Despite lasting for over 104 episodes before it was canned, The Word was treated like televisual Super Noodles by critics and establishment figures alike for half a decade. We, the target audience, appreciated it though, and 19 years after its final episode screened in March 1995 (watching Strike’s performance of You Sure Do from that broadcast this evening had me emotional), there seems to be a worthy amount of nostalgia for those 808 State soundtracked opening credits and the lawlessness that followed. As those reviews preempted online coverage, their toxicity has deteriorated, so we’ve forgotten the disorganised outside broadcasts and hopefuls munching on plates of dead skin, emptied colostomy bags and filtered the best bits into those memory banks. What was good was great — like live performances by artists who, in a concerted bid to show no respect to the live format, made classic TV, or George, Zippy and Shaun Ryder getting acquainted — but there was a lot of rubbish in the mix. It was sometimes like the contents of an issue of The Face being bellowed from the stage during a nightclub PA, but that was part of its appeal — sincerity shuffled self-consciously alongside humiliation and irony. We watched that thing religiously as its excesses elbowed it from a tea time slot to the post-pub position. It was there that a generation planning to go harder the following night would exit the pubs, get home, skin up with terrible hash, crack open more beers and watch it alone or in a heavily populated front room. The Word was great group TV every Friday around 11pm.
The two segments that stayed with me weren’t the usual suspects either. One was a late 1993 segment where Mark Lamarr investigated Desert Eagles and chatted to the Franklin Avenue Posse and Steele from Smif-n-Wessun about it, before a return to the studio where Terry quizzed forgotten rapper K7 (of Come Baby Come fame) on the subject of firearms. The second was a February 1994 piece from the same episode where Rod Hull attacked Snoop Dogg (mentioned here a few years back) on Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight’s son Travis back when he rapped as Chilly Tee (he now heads up LAIKA). Where else were you going to see stuff like this? Beyond these clips, it’s worth noting that The Word Appreciation account on Dailymotion has at least 17 full episodes uploaded — there’s all kinds of misses in there, but the gems remain and it’s best streamed late in the day and under the influence. Just like it always was.
I’ve covered Phat magazine on this blog before (though, by using Imageshack back then, all of the imagery has since vanished — something I’ll rectify.) This was actually written for Ala Champ Magazine, but a format issue rendered it vaguely Burroughsian with a cut and paste approach to narrative. You should still buy issue eight of that publication though because it’s excellent. Here’s the article in its full form.
“There are those who are not happy about handing over our beautiful country to these ignorant hoodlums.“
(Auberon Waugh from The Daily Telegraph in a discussion about Phat magazine, 1993)
Nothing screams a certain early 1990s naivety like phat. Phat beats. Phat denim. It was still a mainstay of po-faced anti RnB rap-night flyers until the end of that decade. Then somebody decided that the extra letter was a waste of consonants and spelt it correctly again, but some phats are harder to shift than others.
I was witness to a failed coup on paper as a bored teenager on a trip to Devon in summer 1993. As a magazine obsessive from an early age and far from privy to any industry politics, I was perplexed as to why R.a.D magazine — a seminal British skate publication — had become little more than a pamphlet, but the appearance of a R.a.D-like UK-based title called Phat on a village newsagent shelf had me intrigued. Those glossy, easily damaged pages hurled multiple topics together — movies, girls, video games, music, skate and BMX — during the boom time for Pete Rock productions, In Utero, big clothes and World Industries that still causes misty-eyes in thirty and forty somethings, plus legions of premature nostalgics wishing their twenties away.
Phat spoke to me. Loaded wouldn’t set the lad-mag movement off until Easter the following year, though Phat had the spirit of that magazine’s more literate early intentions with Gavin Hills — who wrote for both R.a.D and The Face before his tragically early death in 1997 — as editor. Whereas the male-orientated successes following in Phat‘s wake would celebrate the lad mentality, Hills’ editorial would sneer at the “Kev” everyman characters whose attitude was at odds with its target readership — an in-the-know 13-16 year old male audience.
