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Isle Skateboards – Vase review

November 20th, 2015 by Zac

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In common with skateboarders across the UK, I spent a mid-week evening huddled in front of Isle’s debut full-length video ‘Vase’. This was courtesy of Nottingham’s 42 skate shop, with a large crowd squeezed onto Rough Trade’s trendy utilitarian chipboard benches drinking expensive craft lager.

The audience mixed fans of OG Blueprint, those who’ve seen and enjoyed Jacob Harris’ previous work, especially the award winning ‘Eleventh Hour’, and daft youth who don’t know or care about any of those things. This context is relevant to y’all, as any familiarity with Isle co-owner Nick Jensen’s other life as a fine artist, the brand’s unrepentant positioning towards the ‘arty’ end of the spectrum, and the series of high-concept web edits for Dazed & Confused could lead you to fear an experience veering towards the Quartersnacks parody of late-stage Alien Workshop: “seagulls….. seeaaaagullls….. seeeaaaa gullllllls”. But it doesn’t veer that way. For full disclosure, I really rate Isle’s thoughtful graphic output and dug their Dazed & Confused stuff – but I’m a pretentious bastard.

For more down-to-earth types, Vase manages to be more than a little arty whilst fully committing to raw, relatable street skating on almost entirely crusty ass spots. It’s urgent, fun, short and snappy, and makes you want to skate in the tradition of the fine ol’ proper skate videos made by old folk in ancient times. I say “video” not “film”: no one likes a trust-fund Tarquin who calls every Instagram post a fucking ‘feature film’ and they wouldn’t like Vase, and all is well with that.

Three things to cover: the filming and editing; the music; and the skating. The prophesied artsiness in the editing is pretty paired down – grainy skits of the team and a nice linking theme of silver party balloons initialing each skaters’ name that drift forlornly in the wind, deflate on spiked railings, or float out across the Thames. And quite a few floating vases plus the VX-as-flowerpot motif used in the magazine ads. But the filming is a game changer – with Jacob Harris taking the fidgety VX mastery one associates with Minuit/Magenta’s Yoan Taillandier to new levels, sticking unbelievably close to the skater, from super low down, and jerking towards or away from the obstacle to create a sense of speedy dynamism that queasily draws you along with the action. In this, Vase has similarities with Static, Minuit or the Japanese Lenz films – but overall looks entirely different, not least in the bleached palette that makes everything look drenched by weak, winter sunlight. Definite contender for honorary doctorate in VX studies, making others’ switch to HD look all weird again just as we’d finally gotten used to it. Vase also feels like a change-up on the more sedate, dreamy Eleventh Hour.

Onto the music, which is again a change on Jacob Harris’ previous stuff – eschewing Motown for a heavy 1980s UK electronic bias: Yazzoo, New Order…. Ian Rees spent the entire video delightedly bobbing about in my peripheral vision. But not to everyone’s tastes. Hip hop heads and Mixtape/Static purists left grumpily claiming song-for-song replay of the BBC’s Synth Britannia.

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Finally the skating. Despite some of it being obscured by Will Golding’s massive head in front of the screen (how can someone blessed with such precise, dexterous feet have a head the size and shape of a Looney Toons anvil?), the skating mixes relatable lines with the occasional mind-blowing banger. Tom Knox, with pro status awarded with the video’s release, opens with super quick feet, enviable flatland game and the closest of camera follows (or maybe I was just coveting his sneakers) and nails one of Vase’s super-bangers – ollieing out to a tight wallride then dropping into a subway underpass (with subways reoccurring later). This was one of my favourite sections of the video. Casper Brooker, with long legs that never seem to bend too much, nails the other highly notable banger – a kickflip across the width of the Southbank 7 into the flatbank the other side.

Paul Shier and Jon Nguyen share a section. Co-owner and transatlantic Blueprint hero Shier is short and sweet, with fast ledge combos and whipped flips on tight banks (no signature tres flip though) and Nguyen filling in the post-Blueprint hole left by Coakley: the bearded Yank with the super precise flip tricks, unafraid of jumping switch stance down curved hubbas. Enjoying Shier’s section, and then writing about it, hopefully pays penance for the time, shortly after the release of ‘Lost & Found’ when I (drunk out of my mind) sang “heart breaker” at him whilst he was waiting at a bar in Barcelona, a performance I sustained for a good one and a half minutes longer than either of us were comfortable with. That said bar was themed on a fairies’ grotto leaves absolutely nothing that isn’t drenched in shame. As someone of similar vintage, it’s stoking to see Shier continue to put it down to such a level – something he’d better continue doing until he drops dead at 103, otherwise I’m summoning a posse to fly out to LA to sing “heartbreaker” at him until everyone’s face melts like Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Sylvian Tognelli and Nick Jensen have solid sections mid-way through the video. For Jensen, with so many amazing sections under his belt at what is still a relatively young age – including sections that are contenders for ‘best section’ in videos stacked with great skaters (‘Lost & Found’, ‘City of Rats’ and ‘Eleventh Hour’) – it must be hard to plan a strategy, especially if you’re a notorious over thinker. In the case of Vase, Jensen opts for something a little more planned out than his more spontaneous ‘City of Rats’ section, with lines that seem deceptively simple (bump to bar ollies) before morphing into all switch or alternate ambidexterity. A couple of enormous switch flips, one down a stair set that would have been a section ender ten years’ ago, are thrown in the middle to remind us that Jensen can skate everything better than almost everyone.

The last section honours are held down by stylish Welshman Chris Jones – which ties with Tom Knox as my favourite of the video (on first watch, although you know how different sections churn around as favourites on repeat watches). A couple of the bank to block/bar tricks and the gap ollie into a tight bank stand out as the big tricks, but I really loved his couple of downhill lines through subway underpasses – long, fast flatland with alternate switch and regs tricks and then out-of-the-blue snaps down decent sized stair sets. He has a cool lanky, slightly hunched yet relaxed steez as well – kind of like Philly OG Brian Douglas – coupled with that enormous pop. Long downhill underpass lines for #trendwatch in 2016? Its got to be 20 years since Ricky, Tim O’Connor and Fred Gall did them on Eastern Exposure and 411.

Marks of a good skate video include an urge to skate immediately after (and at least 3 days of desperately wanting to push yourself to skate better before slipping into the usual tentative mediocrity) and a strong memory of both the detail and the overall feel of the thing. All those criteria are well met by Vase. I knew I’d dig it, as a fan of Blueprint, Eleventh Hour and a bunch of the skaters in their own rights, but I didn’t expect it to make such an original, skate-year defining impression.

Hope this installs Isle where they deserve to be in the eyes of the British (and global) consuming public, especially amongst those who are unafraid to take an hour out of a skate trip to visit a gallery.

Chris Lawton

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