” | Alex Belth on “Buffalo Gals” | Joshua Glenn on “Ya Mama” | Phil Freeman on “No Sell Out” | Nate Patrin on “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | Brian Berger on “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | Cosmo Baker on “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | Colleen Werthmann on “Rockit” | Roy Christopher on “The Coldest Rap” | Dan Reines on “The Dream Team is in the House” | Franklin Bruno on The Lockers.

HIP HOP ON HILOBROW: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (25 posts about old-school hip hop) | DJ Kool Herc | Gil Scott-Heron | Slick Rick | Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels | Afrika Bambaataa | Biz Markie | U-God | Slug | Adam Yauch | Ghostface Killah | DJ Run | Flavor Flav | Scott La Rock | GZA | Schoolly D | Aesop Rock | Terminator X | Notorious B.I.G. | Melle Mel | Doug E. Fresh | Kool Keith | Rick Rubin | Rakim | Ol’ Dirty Bastard | Madlib | Talib Kweli | Danger Mouse | Kool Moe Dee | Chuck D | Dizzee Rascal | RZA | Cee-Lo Green | Best Ever Clean Hip Hop

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2014: KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (typefaces): Matthew Battles on ALDINE ITALIC | Adam McGovern on DATA 70 | Sherri Wasserman on TORONTO SUBWAY | Sarah Werner on JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | Douglas Wolk on TODD KLONE | Mark Kingwell on GILL SANS | Joe Alterio on AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | Suzanne Fischer on CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | Gary Panter on SHE’S NOT THERE | Deb Chachra on FAUX DEVANAGARI | Peggy Nelson on FUTURA | Tom Nealon on JENSON’S ROMAN | Rob Walker on SAVANNAH SIGN | Tony Leone on TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | Chika Azuma on KUMON WORKSHEET | Chris Spurgeon on ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | Amanda French on DIPLOMA REGULAR | Steve Price on SCREAM QUEEN | Alissa Walker on CHICAGO | Helene Silverman on CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | Tim Spencer on SHATTER | Jessamyn West on COMIC SANS | Whitney Trettien on WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | Cintra Wilson on HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | Jacob Covey on GOTHAM.

2012: KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Captain Kirk scenes): Dafna Pleban: Justice or vengeance? | Mark Kingwell : Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | Nick Abadzis: “KHAAAAAN!” | Stephen Burt: “No kill I” | Greg Rowland: Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Zack Handlen: Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| Peggy Nelson: The joke is on Kirk | Kevin Church: Kirk vs. Decker | Enrique Ramirez: Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Adam McGovern: Captain Camelot | Flourish Klink: Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | David Smay: Federation exceptionalism | Amanda LaPergola: Wizard fight | Steve Schneider: A million things you can’t have | Joshua Glenn: Debating in a vacuum | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons: Klingon diplomacy | Trav S.D.: “We… the PEOPLE” | Matthew Battles: Brinksmanship on the brink | Annie Nocenti: Captain Smirk | Ian W. Hill: Sisko meets Kirk | Gabby Nicasio: Noninterference policy | Peter Bebergal: Kirk’s countdown | Matt Glaser: Kirk’s ghost | Joe Alterio: Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | Annalee Newitz: How Spock wins

2011: KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Jack Kirby panels): Douglas Rushkoff on THE ETERNALS | John Hilgart on BLACK MAGIC | Gary Panter on DEMON | Dan Nadel on OMAC | Deb Chachra on CAPTAIN AMERICA | Mark Frauenfelder on KAMANDI | Jason Grote on MACHINE MAN | Ben Greenman on SANDMAN | Annie Nocenti on THE X-MEN | Greg Rowland on THE FANTASTIC FOUR | Joshua Glenn on TALES TO ASTONISH | Lynn Peril on YOUNG LOVE | Jim Shepard on STRANGE TALES | David Smay on MISTER MIRACLE | Joe Alterio on BLACK PANTHER | Sean Howe on THOR | Mark Newgarden on JIMMY OLSEN | Dean Haspiel on DEVIL DINOSAUR | Matthew Specktor on THE AVENGERS | Terese Svoboda on TALES OF SUSPENSE | Matthew Wells on THE NEW GODS | Toni Schlesinger on REAL CLUE | Josh Kramer on THE FOREVER PEOPLE | Glen David Gold on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | Douglas Wolk on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | MORE EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES: Joshua Glenn on Kirby’s Radium Age Sci-Fi Influences | Chris Lanier on Kirby vs. Kubrick | Scott Edelman recalls when the FF walked among us | Adam McGovern is haunted by a panel from THE NEW GODS | Matt Seneca studies the sensuality of Kirby’s women | Btoom! Rob Steibel settles the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question | Galactus Lives! Rob Steibel analyzes a single Kirby panel in six posts | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing | Adam McGovern on four decades (so far) of Kirby’s “Fourth World” mythos | Jack Kirby: Anti-Fascist Pipe Smoker

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What do you think?

  1. Puts me in mind of how seldom you saw dance-stars on TV outside the cordons of afternoon teen-party shows and before today’s nightly primetime competitions — singers were everywhere, sitcoms, talkshows, but it’s funny to think how much this most visual medium was a wasteland for movement. Except for the Lockers and pretty much no one else I remember. But you have remembered what they meant.

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