Monday 15 August 2016

Losers and Awkward Socializers - MC vs MJ, Paul Mason and Post-Capitalism

This article was kindly requested and put out there by Brooklyn-based website Buried Muse after an out-of-the-blue, trans-Atlantic Twitter conversation over a mutual appreciation of Long Island indie The Northern Company.  I feel kinda bad, because I'm not sure a dense, 1,800 word piece linking the problems faced by 'core' skateboarding to the last days of the neo-liberal paradigm, segueing into some bright glimmer of hope courtesy of the ideas of Paul Mason and the actions of the bros from the Northern Co and Magenta, quite achieves the clicks needed by an indie web upstart -  but I'm stoked they had faith in me, and apologise if it didn't go as crazy as more of-the-moment articles on Olympic Skateboarding and Brexit.  Hopefully this'll be a slow burner - if contemporary internet behaviour even allows for that - because I'm still hyped on some of the ideas herein.  Skateboarding matters now more than ever.   

This is the article with added links and references.  Peace to Sergio and co for putting it out. 

Proper adults, concerned with weekend suit jackets and real estate value, would label us idiots for obsessing over sub-cultural minutiae.  

In establishment eyes, skateboarders are supreme examples of modern fecklessness. Rather than engaging with the problems of the world, we consume and play, narcissistically broadcasting every banal thought or action to millions of other awful dickheads.  As identity is as much formed by how others see us, or how we think they see us, critiques of modern skateboarding tend to open with self-effacing reference to how small or silly our little world is and how we will all, at some point, need to grow up and move on – handing over our sense of adventure to some miserable cosmic desk clerk.  This is, of course, nonsense. Skateboarding fucking matters just as much as anything else.  It gives us a frame of reference to view the real world along with a little bit of agency to do something positive about it.  Think SkatePal and Skateistan, Long Live Southbank and the range of small community projects Jenkem have shined a light on, from Detroit to Christchurch, to a thousand little DIY builds and micro-companies.   We may be permanently adolescent in the eyes of the sharp-suited alpha males of neoliberalism, but their views are increasingly unfit for purpose.  The philosopher Susan Neiman reminds us that Enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau and Kant saw adulthood in very different terms.[1]  A life well lived requires one to travel extensively, curate a sense of child-like wonder and accept the world as it is without ever giving up on the world as it should be.  Which sounds a lot like the life of the average skateboarder.

This is just as well, as the world as it is sucks.  Over half my British countrymen and women freely voted to leave the world’s biggest single market, wrecking our currency, international reputation and a vision, dreamed when the ash of World War II still hung in the air, of tolerance, trade and cooperation.  Across the Atlantic, a space-time rift threatens to release President Trump from a dimension of shared liberal and conservative nightmares - like a bankruptcy-prone Freddy Krueger.

Skateboarding, apart from being the thing that gets me through the day, is turning out to be a fine little petri dish to view both the unraveling of late capitalism and some nuggets of hope for the future.  Two interviews, cast out to the internet over the last couple of months, signify almost everything one needs to know about the states of ‘is’ and ‘should be’.  In his Jenkem interview, Girl Skateboards co-founder Mike Carroll broke a niche of the internet for a whole night.  Uncharacteristically fiery of temper for the quietly spoken cool guy, he overrode the entente cordiale between the bigger core brands and the sportswear giants and publicly sacked Marc Johnson, whose jump to Adidas was announced before his previous shoe sponsors, Lakai, had time to implement the agreed exit strategy.

No one, without hypocrisy, can judge MJ harshly for donning the three stripes at this stage in his career.  Nor should one harshly judge another for wearing Adidas or Nike. The reality we have accepted, through our votes and our purchasing behaviour, is the untrammelled free market.   The business of skateboarding is still a business.  The textbooks tell us that competition is good.  It pushes down prices and pushes up quality and innovation.  I’m old enough to remember the 1990s, when one would pay double normal retail price for a brand t-shirt or pair of sneakers that would fall apart in seconds.   Markets should be diverse ecosystems of small, medium and large brands.  By competing with Lakai, DC, Vans, Huf or Sole Tech, the sportswear giants constantly have to up their game, as do the core brands.   In the imaginary world of mainstream economics, monopolies eventually calcify, collapsing like the walls of Rome when the next Schumpeterian young buck ‘disrupts’ the market with a new, cheaper and better product.  So it is in Nike or Adidas’ long-term interests to exist in permanent non-lethal combat with the core brands, neither side ever having too much power – like some hokey 1980s fantasy where the dark and light exist in cosmic balance, otherwise we get red-eyed skeletons and shit.

