By Kenneth J. Williams Jr.
What exactly does culture mean to you? Would you consider it a connection to one’s ancestral roots? Or maybe it’s how you keep that history alive in your current iteration of this thing called life? Of course, culture doesn’t have to be a singular way of doing one or the other; it can be the marriage of both. For the Brooklyn-based collective known as Half Moon, all of this could fall under that scope, and they show that it’s possible to combine the two while tapping into so many other ways to display their culture.
On May 19th, Half Moon competed against three other crews as part of Red Bull’s Culture Clash, which occurred in a hub of culture itself – Brooklyn, NY. For those unfamiliar, these events, also known as “Sound Clash,” originated in Jamaica in the 1950s and serve as musical battles in which various crews come together to showcase their unique sounds. While other participants may not acknowledge this historical element during their performances, Half Moon does, and according to Rhea Prendergast, a producer within the group, it’s what separates Half Moon from other crews.
“What sets us apart is our ode to history because almost all of us have Caribbean backgrounds,” Prendergast said. “When curating our sets, it's been very nice to make sure we're paying respect to everyone who came before us and remaining authentic to the culture.”
Paying rightful homage to the history of SoundClash may set this talented body of performers, DJs, producers, and musicians apart from their competitors, but it’s deeper than that. For Half Moon’s founder Surf Allah, Culture Clash is a full-circle moment because he can now partake in and headline an event that he’s previously only participated in as a spectator.
“It's been a real full-circle moment, I would say, because we’re not in the audience or watching from a screen now. Now we’re in the field and get to do this. We actually get to go out and get dope things made,” Allah said. “Listening to old recordings of clashes is something I just do for my leisure. Now I get to really see how this is. We get to play on the big stage and do this, so it's a great full-circle experience from being able to watch it to now participating in it.”
Allah feels that storytelling is a significant part of their group’s performance persona, and they strive to convey multiple stories to showcase the formal elements of clash culture.
“We want to tell a story with our set and take people through us growing up in Brooklyn, through the Caribbean stuff, and the things that we (are) experiencing now with music. We educate people on how a clash should be done, but at the same time, we don't want to be too textbook with it,” Allah said. “We want to make it digestible and connect with as many of the audience members as we can rather than just the purist clash culture.”
Half Moon is not only exceptional at putting on riveting productions filled to the brim with entertainment, extravagance, and nods to their heritage, but they’ve mastered the art of inclusivity as well. Unfortunately, homophobia still runs rampant in New York’s underground music scene, but that’s something that Half Moon doesn’t tolerate. William Highsmith, also known as DJ Will Gates, actively pushes against that negative energy making its way into the scenes that he curates as a DJ.
“With a lot of the violence surrounding the LGBTQ community for the past few years, I've been pushing for people to not bring that energy into the spaces that I open for,” Highsmith told UPTOWN. “I have many friends who live in that space, and they love coming to my events. If these are my friends and these are people (who) I love, I want them to feel comfortable wherever I'm at, no matter what.”
Half Moon’s impact on New York’s underground music scene has been legendary, to say the least, likely due to the group’s willingness to connect beyond this space. According to Allah, collaboration will always trump competition.
“We just try to put on for as many people in our network as we can. I don't really care to be the king or queen because there's enough in it for everybody. I’d rather collab than compete, that's my life philosophy,” Allah told UPTOWN. “It's about bringing people together, educating, providing resources, having fun, and being the interface between corporations, institutions, and the DIY, creative side of the scene.”