It’s bizarre to think that 17 years has flown by since the idea of CF became a reality. It was set up to bring people together in skateboarding and music, to share knowledge, wisdom and of course, the good times. And mates, we’ve had an abundance of those good times!! We’ve shared love, sweat and beers together, and I feel very proud, personally, to have hosted some of this malarkey for the UK scene over the years. We’ve seen various publishers (thank fuck we said no every time), companies and people come and go in that time. Some have left us forever and will remembered fondly, others move on, but such is life – everything progresses for a reason. Change is not to be scared of, but to be embraced, accepted and essentially to push us onto another rad path.
But before you think negatively in where this ramble is going (and believe me I feel as though I’ve rambled on enough over the years on this zine) – nothing has changed and we are still here. Well over a decade of scene events, where the money received went back into new skate-able obstacles, may be our finest moments looking back, but we are not quitting, and our ideology still stands for no monetary gain. So this is not a goodbye, this is a big healthy fuck-yes, HELLO – especially to those who have no idea of our past and what it meant to those who have been involved. It is my personal way of thanking skateboarding and music for what I was introduced to growing up as a teenager and that still stands today.
At some point in the future there will come a time when this unique entity should naturally be handed over to the next generation, but only to those who truly care about others and can document in detail what dope shit is happening out there today in a much better way than us. Hopefully this will happen soon. If you are one of those creative individuals reading this, then get in touch with us today and make the difference to keep sharing what really goes on around us. Use our platform to share great things that will benefit others. Celebrate those who are making a difference with their individual skills. Those who are a cut above the rest. Those who think for themselves without being drained from the constant barrage of manipulation from absolutely every calculated psy-op around us. Being free on four wheels, or shouting into a mic on a stage, is our happy time. This freedom is so valuable and we must cherish it, introduce it, its roots and true history, to the next generation. It’s our only job.
As Ian MacKaye of Fugazi once famously said: Skateboarding is not a sport. I personally still don’t really know what it is, other than total freedom. When we see something magical that raises our serotonin levels, whether it be a stylish slappy revert on a curb, or a multi-zillion degree air on a mega ramp, it reminds us why we decided to conquer our first kick turns all those years ago and makes us smile. It’s the same from hearing a dope beat or a riff from a classic tune. The day you forget to appreciate these simple things that make you happy, it’s all over. It took me a long time to work this out as I’ve never looked backwards to appreciate these amazing times and was always on a mission to make it better, but these days I’m very lucky to be alive writing this, and have spent time to reminisce what went down over these past 17 years, so it’s a pleasure to look back and see so many people having a blast within it! It truly is.
So, I want to thank YOU. All of you, who have supported myself and Crossfire in any way, shape or form over those 17 years. My glass right now is full and raised in your honour!
Thanks friends. Here’s to the next level, wherever that may be. Get in touch and be part of it, as one man cannot do everything on his own, but will always try.
Until now, our annual round-ups have followed the blueprint: “everything’s terrible, except for skateboarding… skateboarding’s doing great”. But the winged demon eggs incubated through the previous eighteen months went and hatched in 2017, squawking white supremacist claptrap and shitting all over the soft furnishings, mixed with additional lumps of viscous misery that would have seemed far-fetched even to time-travellers from 2016’s increasingly twitchy, doom-prescient milieu. The horror of Grenfell tower within weeks of multiple terrorist attacks in the UK; and an undead British Government that failed to respond with any humanity to the former yet capitalised on the xenophobia provoked by the latter. This time, however, skateboarding seemed less than immune to all the decay and panic… not least because we lost one of our own in the terrorist attack in the London Bridge area. This tragedy said something about us and our times.
Ignacio Echeverría exhibited the quiet heroism of the best of our species, intervening to protect an injured women – facing armed terrorists with only his skateboard. His country of birth was quick to honour and remember him, posthumously awarding the Spanish Grand Cross of the Order of Civil Merit for his bravery. Skateboarders, from the Mile End community, across London and worldwide, came together with a skate organised along his last route, with a flurry of artwork, and more recently, with a skatepark in Spain dedicated to his memory. But the British Government? Slow to confirm he was missing, and even slower to provide his anxious family with vital information. An EU national and a skateboarder: characteristics sufficiently out-of-check with Brexit Britain’s now dominant narrative.
Many of our frontline politicians – our representatives who should have been first to publicly acknowledge his bravery – remained absolutely silent. Government Ministers, whose salaries we pay, were similarly tardy and disinterested when the rest of the nation looked in horror as the unthinkable happened at Grenfell Tower. Again, ordinary people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds (and, as always, the emergency services) put themselves in danger, and then gave their time and possessions with such generosity that the storage and distribution of huge amounts of donations, with no official assistance, became an incredible logistical challenge for the volunteers on the ground. The elite at the centre become ever more removed from the multitude of confusing reality they purport to govern.
Not unlike skateboarding’s elite, corpulently bunkered down in Californian private indoor skateparks and in generously air-conditioned multi-brand action sport offices, unsure, unaware and irritated as to why skateboarding in London, Tokyo, Oslo, St Louis or rural Britain should appear more vital and relevant to the windswept masses who actually go skateboarding.
To talk of skateboarding itself in 2017, it became more important than ever to distinguish between the business of skateboarding, the act of doing it, and the community and culture of the people who do it. The business is hurting – and an influential part of it wants us to hurt too. One industry insider after another took to Instagram to curse and belittle the indie companies (I hope the excellent Lovenskate, Northern Co, Skateboard Café and Scum Co & Sons take as accidental complement their placing, alongside gender diversity, in a prominent skate artist’s ‘100 worst things’ listing). It is those (almost all white) men, those Monster-fit-wearing bros, who let in the sportswear brands, yet they claim to be corer than some cutty, unpaid skate rat who happens to wear Nikes (because they made it impossible for him or her to purchase anything else). There they are, admonishing us for ceasing to care about the umpteenth colourway of mall-ready logo-board, glossy Berrics edit, or anything that happens outside of a narrow strip of Californian real estate. Market competition is apparently well and good when it’s happening to someone else.
In other news, although to some, much of what Ty Evans has done may suck (or, to take Nick from the Palomino’s higher road, “it’s not shit, you just don’t like it”), he has it absolutely right in his Nine Club interview that the bigger ‘core’ brands may be to blame for their own decline if they regard the full-length video (the ultimate artefact of our culture, to be entombed with our kings and queens and guarded by complex traps) as mere marketing expenditure, unjustifiable if they fail to correlate with an uptick in sales. The proliferation of marketing ‘content’ has replaced works of fucking art and future touchstones of our youth and young adulthood. The Skateboarder Magazine has been killed so the Berrics Magazine can replace it (non-consensually absorbing subscribers and Instagram followers to the understandable chagrin of those who’d invested in the former mag out of actual informed choice). More ephemeral content. The newer, smaller brands, with the freelance auteurs they work with (Josh Stewart made the new Traffic video, which is just a perfect turn of events), are capturing both the imagination and spending money of the kids and veterans alike, because they come from an authentic place that is more about solemn ritual (videos are what a skate company ‘should do’) than product placement. Some bigger brands know this too, of course, Real and Crailtap among them, and it’s nice to see Real’s strong, politically-charged 2017 board art placed alongside the upstarts in the Ripped Laces’ review of the year’s best graphics. Seriously, if you’re among those who argue that the newer companies ‘add nothing’ to skateboarding, open a skate mag from the mid-2000s, when the bigger brands reigned supreme, flick to a page full of their deck ‘graphics’, and then compare it to today’s skate shop board wall.
But because the devil is now well and truly in the room, many of the videos from today’s insurgent indie brands, though largely self-financed, are endorsed and co-branded by the sneaker companies slowly murdering the very same ma and pop skate shops that stock and premiere the darn things. So we exist in an insane dichotomy: the 20-30 year deep ‘core’ brands feel compelled to churn out only throwaway web edits; whilst the new upstarts produce the meaningful stuff we care about… Except with a swoosh or 3 stripes somewhere in the end credits. And no one is getting paid.
On that note, let’s see if Nike’s dedication to building more skateparks or indeed supporting their existing current batch of parks continues in Europe throughout 2018. Most brands abandon these sorts of projects after 4 years so we are watching closely. (-Z)
Yet there are shards of light amidst the clouds, as there always are. DC made a fucking skateboard video. And it was good; and not just because of Tiago Lemos. Alex Olson’s 917 unexpectedly dropped a full length with little fanfare, that divided opinion, but – on balance – was more rad than otherwise; and Krooked followed with a highly enjoyable 20+ minutes that ignored two decades of filming progress, convention and consistent aspect ratios, and was no poorer for it. But 2017 was really the year for British and Japanese skateboarding, as Skate Twitter (shout out to all 15 of you….) has proclaimed more than once. And also for Australian skateboarding (and New Zealanders skating in Australia), with Melbourne becoming a global skate destination that is starting to stand alongside the NYC-Barcelona-Copenhagen-Berlin-Paris-London skate tourist lock-down.
Highlights from the UK included Jacob Harris’ continuing ‘Atlantic Drift’ series and Quentin Guthrie’s ‘Next’, which followed up his equally great ‘Brexit’ with a banging section from a personal favourite and new Skateboard Café acquisition, Dom Henry (I’ve studied the skating of Kalis, JB, Daniel Lebron, Baines, etc. for twenty years, to sub-mediocre effect – Dom nails it, with aplomb, at almost ten years my junior. Bastard). With reference to Atlantic Drift, just now on its sixth episode in 12 months, it can’t got without comment that this was one of the many series and standalones of the year (alongside other indie offerings, including sections from the final episode of the Sabotage vids) to be premiered, hosted and co-branded by Thrasher – marking the year that ‘The Bible’ became ubiquitous in online skate media (eclipsing the Berrics and standing high above the ashes of the now defunct Ride Channel).
One of the most memorable, distinctly British, offerings came in the form of Jim Craven’s high concept ‘Island’, that eerily charts a small group of skateboarders’ journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats, wild camping and skating isolated spots of melancholic rural solitude. It’s reminiscent of the 2013 Carharrtt WIP x Antiz ‘Swiss Banks’ edit, but a more compelling watch. Perhaps lower profile, but well worth uncovering, was Bristol’s OWL skateboards’ UTOPOS, whose team reject the ‘easy’ option of plaza or chiller spots, choosing instead the grimy by-ways of the British post-industrial wasteland, and wearing on their sleeves their obsessions for the writing of Orwell, Huxley and Ballard and the utopian socialist architects and town planners associated with New Brutalism. Together, the two edits capture starkly contrasting rural and urban takes on the uncanny eeriness to be found in our grey-skied lands.
