Kindling the cloudy, energetic and electronic dance music scene, gloving was gifted upon this music-fueled world in a conspicuously suggestive manner. Riveting and beautifully choreographed, dancers’ fingertips began to fly through the underground electronic scene. In the early-to-mid 2000s these conspicuous gleams of brilliance radiated from California. Small in number at first, these pioneers of a new dance form quickly caught the eyes of their fellow music lovers.
Today, gloving has spread thinly across a large part of the world, impressively stunning people from any culture. Other components of this new creation have been introduced as well, such as the poi dancer. Poi consists of spinning two weighted light-sticks around one’s body to create beautiful arrangements within the air. Now, actual images such as flowers, Space Invaders imagery and even fireballs can be formed in addition to light patterns.
Spotlight, Alexander Bocknek! Coming from up north, beautiful San Francisco area, he has avidly practiced since becoming a UCSB student. Now he’s a junior sociology major and still practicing, but things have changed. A glover since 2011, Bocknek has immersed himself within this stunning art form wholeheartedly, embracing the rave concepts as well. He has delicately adopted the name “Sly” when appropriate. However, Sly seems to make daily appearances. At any point anyone could look over and see Sly’s fingers twirling and spinning through each other, tutting and turning, freezing vision. A truly dedicated advocate of this luminescent movement, Bocknek has pioneered his own style to mesmerizing abilities.
Luckily enough for the Daily Nexus, Bocknek joined us for our next Batcave Session. A witness to Sly’s brilliance glistening since our first encounter, this reporter was sweaty with anticipation to watch a master of his trade perform on this slightly “professional” level.
Alec Hartnett: Why did you push your style in the direction that you did?
Alex Bocknek: My favorite light show artists of all time are on the crew Ayo? Which stands for “Are You OK?” Mimik and Anti, those are my two favorites. And then … there are a few others along the way like Rockstar from Lords of Light. Anyway, the style that I really like is morphing. It’s the idea that you have these solid shapes that make these fluid transitions by redirecting momentum and they almost transform or morph into one another. I always thought it’s a really captivating show to perform because it’s easy to follow, it’s very intricate, but there’s still a lot of mental processes that you have to undergo for the viewer and it’s … it’s like a puzzle, that you have to be paying attention to watch. It’s intellectual, thematic and viewer-friendly at the same time. Also, one of my favorite quotes from Anti, one of my favorite light show artists of all time, he’s always just said, “Just be a robot, just be a gloving robot,” and I think that is really what embodies what I try to go for when I give a light show.
AH: That’s interesting, because the way I would take that is to be technical and precise, and the way you glove is super smooth. The way that you fluidly mix it all together, and the fact that you have certain images that pop out, like the spider, make it really cool and enjoyable because the audience can pick things out that are familiar to them.
AB: Well the whole “robot” thing to me is like making very square precise movements, like very rigid movement along different planes and lines. As far as the spider and the bird shapes that I do, I like to be able to use … Let me start over; what I always say about light shows is that it’s a dance of illusions and it’s, obviously when I’m doing liquid dancing, I’m not actually liquid heh, but you create the illusion that you’re liquid by flowing a certain way. And I think it’s easier for someone to get lost in a light show, which is an immersive experience, when they can relate certain shapes, certain movement patterns to things they see in everyday life, and that’s why I try to start with very simple movements. People can kind of understand how they work. I start with these concepts, these ideas that people can relate to things that they see on a day-to-day basis, and that’s what those shapes are, so to speak.
AH: So do you build stories somehow, sometimes, through your dance?
AB: Yeah, a lot of my light shows have like, general over-arcing themes, I don’t know if it necessarily has a story like most dancers or rappers do, but, yea there’s definitely certain motifs that you’ll catch in my shows. You know, I’ll always start off simple. I think progression is very important. A lot of issues I see with others in the light show community, like, in my opinion they start off with their most intricate, technical movements and people who don’t often view lightshows don’t know how to process that and then it just looks like a vomit of lights.
AH: Well yeah, they don’t know why that was cool or complicated.
AB: Right, at the beginning of my show I always try to start off with something really simple and then I start showing off the basic rules of movement, so to speak. And then once I feel that my viewer has adequately seen what the general rules are for movement, then I start to bend the rules a little bit and they have to think a little bit harder about how the movements progress. Like, “Are those rules that he showed me in the first place, are they even actually rules or is he just playing with me?” And that’s where the whole illusions come in. It’s training [the viewers], and then right when they think they know what’s going to happen next, that’s when you have to switch it up on them and that’s what makes a light show interesting and immersive.
AH: So how would you explain either what you think your audience is feeling in those moments, whether or not they’re on drugs, or what you are aiming for them to experience?