Speaking for the newly formed C12 Publishing, ad-manager Laurence Stubbs told the press that this was a project, “…aimed at the pre-Face and Arena reader.”
America had the fabled Big Brother magazine (which had caused its own outcry for a suicide article in 1992) that no store in my hometown stocked and around the same time I discovered Phat, Sassy‘s little brother, the BMX-centric Dirt (helmed by Spike Jonze and Andy Jenkins) would crop up in a comic shop packaged with a copy of Silver Surfer. All three shared the same attitude and, like Phat, Dirt would be short-lived too.
Operating as multiple fanzines in one, Phat‘s modular approach to editorial, irreverence, information overload, celebration of consumerism connected with every subculture I’d ever fixated on. Riffing on R.a.D‘s early life as Skate Action — a BMX Action Bike magazine insert in the late 1980s — this was that approach amplified.
Much of Phat‘s staff were former R.a.D crew members, down to the stewardship of UK skate ambassador Tim Leighton-Boyce. A last-minute buyout of R.a.D — which had been subject to a number of ownership changes in its lifetime — by a publisher known more for windsurfing magazines after Robert Maxwell’s death at sea left the magazine a slim shadow of its former self, with Phat reading more like a reboot of what its predecessor could have been.
According to Leighton-Boyce, the purpose was simple, “Phat’s original intent was to do whatever we needed to do to keep a decent skate magazine on the streets of Britain.“
The genesis of the magazine was fast, “Phat came into existence in a great hurry. We rushed around, raised some money and got organised to take over [R.a.D]. But someone else was also interested and they presumably offered to pay more. So, suddenly we found ourselves with everything in place to carry on with the magazine, but no magazine to carry on with.“
It’s curious then, that issue one (preempted by C21′s giveaway PSP Phree Skate Press newsletter to preview the project and explain the situation) relegates the skate content to free supplement status once again, but Phat’s breadth of content was a strategy to get it on shelves, “The potential distributors, rightly, suspected that what we wanted to do was launch a skateboard magazine, for which there was almost no market in those days. ‘This isn’t a skateboard magazine, is it?’ was their big question.“
“TEENAGE GANGSTA!” “PHWOAR!” “BOUND & GAGGED?”
With its “Hot Stuff for Hoodlums” tagline, Phat‘s chapters included C21, a screen grab laden section documenting cult films, graffiti, the paranormal and even including some business advice from a young James Lavelle, Buzz, with its shops, clubs and classifieds, plus Produx, with its onslaught of street and skate wear from the likes of Droors, Pervert and Fuct, shoes, record reviews and loosely related gadgets and toys.
Chris Aylen, who contributed to R.a.D and Phat, taking that spirit to the launch of influential website, Spine Magazine (as well as giving me my break) sees that launch time as a pivotal one, “At the time Phat was launched it was clear that the boundaries between skateboarding, hip-hop, graffiti and street fashion were blurring. Skating in old-school trainers — primarily because they were cheap, not necessarily because they were ‘cool’ — was more in line with hip-hop than skate rock, and we started hearing rap and more funk-based soundtracks in skate videos, which led to an interest in associated activities such as graffiti and buying records.“
Leighton-Boyce recalls it being passion project, “I don’t think we ever included anything that someone in the group wasn’t really into. I think that shows in the quality and density of the content. Although there was no master plan, what circumstances led us to do was to fill up a magazine with loads of stuff which we thought was interesting or exciting, or funny. That’s not something you can easily fake as part of a marketing strategy.“
And what about that strange-sounding digital stuff? Phat’s editor was quite the early adopter, “We [Phat] did try to lead readers towards the skate world online, but we were too far-stretched to do anything more than that at first.”
Phat ran pieces on newsgroups and treated email as a viable mode of communication when we were still assuming it was a gimmick. In fact, BMX Action Bike had a preposterously long Telecom Gold email address in the magazine as early as 1985. In 1994, State51 was launched as an early agency of sorts for clients like Virgin Records to dip their toes in the nascent world of the internet.