It now seems that prophecies of skeletons are more realistic than MBA students’ demand and supply diagrams.  Adam Smith’s benign invisible hand has given way to ‘shareholder capitalism'.  Flight-prone investors want rapid returns, either through cutting costs (jobs, R&D investment) or aggressively expanding into new markets. An Exec who pitches a strategy of modest long term growth and gentle competition would rapidly exchange condo and Lexus for a divorcee’s apartment.  The advanced Western economies face a future of low growth interspersed with crisis.  Wages have stagnated, inequality has widened and insecure ‘bullshit jobs’ await the young, condemning a generation to be the new, unloved ‘precariat’ alongside the forgotten miners and steelworkers of yesteryear.  At the micro level, Carroll’s words say it all: “There’s so many different companies and they make skateboarding, and these other companies that want to take out companies… It’s like dude, you exist already, you don’t need to take these companies down. You don’t need every single skater.”   

The culture and market of skateboarding gets less diverse, beloved brands go bust, everything looks a bit more vanilla, and the giants leave for the next newest new thing their ‘cool hunters’ post on mood boards.   I like skating in Lakai.  I also like skating in Nikes.  And, when wanting to channel either Magenta or Kalis and the Sabotage dudes, I may revert to Adidas and then DC, and back again.  This is reflected in the honest purchasing behaviour of most skateboarders, and screaming ‘sell out’ will not save the world.  

What may save the world lies in the second of our two interviews, one on this very site with Long Islanders the Northern Co.  In this and an interview with The Palomino, founders Mike Gigante and Steve Fletschinger set out their reasons for starting their cool little brand, which have little to do with market domination or nurturing elite careers.  Dudes with kids and full-time jobs felt their local scene needed a kick in the arse whilst seeing little that appealed to their tastes.  Rather than chasing the lucrative youth market (that any industry insider would say accounts for the vast majority of sales) with weed motifs or faux-gangster video skits, they opt instead for the imagery of early North American frontiersmen.  Their web edits are bluegrass odes to childhood adventure and the classic Stereo videos, simple, warm and bitter-sweet.  This business model is not dissimilar to Bordeaux’s Magenta skateboards, whose founders, marquee professionals and creative masterminds Soy Panday and Vivien Feil also have day jobs.  

All of these describe their companies more as art projects or social enterprises, prioritising connections with other scenes, the joy gained from producing aesthetically appealing products, and ensuring skating with friends remains a weekly fixture in adult life.   Marx predicted that we would become ever more ‘alienated’ from the products we make, the customers delighted by them, and the satisfaction we experience.  At its core, our ‘species essence’ is the wish to create art and meaning: “Our products would be so many mirrors in which we saw reflected our essential nature” [2 and 3]. Companies like the Northern Co, Magenta, Scumco & Sons and many of the Theories brands offer a new middle way, that contribute to both the richness of the culture of skateboarding but also the quality of life for those running them.

But why does this have wider significance?  Contemporary thinkers, such as the British journalist Paul Mason (author of ‘Post capitalism: A guide to our Future’), believe that the abundance of information (when traditional economic models assume scarcity), has led to the slow, sputtering death of the current model – not least in dissolving the relationship between work and wages that once made it rational for us to give up creative pursuits for the 9 to 5.  Mason is an optimist.  He sees the sort of things the bros at the Northern Co get up to as both a lifeline for wellbeing in the here and now and a precursor to a future way of doing things:  “pulling your energy and time out of the mainstream economic and financial system, to put more of yourself into non-economic things you really care about… Things that make the world a better place – positive projects whose benefits can’t be measured by economists in monetary terms or GDP figures…  So you play the game, you do what’s necessary. You do the ten per cent extra that meets all the emotional labour requirements... But you take another percentage of yourself and you put it into the emerging post-capitalist world.”  [4]

As a keen surfer himself, Mason sees the social, identity and health enhancement of ‘just doing stuff’.  Magenta talk about ‘worldwide connections’, and put their VXs where their mouths are by collaborating on projects all over the world and hooking bros up from Florida to the Channel Islands to Tokyo and Osaka.  This stuff has value already, but it will increase as the phenomena of the open source, sharing and cooperative economies come of age (as it already has in the case of Uber, Airbnb, etc., which exploit neoliberalism’s failure to make full use of resources, including individuals’ skills and ideas as well as cars and homes).  This is not yet a currency that will make many of us materially wealthy, but it has intense, lasting meaning.  In an era where we have allegedly reached ‘peak stuff’, such things will sooner or later gain more tangible value.

Mason’s ideas aren’t without challenge, from both the mainstream and from other radical thinkers (for example, cooperative networks are all well and good, but don't put food on the table, cover  the rent, or pay for the vast servers powering the internet).  But what the critics do accept is we can’t go on like this.  The world as it is has failed to give the younger generation sufficient incentive to engage in the zero sum deal of the traditional, passive and resigned model of adulthood.   Perhaps for the first time in skateboarding’s short life, us bunch of losers and awkward socializers are starting to map out the parameters of what may come next.  