AB: Um …
AH: Do you feel what they’re experiencing in that moment and you get it, because you’re leading them in that step by step process sort of, or is it just sort of …
AB: I think I see what you’re saying. I like my light shows to be engaging, I don’t look at it as simply a dance or performance. I like it to almost engage more than one sense. A great description that one person once said to me about my light shows was — I thought it was ridiculously beautiful — it was, “It’s like an infinity puzzle solving itself.”
AH: Hahaha, that’s so cool!
AB: You can take that as you will. I’m not sure exactly what that means but I think I have an idea. I like to give a show that, no matter what state of mind my viewer is in, they’re going to be able to understand it and it’ll still … they’ll be amazed with how intricate and … how sophisticated it is. I like to think that whatever puzzles or illusions I’m putting into my show, [the viewer is] going to watch it and think that they can understand the thought process behind it, even if they didn’t expect it. And I think that’s sort of the element of surprise. It’s what brought me to light-shows in the first place — the ability that you can lead them on this journey of sorts.
AH: That’s dope. How do you see, in terms of the future of gloving, how is it going to make its stamp in the art world? Are you pushing for that? What do you see as the future of gloving?
AB: Well right now there’s the development of the competitive scene, obviously it’s not big enough where you can make a living off a professional circuit, but I kind of see it following the route of, the hip-hop dancing and b-boying styles, whereas the general public originally thought that general hip-hop dancing was detrimental to society as a bunch of street kids doing reject things …
AH: And people seem to think the same things about gloving.
AB: Right! Exactly. So I like it to follow. I would wish it that one day I could go to a festival, which is the most exhilarating place to throw a light-show, and not have three people tap me on the shoulder and ask me if I have drugs to sell them, because that, [is] super inconvenient for my art.
AH: That’s the issue with [gloving], at least for the people trying to accept it I feel.
AB: Right, that’s the issue. There’s no denying that it holds its inception in drug and rave culture, but its developed so much since then that it draws upon different forms of hip-hop dancing like liquid pop, digiting, tutting, turfing, bone breaking, …
AH: What’s that?
AB: You’ll have to look it up heheh. And when someone asks me … when I’m giving a light show to someone and someone says, “Oh that’s so cool!” I ask them if they want one and they say, “Well no I’m not on Molly right now,” it’s extremely hurtful and you’d be surprised how often that happens. Actually I don’t really offer light shows anymore, ever, um, I wait to be asked, because I’ve had that so many times, have had that happen to me so many times that its discouraging. The best analogy that I can use to describe that is, you know, it’s like when Martin Scorsese goes to Sundance and he’s asking some random guy on the street if he wants to see his new film and this guy says to Martin Scorsese, “Sorry I don’t have enough money to buy popcorn, so I can’t see your film.” I think the analogy here is pretty obvious and, yeah it’s really hurtful that someone thinks they need to be in a certain mindset to enjoy art you know. You would never say that about a ballet, and it sounds ridiculous but light-shows are just a finger dance, that’s really what it is, when it comes down to it.
AH: It doesn’t diminish it.
AB: Yeah, no, no it has its own qualities that make it different than other dance forms, but it’s just its own dance form.
AH: Yeah, exactly, and it should be accepted as such. Not as a drug hub or center.
AB: Emazing Lights, the leading company, is doing good things, for light-shows in general; I mean they’re monopolizing the industry, which I’m not too behind.
AH: They’re sort of going to make it commercial.
AB: Yeah, their business interests align with the general interests of the community, for right now at least. So they’ve been on mainstream television shows like Shark Tank, they actually got the most successful deal on Shark Tank, it was crazy, things like that. So light-shows are making strides, but it’ll be awhile before I can feel comfortable just bringing [my gloves] out, knowing that people will enjoy it without me having to be pestered by people who want drugs or people that defame my art because of the culture [gloving] was birthed in.
AH: I understand you’ve taken a recent break from gloving. Has this attitude discouraged your artistic development?
AB: Are you asking that the drug culture that I was just describing kind of stopped me from wanting to glove?
AH: Yeah or …
AB: Just the stigma in general?
AB: Well sure that’s it. Last year I lived in a really friendly house where all my friends knew I was a skilled performer, everyone accepted it, [and] everyone knew my opinion on the whole thing. But this year I don’t have as many friends who were turned on by my performances as last year. So I’ve brought them out to a few parties, I’ve seen their reactions, I’ve shared with you earlier, and it’s just extremely discouraging. And it felt like I didn’t really have an outlet for it, and for that reason you know, there’s no point in practicing if you can’t perform, at least that’s how I feel about it.
AH: Whoa, but if you say that about skateboarding you can agree with that?
AB: Well yeah, let’s back up a bit, the thing is with light-shows, it’s an intimate symbolic experience, it’s for one person. You practice all day long so that you can perform for someone, it’s a show and shows are meant to be performed for people. They’re not meant to be done for yourself, you don’t rehearse a play hoping no one will be in the audience. Would you rehearse the play if there was nobody in the audience? No you wouldn’t.