Before moving eastwards, a very different take on Britishness. Palace’s double-hit for 2017, opening a free indoor, 90s Radlands-recalling ‘Mwadlands’ park and suddenly releasing their first full length, Palasonic, reminded our corner of the world that they are, first and foremost, a skateboard company – despite having expanded from relatively niche hypebeast catnip into the wardrobes of almost every Home Counties teenager (I teach in a large university and, without exaggeration, at least one in every three white males in any given seminar group will be wearing a Palace-branded item). It says something of Thrasher’s success that they’ve grasped what others have not – skateboarding has finally gone very global, and in doing so it has diversified. They may have awarded SOTY to an All-American, heartily-built rail chomper, but other nominees included Europeans Oski, Daan and Palace’s Lucien Clarke – on the back of his Palasonic section (complete with Toby Shuall tribute gratefully noted by appreciators of Chris Massey and Mazzy Star).
Over to Japan, much of the autumn was spent in anticipation of home-grown brand Evisen’s debut. Those sections shared on, who else, Thrasher, did not disappoint – with Seimi Miyahara distilling all that is eye-poppingly unique about the scene and its skaters: lightning quick feet, precise flatground execution, fearless pop, and creative approaches to distinctly odd obstacles that require all those things, invariably filmed at night out of expediency, but providing that nostalgic Mixtape feel amongst the new and weird. You can watch the sections and buy the video from Nick.
Along with London’s ascendancy to NYC based-zeitgeist hunter’s wet dream, the Evisen video throws up interesting questions as to what makes a scene cool? Japan has always been cool to Western skate eyes – due in no small part to the Orientalising exoticism we continue to project upon the place and its people – but of 2017’s rise of Australian skateboarding? The Antipodean Canada of skateboarding: assumed to be all XXXL t-shirts, fitted caps, and fucking Globe shoes, despite producing skateboarders who are better per capita than most Americans and Brits. As in the case of Canada in 2016, several Australian brands came of age in 2017 and several amazing scene vids showed us what idiots we are. And Sports Class produced one of the coolest edits of the year that wasn’t even filmed in Australia.
The final, perhaps biggest victory for 2017 was won by female skateboarders, with brand after brand turning the women on their roster pro. This included ever-late-to-the-party bigger brands, like Plan B with Leticia, although that barely compensates the terrible women-hating, Islamophobic, homophobic things said or shared by the online persona of one later career Pat Duffy – please let it be a Putin bot (props on spotting it, and consistently calling it out, to Thom Callan – we don’t give present-day Morrissey a pass for the terrible things he blurts about Englishness because of the music we love, nor should Duffy get a pass because of what he once achieved on a skateboard).
Pundits celebrated the names on boards of the aforementioned Ms Bufoni, then Nora, but forgot that Weekend gave Alexis Sablone a board towards the start of the year whilst upstart Swedes Poetic Collective had never thought to draw a distinction between its male and female riders, with Sarah Meurle’s name on a board in their earliest days as well as creative agency over what it looked like – to stunning aesthetic affect. Take note you few remaining balrogs who can neither break the bro-down nor crack out a decent board graphic. Warm feelings all round when long-time ripper Lucy Adams’ board on Lovenskate was accompanied by a rad video part, but our progress also stalled with the internet backlash to Lacey Baker’s incredible section, prompting Anthony Pappalardo’s intelligent piece for Kingpin (the writer, not the Alien alumnus) spotlighting skateboarding’s persistent issue with bigotry. Before commenting angrily that there isn’t, and has never been, a problem with gender or sexual orientation in our world, skim the Facebook thread on Lacey’s section (and threats to unsubscribe from Kingpin beneath Pops’ article) and get back to us. The idea that we’re holding women skaters to ‘performance’ criteria (stair count, rail height), whilst 90% of sponsored male skaters are variously appraised on the basis of style, taste, creativity, spot-selection, etc., is absurd. If all male skateboarding is held to those quantitative measures, we’d be much poorer for it. And, as in wider society, there’s always an evaluation according to the sexualised male gaze, a gaze that will either objectify or find fault: Lacey is insufficiently feminine, Leticia is too overtly so.
The section that made the biggest impression on me, out of the incredible number from female skaters in 2017, was Alexis Sablone’s Welcome to Weekend. I loves me a snapped flatground flip, and Alexis represents much that is rad within and beyond skateboarding (a resilient East Coaster, an architect, a thinker, with that Kerry Getz or Dave Mackey power push). All this contrasts with, and shows the path to leaving the white/Californian/middle-aged/apolitical/commodifying/male cartel alone to their prolonged ten-year death rattle – as Bertolt Brecht then Walter Benjamin once implored us to erase the traces, build the new, exorcise the detritus, finally enter the 21st Century, albeit 18 years late.
Ah, the sound of a cold one being opened, your mates having a laugh and a sick skate session. You can’t beat it. From the teens that are seeking and learning to the old codgers who just can’t give it up, skateboarding is a fun bastard and London’s vast skate scene delivers for all.
Say hello to just one chapter in our fine city. The WASC crew is made up of a few friends you may have seen at demos, Crossfire jams and in 90s skate mags. Long term friendships that have been forged by the love of four wheels and good times. The glue of this crew is a Whatsapp group that’s pretty much exactly like Gossip Girl – but based in East London, not Manhattan’s Upper East side. It runs 24/7/365 and constantly treads a very fine line between banter and insult. People leave and are ejected regularly. It’s (mostly) in good humour.
Yah Bru 4 is their latest installment filmed across the year collectively, so sit back, get a beer on the go and take in the sessions before diving into a few facts found in the memories of Ben Phillips and Brendan Ryall below.
For the record, the main crew consists of Ben Phillips, Brendan Ryall, Tom Ball, Steven Crawford, Simon Skipp, Michael Daley, Gavin Coetzee, Kevin Parrott, Ed Davis, Dave Turner, Mark Brewster and Andy Hinshelwood.
Delside main crew are Paul Carroll, Phil Clutton, Nigel Davies, Dave Maddocks. Plus Skipp, Kevin, and Brendan.
Friends include Chris Morgan, Jak Pietryga, Conor Charleson,Dan West, Manny Lopez, Jake Hipwell, Ben Cundall, Jamie ‘Heavy Handed Harry’ Harrison, Alex Irvine, Josh Cox, Ben Larthe, Dennis the Swede and Barry Dring.
Better, younger wingmen.
Youngsters at the spot have become a heartwarming regular during this project. Gavin with Jack, Steve with Jack, Kevin with Clem and Dave with Otto. Most importantly the young ones weren’t just there to watch; this next generation are already up and rolling and well on their way to surpassing their ageing fathers.
With a crew in their 30s and 40s, gaps and rails aren’t really on the agenda anymore. We were in the West End and Manny Lopez was with us that day. Ryall had thought about putting a crowd barrier across the SOAS gap, but common sense and a more sensible crew always won. Manny is insanely comfortable on rails. So we thought fuck it, today’s the day. We set it up and whilst we were still looking for excuses, he went straight in. It’s really sick to push your own limits, and it really helps when you have a kid on form to give it that final push.
The injury deckchair:
Crew is everything. Filming is really a byproduct of our missions. Mark Brewster has recently had some gnarly surgery on his ankle so the build up to this meant he would come out with us every weekend, without fail, with a deckchair. Our legendary heckle bench will not be the same without him as he sat there, chilled beverage in hand, barking unsolicited feedback from the start of the session to the end. It never once got annoying (jk lol).
Another one who’s battled injuries is Ed Davis. The Royal College of Surgeons have just informed me that most of his problems stem from an ill advised session down LB 10 after a jazzy afternoon on Bermondsey Street a couple years back. The good news is his transition skating is already picking up where his Wilson street carnage left off.
Gavin the Wizard in speed dealers and a bucket hat was one THE “in” look on the streets of London over the last couple of years. Perhaps his only more powerful look was flying out of the darkness via a pressure flip down 3 at the tail end of a Battersea session into an amphitheatre full of merry onlookers. The ensuing uproar could be heard all the way to Westminster.
Brendan Ryall and his magic hands. Shot by Dave Turner.
Delside DIY mission appreciation:
Paul Carroll has built a magical ramp in a forest in Essex. It really is incredible and the only ramp sessions comparable to it would be the legendary Playstation / Bay66 mini-ramp sessions BITD. Knowing the weekends are street missions, Phil Clutton built some amazing flood lights out of LED lights, 100ft of cabling and a car battery. With a culture clash of obscure 80s songs and raw punk blasting out a Marshall speaker, the night sessions become timeless and unforgettable!
The City of Rats:
With deadline approaching Ryall was on a rare solo mission with Skipp. They arrived at the Mudchute brick bank and spotted a massive rat on the top of it. This thing was so tame, it carried on sniffing around and eventually cleared off. Si started working out his trick and Ryall crouched down to find his filming angle. The bloody rat came back, ran behind him and up his shirt onto his back! Much screaming went down whilst Skipp laughed his arse off. We still got the clip, with a different angle.
The Dry Cleaner’s Choice:
The special award for TDCC goes to Patient Mike for a never ending stockpile of fresh white ghetto gowns. There aren’t many people in their late 30s that have a 360 flip like him. He is true, genuine talent (even if he does do too many lipslide, 5-0 change ups).
The ender – Si Skipp at The Temple of Doom:
This truly is a Skipp spot. No one else would care or bother. 12 years ago, when Si was in his prime, he kick flipped it, but not how he had hoped. The spot is so crusty that no one ever wanted to go back. Featuring a crusty surface, huge gaps in the bricks, a grass run up and rough tarmac for a roll away, who would want to go back? Si of course. In winter, armed with 20 meters of carpet for the run up, we went back, rubbed the mildew off the landings and the battle was on. One roll in a pirate camphor bush and another handful of goes, the ender was in the bag. This commitment for any skater in their 40s isn’t normal. Here’s raising a glass to Yah Bru 5!
SKATEBOARDING, COMMERCIALISATION AND THE PRIVATISATION OF THE CITY
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled wasn’t convincing the world he didn’t exist, as posited in The Usual Suspects, but luring us to blame each other for the bad decisions we make when navigating His system. Global finance goes tits up in 2007, and it’s just a few bad bankers to blame and us, for expecting public services. Pupils are tested at age six and teachers are punished with never-ending inspection, but it’s the children and staff who lack ‘resilience’ as mental distress spreads like wild-fire.
Popular culture – the entertainment, advertising and commentary enforcing the tacit ‘rules’ we live by – clearly delineates good and evil, ‘core’ and corny, and instructs us to find easy scapegoats, usually other schmoes trapped in the system. Skateboarders, rather than blaming the commercialisation of leisure time and mainstream assimilation of niche sub-cultures, blame individual pros, trying to feed their kids and pay rent when they finally sign up to the swoosh or the three stripes. The system carries on unseen and unassailable. We’re each surviving a game in which the rules are unknowable whilst an unseen hand swaps our carefully painted dwarf warrior for a dried hunk of shit. Rather than blaming the idiotic game and going outside, you yell at Nigel the Mage, I kick Sarah the Dark Elf in the shin, and Geoff over there blames you and I equally and puts your new D10 up his arse.