R.a.D‘s The Wall was a section dedicated to recommendations of small-town hookup spots for skating and socialising like some proto-forum, which would eventually become the early crowdsource project, knowhere.co.uk. Leighton-Boyce already knew how to engage with low attention spans, “If Phat had survived it would have blossomed online immediately. We were always passionate about making the magazine as interactive as possible — the aim of The Wall was to make it easy for readers to get material into the magazine without having to do something formal like write a letter, let alone an article.“
Sadly, the magazine’s fate was sealed from the very beginning, a victim of its own appetite for controversy and the dangerous assumption that reactionists would take the time out to read the content before forming an opinion. A gun on the cover of August 1993′s inaugural issue, previewing a provocatively written anti-firearm article, would lead to newspaper columns, radio show phone-ins and Parliamentary debates on corruption of young minds and gang culture’s supposed rise — a precursor to the nation’s alarmist attitude toward any youth in a hoody a decade later.
All publicity might be good publicity, but when it causes nationwide retailers to boycott it and for big-name advertisers to back off, that’s a significant problem. Two more editions would follow in September and October and then, nothing. A few write-ups hinted at a resurrection while the team — now, without a designer — tried to find a lifeline, albeit in vain.
In a parallel universe without firearm controversy, could Phat have sustained? Aylen felt that the editorial approach was almost limitless, “I think that Tim, Vernon Adams, Gavin Hills, Ray Calthorpe, Simon Evans, Steve Hicks and the rest of the editorial team kept the theme of the magazine loose on purpose, which led to a number of really interesting articles.“
For Leighton-Boyce, there were early signs of trouble in that the sales weren’t high pre-controversy, “It may have been ahead of its time in that people did not buy it in sufficient numbers even before it started to be pulled off shelves.“
He also faced some questions regarding the sheer amount of topics each issue covered, “I recall that when we were trying to keep Phat going by trying to sell it to other sympathetic publisher, the publishers of Viz questioned whether we would ever be able to carry on generating such an amount of good content each month.“
Flicking through Phat‘s pages, the layout is very much of its time and not every piece of writing has held up particularly well, but that’s beside the point — it reads like the predecessor of the lifestyle blog, with its escalating clusterfuck of cultures and disciplines in one place, existing in a realm where every WordPress is deemed a lifestyle magazine. Phat was an experiment — to some it was just another dud launch, but for many who did pick it up, the impact was immeasurable.
Nowadays, corporations want to claim their own terrain in the skate world by any means necessary to win the hearts and minds of the same teen audience that trio of magazines was looking to engage with. Leighton-Boyce and team Phat’s smartly-executed subterfuge of their actual intentions reiterates just how much has changed in 21 years, “The impression I get now is that all manner of things try to attach some kind of ‘skate’ label to themselves and to mix in some skate content as a sales point. We had to deny that we were a skate magazine.”
The covers here are borrowed from the excellent Vintage Skateboard Magazines site that should make my fellow victims of motherly magazine culls get a little weepy.
Nothing new to report, but this BBC documentary on Levi’s 501s is interesting. Part of the Design Classics series from 1987 that also featured entire episodes dedicated to the Volkswagen Beetle and Barcelona Chair, the footage of Peter Blake in a Canadian tux and rare chat with Willie Gertler — Levi’s first British agent — sheds some light on how jeans became popular in the UK. Of course, at the time of the programme’s broadcast, 501s had slipped in terms of detailing, with selvedge scrapped in 1985, but their popularity was escalating, thanks to some smart marketing. Back then, even Pepe were seen as a threat to the company’s market share. Salutes to Emile Durkhelm for that upload.
Shouts to magCulture for putting me onto this Longreads list of links to lengthy pieces on the creation of some of the greatest magazines ever. You could get lost in this collection. The Awl comes through multiple times with superbly researched articles like the recent one on Entertainment Weekly‘s declining fortunes and last year’s Wigwag retrospective.