[1] Susain Neiman, 2016 'Why Grow Up? Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age', Penguin, Philosophy in Transit series. 
[2] John Storey, 2015  'Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction', 7th edition, Routledge.
[3] Slavoj Žižek, 2014. 'Trouble in Paradise: From the End of History to the End of Capitalism', Allen Lane.
[4] Paul Mason, 2015. 'Post Capitalism: A Guide to Our Future', Allen Lane.

Monday 11 April 2016

Shiny VVs glowin’ in your ear; New (shoe), new jewels, new album new year

This article was first published by my good friends Nick & Sam of supereight to mark the updated re-release of Kalis' first shoe, in the form of the Kalis Lite. Go to these guys for your mail order needs (as well as the Palomino, obvs), they're time served skate rats and Sam owns one hell of a 360 flip , making him a worthy Kalis fan.
Photo courtesy (like most good things):

The single baddest I have ever felt on a skateboard occurred sometime around 2000, alone in a suburban car park, rolling away from my first and only legitimate fakie backside nosegrind and looking down at the DC Kalis 1s on my feet (blue and grey with orange detail, natch).  For a moment those sneakers conjured an illusion powerful enough to counteract the reality of a lonely, middle class kid in Beeston, Nottingham, repetitively honing sub-mediocre skateboard skills.  And what they signified was of course something of the essence of Josh Kalis himself, the once and future king of the downtown plaza spot, the doyen of hip hop street skaters, and owner of at least one of, if not the, best flatland flip games on the planet.

Kalis’ first proper shoe on long time sponsors DC (with some debate over whether the Lynx was to be his first) appeared around the same time as Alien Workshop’s Photosynthesis, and was the shoe to be owned by those with East Coast tech predilections.  They built on the basketball influence trail-blazed by Koston at a time when most skate sneakers looked like big puffy spaceships.  But the Kalis 1 differed from the friendly, cartoon UFOs elsewhere on the market, instead resembling mean, utilitarian military craft designed to deliver grim-faced space marines to hostile worlds.  Perfect for street soldiers in camo cargo pants.  The wedge shaped runner’s toe gave a sharp, quick flick – kidding the wearer they could emulate the steez of the man himself.  And the colourways - bold all red or white & yellow through to understated black & gum or blue & grey - enabled one to select the desired level of pugnacious swag.  They remain my all-time favourite skate shoe, so the release of the updated Kalis Lite as a chilling shoe prompted a covetousness normally reserved for biblical neighbours’ oxen.

As fresh as those sneakers did and do look, this explains a tiny proportion of the appeal.  The lion’s share draws from the name on the box and the direction of his career so far.  Into the second half of the twenty-teens, three archetypes of decades deep pro career have emerged.  The first is the standard sports or music trope of youthful rise and middle-aged decline: the protégé who explodes onto the scene, puts out two or three incredible video parts, peaking in their mid-20s, before resting on their laurels for a decade – perhaps becoming the ‘cool guy’ in the team who’s wardrobe you envy but who’s tricks you can live without; or maybe clearly still having that magic, but showcasing it less productively than we the public would like.  Then you have a variation on that: the redemption story.  Dude explodes even younger, releasing that video part before succumbing to the temptations of party life and subsequent addiction issues.  Ten years pass barely leaving the games console, appearing in occasional team montages to hint at what might have been, before that come-back, drug- and booze-free and full of renewed focus, hungry for lost time.  Finally there’s the shapeshifter.  Injury or perhaps boredom forces an abrupt style change up.  The ambidextrous ledge technician becomes the rugged transition or unexpected combo king.  Kalis is perhaps the only 90s pro of high stature to have entirely avoided all three routes – without relying on a private warehouse training facility.   Year after year, video part after video part, he delivers the same raw technical mastery, the same explosive pop and truculent roll away.  Reliable and consistent could read as dull or conservative if he wasn’t so damn dope, or if his appeal wasn’t as timeless and inter-generational.  Whether you’re 18 or 38, if you like your skateboarding mixed with rap and your obstacles angular, Josh Kalis is one of your favourite skateboarders. 