Let’s take the big, interwoven challenges facing skateboarding today: commercialisation that squeezes core brands and local shops; gentrification and the loss of public space; and, of course, how the commodification of sub-culture enlists us as agents of gentrification. Having assimilated most of the earth, capital has run out of new markets to exploit. So, the cultural realm is commodified and used in a “kind of real estate scam” (David Harvey) to repackage and sell off great lumps of the city. Skating (and ordinary skateboarders), along with graffiti, DIY music scenes and other grassroots culture, help make neighbourhoods desirable to developers more interested in street art than fine art, after which the new owners prevent us from doing the very thing that originally gave the space value.
Steve Berra’s recent Jenkem interview reveals a skateboarder who feels little loyalty to the soul of the thing and willingly accepts capital’s terms (in contrast to Philly’s Sabotage crew in the final days of Love Park, stubbornly refusing to bend the knee as the king’s horses overrun their barricades). Berra appoints himself the adult in the room, throwing shade on those who fail to see ‘how things are’ in corporate bro speak that sounds not unlike Jake Gyllenhaal’s manipulator-savant Lou in Nightcrawler. The Berrics is a business, but the culture of skateboarding? He has uncritically adopted what Mark Fisher called a ‘business ontology’: everything boils down to the profit motive. The moral or aesthetic are irrelevant to Steve Berra. It is simply ‘business’, an abstract phenomenon assumed to surround all of us, like air, or the ghosts of our ancestors.
Berra’s worldview shines through his last two video parts. His stealth installation of prefabricated skatepark obstacles make the streets efficient, predictable. He joylessly annexes public space with nascent, temporary Berricses, for his private use only – unlike the democratising generosity of DIY and in harmony with the neoliberal belief that public space should bend to market forces. All human endeavour is not analogous to business and the ‘market’ is simply the aggregation of millions of human decisions, both sensible and silly: it is no more able to effectively govern our actions than any other network of fallible humans doing and saying dumb shit.
We, the common man or woman, need freely accessible spaces to meet, to be entertained, to sell our wares, and to share rituals of community cohesion: expressions of grief, celebration or protest. The downgrading or total abandonment of these civic purposes – these ‘public goods’ – occurred at the very time skateboarders started using such spaces (the sidewalk, municipal plazas, rather than the private space of backyard swimming pools). In ‘The Poetics of Security’, Ocean Howell shows that the kind of skateboarding most loathed by town planners and local politicians directly grew from the “barren, defensive spaces” associated with triumphant Reaganomics and Thatcherism. Hard, sharp ledges in open, windswept plazas replaced more intimate, humane spaces that encourage the ‘chance encounters’ and unhurried meanderings beloved of utopian urbanists. The architectural cattle prods that herd us from office, to shopping centre, to restaurant or bar, gave form and vocabulary to modern street skating. For ageing British skaters, spaces made otherwise empty by Thatcher’s 11 year war on society are synonymous with Panic/Blueprint, Viewfinder or Video Log, in which Baines, Shier and Selley, the Shipman brothers, Rowley and John Dalton rattle through foreclosure-scarred high streets and dilapidated bus stations. The death of a truly ‘public’ realm enabled the golden era of street skating.
Since this time, skateboarding performs the shifting role of sworn protector and unwitting agent in the erosion of public space. If 90s street skating revealed then re-purposed hollowed-out spaces, giving deliberately meaning-free public realm new subjectivity and vibrancy, by the 2000s we were contributing to a new wave of commodification: bundled within the older term ‘gentrification’. Once the deliberate clearing, re-development and re-selling of residential space in densely populated cities like Paris, it now refers to a more organic process; a decentralised urge that needs no civil servant’s urban masterplan; a contagion that town planners are powerless to resist even if they wanted to. It transforms space and culture, and recruits well-meaning artists, community workers and (potentially) skateboarders to be its unwitting landing party. Whole towns and neighbourhoods are tentatively colonised by art studios and cafes, and then wholly transformed by the alien invasion force: the developers and investors who assimilate the very soul of the community into a brochure-ready, homogenous aesthetic that appeals exclusively to middle class tastes and budgets.
But imagine you care not for the dispersal and disenfranchisement of working class communities, that the searing injustice of Grenfell leaves you unmoved, and you care only for how this affects your ability to skate the streets. How and why is skateboarding both coalmine canary and unwitting collaborator in subsequent waves of gentrification? And, more importantly, what might the options be for non-cooperation, resistance and roll-back?
Thanks to the person who left this outside our office this weekend…
Skateboarding is perfectly legal across most of the UK. Unless there’s a specific By Law or PSPO in operation, you have every right to skate a public area. But gentrification has created areas that look public in every discernible way.. but aren’t. The Guardian newspaper have chilled out on misconstruing and sneering at the young and/or the working class, as if recalling a day out at the zoo to people who have never visited, and have done something useful for once. They’ve mapped the spread of ‘pseudo’ or ‘Privately Owned Public Spaces’ (POPS) across London. These spaces, although designed to resemble municipal plazas, are owned and controlled by private firms (often investment companies) who draw up (but don’t necessarily publish) restrictions covering their use. Cue the overweight private security guard, permanently at the mercy of violent urges, whose job it is to kick you off – along with rough sleepers, groups of young people just hanging out, even families consuming food and drink not purchased from particular premises. When combined with the ‘defensive architecture’ on which Howell and Iain Borden write widely – the anti-homeless spikes and skate stoppers that pock-mark such spaces – they explicitly signal who can and can’t be there, degrading the principles of our democracy and social fabric.
If capital is no longer just in the business of appropriating housing estates, flats and small business premises, but the very streets and squares we walk and skate across, how on earth could you and I be its agents? Howell argues our activities ironically make these spaces more marketable. By skating previously uninteresting, uninviting spaces, we help make them youthful, ‘edgy’, ‘urban’. Think of all the destination marketing, aimed at attracting foreign investors and tourists (including to cities hostile to skateboarding) that use images of skating. Howell’s depiction of Love Park is an example we’ve cited before. Originally designed as a space for passers-by to tarry, eat lunch, Reaganomics saw an end to that. Increasingly destitute homeless people, many of whom were drug dependent and deprived of welfare support, colonised the space. But with Ricky Oyola’s generation of East Coast street pioneers, followed by the second generation of technical ledge skaters led by a young Fred Gall, Love Park became a magnet for a different kind of user, hardier than easily startled office drones. To paraphrase Oyola, if skinny teenagers weren’t afraid of no crack head, why should a grown-ass executive? So skateboarders made Love Park usable for everyone else. This made it valuable to developers, so the skaters, like the rough sleepers, had to go. And then, without the everyday presence of skaters (with Brian Panebianco’s younger generation getting their sessions when they could, often at night), Love Park as we knew it lost its value to the City of Philadelphia… and the rest is history and rubble.
Did generations of skateboarders intend to be agents of their own exile? Of course they didn’t, and the stubborn efforts of the Sabotage crew to fend off both municipal and skate industry capital earned their right to inhabit the space several times over. Howell’s term “footsoldiers’ of gentrification” is deliberately provocative: it illustrates how skaters’ ability to make a city unique and attractive gets co-opted. That value, created through random moments of weird risk taking, is then commodified and transformed into something else. The authentic and anarchic becomes something symbolic and safe: from the Haçienda of gurning, mad-for-it ravers to the Haçienda of high-value real estate. Your and my use of a space makes it valuable in a way that it wasn’t previously, but the outcome of time and love freely given is frustratingly unrealised profits for the kind of vampires that think only in the short term. It doesn’t matter to them that no skating will eventually mean no plaza – by then they’ve extracted their return and moved onto the next thing.
Sometimes skateboarders can hold the line and fight the invaders off. But when they do, the battle is never wholly won, and in moments of victory, it’s important to remember that not everyone fought on the same side – some danced to the speculators’ tune. Take the successful campaign to save the Southbank Undercroft from redevelopment into retail space. The younger generation, skating the space daily, understood what it meant (because they were creating and maintaining its value). Some members of the older generation, particularly former Kingpin editor Niall Neeson, fell quickly into Berra’s ‘business ontology’, siding with the so-called adults and plumping for the Southbank Centre’s Hungerford Bridge alternative. Neeson wrote an article for Huck, (since removed), dripping in condescension, in which he railed against the naivety of the skaters who used and loved the Undercroft. You can’t fight the market, kids. But history, and the hard graft of LLSB and their supporters, proved that you can.
But the story doesn’t end there. LLSB’s campaign to restore and re-open the lost ‘small banks’ started quite recently. The irony is that the brilliance and authenticity of their original campaign (far outmatching the Southbank Centre in its reach and intellectual and aesthetic sophistication), in charging the space with even more cultural value and international profile, captured the attention of capital like the burning eye of Sauron. In order to fund the £790,000 needed, in comes Adidas with a generous contribution.
Adidas are not Costa or Prêt, but tales of Red Bull cutting and running when the DIY builds they fund provoke the ire of the authorities, or Adidas’ own abortive (but initially well publicised) ‘saving’ of the historic skatepark in Kennington, do not bode well for the long-term trustworthiness of skateboarding’s mega-corporate benefactors. One of the greatest ironies of the diffuse, decentralised nature of late capitalism is that, rather than bringing about greater accountability, it concentrates power and isolates it from ordinary people. But how else do LLSB get anywhere near their target? This is all part of the impossibility of navigating a system loaded against us. In the case of Southbank, the rules of the system – in requiring users to pay for a publicly owned, taxpayer-funded space that attracts visitors to London – go unquestioned in 2017’s Great Britain. We’re back in a business ontology, where the ‘customer’ pays. Could Real – of all current skate companies, surely the most consistent in their stance against the ills of modern politics (against Trump, against racism, against aspects of neo-liberal capitalism) – have held onto the two best skateboarders of their respective generations (Busenitz and Ishod) without the sneaker cheques that flow from Adidas and Nike? The insatiable rise of the sportswear giants threaten organisations like Real/Deluxe as it sucks money out of the skateshops they rely upon to stock their kit. And Real surely know this, yet have little choice but to support teamriders who sign up to the Swoosh.