The Mo’Wax Urban Architecture exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall wasn’t quite as grand as I expected (newcomers to the label should pick up the book for some background), but the densely packed cabinets should make the visit worthwhile if you’re interested in early 1990s hip-hop and it’s connections to London and Tokyo. While all eyes might be on the canvases, these displays are full of elements omitted from the tie-in publication — James Lavelle’s business card hoarding seems to have paid off. I hadn’t even thought about Yankee Peddler since the mid 1990s, when he had the ads in toy magazines that promised a veritable emporium of action figures and made me wish I owned a fax machine so I could get a catalogue. That Major Force card gives me Patrick Bateman levels of envy too. I’m not sure how many casual browsers passing through the Festival Hall would care about this kind of thing, but I certainly appreciated it. Shit, I’d gladly pay to visit a show that was entirely 1985-1999 hip-hop business cards and if you’re similarly geeky, go check it out before it finishes later next week.
The only marketing I’m interesting in right now is these urgent adverts from 1995 pirate radio stations like Shockin 90.0 and Dream FM 107.6. Defunct Kingston clubs, tape packs, and things that only Brits of a certain generation will be able to comprehend, are just part of the announcements recorded here. This beats your carefully mapped communication strategy.
Port magazine‘s cover story on Ralph Lauren by Donald Morrison makes the most of a rare opportunity and it’s refreshingly free of the sycophancy that I would have brought to it (though the celebrity soundbites are full of superlatives). I was trying to fathom the influence on Mo’Wax the other day, which was influenced by Stüssy and the Beastie Boys, who were presumably influenced by the Clash who may well have taken inspiration from Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s work. It’s tough to pinpoint a solitary influence in things I love, but I know one thing: Lauren’s company is the brand that every streetwear brand wishes it was, even if most of us are chasing the little pony rather than aspiring to ride a horse on a ranch somewhere. Nobody sells a lifestyle like this guy. The world density map of stores is a nice touch (there’s 474,951 square feet of Ralph Lauren stores in the States) too.
This entry is short and Nike heavy. Seeing as a couple of things pertaining to the swoosh went live over the last 48 hours, I may as well direct you there. First up, there was this quick chat with Mark Parker about HTM (I had to include my dud attempt to get him to compare the Presto Roam to the new Superfly. He was too professional for that) for 032c. Not included was a quick conversation about the Nike Internationalist (which I was wearing) — Mark actually designed that shoe as well as a few of the V-Series, the Epic and the Escape among others. Nice guy and great to get the opportunity to talk about specific shoes with him. Then there’s this Genealogy of Innovation site right here which I’m proud of. I worked with a bunch of talented project managers and designers (salutes to R/DA for that execution), with invaluable help from Nike’s DNA department to get this done — the way they laid this out (provided that your wi-fi is strong and your browser ain’t out of date — otherwise you might want to pass until it’s on paper) as a site is great. Displayed like this it’s basically a simulation of the inside of my head. I wish we could have gotten our hands on the cleated versions of the Air Match models and hasn’t omitted the Air Fire due to circumstances beyond our control, but bar the Air 180, they’re all original shoes. It could have easily spilled into 500, 600 or 800. But it didn’t. Maybe next time. If you like some of the nonsense I put up here, you might find something to like there.
A long time ago, before George Lucas killed Boba Fett’s cool by revealing that he was going to be a bloke from Shortland Street, there was Mo’Wax.
As a teenager I used to hoard all the mentions from magazines because the label fired my imagination and created its own money hemorrhaging universe based on a collision of everything I liked. James Lavelle created something very special, but the scattering of releases and eventual demise due to label politics — I bore witness to the speculation over its future on the Mo’Wax bulletin board where Futura would sometimes appear like a genie when summoned — and finances meant that there was no moment to really study the scale of what Mo’Wax created, let alone join the dots to quantify the direct influence that the label had on contemporary culture, whether it’s the popular acceptance of limited edition urgency, genre-hopping without allegations of selling out or contemporary art and photography’s role as it relates to music. Best of all, it was British.
With Mo’Wax you could grab the action figure and related BAPE tee (and it was Lavelle’s choice of attire that introduced me to A Bathing Ape and gave me a fast education in unattainable Japanese street wear back in the mid 1990s). From promo tapes to vinyl, I’ve stacked up a lot of Mo’Wax music I’ll probably never listen to again, but I owe the label a lot, because it cemented the foundations of a world that gave me a career. This blog definitely wouldn’t exist without it.