For a technical skater whose execution is the epitome of textbook, there’s a gangly physicality in his skating.  His approach to the 360 flip illustrates this better than anything.  For many, the trick’s a mid-line chiller, lazily shuffled out to demonstrate disinterested mastery before the end-line money shot. Kalis’ are a spectacle unto themselves – popped and whipped.  The front foot flies out, Bruce Lee-like, whilst the back foot hooks round to catch the board – making stills of the mid-air catch look like a tweaked ollie.  Where his imitators hold their arms down in over-dope forced steez, his are held up like the wings of a bird of prey - together making the Kalis tres flip silhouette as iconic to us as the Michael Jordan ‘jump man’ logo.  Those other tricks to which he can claim ‘best in the game’ – the switch heel, the straight nollie flip – are equally explosive, even when performed mid-line.  If you imagined any of his classic sections, from Time Code through to Parental Advisory, rendered in comic book form, each trick would be captioned with triple exclamation marked onomatopoeia: “Badoom”; “Bratatat” etc.  Perhaps the heart poured into every trick, when compared to the fashion today of minimised movements (as if the trick happens on its own, the skater huffily bored by its existence), is a product of different generations’ formative circumstances.  Kalis perfected his craft in the thick of the great skate cities of the world, from SF, to Philly, to Barca and currently LA.  Although there’s plenty of evidence of his mastery of skatepark set-ups, perfect parks are not the defining context for his skillset.  The uncertainty of the street, the risk that authority, bad weather or self-appointed citizen sheriffs stop play at any moment, mean that practising a trick ‘til you can do it like you’re bored by it doesn't come into the picture.  Kalis’ skating captures both the stubborn commitment and the spontaneity of the true street skater – which is why, after more than 20 years of consistently brilliant sections, anchored to a broadly similar aesthetic, each one (including the more chilled section gifted to recent indie video Sabotage 4) is never boring.

The attitude as well as the level of skill provide the quality guarantee.   Kalis is more pragmatic than rigid skate-moralists like Puleo and Ricky Oyola, but has still refined a strong code of honour and practice.  Loyalty to those who share your values and earn your respect, both contemporaries and up-and-comers, and dogged refusal to drift towards the easy life of warehouse parks and fashion-forwardness.   His patronage of younger skaters has heft because of co-ownership of Hellaclips but, more importantly, as an authentic street rat.  When Jordan Trahan’s incredible 360 flip at J Kwon blazed across the internet, it was helped on its way by the Instagram account from which it originated.    Not only was the king of 360 flips anointing a worthy peer, he was doing so from the same place and time – part of the session:  the king who honours a knight on the battlefield, not from the quiet of the throne room.   That’s why the young’uns don’t need to be reminded to respect him, it’s earned and re-earned.   This is an important lesson for older street skaters across the board.  To keep keeping on, and doing what it takes to do so (whether that’s some stretch and cardio regime, chilling on the midweek booze and takeaway, sticking to some quid-pro-quo childcare timetable, or simply never stopping skating), it’s equally important to remember that you have every right to be in the thick of it.  Exclusively skating the local park is one step towards fading away – and life is both too long and too short for that.  As our boy nears 40, no one wanting to keep their lip un-split would call him a mid-life shredder – agelessness through determination: the veterans’ division can wait.  And that can apply to the rest of us mere mortals.

I engaged my buddies in a post skate debate on the sections they’d include in a ‘Kalis Top 5’, which is where we’ll end this piece. This strategy proved foolhardy, resulting as it did in increasingly angry shouts of “you’ve got to have the DC video”; “no way fool, Mindfield”; “shut up, you can’t miss out Peep This.”  There are perfectly good websites providing chronological back catalogues – skately being an obvious choice – so this list is purely personal. 

Starting with Timecode, his first section for Alien Workshop (after a brief period on Toy Machine), in which he was forerunner of the new breed who combined tech with power and swaggering hip hop sensibilities.  Before Muska and Smolik, it was this section that prompted an army of skinny kids to rock XXL t-shirts and hats crooked backwards at 110°, hitching our cargo pants mid-line as we pushed.

Peep This was a Zoo York video affiliated NYC scene video, and an example of one of many appearances gifted to projects unrelated to his main sponsors.  With filming less pervasive at the time, this was something few pros would risk - preferring to horde footage for the next large production.  Kalis’ productivity meant that he could comfortably give up footy to homies in full confidence that pay day targets would be met.  And as this section contains one of the best kickflips ever performed as well as a beast of a switch heelflip over the wall at the top of Brooklyn Banks, Kalis’ clips in Peep This are the opposite of B-reel.  

The quintessential Kalis section is obviously Photosynthesis, on which reams have been written.  Suffice to say, in my early 20s skate house, this was a key fixture in our pre-session inventory.  That flatland fakie flip in the seaport line, venerated by Quartersnacks as one of the best committed to video, even made it onto a Ride Channel best-of (a site normally reserved for ridiculous headings referencing energy drink sponsors, dork tricks and handrail heroics).

A less obvious choice, certainly compared to Sixth Sense, the DC Video, Mindfield, or In Mono, is his section in Chicago’s Finest, a scene vid filmed in 2005 (that didn't emerge on the internet until 2012).  However, this is worthy of inclusion for what it represents – rather than scouring the world for pristine plazas in Business Class, Kalis chooses a scene with potential, relocates and hunkers down to immerse himself like an obsessive method actor.  In the end Chicago didn't work out as the next Philly after Love Park was done, but this move doubtless gave the scene a shot in the arm and us an unexpectedly dope section.

