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Throwing Rocks at the Villagers Below

March 31st, 2015 by Zac

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Yesterday it was announced that Sidewalk Magazine will cease as a print entity. In exactly twenty years, several generations of British skaters have contributed to global Blu-tack shortages re-decorating walls with adolescent stoke.

90s hip hop gave way to 2000s gnar, then to 2010s indie brands and mega-corps, whilst Sidewalk remained the go-to title for information, paper cuts and borderline libellous in-jokes hidden in plain sight, outlasting several titles at home and abroad. The market forces at work are so much bigger than skateboarding, with a global shift in the preferences of young people away from print to the instant gratification of social media-linked online platforms – forces that finished titles beloved to our little world, Slap and Sidewalk’s neighbour Document to name a few, as well as enormous titles that mostly deserve our derision, including the almost total death of the 90s crop of ‘lad mags’ Nuts, Zoo, Loaded, Front.

The Sidewalk brand, and the skateboarders behind it, will hopefully live long and well online – as is the strategy (whilst Kingpin, also hosted by the suits at Factory Media, became a free print title over Christmas). But it’s hard not to feel that something has been lost – that skateboarding is at once suddenly less personal and less iconoclastic. Fans of early-to-mid 90s Rocco hijinks, mixed with a particularly British sense of fun and love of shit-talking, Horse and Powell imbued Sidewalk with a unique voice that took the piss out of puff-chested American big names and made the home town heroes feel appreciated. It would be hard to imagine dudes that ‘made it’ whilst staying in the UK most of their careers – Shier, Kennedy, Baines, Vaughn, Chewy to name just a few – getting quite that degree of shine without the reliable patronage of a title with Sidewalk’s level of clout, built up from hard graft and present in every skateshop and on every British skater’s floor (or chronologically ordered on the designated shelf, if you suffer from my obsessive personality traits).

The Berrics obviously believe print still has a role to play, that there is a particular power in a skater having a photo in a physical format, as they only recently chose to buy out and continue the respected-but-struggling Skateboarder magazine.

But predicting the future for print.…especially if you’ve got fidgety shareholders to keep happy….is anyone’s guess. Somehow chasing the same customer base of ‘thinking-man’s skate geek.’ We have the free titles, many of them heavily supported in exchange for advertising by Adidas, Nike and Converse, such as Grey and Fluff. We have the one-man-labour-of-love titles like North, Varial and Florecast, and the more expensive, high-concept or limited run titles like Dank and 43. If you were to claim it’s the cover price alone that puts print in such a tricky place, how do you explain Dank? A quality Scandinavian coffee-table mag, heavily influenced by fashion, art and design magazines, that retails for the equivalent of £10 a pop and is sufficiently successful to make the jump to English-language from its original Norwegian.

As the teen market has jumped to phone-app based media, Sidewalk’s challenge has been to keep hold of enough of the 25+ expendable income market for print, whilst maintaining enough reach across the younger demographic with their online content. As long as the online content plays second fiddle to print deadlines, that’s tough to do. And when you look at the Factory Media website, under ‘who we are’, you see exactly the market Sidewalk’s holding company expects its skate titles to aim for: aged 10 to 28 – the youngest and (one of) the smallest demographic targeted.

Illustration by Jon Horner

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So although we’re not now, and hopefully will never be, mourning the loss of Sidewalk as an entity and group of humans, it’s probably much more than generational angst affecting me and many others with a sense of sadness (as older skaters bitterly note the change in cultural weather towards something chillier and less permanent than those comforting spare-room archives of ink and paper). Two things are lost to be precise: skateboarding is inherently tactile – the feel of grip tape, the smooth graphic of a new board, the physical act of turning a page and pouring over a photograph – an experience lessened through a screen; and that iconoclasm again. If your online content needs to hoover up likes, tweets, follows and shares from Factory’s target 10 to 28 age group – what about the swearing and piss taking?

Skateboarding becomes somehow more ‘public’, less of a cluster of secret, sometimes warring societies – if you say something cheeky about a snotty top-tier pro, they can immediately see, share, sue or lobby sponsors to remove those all important ads. Everything gets safer – and only the indie websites, with little to lose by way of advertising (or at least advertisers who know what they’re getting themselves in for – take Quartersnacks: Supreme may be many things, but afraid of a little controversy it ain’t).

So that’s where I’d like to leave – on what Sidewalk in my early days of skating meant. I desperately wanted to feel part of skateboarding – that unknowable, mysterious thing owned by the cooler, older dudes in my hometown, that I could never be part of (at least before moving to somewhere more tolerant of over-earnest, socially awkward groms). Reading Sidewalk – particularly the tour articles penned by Horse or Powell, made me feel part of that secret society. And introduced me to some excellent wonky, booze-fuelled writing. The photographers of Sidewalk have been rightly praised as some of the best in the game: Wig, Bartok, Leo, CJ, Horse himself, etc. – but the writing, especially early on (Uncle Someone’s Wold of Something; Vincent Carducci’s record reviews), was/is fucking excellent – up there with the lauded Big Brother alumni Carnie and Nieratko.

At 17/18, with the exception of stuff, a cool English teacher got us to read (Orwell, Aldous Huxley) the written world was dull – something you had to study, on pain of a Monday morning bollocking, not something that brought on the stoke. Before Kerouac, HST, Burroughs and Bukowski opened my eyes to how weird, wrong and punk the written word could be, I read, and re-read the Sidewalk tour articles. Two clearly remembered anecdotes stick, both from Dope clothing tours: Frank Stephens and Colin Pope standing high on a hill, drunk out of their minds, throwing small stones at a village below – transformed by elevation and perspective to mean-spirited giants throwing boulders at tiny peasants; and the trip to Japan, where jet-lagged travellers were jolted awake by Harry Bastard with his head out of the window, squawking back at the early morning crows – fully inhabiting his title of ‘the Bastard’. It may lose something in the leaden re-telling, but, alone in my room, I laughed my ass off several times over both mental pictures. And that was British skating, underdogs fucking around – not athletes giving lifestyle advice.

Now go find Buck Rogers after, or whilst perusing this site of course…you’re a child of modernity, you can do both.

Words: Chris Lawton

Thanks to all of the skateboarders that have grafted daily for two decades to bring us humour and the best skating out there in print under intense deadlines for Sidewalk Surfer and Sidewalk Mag. There are no words to describe the dedication involved and the joy that your team brought to so many skateboarders over those 20 years, and long may it live online. Sidewalk Mag RIP. – Zac

Reminisce Andrew Horsley and Ben Powell’s finest moments in our 200th Issue feature. Facebook is indeed wank.

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