Tag Archives: graffiti

HIGHER LEARNING

This blog has kind of fallen off, self-sabotaged by its attempts to not be a sports footwear-centric WordPress, but then dwelling on the subject matter a little too often. But self-indulgent talk often echoes the day job and in that job shoes figure heavily. Right now, the heat and a lengthy flight from the west coast to the UK has killed my creativity stone dead, but I was energised by a trip to Nike’s WHQ for some work. From my early teens onwards the notion of visiting the Nike Campus sounded like some Willy Wonka business, minus the sinister wig outs on boat rides or bi-polar freak outs that Gene Wilder unleashed on Charlie and his benefit fraud grandfather and having been a few times now, it’s a fun place to visit that seems to deify the same kind of nerdery I tend to celebrate here.

Of course, the work and what lies behind doors remains secret, though the Innovation Kitchen, Nike Sports Research Lab and archives are impressive — in fact the archive is basically a geek ground zero that proves, no matter how much you think you’ve swotted up, you’ve only seen the tip of a dusty, yellowed, PU and nylon based iceberg. Having been lost on campus twice (to get from the Michael Jordan building to the canteen involves walking by a 7 minute saunter by a lake, football pitch and over a bridge), been chased by a goose and slashed my nose open on a low hanging metal lampshade in the archives these last few days, I’ve suffered for my art.

Even if you couldn’t care less for shoes, the scale’s still impressive, but if you follow Nike history, there’s plenty to stare at at — even in the receptions of each building. Bill Bowerman’s waffle iron, the 1984 NBA letter regarding Jordan’s fines, prototype Prestos and AJ1s…it’s a lot to take in. Buying Lunar Montreals and NFL shirts by the trolley from the Employee Store was a good use of dollars too, and ultimately — for the casual visitor — the whole setup’s pretty much a sportswear theme park. For several employees, I’m sure it’s simply a place of work that’s frequently disrupted by gawping idiots like me wielding iPhones.

Because I need sleep, I’ve sold you short here, so here’s three bonus images chucked in because they look cool; one of a 1989 plea to get people on NYC’s subway post graffiti cleanup, one from a 1970s ‘New York’ article and a 1982 Timberland ad.

In the name of nostalgia (because it’s mostly either excessively indulgent or unremarkable in the rap stakes), the same person that uploaded the 1998 ‘World Wide Bape Heads Show’ has uploaded the 1999 one too. It takes me back to a time of attempting to justify wild prices, the Mo’ Wax BB, thick cotton on tees and deranged mark-ups on used gear in Camden market. Musically, I think I actually prefer the Omarion-in-the-lookbook era.

YOU NEED ‘CRACK & SHINE INTERNATIONAL’

“It’s a graffiti book presented like a Louis Vuitton catalogue.” That’s a 10-word pitch that had my attention from the early stages.

Normally Sunday is a day for easily distracted blogging, with multiple topics in a single post, but today the subject is singular because ‘Crack & Shine’ went in with such gusto and have created something that justifies a certain level of babble

I always feel like a charlatan when it comes to writing about graffiti-related matters. At least I recognize my toy status — plenty of blogs take a tumble when the paint and markers come out, falling over themselves in a mass of hapless outsider analysis that rings false. I just enjoy looking at destruction and find it insane that anyone would risk their wellbeing to get their name on a wall, overpass or train. Glorious acts of ignorance are the best gestures. Sometimes hearing the writers talking about their motivation is the only way to go, and ‘Crack & Shine’s debut in 2009 gave some London legends an aesthetically beautiful but defiantly uncensored voice.

The BOZO DDS recollections in the first volume were phenomenal and Will Robson-Scott’s photography was stunning. If you have even the faintest interest in any “street” related matters and didn’t pick up that hardback volume, you made a grievous error. We’ve all amassed the core texts — the ‘Mascots & Mugs,’ ‘The Art of Getting Over’ (a huge influence on ‘Crack & Shine’), Nov York’s streams-of-consciousness and ‘Also Known As Vol. 1’s elegant presentation of total damage, but too often, the image-heavy train-centric European tomes that are (quite rightly) for bombers by bombers go over my toy-head.

I rely on word-of-mouth for the real book recommendations. On the Run’s output is extremely consistent, but the second ‘Crack & Shine’ with an international theme has been something I’ve been waiting on for a while now. If you don’t pick up ‘Crack & Shine International’ (named after the publisher’s preferred mode of no-frills, British approach to getting up) when it drops, then you’re making a grievous error. This is more hardback, high-end presentation of the hardcore, this time with a tasteful fashion magazine style art direction that makes it an even more compelling artifact.