I remain an optimist, and a strong supporter of LLSB – particularly as they invest in something many a government-funded, multi-million-pound regeneration project ignores: the actual human beings in their community, rather than ‘just’ the space. But the story shows that even doggedly manning a stand for actual years, rain or shine – one of the few acts on earth that owes little to the capitalist superstructure – can potentially be re-used in someone else’s marketing strategy. To avoid difficult choices in which there is no definitively ‘right’ option, and always an unknowable future cost, the system around us has to change more radically. A strong focus on rethinking regeneration (severing the link between improving the environment for communities and destroying those communities) in the Labour leader’s party conference speech is welcome and shifts the debate whatever the outcome of a future election. In the here and now, other lessons can be gleaned. The work of the skaters of Gillet Square – an autonomous space managed in cooperation with the community and the borough authority (with group learning facilitated by personnel shared with the LLSB campaign) – to oppose threatened redevelopment could be instructional for the rest of us.
Even more optimistic in scope, is when inclusivity is designed into new spaces from their very inception – creating physical enclaves that are potentially post-neoliberal. In this, the Nordic countries lead, as they do in many other respects. I recommend twointerviews, both by Daryl Mersom, with Søren Enevoldsen, the architect and skater responsible for incredible public plazas in Denmark, in which school kids play, office workers shoot hoops, couples play ping pong, hipsters buy local produce, and skaters perfect ledge tricks or schralp deliberately accidental transition. There is commerce in these spaces, but it does not overwhelm other uses. Enevoldsen describes “active urban spaces” in contrast to spaces where “you are always told what to do. Everything is organized and targeted towards certain behavioral patterns and you become inactive and zombie-like. I want to create places… where a greater variety of people can co-exist. If you see a tree in nature it can be used in so many different ways… You have to become “active” in your approach the tree. Just like a skater is “active” when he searches the city for new possibilities.”
Skateboarding has created value by activating the inactive – value that can, has been, and will continue to be exploited. We should continue to fight to save the spaces we have transformed, for ourselves and others that use them, but we should also work harder, through activism, lobbying, entrepreneurialism and our own education, to achieve more spaces that have radical potential from the very start.
Skateboarders are equipped to think in radically different ways as future planners, architects, urbanists, who can then redesign physical spaces that are resistant to gentrification. Think on that if you can’t think of ‘owt interesting to study at college.
Every sub-culture believes their people are better than the bozos on the outside. Skateboarders have a notable tendency towards exceptionalism. We collectively fail to distinguish between good and terrible skate art. We believe authority should leave us be, whether we are respectful or pig ignorant towards other users of public space. If we see the world differently, with unique expectations of life, work and the city – is this potentiality ever realised? If it isn’t, we may as well be any other group of beer-chugging jocks.
Almost half-way through 2017 and the world is still chain-barfing 2016’s dirty pint, exhausted by elections that serve only the politicians who call for them. If we engage (and you should engage… please vote), it is more out of habit or forlorn hope than genuine belief that things can change for the better. Optimists see hope in the millions galvanised to protest, choking up airports to make Islamophobic travel bans unenforceable, filling town squares to hear a man that looks a bit like Obi-Wan Kenobi speak of good, old-fashioned socialism. But we’ve been here before. Although hyper-capitalism has failed in its pledge that each new generation will be better off than their parents, its Randian high priests still sit at the very top of the hill. The sadly departed cultural critic Mark Fisher, known by his blog moniker K-punk, noted: “From the G20 protests, to the millions marching against the Iraq war, to the Arab Spring, to the short-lived student campaign against fees in the UK – the narrative of evental politics since the late 1990s has been reliably repetitious. Euphoric outbursts of dissent are followed by depressive collapse.” Big acts of resistance fail because we cannot imagine any serious alternative to the current way of things.
Illustration: Jason Lennox.
I was too busy failing to broaden my flip repertoire through the early 2000s to pick up on the radical thinkers that clustered around Fisher, and am now reading their ideas on ‘hauntology’ with neophyte zeal. This describes a state in which, with no impetus to create anything genuinely new, we are haunted by past visions of the future. Nagging memories of how things should have been are whispered by the ghosts of the 1960s, when man dreamed of space travel and the vast, imposing architecture that brought the modern to the everyday. In contrast, today’s pop culture, politics and economics recycle the past in ever more rapid loops. Baggy-as-hell, light-ass-denims are back, y’all. We are detached spectators, ironically curating, rather than actively reshaping our lives.
Skateboarders are avid consumers and hoarders. We commodify nostalgia’s warm snuggle. But skating is also all about practice over theory: playfulness and participation, which has the potential to be radical (in both senses of the word). We inhabit the city and the everyday with piss and vinegar, and yet, in the most urbanised century in humanity’s existence, still wait to have politics done to us – buffeted along by the story instead of framing the narrative. Long Live Southbank helped change this, doing what Surfers Against Sewage did for surfing in the early 90s: taking responsibility for our environment with an infectious energy and globe-spanning visual language.
I hate Trump, May, Farage and their ilk more than the generation of failed ‘moderates’ (read neoliberal ideologues) they usurped, and am truly terrified for the future. Although most big fights feel lost, despite what the entrail reading of recent UK election polling may suggest – now is exactly the time for little, local and everyday actions that can help push humanity’s stalled jalopy back onto the Enlightenment’s journey towards new and better. Skateboarders can do, and are doing, more to be part of the resistance: these are four things to start with.
SKATE THE STREETS, ALWAYS
Skateboarding imbues the city and our leisure time with purposes beyond consuming or spectating. On Swedish radio, Sidewalk’s Ben Powell and Skate Malmö’s Gustav Svanborg Edén declared skateboarding “inherently political”, which made me want to high-5 the pair of them. Street skating claims our ‘right to the city’ in an age of privatised space and demonstrates, in public, what the human body is capable of in an age of sedentary work and leisure. We know this to be true since the opening frames of ‘Welcome to Hell’, and know in our bones when we are 17 years old, but forget by 35. In an interview with Sidewalk, one of the coolest fucking things I’ve read came from Andy Wood, the owner of Endemic, Huddersfield’s skateshop. In his 40s with a young family, he skates fast, pops over handrails and describes skating the streets as a responsibility for older skaters: how can we complain that the kids, with their abundant and accelerating skillsets, never leave the park if scene elders don’t set an example? By continuing to street skate alongside real-life responsibilities, we change what it means to be an ‘adult’ – and no diggity it needs changing.
In the EU Referendum and US Presidential election a generational chasm opened to leave poor Wile E. Coyote flailing in the air. The media characterised those who voted to turn the clock back as old, white and resentful of an unknowable future, whilst the young, who by and large voted differently, were smug, consumerist, over-educated ‘metropolitan elites’ (who simultaneously can’t afford to pay rent). Mainstream sport is little help, separating coaches from sullenly obedient players and audiences from participants. In skateboarding, kids shred with salty seadogs old enough to be their parents. Ordinary sports, or Britain’s inefficient and hierarchical businesses (where senior managers fail to say “hi” to lowly co-workers), remind you just how potentially powerful our little world can be.
If you want to see the sort of respectful negotiation of space no longer valued in the UK after 40 years of “there’s no such thing as society” (Thatcher) or, if society does exist, it’s “broken” and we are somehow to blame (Cameron), go skate a Scandinavian city or read our article on the scene in Malmö. Street skateboarding produces authentic, inclusive and active urban spaces, which we must negotiate with people of totally different ages, occupations and interests (in contrast to being penned in skateparks with people just like us). Every time you disprove the prejudices of a pedestrian, you win a small victory that reverses the erosion of our collective social capital. If we’ve given up on education being primarily to “make a man ethical” as Hegel believed, we can bring a small part of his ideal classroom to the sidewalk: by not being dickheads, and not ever quitting.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL
Thousands of words have been written on the role of skateshops as youth clubs, first and last sponsors, community hubs and cottage production lines transforming civilians into skateboarders. We can all agree on their importance, but have no idea how to save them.
If Lost Art can run aground, the challenges facing the Skater-Owned-Shop look insurmountable. Liverpool One (a new generation of sinisterly clever neoliberal shopping centres, erasing the line between high street and private property) forced independent retailers from the centre. Then rents soared as the rest of the city gentrified and the fickle patronage of Nike turned to Janoski-stacked JD Sports and Sizes. Mackey sees future survival in terms of fundamentally re-thinking what a skateshop is for: back to hardgood basics and building links with other local independents – bars, tattoo parlours, book and print stores. Similarly, legendary Athens ripper Vassilis Aramvoglou has kept Color Skates running amidst Greece’s recession and sovereign debt crisis, focusing on similar fundamentals and building a relationship with a local bicycle courier to provide their sole means of goods delivery, sacking off tech utopians like Deliveroo (blinkered to the misery they bring to a precarious labour market) and keeping scarce wealth circulating between firms that genuinely support their city.
But this is still less than half the solution. We punters need to earn our mates’ rates: organise events, art and photo shows and video nights, think how your business, employer or townhall can work with your local SOS. In Huddersfield (again), an assortment of tweakers self-publish Achezine, drawing on skills and facilities from the town’s higher and further education establishments, working on an exhibition, a bespoke ‘no-comply’ lager brewed by the independent next door, and a film premiere in Huddersfield’s lovely Victorian shopping arcade: locating Endemic within the heart of its community. Or Boston’s Orchard, who worked with like-minded social enterprises to keep a free-to-use skatepark running through the harsh Massachusetts winter. Once upon a time, in proud industrial towns, customers, workers and owners came together as cooperatives. With never-ending austerity promised by an Old Etonian from a golden chair, our cities are not going to be regenerated beyond the fire-sale of social housing and green spaces and token ‘creative quarters’ that are often anything but (see Southampton). Shop staffers and lurkers who moan about their scene, as the till rusts shut, need to stop seeing themselves as ‘just’ a shop or ‘just’ customers.
The West worships the entrepreneur: on TV and in the Whitehouse. Skateboarders have marvelled at Rocco’s saga for 20 years. But while the wider world reveres modern day robber barons as ‘job creators’, the only jobs skateboarding creates in any volume are in retail or yet more sponsored skateboarders. The production of skateboards – luxury items which are predominantly purchased in the world’s richest countries – survives not through differentiation, but on the lowest possible marginal costs. Economists warn that competing on price alone results in a ‘race to the bottom’, jobs hemorrhaged to low cost countries that tolerate shittier labour conditions (a practice that is in turn threatened by Trump’s protectionism, to the benefit of no one except perhaps the Chinese or Mexican workers who may end up in less stupid industries).
