It’s good to see that SK8FACE is happening — this is one of those documentaries I’ve been hearing about but assumed would never actually happen, because I saw the original trailer in summer 2008. It takes a minute before I give up on something, but I’ve officially called off the search on the Bunker 77 documentary about Bunker Spreckels’ life. This project however, charting the history of the skateboard graphic, is ripe for some good use of animation (The Man Who Souled the World did a damn good job with the World Industries aesthetic) and the Kickstarter that director Matt Bass launched the other week will turn 400+ hours of footage into a real contender. Having spent a few hours lately reacquainting myself with Sean Cliver’s books and this — which I still think is one of the most impressive home collections of anything, ever — I was pondering the lack of films on the topic. The video above indicates that Bass has managed to pin down the main offenders: Templeton, Phillips, Gonz, Mountain, Blender, Rocco, Cliver, Gessner, Schmitt, Lucero, Humpston, McKee, Kaupas, Campbell and several more.
Can I just apologise for the lack of word count in this year’s posts? I’m working on a book and an exhibition, plus a few other things and my lack of stubbornness in not chucking up the same stuff I keep seeing elsewhere means I’d sooner say less than up some shitty lookbook, or the pitch somebody sent me for a wooden bow tie. Actually, I should’ve posted something about that bow tie. After that I’m scheming to do something a little more substantial online so I’m looking to put together a team of UK-based writer/camera folks who are as nerdy as me and obsessed with similar crap to make something interesting. But I’ll talk more about that at a later date.
Salutes to bobgnarlybd for uploading this episode of FUEL’s Skate Maps show from 2003 (co-produced by Eli Gessner) that follows the Zoo York team on tour. RIP Harold Hunter.
British skaters are getting it bad this week from the press. The week started with the usually likeable Billy Bragg defending the Southbank against those pesky kids and turning it into a class war (and getting himself thrown out of Slam City Skates for causing a scene) situation as part of the Southbank Centre’s decision to win a debate by rolling out people who incite you to flick to QVC when the crop up on the BBC’s Glastonbury coverage. To end it, the Evening Standard‘s ES magazine unleashed its own awkward take on skate chic, with puns in the header and a miserable looking model awkwardly clad in high-end and low-end cluelessness. A mall grab would have been the perfect finishing touch, because fake skater is very in right now — I haven’t seen these levels of grommet fashion section infiltration since the 1980s. This is the outfit that an undercover cop might sport to bust a skatepark weed dealer. Don’t be surprised if Julian Lloyd-Webber disguises himself in it for the next round of Southbank/skater skirmishes.
You can actually unsee the outfit above by spending some time reading this excellent Red Bull Music Academy piece on the Zoo York Mixtape and checking out the FWDMTN/Forward Motion auctions for Heart Research UK in memory of king of the North-East, Steve ‘Bingo’ Binks. If, like me, you eat off skate culture, but you don’t want to come off like the Evening Standard’s idea of a skater, then you owe it to yourself to click here or on the image to see the auctions, where there’s some Nike SB hype, Vans Syndicate rarities, signed reissue decks and some Supreme goodness to bid on. Salutes to all who put this together and contributed. This kind of thing is what pointless polemic in a broadsheet will always omit — skateboarding is one of the few activities where everybody knows somebody who knows somebody and in that can be used to raise some money for a good cause. R.I.P. Bingo and Bod.
Why is the Slam City affiliated Holmes brand that Russell Waterman, Sofia Prantera, Ben Sansbury and James Jarvis brought to life pre-Silas pretty much excluded from the internet? Looking for some of the old Jarvis Holmes catalogue reminded me of how much better the now defunct Select magazine’s Greed section was in showcasing gear that Slam City stocked. Back in summer 1994, this spread had me scheming ways to get hold of this shirt.
This guy’s 1989-era multiple brand bootleg sweatshirt is a crime against authenticity, but it’s so blasphemous that it reminds me of a happy time when Fila and Troop were way out your price range and this kind of thing was peddled in some fly-by-night retailers. The do-it-yourself pirate collaboration to end them all got phased out beyond holiday resorts eventually, but the brand gang bang prints went harder than most of the contemporary apparel from sportswear brands.
