B-Boying in Iceland: when you are the only crew in your country

Iceland Crew Element Crew, photo by Nika Kramer
Imagine you are the only crew in your city. Now imagine you are the only crew in your country. Now imagine your country is an island. Who are you gonna battle?

I did an interview with Gretar, aka B-Boy Gretski, one of the founders of Element Crew from Iceland, one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to.

So Gretsky, when was your crew founded?
We formed the crew in late '97 and have constantly been going since then. Things have gone up and down. We're all grown people today and we're still at it.

How old are you now?
I'm 33.

So you founded the crew by yourself?
No, there were some other guys with me back then. Natasha aka Ego-Peanut, Amer from the US, B-boy Sushi from Norway, Fleivur, living in Berlin today and a few other people. It was quite a large group at that time

How many?
I think like 10 to 12 people back then.

Big crew for such a small country
Yes, it's a small scene so it makes sense to have just one crew. That's the only way it works in such a small country with only a few hundred thousand people.

So there's nobody to battle here for you guys
Not really. If you want to battle, you have to battle each other or go abroad. We were just talking about that we are so sick of battling each other so we're trying to go abroad now.

Have you guys been to the IBE?
I have been to IBE personally, but not with the crew and just went to have fun.

So from the first moment when you founded the crew there were also already girls in it?
Yes, Natasha, originally from New York, moved here like in '96 '97. She has been with us from the beginning and since then there have been 2 or 3 girls but unfortunately they didn't stay with us for a long time.

How many members are in the crew today?
Seven or eight, somewhere around that.

How many girls?
One girl, B-girl Peanut aka B-Girl Nuts.

Have you as a crew battled other crews?
In the past, yes. Not with the current crew, but we are planning to. We used to be really active about travelling around Scandinavia for example and we've done quite a lot of battles around Scandinavia.

So what's an event you're planning on going to?
We're planning to go to Floor Wars in Denmark, that's it like at the moment.

If you had any crew in the world to battle right now, who would it be?
For me personally whoever communicates in a battle and shares. It doesn't matter who they are. I don't idolize people, if you know what I mean.

The members of your crew. Are they all Icelandic or are they expats?
We are like a multinational group today, really. Well, of course they are all Icelandic but like half of the group today are children of immigrants, mostly from Asia. From all over Asia and EU and US from Nepal... First, when we started, we were all Icelandic and then just right after, a Norwegian member joined and a Japanese person joined, living in UK.

So you have one girl in the crew, Peanut. Where is she from?
She's originally from New York and Connecticut. She came here just traveling, back in the days, I believe it was '96 or 97 and she liked it a lot, so she moved here and now she has a family here and she's just been here ever since. She is considered one of the most important dance figures here in the street dance community. She has given a lot back to the community. Teaches a lot and so on.

So you guys also teach
Yes, most of us teach at some point. I used to teach I do not teach anymore. I'm actually back in school myself studying computer science and I'll let the younger generation take over. You gotta have that evolution going.

How many B-Boys do you think Iceland has, apart from your crew?
Apart from our crew, like real B-Boys? None. It's just the crew. And then you got a lot of kids that want to learn, like maybe around 200 students. But they're like mostly kids and you know how kids are, they might stick to B-Boying for a year, two, three, four or just a month and then start playing.

Apart from our crew, like real B-Boys? None

The scene is quite small as I said earlier, when we started we had two crews, Element Crew and another one called Shakers Crew and when it comes down to getting jobs here as dancers, it's basically only teaching. The only other thing is shows and there aren't many opportunities for shows and this whole city and the whole nation is not big enough for two crews so, one of the crews just quit. The same thing happened not too long ago, a few years back, we had three groups and then two of those groups collided into one and then that group collided with Element Crew so today it's just Element Crew. We don't have many opportunities for jobs and so on.

Why is it called Element Crew?
We were originally called 5th Element Crew. We just, yeah basically just cut it to the basic four elements of hip-hop and I don't want to dig much deeper into that. But yes, first when it started it was a Graffiti crew as few of the founding members where graffiti artists and we needed a name and we just collided graffiti and B-Boying into one group.

You still have graf members?
Not really. I mean we have members, at least one founding member is in the States, he's not active as a B-Boy, but he works as an artist and paints stuff. Other than that, I don't think anyone else of the original writers are still active.

So your crew was on TV
Yes, last year we were in Iceland Got Talent and we went to the finals. That was quite a run. We didn't get the winning place but we got a lot of publicity and it was fun to do. So we are quite well know here.

How many people signed on for Iceland Got Talent?
I don't know, maybe 100-150 and then it got down to 32. There were so many eliminations. In the end, we made it to five out of 150. That was pretty awesome.

Did you make any money?
No, we didn't. I mean we got publicity so we got some jobs out of it. We made some money connected to that.

So is it possible to live from B-Boying in Iceland?
It's impossible. The other guys are all teaching. And they all have other jobs. And it's just a big hustle, like you can't really live off it and with the courses, it's the most that you get out of it and you might get 5 students or you might get 50. It's risky, it's like gambling really.

So what lead you to B-Boying?
I started in '97 and I was about 15 years old, just moved to the city from a small town in the country side, Ísafjörður, in the West fjords and was new to everything here. Then I met a guy at school, he kind of dragged me on to a course. I think he quit after two classes but I kept going and made some friends there and been going ever since.

Who was teaching the class?
A Danish guy who is not really a B-Boy, but was advertised as one. I believe he later became big in Denmark as a singer, in the same genre of music as the Barbie Girl song. I think it was called bubble gum pop or something. Something really funny.

He was a dancer but at that time, B-Boying was getting kinda hyped again. Run DMC/Jason Nevins song was like the hottest hit at that moment and dance schools were just taking advantage of that. He's a Hip Hop dancer? Let's just advertise him as a B-Boy and make some money.

Ever thought about leaving Iceland?
I want to. I've been to Sweden, I was there for like a year. I like experiencing different cultures. I am really into Latin cultures so I would love to go to Latin America or the Caribbean and live for a while and since I am a dive master I would love to go somewhere and get an instructor certification.

 Interview and photos by Nika Kramer