The task of getting writers to submit their inner-thoughts for a deadline isn’t something I envy, but after several years of work the team have come through. As a sub-culture that’s prone to moans and online debates, talk of notable omissions is inevitable, but for Fred and the team to come through with the book they’ve been promising since part one was released in a world that’s a conversational elephant’s graveyard of product, writings and brands that never materialize is immensely heartening.

Themed on the wanderlust of artists with a hunger to paint, connect and develop a greater understanding pre-internet, there’s a focus on folklore and deeper meanings that’s not silly and romanticized, nor offering any sugar-coating or flawed sociology on why the scene’s kings do what they do.

The likes of ESPO, NOXER, TOMEK, SEL ONE, ROID, KATSU and NASTY are strong subjects as the book shifts from NYC to Amsterdam via Paris, before Berlin, London and Los Angeles. The squint-worthy lists of every street in each spotlighted city hint at a masochistic production process. Mr. Powers’s “If you can’t describe what you do in 10 words or less, then hit the reset button” quote is something to live by, ROID is a dusted genius and NASTY submits one of the highlights as he explains that he might have developed a “Spider Sense” against being apprehended and bookends that thought with plenty of common sense. Every piece of submitted writing is strong, with the obsessive-compulsive nature of writers ensuring that their message is lucid, with anecdotes to top the original.

But this is all giving too much away. 288 pages of premium content makes this one of the best books on the subject matter to date, and it drops in a few weeks. Expect plenty more promo around the time it arrives, but shouts to Freddie and company at Topsafe for creating something that tops a standard that they went and set.

By all accounts, the ‘Crack & Shine’ project ends with this one, but in an era of 140 characters and homogenized blog content, a project like this is even more essential than ever. Each image is gallery standard (the amount of photos that never made the final edit is staggering) and getting Stephen K. Schuster involved is a wise move too. Buy local and support ‘Crack & Shine.’ Did the paragraphs above read like an advertorial? Pick up the book and I triple dare you to tell me that my enthusiasm is unjustified in any shape or (letter)form.

There’s too much bullshit out there — I hope this body of work influences people to cut the crap across-the-board. Keep an eye out for the imminent launch of www.crackandshine.com for further information. There’s big things planned.

THE JEFF PHILLIPS TRAGEDY

My MacBook just died. It contained some things I was going to blog about, so I resorted to a backup plan. When in doubt, just recycle an old article that isn’t already on the internet. I see movements accelerated by online outlets to the point where they burn out in mere months and while it’s easy to chuckle at what’s no longer on trend (and we’re currently in a realm where 48 hours after anything arrives online requires some form of self-conscious “late pass” talk), there’s victims in any defunct element of a declining subculture.

Skateboarders love gossip as much as rap fans and graffiti nerds. They love tales of fatalities, misbehaviour and “where are they nows” more than most, and a key catalyst for misfortune was the transition from vert to street. Superstars plunged from grace as a new breed emerged, and the old guard had to evolve or die – of course that was meant literally in terms of diminishing careers and funds, but in the case of Texan skate legend Jeff Phillips — a childhood hero of mine —
the change in the culture’s physical landscape and personal problems led to his suicide on Christmas day, 1993.

We all know how Gator and Hosoi dealt with their problems in the early 1990s, but whereas Mr. Rogowski was afflicted with a douchebag streak, Jeff just came across as a guy who loved what he did for a living.

That enthusiasm was infectious. I recall meeting Joe Lopes (with my dad actually, who constantly made reference tour meeting with Joe until he too passed away – I think he was either trying to embarrass me or impress me with his memory. In the former, he failed and in the latter, he succeeded) in 1988 during a Circle-A tour of local skateparks. He seemed like a good guy (I’m sure he and his team mates were handing out pornography) and I was saddened to hear that he died in a car accident in 2002. I also remember a thinly veiled tale that pertained to the man in an issue of ‘Big Brother’ too, but this isn’t the time or place.

I’ve seen few truly progressive movements in my lifetime beyond skating, so I guess those left behind during its most significant leap. For that reason, stories like Jeff’s affected me a little more than the macabre tales Google frequently spits at me. I haven’t bothered with ‘Rolling Stone’ in a long time. Does it still take itself seriously, ’Almost Famous’ style? The last good article I read was a piece on straightedge gangs a few years back and before that the “bugchaser” piece in a 2003 issue. In 1994/5 they were still publishing some great material.