Is it finally time to officially mourn Zoo York’s demise? Being taken over by a brand called Iconix who dismantle an established skate program to put loyal ZY riders like Zered Bassett and Eli Reed out in the cold is a low blow that indicates that the brand’s finally teetered over the edge its been wobbling on for just under a decade. Having been in business for over 19 years, it’s a real shame too. If you’re wondering why a situation involving a brand that frequently makes TK Maxx appearances irks me so much, is because of the history. I can still remember spending an afternoon on a J.R. Hartley style phone-around to every skate shop that advertised in ‘Sidewalk Surfer’ in the hunt for the black Zoo York hoody with the white letters — for those old enough to remember, there was once a point when that seemed as hardbody as a Supreme shirt. Post-Millennium, it all seemed to take a gradual slide.
The Zoo York story actually pre-dates 1993 by a couple of decades. While there’s no official tie between the two entities, the Zoo York Soul Artists, led by ALI, who founded the collective did give permission for Zoo York to use the name. It’s frequently forgotten that Zoo York Soul Artists (RIP Andy Kessler) helped spawn the Zoo York Recordz label, that released several records between 1981 and 1983, with ALI performing on ‘Shoot the Pump’ under the J Walter Negro name. You can read more about that label in this 2005 blog entry. I know a few graff nerds out there too — so can anybody confirm that the top picture (taken from Norman Mailer and Jon Naar’s ‘The Faith of Graffiti’ is the fabled Zoo York wall? (Edit: Mr Sofarok forwarded me this link.)
This Karmaloop video on the 1993 Zoo York mastermind Eli Gessner, explains how he was affiliated with the original squad, but after SHUT’s closure, Rodney Smith spoke to ALI, leading to Eli and Rodney setting up Zoo York 2.0. Having built it on the back of Eli’s work with an early Phat Farm, those shirts appearing in 1995’s ‘Kids’ during the park scene (lettering and a subway design), with Justin Pierce (RIP), Javier Núñez, Jeff Pang and other Zoo Yorkers making up the film’s cast. It was a decent piece of global marketing — especially on the back of the movie’s controversial nature.
1997’s ‘Mixtape’ video (salutes to scottieb1 for upping it on YouTube) reinforced the power of the team and the brand — that authentically NYC mix of street skate (with shades of classic 411) and gutter hip-hop, with Harold Hunter (RIP), Roc Raida (RIP), Anthony Correa and Peter Bici making memorable appearances. 1999’s ‘Peep This’ and ‘Heads’, 2001’s E.S.T. 2.0 and 2002’s ‘Unbreakable: Mixtape 2’ (Akira Mowatt is currently doing his thing with the After Midnight brand now) were all a strong visual reinforcement of the Zoo York sensibility.
The whole post 9/11 ‘Unbreakable’ campaign was one of Zoo York’s finest moments and when eckō acquired the brand in 2001,externally, Zoo York seemed to operate as it always did (though Mr Dave Ortiz did once mention to me, that the tiny inner bird print during the early days with eckō was a joke about how a little bird might rest on a big rhino) — the Nike Dunk SB from 2002 was part of that carefully curated approach to entering the skate arena with credible partners. Greg Lucci and Sal Barbier were a smart addition to the brand to maintain some energy and creativity. In 2003, Zoo York were tapped up to make some non-SB Nike Blazer colourways too. Pharrell wearing the brand before every rapper dressed like an explosion in the Karmaloop warehouse was no bad thing and Bad Brains in some magazine ads was a good look, but the 2004 use of Ashton Kutcher as Zoo York’s frontman was a truly strange moment. 2006’s team up with Lady Sovereign was just as baffling. But having the homie Grotesk as art director ensured their visual direction was on point.
But then having Skechers producing Zoo York footwear? Uh-oh. Zoo York’s tumble into a sub Route One world of big store basements and slashed prices was conferred when it was singled out in the equally mediocre HBO show ‘How to Make it in America’ as an example of a brand losing its edge (some kind of revenge by Zoo York OG Eli Gessner who was a creative consultant on the show?). Which leads us to Zoo York 2012 — I like Kate Upton as much as the next man, but it felt like an M&Ms commercial with bonus boobs.
I’m no stranger to the difficulties of losing your edge when the cold, hard truths regarding cashflow come in and I’m fully aware that explaining cultural cache, credibility and limited editions to a suit is like trying to discuss Sartre with a rampaging bear, but to lose all your ties to the early 2000s in such a calculated way is a kiss of death in the long run. Still, there’s plenty more companies to pick up the team riders you’ve discarded like a McDonald’s bag. Salutes to the real New Yorkers like SHUT, UXA, 5Boro and Supreme.