As in decades past, the indie start-up has changed and enriched the face of skating. Soccer-mom friendly logo boards are a minority amid weird, cool and beautiful offerings from Polar, Magenta, Hopps, Scumco, Welcome, Weekend, Evisen, Blast, etc. etc. But we’re still failing to visualise how this can benefit actual skateboarders. Some who’ve recently disrupted the market, like Bronze’s Peter Sidlauskas, counsel others to “just work the job you hate.” I can sympathise with wanting to pull up the drawbridge, but this is terrible advice. It assumes markets are fixed in size (think of the ubiquity of Palace, trading to kids with no prior exposure to skating), illustrating what economists call the ‘fallacy of the lump of labour’. The number of jobs is not finite: a newly employed person spends money, creating the need for more jobs, and so on (btw this is also the best way to shut down your racist uncle midway through his seasonal “coming over here, taking our jobs” rant). More urgently, such thinking keeps late capitalism dependent on bullshit, low pay, debt-subsidised jobs in a bloated service sector. If you have an idea, for pity’s sake run with it, for the good of us all. The internet enables you to launch from your bedroom, with minimal risk, whilst keeping up the 9 to 5. In the face of permanent global depression, skaters taking a punt at something new will provide them job satisfaction (and skills acquisition) and help kill pointless, precarious work.
Most importantly, your thing doesn’t have to be a board brand or Instagram-driven streetwear bollocks. Surely this is not the limit of our imaginations. Collect boards, do you? Think about what Deckaid has done, exhibiting skate geeks’ collections to aid youth-based charities. Have a massive magazine stash? Rent them out to your local shop. Think you and your mates have skills, enthusiasm and patience? Look what Ash Hall, or John Cattle, or Paul Regan have done with different iterations of socially-entrepreneurial skate schools. Know some artists/are one yourself/know a distributor? Check out these dudes and their ‘refugees welcome’ board project.
All this can be linked together and scaled up. There’s a good chance funders will listen, but they need something tangible to listen to. For that, my friends, you need to organise. If you go to their skatepark consultation, their ‘active in the city’ event, you’re reacting. We can set the agenda. A rabble of voices gets drowned out: but a lean, focused machine that can access and direct resources is hard to ignore. Bryggeriet/Skate Malmö as well as LLSB show us that this doesn’t have to equal endless committee meetings and ‘county council rrrradical’ faux-graffiti branding. They can be super cool, inclusive, and get things done. If you want to link and grow your projects, protect your DIY or streetspot, get a new park built, access charitable and public funding, and eventually employ other skaters in meaningful work, organising is key, and skateboarders tend to be terrible at it.
In the UK, you can get free advice from your local Community and Voluntary Service. Then you have several choices. You can stay small (limited to £5,000 per year) but start tomorrow with a Small Charity Constitution. To do bigger things (including holding premises and employing people), you can become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) or a Community Interest Company (CIC). A CIO is more attractive to funders, but must be approved by the Charity Commission, who will then monitor you closely. A CIC can be created rapidly and is lighter on the paperwork, but may be less attractive to big funders like the National Lottery. And when you start something, and it grows: remember why you did it. Even if you can earn a living purely selling boards and t-shirts, you can still be more than ‘just’ a board brand – take Real skateboard’s projects with Humidity and Uprise shops in support of the American Civil Liberties Union.
MAKE WORLDWIDE CONNECTIONS
Magenta say it, and they mean it. Who would have thought Bordeaux, with its cobbley-ass streets, would be a destination? The end game for all the above – filling in forms, busting your ass skating and filming – is to put your city on the map, boost your scene and making the world a better place. The biggest of big pictures is that this helps roll back the creeping nativism stoked by right-wing demagogues and the tabloid media across the world. Sixty-five percent of the French electorate can’t hold the line on their own. If big politics tells us that internationalism is a thing of the past – what of all of us brought up to think globally? Prime Minister Theresa May told those who “believe you’re a citizen of the world” were instead “citizens of nowhere”. Let that sink in for a moment: millions of us, the first in our families to stay on in education post-16, who went on school trips and took GCSE French, who were told by careers advisers to imagine working anywhere on earth, who have quite literally done what we’ve been told, are now “citizens of nowhere.” Fuck right off, Theresa May: a sense of internationalism is one of the few things neoliberalism gets right.
Luckily, nationalism and skateboarding are not productive bedfellows – and we can do more to unlock the power of this. Skater-led NGOs have brought skateboarding’s unique ability to engage young people to Afghanistan, Palestine, South Africa and Myanmar, alongside projects building or repairing skateparks in quake hit Australia and Native American reservations. And doing something closer to home doesn’t mean limiting your international horizons. Bruce Springstein, proud son of New Jersey and global traveller, says, “My localism is something I want to use as a strength, rather than something to get away from.” A great example is the Rios crew, putting Budapest on the map by skating and filming in a distinctive way, all whilst xenophobic, nativist strongman, Viktor Orbán, increasingly locks Hungary into an imagined past where everyone looked and felt the same.
Without trying to, the Rios guys have delivered one of the clearest rejections of everything Orbán, and May, and Trump, and Le Pen, stand for – and skaters the world over journey to Budapest to share this with them.
Simon Bernacki frontside wallrides the TBS DIY. Photo: Tim Smith.
For skateboarders in the Northern Hemisphere, the start of the year can feel like the end of the world. An existential and meteorological downward spiral, deepened if you spent last summer somewhere markedly better. But then trips are excitedly planned across chaotically duplicate social media platforms through April and May; a glut of adventure from June to early September; then the stomach-tightening disappointment as nights lengthen and tarmac dampens. The cyclical woe ramped right up in 2016. Brexit’s ‘fuck you, footloose citizen of the world’ followed by the fever dream turned reality of President Donald J Trump make escape more necessary than desirable.
What if, in 2017, we took something back from our travels, improving our hometown environments, the rest of our active lives and the lives of younger generations? Last summer, my friends and I visited Copenhagen and Malmö for the third time. This year, it would be nice to reduce the contrast between away and home. Fortunately, the relatively small Swedish city provides a lodestar for UK skate scenes demoralised by generational churn and municipal hostility. Most impressively, Malmö’s skaters have demonstrated what we already know to be true: skateboarding is an incredible tool for creating and maintaining active and engaging public spaces, a free spectacle for participants and bystanders, encouraging a sense of shared-ownership over the city and its public realm. Politicians in the UK invest millions trying to ‘engage’ young people, to encourage a sense of community, to increase physical activity, and to bridge the generational divide – skateboarding does all this for free.
Zombie Stu getting some at Steppeside DIY. Photo: Simon Bernacki.
Malmö is a modern skateboarding phenomenon. The 2016 final of the Vans Pro Skatepark Series was not hosted in sun-kissed California, but in a frequently rainy upper corner of northern Europe. The city features in videos from sportswear giants, ordinary Joe’s and several documentaries (with a school within the indoor skatepark attracting particular interest) and is, of course, headquarters to Polar Skateboards. Copenhagen, over the bridge, attracts attention for similar reasons: huge, well-designed public skateparks, indoor parks and global events; flourishing DIY scenes; rippers attracting the biggest of sponsors; and energetic cadres of long-time skaters who have convinced their local authority of the wider benefits of all of this.
Malmö is a more unlikely story than the Danish capital. It’s much smaller – similar in size to Nottingham. It also experienced the sharp-end of de-industrialisation and the fragility of neo-liberal redevelopment. Just as Nottingham lost thousands of skilled blue collar jobs with the fall of textiles and heavy industry in the 1970s and 1980s, Malmö’s largest employer, shipbuilding, went into free fall. Both cities looked to the financial and business services for a ‘knowledge led’ recovery. This proved just as vulnerable to global headwinds, as Malmö was particularly hard hit by the Swedish Financial Crisis of the early 1990s. A visitor from the North of England in the mid-1990s would have observed familiar symptoms of urban blight.
Now, five years after the Occupy Movement and nine years after the Global Financial Crisis, Malmö is an optimist’s poster child for intelligent and inclusive regeneration. And, would you believe it, skateboarding has played an important role. Malmö’s development (aided by small things like building a university and a bridge to Copenhagen) is due to more than skateboarding, but when investment ran in, the local skaters were already at a sprinting start. With nowhere in winter other than an indoor carpark, they formed a club. As membership grew, the City took notice and provided an abandoned school for a mini-ramp, and then the much larger former brewery site for an indoor park, and the non-profit Bryggeriet was born. Competitions built capacity such that, when the Council agreed to support a ‘destination’ skatepark to spearhead the regeneration of the old ship-building area, Bryggeriet worked with a team from Portland to ensure user expertise nibbled into the marrow of the project. The result was the incredible Stapelbäddsparken, which drew Quicksilver to relocate the Bowlriders European Cup in 2006. By this time, Pontus Alv had released his first video, ‘Strongest of the Strange’, broadcasting to the world that parks and events were the tip of an iceberg that encased a street and DIY scene, which in turn helped kickstart the global proliferation of the ‘crete-and-hope’ ethos, as well as the verb “to charge”.
The wonderful Stappelbadsparken park shot by Andrew Cullen.
When Quicksilver withdrew from skateboarding, Bryggeriet together with the City took over. Malmö’s annual Ultrabowl was given a budget to: “put Malmö on the map, and help develop a relationship with the skaters for other projects.” Even more incredibly, the Council considers skateboarding within its strategy to ensure public spaces are well used, and co-brands Skate Malmö with the skaters. Among other things, Skate Malmö officially encourages skateboarders to visit the city, something that eluded Philadelphia in Love Park’s heyday as a global skate magnet.
Forensic skate archivists will trace much of the above to Phil Evans’ ‘Coping Mechanism’ and recent interviews with Gustav Edén, one time Unabomber rider and now Skateboard Coordinator for the City of Malmö. Gustav was generous with his scarce time and responded to our questions, exploring factors that may enable British skaters to have the confidence and sense of agency to act on Malmö’s inspiration.
The foremost questions are: can lessons from Malmö be applied in the UK? Is hard work and a can-do attitude more important than the serendipity of living in progressive Sweden? Malmö City did not always regard skateboarding so favourably, once seeing it in similar terms to many UK Local Authorities: a ‘nuisance’; young men making noise and wasting time. Gustav argues that Malmö’s skaters’ attitude and ambition were as important in changing perceptions as the successful hosting of global events: “the City supported the development of the skate-organisation and helped it grow. The City gave skaters a chance. That’s half the story. Perhaps more crucial… is that the skaters here realised they had to be a good partner to the City. They realised they had to give the city value for their investment.”
Our experience in the UK is often characterised by Local Government hostility (in Kettering, Norwich, Birmingham, Sheffield and other towns and cities where bans have existed for years or have recently been implemented). However, we have to be honest and admit to often choosing a passive role. We lobby councils to pay for skateparks; we launch online petitions to fight bylaws and save skatespots. Rarely do we tell the town hall what we will do in return… and then go out and deliver it. Though successful skater-led UK campaigns often argue that skateparks may reduce anti-social behaviour, or increase physical activity – little is usually done to ensure that “may” becomes “will.” There are many brilliant exceptions, such as Frontside Gardens, the work of John Cattle and Wight Trash, Ash Hall and Sheffield’s Skateboard School, and, of course, Long Live Southbank.