Kevin Heldman’s JA and GHOST trailing ‘Mean Streaks’ in the February 9th 1995 is a classic, but there’s a few more notable non-music assignments from around that time too. Peter Wilkinson’s ‘Skate Till You Die’ — a six page piece on Jeff’s last days — ran in the September 8th 1994 issue. It was sensitively handled and enlightening too, exploring the complexity of his depression. I miss excellent journalism.

DOCUMENTATION

Bank holiday should be a time of partying and socializing. But it’s not. It’s documentary and interview transcription time, perhaps with a press release draft thrown in for good measure. This is because I am an introverted misanthrope who forgot what it’s like to have fun. There’s some decent full-length documentaries out there at the moment, either drifting around online or cropping up at festivals globally. It would be nice If I could—hand on heart—claim that the best documentaries I’ve watched in the last year or so weren’t ‘Not Quite Hollywood’—the superior account of Australian b-movie cinema—or ‘Never Sleep Again’, the four-hour ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ history that kept me gripped for the duration. But they were.

Those productions tapped into the same kind of super-nerdery pineal gland (‘From Beyond’ stays classic) that makes my heart palpitate when I see the work of the scarily talented Olly Moss—pure, undiluted fanboy instinct. The 2000 IFC documentary ‘American Nightmare’ had a huge effect on me, but 1984’s ‘Terror in the Aisles’—less an exploration, more a horror film “best of”—melted my brain as a child. It introduced me to ‘The Brood’ and ‘Ms. 45’. For that, I’m eternally grateful. Rights issues keep it from DVD, but it can be found as a Japanese laserdisc with the awesome title, ‘That’s Shock!’.

‘Nightmares In Red, White and Blue’ retreads what much of ‘American Nightmare’ did, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Good slasher footage, some fresh talking heads, including the mighty Larry Cohen and a fast pace, plus some stranger choices of spotlight makes it worth a watch if you’re faintly interested in the subject matter. It also reminded me of the ‘Stuff’ throwups (pun semi-intended) in that film that are better than the usual cinema graffiti of the time (SPIT, fall back) and the “Can’t get enough of The Stuff” advert briefly showed some youths cavorting in front of Bill Blast’s ‘Sky’s the Limit’ piece. Another reason to rate Larry Cohen’s work. Based on the book, ‘Nightmares…’ does a better job in its adaptation than ‘American Hardcore’ did a few years back.

If you’re looking for more documentaries on esoteric topics, I’m getting excited about the release of ‘Vagabondo!’ about maverick folk singer and Brooklynite Vince Martin. A montage of photos of the old New York (as seen above) by the brilliant Robert Otter seals the deal on this one. I know little of Vince, and that’s what makes this such an appetising proposition.

‘Machete Maidens Unleashed’ tells the rarely told story of the no-holds-barred Filipino b-movie industry up to the early ’80s. ‘Not Quite Hollywood’s Mark Hartley is the man behind this one, and naturally, I’m expecting big things from it. The only thing that could top the Ozploitation lack of taste is the Pinoy approach to budget cinema.

On one of my typical unrelated notes, I can’t help but think I may have downplayed my discovery of the Nike Air Mag (aka. the McFly) patent on Google back in February a little too much. It’s got the internet going nuts this week, yet I seemed to shrug it off, more excited by some other, more trivial matter. Honesty, I get more excited by footage of Donald Pleasance mispronouncing Ed Gein’s surname in a lurid horror showcase.

And once again, Supreme have pulled it out the bag by creating some ill little trinkets to complement some serious sweats and outerwear this season. They’ve played with scorpions and heroin-packaging nods on apparel before, but a real dead scorpion encased in plastic had me inexplicably hyped. Like all the brand’s best pieces it taps into some reference-laden part of my psyche, but this reminded me of a plastic letter-opener with a small crab encased in it at my grandparents’ home that I was obsessed with as a toddler. As you may or may not have noted, I’m still easily pleased.

NICE BEACH, FRAZETTA AND STING ’88

Dave Tompkins is good. Really good. It’s worrying that the ability to edit blog posts and online content to your heart’s content could make writers complacent. The fear of editorial rejections and the finality of submitting to print is a fair motivator to improve your written word. Current hip-hop writing isn’t up to scratch – it’s all top 10s in bite size controversy-heavy morsels or a link-heavy sentence above a Sendspace link. I need more.