Ending on a relatively recent section, the surprise release of DGK’s Parental Advisory at the end of 2012 (surprising as it dropped with almost no fanfare amidst the Pretty Sweet blockbuster campaign) included eye popping parts from OGs Marcus and Kalis, somewhat making up for the lack of legends in the aforementioned Girl Video.  This section is dope - with a switch bigspin heelflip across a long roadgap and the signature tres flip thrown into a signature nosebluntslide, foreshadowing many more years of turbocharge in the pop n’ snap as well as the muscle car.

Monday 29 June 2015

The Special Relationship

The Revived British Skate-Geek Love of 'Merica

I'd planned three posts on why skateboarders should keep keeping on from their first curb ollie through 'til old age, moving on from the physical barriers to the attitudes held by the civilian world and the media.  This was overtaken by events.  Venerable UK punkrock and shredding site Caught in the Crossfire kindly asked me to do a bunch of articles, from personal favourite topic Gino Iannucci to a heartfelt goodbye to Sidewalk Magazine in print form.  One Crossfire article covered many of the same themes planned for this here blog, taking the LOLz inducing profile of 'people who do skateboarding' from market researchers YouGov to look at how full-grown skateboarders are viewed by regular folk. Society at large may point and laugh, but society's got bigger things to worry about. Oh, and Eric Koston turned 40 and yet the world kept turning. This makes room to meander towards different topics of interest to all of three people: kind of the point of a quaintly low-fi blog.  

The problems facing advanced, post-industrial societies in 2015 are pretty gob-smacking, though not sufficiently so to drive the average adult from their sofa to do much about it.  At the same time, the consensus between politics and business has shafted the younger generation - who are 7% poorer  in 2015 than they were in 2007.   Whilst Western culture continues to venerate extreme youth, it blithely blocks opportunity for all but the most privileged.  In accepting this, we acquiesce to Ed fucking Sheeran and Mumford and fucking Sons as personifications of the zeitgeist.  The world sinks like a mammoth in a tar pit in an economic, social and creative malaise.  Nowhere is this more true than in the United Kingdom and the United States of 'merica.  Whilst both economies are, on the face of it, well into recovery, this is coupled with Victorian levels of income inequality and a suffocating sense of cultural 'meh'.  Hollywood gets ever more stuck for good ideas whilst the British electorate happily signs up for five years' of rule by pantomime villains and farcical upper-class buffoons.  

Skateboarding in 2015 is different: we're more motivated than ever to get up and try to reshape our little worlds, albeit on a usually local scale (with the exception of those saint-like men and women who've jetted off to Afghanistan, Myanmar or Palestine with quivers of skateboards, big plans and bigger balls).  A flurry of DIY skate-spots (shout out to the #Trentside grafters), independent start-up companies, giant-slaying community activism, film, art and all sorts of other weird things (including ramps on train tracks and bowls in trees) combining wheelbarrows full of 'crete with end-of-times frontier survivalism.  This makes it pretty hard for an active skateboarder to be jaded even whilst the real world is kind of awful.

In the midst of all this energy, British skateboarding seems to have rediscovered its love of America and, to a not-insignificant extent, Americans are returning the favour. Or so you'd conclude from the internet echo chamber of obsessives, industry heads and taste-makers enthusing at one and other. Kids in small town skate parks in either country appear largely unaffected by the cultural shifts that excite the 1%, as was ever the case.

Up until some point in the early to mid-2000s, the whole skateboarding world looked to a corner of Southern California (and occasionally northern California and cities along the Eastern Seaboard if you were more esoterically inclined).  Skateboarding was small, full of newish and exciting brands - almost all of them American.  If you were growing up in Britain, the Americans had the spots, the skills, and the vision of how skateboarding should look like.  The mark of a good European brand was to look in some way comparable to an American brand.  Sure, many Brits and Europeans made it, both on planks and to high places in the industry - Pierre André Senizergues, Jeremy Fox, Penny, Shipman, Rowley, etc. - but the unwritten rule was that to really do it in skateboarding, you had to do it in the United States.   

In the space of not much more than five years, a succession of things happened to shift the axis on UK skaters' world views.  British skating established an identity and pride through Sidewalk magazine and Blueprint (with which Dan Magee suavely re-imagined  East Coast US brands with references to tea, Morrissey lyrics and awful weather). The European scene exploded and Barca replaced SF as destination of choice, enabling Puzzle then Kingpin to legitimately and fruitfully document skateboarding without having to look across the Atlantic.  In comparison, a large share of American skating, pumped up on elitist handrail athletics, logo boards and identikit epic videos, got pretty dull.  Sure, the likes of Girl, Real, Anti Hero and the Sovereign Sect could be relied upon as shining exceptions.  But like your favourite bands in adolescence, attention craves new shit. Somewhere between the dying of the embers of 2000's Photosynthesis and the arrival of Cliché's Bon Appetit (2004) and Blueprint's Lost & Found (2005), I realised I'd fallen out of skate-love with America.  I read Sidewalk, Document and Kingpin and rarely looked at Thrasher or Transworld.  I looked to British or European skaters for inspiration, jumping from Colin Kennedy, to Luy Pa Sin, Jan Kliewer and JJ Rousseau.  Only as Youtube became all pervasive in the late 2000s, did I start regularly looking back at the old US favourites.