I’m generalising, but the point stands and Gustav concurs: “Skate organisations often (not always) forget to shift the focus to what they can do for the city and how this can help them grow, rather than just thinking about what the city can do for them. The skaters in Malmö have been a strong, driven partner for the city. For a community development department, this is a godsend. Someone wanting to do something and actually being able to deliver. That is a crucial part of the Malmö story.”
A common fear is that officialdom inevitably ruins the cool of skating, wrecking the credibility of skaters amongst their own communities. We are currently struggling with this trade-off in Nottingham. I found myself farcically misquoted in our local newspaper, “jump up” instead of “kicker”, alongside the depressing old chestnut placing street skating within the gamut of anti-social behaviour – when skateboarding is the most supportively ‘social’ thing in most of our lives. In skateparks we socialise with people exactly like us, rather than negotiating space with other users of the city. If 2016’s tale of political and social upset is one of old against young and the educated against the left-behind, actually sharing space and interacting with different kinds of people is more important than it’s ever been.
Notts crew at Steppeside. Photo: Andrew Cullen.
Malmö’s skaters learned that hosting events ordinary people could appreciate and engaging with the public via skate schools actually benefited the core scene: “The idea from Bryggeriet has always been to deliver above the expectations of the City, as well as staying true to the skate scene.” Perhaps it’s the Scandinavian tendency to approach even the most casual thing with an enviable mix of extreme seriousness and whimsy, but the proof is in the pudding. Malmö has one of the corest, most aesthetically fucking cool scenes on earth – not just the best known company, Polar, but also Post, Hats, Details, Poetic Collective and the visual output of Bryggeriet and Skate Malmö themselves (helped by master-videographers-in-residence like Phil Evans). The skaters have managed to nurture a successful, expansive and civically-minded ‘skate destination’ and grow a cool-as-all-hell sub-culture. Gustav described global events like the Vans final as “the result, not the instigator” of this year-long scene.
This has wider impacts for the arts and youth culture. We spoke to Street Lab skateshop big-popper Rasmus Sjölin, who told us a little about the social buzz the Malmö skate scene produces. Even relatively little things like a DIY build at the famous TBS spot can end in a street party spilling from the bar round the corner from Street Lab, whilst local hotels, shops and venues all recognise the benefits visiting skaters bring. Gustav added that the type of person attracted to the characteristics of skating (not a team sport, unstructured, intergenerational) can have a genuinely life-changing experience that leads to connected interests and skills from “a network that permeates every walk of life in the city.” And for older people already sold hook-line-and-sinker, the rich skate scene attracts them and their families to move to the city – bringing their skills, interests and creative ideas. The OG street spot now on my ‘favourite on earth’ list after several afternoons this summer, known as ‘Svampen’ by the locals, is overlooked by Malmö Art Centre, directly illustrating these permeations.
Malmö Harbour. Photo: Simon Bernacki.
As a counter-balance to encroaching ‘sportification’ from the Olympics and the sportswear brands, Malmö’s skaters have ensured that their events emphasise the cultural crossovers of skating, with Ultrabowl and the Vans championship being closer to city-wide music or art festivals, rather than singularly big corporate events. The Malmö scene has also helped pioneer the greatest antidote to dumb-ass, alpha males: as many women and girls are encouraged to skate as possible, and then those who get good are supported – just as you would with male skaters. Recent upstart brand Poetic Collective proudly support Sarah Meurle front and centre in their team: in the UK only Lovenskate have the guts to strongly back (fellow Kalis obsessive) Lucy Adams. And power to them: it’s (early) 2017 people – the 1950s live on only in Trump’s inner circle of porcine Breitbart comb-overs.
We’ve so far skirted around the biggest of big things: Malmö’s advocacy of the positive role of street skating. This provides a real-life example to accompany the theory that street skating uses public space in an engaging and inclusive way, contributing to a town or city’s “collective symbolic capital”: the things that make it unique and attractive. Visitors aren’t drawn to the ten-a-penny high-street (unsurprisingly in terminal decline), where the design (and merging) of public and commercial space explicitly steers them towards either retail or work in Iain Borden’s analysis, but to imaginative, lively spaces created by the people who live there.
TBS DIY in all its post-industrial glory. Photo: Simon Bernacki.
Ocean Howell demonstrated this in the tragi-comic story of Philadelphia in the early 2000s, whilst warning that skaters could become the unwitting foot soldiers of gentrification, useful in reclaiming unutilised space but ultimately expendable when the fruits of their labour raises the real estate value. A more sustainable situation, where skaters are neither vilified or exploited – where they are “good partners” to the city – is the long game Malmö seems to have nailed. From recent news that Hull aims to be the UK’s first genuinely skate friendly city (designing street skating into, rather than out of, new public space), it is perfectly possible in our hometowns too. But Kettering shows that the reverse can still happen. A punitive townhall seals the generational divide in law: not only does skateboarding in Kettering carry a £1,000 fine, being younger than 18 during certain times is similarly punished. Hull, European City of Culture in 2017, says to its residents: “this city is yours, activate it.” Kettering instead opted for inevitable population ageing and the calcification of civic space.
This isn’t just about skating, it’s about positive micro-action. The unspeakable horror of Big Politics in 2016 may continue all the way into 2017 if Marine Le Pen’s resurgent National Front aren’t stopped at the ballot box. The urban theorist David Harper, in calling for a new fight for our collective ‘right to the city’, remarks that, “while big fights might seem unwinnable, small victories can lead to bigger ones.” In Gustav’s view, skating’s success in Malmö has been part of the city’s wider success as a place to live, be young and grow older. If we want our hometowns to benefit us economically and socially, we need to stop seeing skateboarding in separation. In times of tight local budgets, our cities need us as much as we need them.
British skater Jason Caines has been positively chipping away at his new network project that brings skateboarders together to share their art, passions and general skills from around the world. Ahead of Beyond Skateboarding exhibition this month, Tim Hines asks the questions whilst Caines delivers the goods on behalf of the crew.
Hey Jason, let’s start with a breakdown of what The No Comply Network is?
The No Comply Network is an online showcase of artists, musicians and filmmakers from the skate community. No Comply promotes its members’ creative work and also their thoughts on skateboarding and making stuff. It’s a new thing and kinda different. No Comply is not a skate artist agency. Every No Comply artist is independent, the network is a window into their world and we sometimes collaborate with those artists as part of our events, online posts and products. The platform keeps members updated about what others are up to. I hope it will encourage them to skate, network and collaborate with each other in an organic and natural way.
London’s a great hub for what you’re doing, are you ever surprised at the array of local talent?
London is a hectic place to live and I agree it is home to some of the most talented skaters and artists in the world. It doesn’t surprise me that this is where some of the most exciting skate community artists would want to be here right now. I’m from Birmingham myself and moved to New Cross, in South East London in 2008 to study at Goldsmiths, and I’ve lived here ever since.
I started No Comply in the summer of 2014 after about a year and a half of working for Long Live Southbank campaign as a writer and spokesman. I met hundreds of other skaters through my work with LLSB and saw that so many of them had so many sick creative skills off their boards as well. I realised that skateboarding has a creative, talented community unlike any other out there and that something had to be done about it so I started to curate No Comply. I add new members, post interviews with them alongside images of the work and links to their websites, blogs or instagram if they have one.
As human beings, we all really want to do things our own way all the time and hate to be told what to do but as skaters we take this to the next level for sure. That’s why the name of the group is called The No Comply Network. It’s a tight knit crew who all share a passion for skating but in the end it’s all about doing your own thing.
No Comply collaborates with its members and makes original videos, reviews of skate magazines, remix sections and short films like our BBC featured film Long Live Stockwell. We’ve also started to make products too. The first is the Mind’s Eye logo shirt designed by Brum legend and OG Blueprint skateboarder Si Peplow.
You’ve skated Southbank for numerous years so I suppose you’ve always seen a positive relationship between artist and skateboarders?
I’ve skated Southbank for over ten years. It’s the best. SB is a great skate spot and central meeting point. However, the tight connection between graffiti writers and skaters at Southbank is a common misconception and is coincidentally not as tight knit as many may think. Let’s clear this up. Although many skaters make graff, most do not and actually at SB many of the locals, preferred the aesthetic of the spot without graffiti I mean just because you like illustration or photography doesn’t immediately mean you like graffiti but that’s the blanket solution that the Southbank Centre came up with back in 2004 and that’s how it worked out. I mean I think it’s pretty sick, but yeah, it’s not for everyone.
Nowadays, because of the internet, most artists out there are making kinda wild attention grabbing stuff and trying to go viral and many of them could walk up to a canvas and paint some challenging, unique, work. But then again most skaters would just instinctively walk up to that same canvas, snap it in two and do a switch tre flip over it, turn it into a wallie or something and then draw a sick design on it afterwards. Artists from skate culture are definitely special and pride themselves on their unique approach to creating their work. This is is a trait many of them have learnt from years of skating, which is a dynamic activity which keeps you sharp and creatively focused and which definitely results in some interesting artwork.
Skateboarding is art and most artists recognise that and that’s why the two communities are so strongly connected. The relationship between the skate world and the art world is usually positive, however the art world, fashion and other creative industries needs skateboarding more then the other way round. Let’s be honest, it’s been this way for a long time, skaters have been behind some of the biggest creative artwork and brands for a very long time.
I’ve seen that you have 100+ members who are based around the globe what’s one of the ways you usually reach out to local and global talents?
I started by adding my mates like Trav Wardle and Jeremy Jones. It grew from there and I hit people up, or they hit me up, and we do a feature post, which I post on to Facebook. It’s really short interview with the chosen artist accompanied by a graphic of the work or a profile photo. It’s slowly grown and we now have members all over the UK, Europe, Canada, America and Asia.
No Comply Members are so diverse. Rogie’s a pro for Heroin but then again he’s also flown off to Africa to film Rhinos for the BBC. Sophia Bennett was a SB local and a photographer who now lives in Geneva and works at CERN, the biggest particle reactor in the world. Arran Gregory made nearly a 100 life-sized silver leopards out of mirrored glass and placed them in an East London car park. It’s just insane, that’s why I curate the page, add new members and promote their work, it’s exciting to see how much talent there is in a community you actively take a part in too.
So you’ve got an event called Beyond Skateboarding coming up soon, can you tell us more about it?
Beyond Skateboarding is a skate art showcase two-dayer in Deptford London from November 10th-13th. Work will be presented by The No Comply Network and we will exhibit and promote creative work. Essentially it’s a chance for everyone to properly exhibit their work, meet up, chat and go skate.