I haven’t peeped the new Vibe format, but using their site as a barometer, I imagine the “black Rolling Stone” elements of the magazine’s heyday have vanished – those lengthy features on white hillbilly gangbangers, or hefty prison visit chats. Dave Tompkins’s work isn’t some SEO-friendly nugget of facts and release dates. He’s been eclipsing other writers with splattergun bullets of facts, history and a real reverence for hip-hop culture for years now, somehow contextualising it, bringing together the sci-fi and street level in those final few paragraphs in Rap Pages, URB and Big Daddy. His Paul C article is a pinnacle piece.

You understand then, why the notion of Tompkins writing a book on the history of the vocoder created a buzz to match that of the speech synthesising subject matter. Chances are you don’t write like Dave. I suck by comparison, but I don’t let it get me down any more. Dave’s 1994 review of the debut Artifacts LP for Rap Pages opens with, “Too often unsung and un-MCeed are the masters of markers and aerosol-ballers with the gall.

My own, more sycophantic review of the same album (neatly sidestepping the 5 dull tracks on it), my first for SpineMagazine back in early 2000 is a leaden affair, opening with “‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’ is one of those rare LP’s where everything is tight- the lyrics, the production and even the cover design.” Yeah, go Gary. Draw ’em in on the first sentence. Jesus. That’s why Dave Tompkins writes incredible books like ‘How to Wreck a Nice Beach’ (“How to recognise speech” misheard via the vocoder) while I jot down notes about sneakers. We know our places.

While I’d been holding out for the rumoured Tuff Crew book he was reportedly penning, ‘How to Wreck…’ delivers. It’s as visually arresting as it is linguistically lavish – old flyers, notes, military pamphlets, customised cassettes, machinery, ads and specially penned portraits of key personnel in the instrument’s lifespan. A scholar like the author could’ve left it wilfully clinical – nothing but words and the occasional diagram, and it would’ve worked somehow. Yet this is a hardback trove of information, written with the man’s usual hyper-factual flair as the warfare and political roots give way to overrated Brit-rockers, soul music filtered, Cylons and the Auto-Tune plague. Then there’s the fainting, the poisoning and the electrocutions. These things can make a man light-headed. Oh, and you’ll develop a new respect for Donnie Wahlberg.

As one who got giddy not at Kurt’s guitar but by local boy Mr. Troutman’s robo-gear in Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, this has made my year. I’m not flicking pages to reinforce what’s already filed in the cranium – I’m reading to be enlightened, and Dave Tompkins is an educator who lets the machine do the talking this time around, imbuing it with a real humanity. One of the best music-related books in a long, long time. Speaking of Spine – check the homie Zaid’s review here.

Check Dave Tompkins’s 1995 graffiti-themed editorial from URB below. A work-of-art in itself. Taken from the excellent ‘Press Rewind If I Haven’t…’ blog.

Plus Dave taught me that the 1979 film ‘Zoo zéro’ combines Klaus Kinski with a vocoder.

www.howtowreckanicebeach.com

BARELY-RELATED MATTERS

Having missed out on missing the increasingly prolific Danny Trejo (I’ve been a fan since he was fighting in ‘Runaway Train’ and getting offed in ‘The Hidden’ ) by a few seconds in Los Angeles last week, and blown away as I was by the signed machete Estevan Oriol had in his office, I’ve been following the controversies leading up to the new ‘Machete’ movie – Trejo is that dude. If you’ve read Eddie Bunker’s ‘Mr. Blue’ you know he’s no joke. Now Robert Rodriguez has announced he’s making a live-action version of Frank Frazetta’s ‘Fire And Ice’ alongside Ralph Bakshi. Serious news – Robert generally seems to deliver on his announcements, and this could be the ultimate Frank tribute.

Props to FirehouseSoundDK for upping some (too) brief footage of the great Conroy Smith, don of the digital age, performing ‘Dangerous’ at Sting ’88 a week or so ago. It’s been the soundtrack to this warm weekend. Apparently he’s currently incarcerated on drug charges. Stay up, Conroy.

PORN

Mo’ magazines being draped on the table to justify an update. And two extremes. Kind of. But both these publications are linked by a certain slavish devotion to a subject matter being pushed to its most hardcore. Can’t stop picking up publications. Mono Workwear’s been covered to death elsewhere, but despite the barmy £30+ pricetag (Steve at The Non Place – master of Amazon.jp pickups inspired me to cop a copy when I saw this Argos catalogue sized publication in his possession and testifies that unless you’re buying big, shipping and exchange rates can kill a £10 import bargain stone dead) it’s absolutely outstanding. Lightning and Free & Easy are superb, but this, and, given the title, you’d be disappointed, if it wasn’t is pure workwear. Less old man slacks reproduced, sheds, interiors or Rugged Museum visitors (shouts to “Mr. Small Head”) – lots of jackets. Lots of lots of them.