In the last few years this has changed.  The first indie brands to make a big impact may have been European, notably Palace, Polar and Magenta, but a call and response momentum has pinged back and forth across the Atlantic with like-minds in the US, like Hopps, Scumco, the Northern Co, Welcome, Bronze and Politic plus indie media like Jenkem and Quartersnacks - all offering a view of skating in contrast to gargantuan handrails, Street League and post-colonial filming trips to deserted East Asian plazas that seemed as all-American as big white teeth.

That's before we get to the indie video footage flying out of the US and delighting the cool kids over here.  American content from the likes of the GX1000 crew, Bronze, Lurk NYC, Johnny Wilson, Colin Read and Chris Mulhern (not to mention anything from indie Godfather Josh Stewart and Strobeck's regular post-Cherry output) regularly tops the list of stuff recommended to us by Sidewalk, Lost Art, Grey, Palomino or other internet active UK institutions - dramatically tipping the US/domestic UK footage scale that's been weighed in the other direction for the best part of a decade.

And now taste makers in the US and UK started fluttering their eye lashes at one another, with skate geeks and keyboard warriors from either skate scenes keen to consume an idealised version of the other.  If Lev and Palace have changed the way half of the smaller US brands make videos, Peter Sidlauskas' Bronze have changed the other half.  When you read US coverage around the recent Palace-Bronze collaboration, or excitement over the inclusion of American and Canadian riders on the Palace roster, it's illuminating how this reflects US assumptions about UK skateboarding and Britain more widely.  Blissed-out house and crackly VHS become short-hand for multi-cultural, belligerent and swaggering London.  This is a million miles away from the lived experience of Grimsby, Luton or King's Lynn, or Bournemouth or Chipping Norton.  Down-at-heel dreariness or leafy, sleepy Little England are far from the idealised symbolism of ultra modern Britain that Americans seem keen on via Palace, the London sections of Static, or Eleventh Hour.

The special relationship between skateboarding in the two countries is far from equal because it's not based on a comparable level of familiarity.  Consumers in the UK are well aware of the dross produced by the bottom end of the American skate industry, the straight-to-mall brands or the five-minute failures that fill Transworld's monthly advert broom-cupboard. We choose to consume the very best, or the most interesting, of literally thousands of US companies. Conservative Middle America is there in the stuff we could buy into, but we choose not to - preferring our own set of idealised characteristics invariably connected to modern, liberal and outward-looking urban America. 

Skate nerds in the US don't have to make that choice:  only the best UK and Euro stuff makes it in the other direction across the pond.  In the early 2000s, I suspect most Americans who knew about and were stoked on Blueprint - and took it as short-hand for an earlier ideal of London, understated and urbane, with a penchant for miserable indie music and dark UK hip hop - were totally ignorant of Reaction: the skate equivalent of a British commuter town, all chain pubs and indoor shopping centres, pissing away an amazing team with some of the worst graphics and laziest branding (whilst having the temerity to declare themselves the UK's "number one skate company").  The 'rough spots/stylish skaters/cool brands' formula with which Quartersnacks describe UK skating is flattering n'all,  but any British skater can think of a dozen towns where MTV emo and stinking boneless finger flips are alive and well across the local skate park inhabitants.

This dichotomy is also true for much of grass-roots American skaters, with Jenkem's illuminating interviews with regular kids showing that the cool US, UK and Euro indie brands aren't on the radar for those minors who account for the largest share of US domestic skate sales. Any trip to a skatepark in either country shows how our idealised images describe a tiny minority of what goes on. By choosing which internet echo chamber we participate it (i.e. not any of this stuff), we blare at each other about exclusively good shit that is unrecognisable from the much bigger world of Monster fitted caps and 1,000s of clips of cringeworthy quodruple flip nonsense. This is of course a micro-example of the bafflement liberals in the US express when UKIP can get 10% of the vote in the last British election, or we feel in the UK when we hear of each US police or high-school shooting, and subsequent noisy and counter-intuitive renewal of the 'right to bear arms' argument. How can a country that brings us amazing music and film also voice significant opposition to equal marriage rights? The majority are numbskulls on both sides of the pond. 