But beyond the sketches of an industry where lines intertwined, Mo’Wax fired my imagination by introducing me to elements of design that I hadn’t been exposed to. I probably won’t break out any Palm Skin Productions on iTunes any time soon, but the attention that Ben Drury and Will Bankhead lavished on the packaging, design and photography for Mo’Wax is timeless. That makes Urban Archaology: Twenty-One Years of Mo’Wax a great art book and snapshot of a decade of interesting work from a seminal imprint. Those articles I hoarded from Jockey Slut and Phat are included in the 256-pages, but there’s a few unseen interviews (including a fairly lucid 1995 chat with Rammellzee during a trip to Burger King) and new features too, as well as a collection of Q&As at the book’s close that ask Sk8thing, James Jebbia, Jonathan Glazer (lest we forget that Mo’Wax played a role in his career), Howie B and several more affiliates what the label meant to them.
Moving chronologically, there’s sketches, prototypes and proofs along the way, though a few dates seem a little off — I’m sure MWA projects like the excellent Dysfunctional book and the Gonz Priests dropped later than 1997, but it’s understandable that some details might be clouded. After all, Mo.Wax did a lot during it’s lifetime (and the MWRIZ001 code on this publication indicates that it’s not over). The attention-to-detail on the sleeves and promo creations detailed on each page are done justice by Drury’s art direction throughout Urban Archaeology. It even had me digging out my copy of the David Axelrod album and Liquid Liquid compilations — both passion pieces — as well as the Now Thing CD (which gathered dancehall instrumentals that bordered on grime sonically — a sound that Mo’Wax wouldn’t embrace) for that Reas artwork. For those who fiend for the things we can’t have — a compulsion in which Lavelle played enabler — a 1996 pair of sample camo Mo’Wax Clarks Desert Treks, some Mo’Wax Arts Vans from 2001 and a pitch for Mo’Wax lego, plus what looks like the near-mythical (among nerds) Prunes Headz Headz Headz 7″ that was meant to be a club flyer with Futura art back in 1995.
Cloth on a cover, embossing and fold-out pages are all easy ways to win me over, but the deeper stuff is intact here too. From interviews with former Mo’Wax artists I’d been privy to just over a decade ago, things were a lot less jubilant and participation on something like this would be unlikely. You can read between the lines on some of the aforementioned Q&As, but it’s mostly a celebratory affair and it bodes well for the Southbank exhibition that opens next week. I wanted to see clusters of Drury’s logos that were concealed on the backs of sleeves, the sticker packs and, just to prove that I didn’t dream it up (edit: I didn’t), the t-shirt collection from around 1998 that included the headphone cord print, but Urban Architecture isn’t intended to be exhaustive. If you’re reading this, then you probably need this on your shelf or in your obligatory stack of cool guy non-fiction and you can buy it at spots like Goodhood right now.
Yep, I’m still peddling that old shoe schtick. Not content with writing a top 50 trail shoe piece for Complex a few years back that bricked because kids don’t care about 20-year-old brown rustic-tech (rus-tech?) shoes, I collaborated with my friends at High Snobiety to run through 25 of the best Nike ACG shoes ever — naturally, somebody asked where the non-ACG Terra Humara was with the quickness. This one’s good because HS brought in the talented Dan Freebairn to illustrate the shoes, meaning this might be the first and last time you’ll ever see a drawing of a Pubah or Terra Tor, because they’re not the kind of shoes that anybody normal cares about. I think I’ve run my course on the footwear history side of things (unless anyone wants to give me money to talk on the subject of ancient footwear. Anyway, this was fun. I’d campaign for a lot of these shoes to be reissued if I didn’t know that they’d probably brick with a 21st century audience. All Conditions Gear is 25 this year (26 officially — the Pegasus ACG was 1988 but the category and logo really seemed to take form in 1989) and my childhood ambition of giving one of these shoes a colourway remains. If you think something deserved inclusion, leave a comment.