Thursday the 10th is an exhibition and film screenings at Curve Skateshop in Deptford. We will have an art show in the shop with over 20 members showing and whilst there will premiere some new unreleased and exclusive edits by No Comply Members along with free booze. This is followed by a second exhibition, featuring more member’s work and live music in a local late night bar called Buster Mantis.
Sunday the 13th is the skate day. We’ve rented out Giffin Square a popular local ledge spot for the day. We’re gonna play more music build ramps, wallrides, flatbars and have a skate jam. It will be jokes. Alongside all this this we will be teaching skate lessons and also doing art workshops all day. Skating is about having fun so we having a series of secret challenges and activities we will release. Prizes have been donated by Palace, HUF, Levi’s, Slam, Parlour, Cliché, Brixton and Andale Bearings and we’ll be giving them away to people who want to come down and have fun. We don’t care if your good on the wood, if you like art, you fit the part.
Do you feel that there is still a place for exhibitions, instagram and other social media outlets are becoming so popular do you feel the physical still has relevance in today’s age?
Good question man. I think there will always be a place for something you can touch. Skateboarding hurts. You can’t replicate it. Yet.
Do you have any dreams or aspirations for where you want to take The No Comply Network grow to?
I hope we make this event a serious banger as it’s our first one, so at the moment, I’m hoping it goes down well. In future I want to work on more collaborative products with our members, add new members and make more rad shit.
Sounds like a good place to leave it Jason, best of luck with the upcoming events!
Brian Anderson’s decision to come out has been met with support and affection across that slice of internet lacquered thick with skateboarding. In addition, joining Antihero, that most manly, broken-toothed, gun shootin’, hill bombin’, beer sluggin’, say-it-like-it-is and shut-up-and-skate of all teams, couldn’t be more perfect. Surely the homophobia that has lingered in skateboarding like a drug-resistant superbug can’t survive in this environment.
The idea that things were once worse and now, perhaps, are better has been explored in brilliant pieces for Jenkem and Huck (the latter written by Patrick Welch, who five years earlier highlighted the injustice suffered by 1990s Birdhouse am Tim Von Werne, whose career finished before it started after being told not to speak about his sexuality to Skateboarder magazine). But when Toy Machine’s Welcome to Hell was brand new and BA frontside bluntslid into stardom, this would likely have all met with significant amounts of homophobic dumbfuckery.
To spell it out to the few today who miss the point to the tune of “who cares?”, a skateboarder being gay shouldn’t matter but clearly does. If someone possessed of such enormous capital (Skater of the Year, World Cup winner, a big giant of a man respected by salty ol’ peers and board-purchasing kids) still had to go through years of anxiously guarded privacy, what messages has skateboarding been transmitting more widely?
When we asked Marie Dabaddie, a skater, photographer and founder of genderqueer skatezine Xem Skaters, Marie felt that, “skateboarding has never been welcoming for gay people in general.” With everything skateboarding purports to be – non-conformist, creative, better than narrow-minded squares in the ordinary world – the idea that gay people are either dissuaded from skateboarding or that gay skaters feel less able to come out is deeply disappointing. For Marie, BA’s announcement means “people are going to talk about it, and it might help gay people feel more confident to come out in the skateboard community, or even to start skateboarding…I just think that being gay shouldn’t be such a big thing anymore but I guess it still is.”
And of course everything is not now suddenly OK in our little world. As Patrick Welch puts it, skateboarding shouldn’t let itself ‘off the hook’ for decades of excusing prejudice (including violent prejudice). At a micro level, listening to the self-admonishment and motivational abuse that carries thickly and loudly across skateparks and street spots shows that homophobia and misogyny remain stubbornly sealed into our everyday ‘vernacular’. Ordinary skaters have little power over Californian skate moguls closing ranks to protect stars such as D Way or the late Jay Adams (RIP) from serious scrutiny into their roles in potentially homophobic, fatal assaults (Way was never charged for his alleged involvement in the death of a gay man for which his friend, Josh Swindell, served 19 years, whilst Adams served six months for felony assault after starting a fight with a gay couple, one of whom was beaten to death). We do, however, have power over the language we use.
This leads to several tricky questions. Are older skaters projecting how they once talked onto the young – to whom this no longer appliers, what with 20 years of progress n’ all? If ‘gay’, ‘fag’, ‘pussy’, etcetera are still habitually used to signify ‘weak’ or ‘bad’, do the small minority who think deeply, write and tweet about such things (and we are firmly within this group, ‘checking our privilege’ as we go) risk over-earnestly policing language that has been long separated from its original cruel intent?
Sources like the British Social Attitudes Survey indicate that the population as a whole has become much more tolerant of difference in sexual orientation. But there is a difference between stated and revealed prejudice: how we describe ourselves versus what we then say and do. Tour bus chatter made BA fear how peers would react if they knew he was gay. Presumably those individuals would never have viewed themselves as prejudiced. The use of such language may be thoughtless, but the consequence is to ‘other’ people who differ from the ‘heteronormative’, male-centric assumptions of skateboarding.
What the skate-o-sphere has got absolutely right is that this is bigger than skateboarding. Derogatory slang is used throughout our school and teenage years, generation after generation, its origins stretching from Chaucer to Orwell to Chris fucking Moyles. We may not be any worse than wider society, but we are surely no better. Paraphrasing Kyle Beachy, each chauvinistic cuss cumulatively results in an “act of violence” to anyone who is not a heterosexual male.
BA put the harm done by the habitual use of the word ‘faggot’ into historical context for Kevin Wilkins at The Good Problem: “It’s a really horrible word. I think a lot of older gay people really think nobody should ever say it…kids just don’t know how hurtful it really is. It’s a term these kids all use, but they didn’t grow up in the times of the 60s and 70s when being gay was illegal and when gay bars were being raided. They didn’t live through the 80s and the AIDS epidemic, where some people were losing a friend a week. Just think about what you’re really saying.”
As well as projecting hostility to gay men, this language sends a very similar message to women and girls. BA may be the first openly gay male top tier pro, but many gay female professionals have been out from the start. In this case, skate culture has much in common with the wider world of sport, where sponsors and pundits evaluate male athletes against masculine clichés of strength and power and female athletes according to the sexualised male gaze. Female participation in skateboarding has grown considerably, but a strange consequence of the particularly hyper-masculine nature of skating is that, for women who skate, being gay isn’t actually a big deal: quite the opposite, it’s sometimes assumed by other skaters. Any woman or girl skater is already ‘other’, exactly because she is doing something than projects itself as exclusively male. Skate comps backed by major ‘action sports’ sponsors remind us of this skewed hierarchy by accompanying male prize winners with scantily clad hostesses whilst often failing to include female competitors.
On this counter-intuitive jumble of attitudes towards gender and sexual orientation, Marie observes that: “Female skaters have always been suspected of being gay somehow. If you’re a skater and a girl, you might as well be gay because you’re skating and ‘skating is for men’ so ‘you’re playing the man’. It’s a stupid cliché that probably made it easier for women who are homosexual to live in skateboarding. Not that it’s easy at all, it’s just not such ‘A Thing’ anymore.”
With reference to the mainstream sports stars who came out some time ago, articles on BA have posited that skateboarding lags behind even the retrograde world of ‘proper sports’. But these are exceptional cases: even in mass participation sports, there are far fewer out gay athletes than the proportion of LGBTQ people in wider society would lead one to expect. The UK’s ‘national sport’ of football presents one of the saddest stories. Justin Fashanu came out in 1990 in a tabloid interview after lengthy press speculation and abuse from fans. No club would subsequently offer him a full-time contract. He took his own life in 1998, following an allegation of sexual assault in the US State of Maryland (where homosexual acts were at that time illegal). His suicide note expressed his doubts that he’d receive a fair trial because of his sexuality. He remains the only English premiere league player to have come out whilst still playing professional football.
Systemic prejudice harms men and women of all sexual orientations and gender identities, which Marie describes as part of a damaging and “ceaseless genderisation”. The journalist Owen Jones relates the mental health crisis facing young people to these deeply entrenched forces: “A rigid and unreconstructed form of masculinity is enforced, sometimes brutally, in the playground. Boys deemed to be insufficiently manly face being abused as ‘girls’ or ‘gays’. Speaking about mental distress is certainly not seen as ‘manly’ – it is ‘weak’.” This is linked to the terrible fact that suicide is the main killer of men under 45 in the UK. For women, equally rigid assumptions of femininity play out particularly in pressures to conform to unobtainable body images and expectations of total male agency over sexual gratification – shockingly revealed amongst a supposedly more enlightened younger generation in the current spike in sexual assault and harassment on university campuses in both the UK and US.
Skateboarding can make small differences to this bigger picture. In case you haven’t noticed, it is so hot right now. Palace’s inventive mashing of cockney and Jamaican rudeboy patois with nostalgic stoner wit, expressed through their web-catalogue and Insta account, is enthusiastically adopted by upper-middle class teenagers who’ve never even stepped on a skateboard. In a large British university, you’ll do yourself a neck mischief looking round every time you hear a Lev-ism. Ubiquitous street slang, strained through the colander of skate culture, contains plenty of ‘gay-meaning-weak’ for every ‘trill’ or ‘’pon the…’. The least we can do is to delete those terms whilst our little sub-culture is currently niche leader rather than mass follower.
The danger is that we are lecturing those who are as yet unprogressed through the informal education skateboarding brings. Rather than letting essentially good kids grow out of prejudiced language, we might provoke a digging of foxholes. The depressing popularity of anti-feminist and, in particular, transphobic memes suggests that expressions of identity politics can make some young men, lacking social and historical context, feel they are being unjustly criticised. With the organised misogynists wallowing beneath the internet’s grotty bridges (and labouring to help install one of their own as POTUS), there is plenty of energy to recruit those who feel that liberal activists have ‘over-played their hands’ (which Alt-Right Troll King Milo Yiannopoulos cites as justification for his behaviour).
Skateboarding’s secret weapon is that it is genuinely inter-generational. It is unique in creating a non-creepy space where 40 year olds treat 18 year olds as human beings, and vice versa. This enables older and/or wiser skaters to exercise the weird privilege of ‘unofficial life mentor’ as one inevitably takes on the role of group skate mum/dad simply through not quitting skateboarding. You don’t have to scold bros in your crew for frequent utterance of ‘gay-meaning-weak’, simply don’t use that language yourself – micro-actions are increasingly proving to be world changing, for good and ill. We’re already seeing the benefits of skateboarding becoming more diverse. Parameters of critical appreciation expand at an exponential rate, encompassing a late 40s Gonz, super cool female skaters like Sarah Meurle, and Frenchmen who can perform body varials when popping waist high tricks – all successfully counterbalancing the jockish claptrap spouted by the likes of Nyjah.