A final thought, or more accurately question, is why now? With Palace going from strength to strength, and more old and new UK companies, filmers and crews than ever, and with Europe an equally powerful draw (not least from the pulse of activity emanating from the small Swedish city of Malmö), why on earth should America have gotten cool again? It's a nightmare to actually skate there, and US sources still put out corny, commercialised, brain dead skateboarding like it's going out of fashion (when will it go out of fashion...). Obviously America has always had rad stuff going on - and the internet seems to speed up the cycle of one thing becoming hot shit in the eyes of another. What seems likely is that the answer goes back to the rise of the indies. If we got bored of the mainstream, as established by the US, it wasn't because we got bored of American stuff per se. We'd just seen so many lookalike vids and product churned out by the same generation of people who held/still hold the keys to the kingdom. Now the doors have been flung open, and Americans have proven every bit as able to churn out exciting, small scale stuff as a bunch of bros from Bordeaux, Malmo, Tokyo or London, reviving the temporarily dormant interest in things American - especially if it evokes grand old, grimy East Coast cities, or hilly, windy West Coast ones. As was ever thus: although the average kid still chooses the Element logo board here as well as there.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Roll For Life.... Part 1

This is the first of 3 posts, to be fired out in quick succession, tackling the barriers to skating, like, fo' ever brah.  This post deals with whether we exaggerate the impacts of getting older (or use it as an excuse); the next will deal with the arguably bigger issue of how the assholes in the civilian world see us - and how this reflects wider issues like class and wealth prejudice (fuck 'em); and the last post will cover attitudes within skating itself - some have changed, some stay the same.

* This picture crudely eludes to the practice of tattooing skate-relevant slogan's on one's forearm without much thought as to what they actually mean in practice: this post in no way advocates inking predictable statements in gothic text on one's arm.
A couple of days' back whilst on holiday in Boston Massachusetts, we heard the loud clattering of skateboarders behind us.  A group of 4-5 guys shot past, each ollieing a manhole cover with the snap, speed and confidence that shows straight away that they know what they're damn well doing.  As an afterthought, I noticed that a couple of the dudes had fully grey hair - probably in their 40s - and thought "rad, its not often you see guys that age skating street on a weekday back home." 

I'd wanted to tap out a positive post  on how more people could skate productively through their active lives -  not in a naff, self-parodying 'middle-aged shred' sense, or with the subterranean low expectations of  "I just like to cruise every now and again these days, man", but to properly skate and keep progressing.  Like runners, surfers, cyclists, skiers or rock climbers - or any other infinitely less rad activity that nonetheless becomes someone's lifetime identity.   A skate trip to Copenhagen and Malmo a month earlier and my own progress through the second half of my 30s had been gently prompting this. 

On return from the US, this piece of upper-class trolling from the Telegraph's Harry Wallop provided probable cause.  This was the second article from the Telegraph in the last few months snidely suggesting that a skateboarder over 29 was a pathetic try hard in the grip of a low-budget mid-life crisis.  The Telegraph aren't alone.  The New York Times published a cringe-inducing exposé  on this 'new' phenomena of the post-teen skateboarder a couple of years' back.  Then a torrent of unwanted opinion from the UK establishment was triggered by the opening of the House of Vans, the Long Live Southbank campaign, and the HTC One Skatepark at Selfridges.  Commentators on popular culture, from the Guardian to Marie Claire, have suggested that skateboarding is for teenaged boys alone: adult males, and women of any age, should stay the hell away.  At the same time, they suggest regular guys consider rocking a Palace t-shirt and Supreme 5-panel -  appropriating the fashion whilst scorning participation in the activity it draws from.

Muckmouth have just raged at this shit, arguing that older skateboarders have quite enough to deal with just age itself - and can do without judgment from those who don't themselves participate in a damn thing.  They're one of the internet's gems, so I don't want to step in their footprints and am anyway better equipped for more practical rambling of the what can/should change variety.  To do this, I'll address three big barriers to 'rolling 4 ever'/being a 'lifer' or whatever kids tattoo on their forearms without thinking about what that might end up meaning.

Wear, decay and maintenance

The most commonly given reason why someone becomes, or is forced to become, an 'ex-skater', is the idea - and eventual reality - that our bodies become less able to do the things we want after passing a given physical 'peak'.  But the science suggests that the body falls apart later and more slowly than we tend to assume, especially if we invest in general fitness (mitigating the downside of getting older, rather than complaining about it).

Sports scientists place the peak for most sports between the ages of 25 and 35 - the period usually defined by demographers as 'young adulthood'.  This is older than you'd expect if exposed to a couple of decades of skate journalism speculating that so-and-so is probably past it at 26 (although, along with injuries, professional skate 'careers' hinge on other factors, such as how long you can exist on sub-welfare incomes).  After this peak, deterioration is very gradual - unless you have a serious injury or illness: in normally healthy adults, the key indicators of oxygen intake and heart efficiency, muscle strength and flexibility decrease by small amounts each year.  Studies show that athletes perform at or close to their personal best from their late 30s to their early 40s - with gradual deterioration of around 2% per year after this, with changes only perceptible to the individual over the decade.  Have a look here for more detail.