I can’t work out Jay Electronica at all. The track with Mobb Deep was heralded on Twitter as the second coming of pretty much everything and turned out utterly unremarkable and I have a feeling that many will die of old age waiting for that album to release, but Jay seems to have made some of the most bizarre career choices of any rapper ever — that suited role in the near decade old Benzino video that leaked earlier this year, where he babbled about Satan and Eminem, despite working with Denaun Porter later on in his career pales next to his Daily Mail appearance — the culmination of his friendship with Zac Goldsmith is that he’d been boning his brother Ben’s wife, Kate Rothschild. Illuminati theorists everywhere must have damn near erupted. Was Jay on some strange mission to break up powerful unions from the inside, or did he just want to sow his oats? I’m thinking it’s the latter, but I want to believe the former. What next? Currensy becomes part of the Mittal family?
The Palace crew went H.A.M. with their ‘Gangbanging at Ground Zero’ promo. I love the skating, the third-generation mate-of-a-mate fuzz (anyone else remember the dark footage of someone getting hit with a skateboard on a Union video?) in an era of artful virals shot in hi-def video on a friend’s Canon and the soundtrack. The soundtrack was the highlight. Skate videos helped with my musical education over the years, but it was the soundtrack that really killed it. When you’re filming in New York City, you can’t help but echo classics like Zoo York’s first Mixtape (I’ll take a hundred region 1 DVD dilemmas over the NTSC tape traumas from back in the day).
I like being reminded of a time when I’d phone skate shops on a JR Hartley flex (and I’m not talking about the trancey dickhead redux) hunt the black Zoo York hoody with the white stitched lettering. That captures the Mixtape and Peep This era to me…back when that brand was at the Supreme level of necessary apparel. Then all of a sudden they were dropping their own Dunk-a-likes, featuring printed birds in their sweats and devoid of edge.
The Palace video pays tribute by using that Fat Joe and Keith Nut WKCR Stretch & Bobbito freestyle that felt quaint back when Zoo York used it for the Jeff Pang segment. At that point, when Joey was wearing mafia don suits, it felt antiquated, but for some reason that shock-value, no-budget sound seems a little more relevant. Where did Keith Nut go?
Nowadays, if a rapper mentions Satan or moves their hand unusually, they’re accused of devil worshipping. It’s good to see a new wave taking it back to a less conservative time, but even when there was an element of shock-tactics, Keith claiming that “I ain’t your ordinary nigga mister/I do shit like suck my own dick, and child molest my little sister” made Bushwick Bill seem like Drake.
I’ve never heard such a boast of equal deviance since, and while the rest of Terror Squad made some noise – even Prospect is traceable, making some good records – I haven’t heard from Keith since Terror Squad’s ‘The Album’ in 1999, but I recall demos on Stretch and Bob’s show, freestyles on Doo Wop tapes and a fine verse on ‘Jealous One’s Envy’. Now he’s M.I.A. I blame that noncey lyric.
That just stretches back to a lineage of audio gulliness on tape — the Mobb on 411VMs (shouts to Rodney Torres) and best of all, Mike Carroll in Plan B’s ‘Virtual Reality’ skating to ‘Story (Pinky in the Twat)’ by The Beatnuts with the “Sucked her tits then I pounded her clitso” lyric. Most rappers aren’t quite as nihilistic as they used to be, but it’s good to know that Waka Flocka and Lex Luger are bringing that same spirit from the south. Their inclusion on the Palace tape, for Chewy Cannon’s section makes a certain sense. It’s interesting to hear contemporary gnarliness over a lo-fi look. G-check, G-check, G-check…
Another skate mainstay is the constant battle between the skate rats and the artsy types. I love watching it develop in 39 page threads on the Sidewalk forums over the cost of Palace sweatshirts…yep, 39 pages. Even Josh Kalis and Jason Dill are still engaging in upriver/downriver debate. It wouldn’t be the skate industry without heated debate over utter trivialities with an anti-hipster undertone.
Those Palace critics must be typing their fingerprints away over the latest developments for the brand, with a GQ Style magazine feature with Lev and company stood with naked ladies. The impending button-down shirts and Palace x Lavenham jacket should make them even madder, but they get it right every time and the skating’s excellent, which is the important part, right? That, plus the hundreds of thousands of views directed at threads about the price of printed cotton. All promo is good promo, but Palace’s promotional game is fucking good when it comes to films and photos. Brits in New York being very trill indeed, with snuff movie production values is a winning formula.
(Taken from Slam’s Facebook because I’m too lazy to scan)