For those with that peculiarly Anglo-Saxon aversion to ‘political correctness’ (i.e. basic human kindness and tolerance) dampening skateboarding’s outlaw spirit – it may be that greater diversity holds the key to resisting homogenising commercialisation. As Marie also said to us, opening more “paths for individual identity building within skateboarding” will not only make it more “welcoming to everyone and anyone” but will lead to more genuine expression of identity and a lot less “copy-paste from the magazines and massive brands.”
Unless you’ve been living in a cave with terrible wi-fi, you’ll be aware that a few weeks’ back ‘the bible’ of mainstream fashion, Vogue Magazine, celebrated skateboarding’s ‘coming of age’ through their ‘Skate Week’. Quartersnacks already took the time to summarise the content, but there’s something addictive in checking out stuff you already know you’ll find offensive. If you’ve not yet delighted in the self-torture, like a Cenobite who can kickflip, the topics and the manner in which they are covered are cringe-inducing.
There are ‘flip kicks’, celebrations of longboarding as the “more stylish” option (yo, how can a magazine in love with all things French not know that Monsieurs Gillet and Puig are more stylish than anyone, and they don’t fucking longboard?), discussions of which skaters have the greatest hair, and this picture of Brit ex-pat Ben Nordberg that makes you want to vomit on yourself, eat it, then vomit again in a necessarily extreme ritual exorcism. This awful coal seam has been mined with succinct humour by others, from Jenkem to Complex, our contribution is to investigate just why we care so much about such ham-fisted appropriation.
Ph: Getty Images
In the absence of specific postgraduate reading lists, an informed guess would distil things down to the almost physical discomfort one feels when their sense of identity gets messed with, alongside an asymmetric power relationship between skateboarding and the mainstream.
Identity is important. We invest time in constructing it, feel a huge amount of ownership over it, yet it’s a place of constant conflict. It’s necessary for the functioning of politics and society: it motivates us to vote (“I am a civically responsible person”), who we vote for (“I’m not a fucking Tory”), what we buy (“these sneakers will make me feel like early career Lucas”), and who we hang out with (“these people are like me, and by hanging out with them, I become more like the person I want to be”). But individuals have only partial control over it. Our identity is formed by the interaction of internal and external factors: how we see ourselves (our subjective identity); how others see us (objective identity); and how we think others see us (social identity).
For young people especially, heroes and role models play a big part. When I was 21, in rare moments of self-confidence, I believed that dressing like Josh Kalis made me look a bit like Josh Kalis. This delicate illusion quickly dissolved when others objectively informed me that I looked like a fucking dork. Vogue Skate Week hurt a little because it provides a window into how others see us, how they make sense of our sub-culture, and where they locate it within the context of the things they find familiar (for example, why a fashion magazine needs to talk about skateboarders’ ‘great hair’). All together, the outcome isn’t pretty when parked up against our image of ourselves.
Ph: Glen Luchford for Gucci
The cast-iron motherfucker is that platforms like Vogue, with none of the knowledge, have more of the power. By ballsing up their representation of skateboarding on a massively public stage, they risk actually changing how skateboarders perceive skateboarding. How many of you had “mosher” or “greb” shouted at you as a kid, even if you exclusively rocked gleaming white sneakers, a Yankees fit and a t-shirt covered in rappers’ faces? Incrementally, a view of a subculture loudly expressed by a majority who know nothing about it mutates the self-identity of those within it. When I was a teenager, MTV and Fred Durst had more power in dictating how others perceived me than any imaginary covenant signed in private with the Church of Robert ‘Wu’ Welsh, and I found myself constantly apologising for, or playing along with, the cringified image held by my non-skate friends.
The really interesting argument is that skateboarding brings this upon itself. In cosying up to something powerful, we can hardly complain when Big Fashion makes us look like bigger pricks. New York’s excellent Stoops magazine, which combines the high standard of photography we’ve come to expect from independent mags with superb writing, goes deep on this tricky question. Stoops’ Ted Barrow and Eby Ghafarian point out that, rather than originating what we look like, we’ve instead co-opted and repurposed aspects of our identity from elsewhere. Skateboarders are essentially stylists rather than designers – picking and arranging looks that already exist. In the 1980s, skaters may have repurposed looks from punk and hardcore counter-culture, but in the 90s, it was straight from the mainstream: Polo, Nautica, Guess, pre-SB Nike and Adidas. What made skaters look cool was:
1) Good taste and an attention to detail.
2) The act of skateboarding itself.
Gino is a well-dressed Italian American in his early forties, but when he steps on his skateboard – even when just pushing, of course – he becomes something much cooler. The mainstream dig skateboarding because we reflect a well curated interpretation of their own language straight back at them. If you doubt this, think about the corer-than-core brands like Dime (whose logo shadows Dior) and Palace (who, amongst other high fashion call-backs, had a popular run of t-shirts repurposing the Chanel logo). This can also be seen in Vogue’s interview with Koston this week to mark the release of some depressingly limited high-end collaboration. Koston gushed to Vogue that skaters have always cared about fashion – a skateboarder pretending not to care was evidence of “him caring about how he looks.”
And the pay-off is seductive. In the mid-to-late 90s, the only people who’d look at a skateboarder for sexy times were particularly broad minded indie kids. In the early 2000s, it became the Nu Metal kids congregating in provincial town centres. Now skateboarders are attractive to everyone from preppy college students to hot models. No longer are we pariahs in the eyes of the popular and beautiful. The price is that we stop being a counter-culture, and when that happens, we start playing by the same rules as everyone else.
The French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault explained how popular culture engenders social control, building on an idea developed by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th Century. Bentham imagined an ideal prison, ‘the Panopticon’, where every inmate could theoretically be observed at any time. Even though the prisoner had no way of knowing if he or she was actually being watched, they would behave as if they were. Foucault theorised that contemporary society has evolved as if it were one huge Panopticon – not just through the technology that enables constant universal surveillance, but through a populace that constantly self-polices conformity. When an individual or group deviates from cultural norms, an army of media commentators, cultural figures and ordinary people ridicule or ostracise. And knowing this, we modify our behaviour and appearance accordingly. In women’s magazines in particular, and in fashion more widely, this gentle but constant enforcement is explicit.
Vogue, Grazia, Marie Claire and their ilk are full of condescension dressed up as friendly advice. Articles include “20 things no one over 30 should wear”; “how to be the perfect lover”/ “housewife”/ “employee” / “parent.” All of this reinforces highly conservative gender and age-based norms, gently and subtly steering us towards the economically ‘useful’ roles of worker and consumer. This is the genius of modern capitalism, as predicted by Aldous Huxley in ‘Brave New World.’ Through the promise of eternal youth, a ready supply of casual sex, abundant leisure time and easy, shallow happiness, we don’t need to be coerced to sacrifice our identity, we do it willingly. JG Ballard, in ‘High Rise’, described the sort of citizen who falls into this easily as someone who “was content to do nothing but sit in his over-priced apartment, watch television with the sound turned down, and wait for his neighbours to make a mistake.” The Vogue articles delight as much in pointing out those who have made a mistake as celebrating the Nordbergs who’ve successfully played the game. The rest of us fall in line more unhappily, like Brave New World’s John the Savage, alternately attracted then repulsed.
Image: Foucault by Rinaldo Hopf
As skateboarding is subsumed within the mainstream, as Vogue’s unwanted certification surely indicates, our lives become easier on a surface level. It is now normal to be a skateboarder at school or college. Regular folk rarely shout abuse or try and assault you. But the cost is that you’ve walked willingly into the Panopticon, accepting its norms. Skateboarding is a sport. It is done exclusively by young men. Skateboarders are athletes. Their look is just so hot right now. But just as easily: skateboarding is last season, do something else. You’re too old. You’re not good enough. It’s not for women and girls. These are the real reasons why skateboarding’s journey from counter-culture to mainstream represents a loss – in a world where few people actually ‘do’ anything for any sustained length of time, they ‘like’ rather than ‘love’, being a fan is much easier than being a fanatic.
But one of the wonderful things about human identity is its capacity for reinvention. We might bemoan the current trend for nostalgia in skateboarding, but it celebrates a simpler time when skateboarding was both tiny and outside the mainstream. By keeping this alive, the Mad Max style lawlessness of EMB and Love, Fairfields, the Shell Centre and the Gasworks, their fashions and attitudes become newly relevant to new generations. By re-telling our own story, rather than borrowing from the mainstream, we keep a little bit of power and protect the soul of this thing.
In an interview with Transworld, Dear Skateboarding’s Chris Lipomi enthused, “what’s exciting to me about it is that for the first time in the longest time, skateboarding is referencing itself. And that’s really awesome. I think for so long, skateboarding has sort of looked to something outside, and then brought that into its own world. Which can be interesting but then can also lead to this idea that what we’re doing sort of isn’t good enough.” And more fundamentally, the soul of the thing is maintained by the constant doing of it. Skateboarding can never be truly mainstream in a risk-averse, passive culture because it will always really hurt.
Thirty years of giving everything to any scene is more than dedication, it’s life. In fact it’s all the owners of etnies care about when they get out of bed every morning and nothing has changed since the inception of their first Etnics shoe in 1986, a brand named after the lifestyle of skateboarders, who are always on the move in small tribes.
The name switch to etnies and the addition of the one and only legend, Natas Kaupas only accelerated Pierre André Senizergues and Don Brown’s passion to make etnies the best skate shoe in the world and he we are, 30 years later, still enjoying watching them create the shoes we skate.
Last night’s gallery opening in Shoreditch, celebrates three decades of skater owned goodness and revealed different pieces of memorabilia from the treasured etnies vaults. At the head of the timeline sat next to Don Brown’s freestyle steez sits a bronzed Natas pro shoe – the very first from the batch that managed to excite an entire generation across the planet. Kaupas is king in these parts and arguably the most influential skateboarder we’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.
This classic tailslide photo, captured by Spike Jonze may be cropped but it’s still one of the best skate photos from that era and sticks out like a sore thumb, just like the first wave of shoes that were made.
The first designs were as bold as they come and built to last!
Colourful buggers too….
The gallery houses many pro models through golden eras with team riders who have constantly changed the game. From Koston to Creager, Mike Vallely, Tom Penny, Sal Barbier to Saari and Dill, (and so many more) the history of etnies is a timeline of our scene that all skateboarders should be proud to be associated with. The people behind the brands at Sole Tech created what we have today and fought tooth and nail to keep our scene alive, it’s an honour to see all of this history first hand, go see it for yourself before the walls become bare.
The etnies team consisting of Ryan Sheckler, Chris Joslin, Barney Page, Julian Davidson, Willow, Ryan Lay, Silvester Eduardo and Trevor McClung will be skating through the UK this week, see below for the locations.