Seeing as even the most staunchly hetrosexual taken to stroking the jacket fabric of other males admiringly to the point of homo-eroticism, this right here is historical jacket pornography. Workwear is everywhere, and its easy to get apathetic – the whole poor man’s Frank Serpico look  shouldn’t kill your love for utilitarian garments and design that’s built only for protection and necessity – the mother of much outerwear innovation. No amount of cash-ins trying to better Naval, Mountain or General Research can kill that love. Mono’s effort just cements that. This is the Private of the clothing publication world – the remove-from-beneath-the-counter-with-a-wink-type-shit. Why is there no English-language equivalent? There’s nothing to match the density here – someone needs to make a short video documenting the editorial meetings and assignments that create glorious products in this vein. We westerners just haven’t got what it takes – we’d sooner exhale second-hand blog post smoke.

As the second volume (pictured here) celebrates British workwear in all its forms and their cultural impact, it’s a fine entry point for anyone wanting to take a gamble with a non-English language periodical that’s high cost. That it takes another nation to celebrate our innovations while we choose to jock an idealised Americana is sad but understandable, and the trip here into Nigel Cabourn’s (a big Mono fan) archives, sou’westers for days, Barbours, duffels in extreme conditions, ancient ads are downright priceless. Stateside, there’s Dickies, railroad workers and some great Carhartt content too. Only the burger edition of Lightning can top this one in execution stakes. Get down to Superdenim if you’re UK-based and grab a copy.


On the departure of an old colleague, a graffiti-related education has come to a standstill. Things seemed to get a little too slick when it came to presenting the artform – all embossed and spot varnished – 12oz wannabes lacking Allen and company’s legit status. If you crave the kind of thing you’d pick up on a megabucks Tower Records (RIP) binge back in the day, while it’s not Life Sucks Die (but really, is any magazine on that level? Unfair expectations) the UK’s Keep The Faith is just destruction. That lurid cover sucker punches the design snobs and it scorns the legal types who’ve made the huge money (D*Face on Xtina’s album? We thought she had better taste than that) with wack work – topless women, a great Coma interview, Mira’s ill Moomin piece, obituaries and lots and lots of train damage.

Mr. Chris Aylen spoke to the man behind the magazine here in depth, and you can buy it here. you know things are fucked up when an old-fashioned spot of vandalism feels refreshing. Seriously people, stop supporting bullshit…Keep The Faith on the other hand, is well worth your time.

I DON’T LIKE “STREET ART”…

I don’t know much about art, but I know what I hate. I also don’t know an awful lot about graffiti either – my tagging career stalled through cowardice, a piss-poor handstyle and leaking marker pens annhilating my Karl Kanis. You see, I knew when to stop. Some people just don’t. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but while I’m a hip-hop fanboy, I quickly tired of talk of graffiti as a hip-hop ‘element.’ That’s constrictive bullshit. I prefer my writers to listen to Slayer or Grand Funk Railroad, rather than body-popping to the local legal wall and cloning DOZE characters. That said, I loathe…LOATHE, the new breed of ‘street art’ and those inspired to paint weak political statements on walls constructed from GCSE sociology and punchlines from last week’s ‘Have I Got News For You.’ Wheatposting your character in London’s hipster hotspots in the dead-of-night? Getthefuckouttahere. Grow the balls to do a throw-up you fucking coward.

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STYLE WARS & THE BEASTMASTER

“Born with the courage of an eagle, the strength of a black tiger, and the power of a god.”

If you had to push me for the greatest crossover between films, it’s the lowkey meeting of ‘Style Wars’ and ‘The Beastmaster.’ I’m not here to educate you about the scene that links both flicks, but if you’re under 25, you get a pass. With the documentary screened on PBS in 1983, and the motion picture in question released in Summer 1982, two huge influences for me collide on a train platform, on what looks to be an unremarkable afternoon in NYC, as the Fresh Extra Terrestrial/Tellestial Brothers (bear in mind E.T. came out that same year) meet up.

Before a rap session ensues, Kase, Dez (aka. Mr. Slap Your Favourite DJ) and D-5 gather and are distracted by the ‘Beastmaster’ half sheet on the wall in the background. I’d like to know what song Kase is singing on the approach to the poster (“Do you wanna see, do you wanna take a chance?”) Edit -Thanks to rap scholar Mr. Craig Leckie for informing me it’s ‘Do You Wanna Rock’ by Funky 4 +1 but he promptly begins a deconstruction of the art.

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