What changes more rapidly is actual levels of participation in physical activity.  Essentially, from the late-30s/early-40s the average Western adult becomes very significantly less active, and their metabolism slows - together leading to weight gain, further decreasing activity.  Our image of someone in their 30s may not be that different from a 20-something, but when you conjure up an image of an average guy in their 40s, you may picture the dude wandering around the super market after his wife and kids, beer belly, pigeon chest, stooped posture - prodding listlessly at his mobile phone.   Imagine that guy on a skateboard, arf arf.

Researchers suspect a chicken-and-egg situation, with lifestyle factors (family, work, etc.) and social attitudes (more on that in Part 2) leading to reduced physical activity, rather than an inherent human tendency to reduce activity in itself.  This in turn may cause metabolism to slow when it does, and accelerate deterioration in the other key indicators.  The above link to the Journal of Sport Science includes evidence showing that active people aged 60+ outperform inactive 20-somethings across most indicators.  So there's empirical evidence behind that Jay Adams quote.
So we start to deteriorate later than you may have expected, and at a more gradual rate - with the more depressing, rapid changes due to behavioural and societal factors, rather than additional years on the planet per se.  The modern adult world pressures us to pile out, bro. 

The easy conclusion would be to say 'just keep skating' - you'll be more active than the average civilian, pile out less and live longer.  But we also tend to argue that skating is way more destructive than  other activities, leading to an earlier end point.  But unless you're jumping down stair sets and big rails on the regular - is it really?  People run long distances competitively well past 60, and that's super high impact: I ran my first half marathon earlier this year and my legs felt way more shagged than from 3 days hard skating (and I've run moderate distances for as long as I've skated, so its not a case of muscles being worked in unfamiliar ways).  Perhaps more significant, is the idea of older people skating (more on that in Part 3) - picturing ol' chubby 'rad dad' in a Quicksilver t-shirt.  But without entering into some Gwyneth Paltrow-style life advice, none of us are going to be that guy if we keep skating.  Dudes from Ronnie Creager to Lance Mountain don't look ridiculous -  skating should enable us to be the wiry old bastards that look like they live in the woods and would survive nuclear war.

The key is maintenance.  For those of us who started skating in the 90s this is hard to accept.  Stretching still seems lame - and the solution to a tweaked ankle back then was JD, weed and refusal to go to the doctor.  The younger generation seem much keener to borrow from mainstream sport and fitness (in this month's Sidewalk nice-guy-Will Golding has followed Korahn Gayle and...  yeah, Gino...  in professing time spent in the gym for cardio fitness, leg strength and flexibility at the tender age of 22 - foresight and discipline that I lacked at that age).  In 1996 this would have gotten you labelled as a 'jock' and way too serious.  I remember housemates and I hating on Reese Forbes because we incorrectly had him down as a serious sports guy.  But then hardly anyone knew people older than 25 in our skate scene.  Borrowing the useful stuff from regular sports isn't a bad thing, even if you're Magenta as hell and reckon 95% of 'performance' orientated skating sucks (this interview with Soy Panday and Vivien Feil on the thinking behind Magenta is amazing, btw).

To keep up the 'childish' act of skating at a level that is satisfying, one has to embrace some elements of normal guy fitness. That can either be depressing or motivating.  In any given office environment, you'll hear civilians carping on about "having" to go to the gym as they've eaten x amount of cake and crisps today, purely for vanity's sakes.  That shit sleeve of quasi-tribal tats will look shitter if matey piles out: no roll up sleeve, deep-v shirts for you, bruv.  But as a skateboarder, the shere dumb love of going skating is the ultimate motivator for swimming, cycling, running, yoga - whatever you choose.  Freddy Gall pulls off being a full-time pile whilst being amazing at skating, but his is probably not a recommended life trajectory for anyone else.  I'd much rather be that tedious older guy that goes running before work/at lunch - and can skate all weekend - than the regular fella moving from couch to work to pub and back again.  Although there's nothing wrong with that.  Each to their own.

The final point is the fallacy of applying the expiration date for 'peak' performance in professional competitive sports to normal skateboarders.  In mainstream competitive sports, even a 2% decrease in a given performance indicator loses you the edge on your competitors - career ending in light of the miniscule strength and speed differences between top athletes.  From their early to mid-30s, top footballers struggle to outrun their younger counterparts, pick up injuries faster and thus retire.  But you and I are not in a race, skateboarding does not require infinitesimal degrees of 'better' - and craft (judgement, aesthetics, trick and spot selection...  style) can increase with time, even if power fades a little.  My favourite bit of Cherry is the Brian Anderson line with the flat ground switch 360 flip, because I really like what he does with his shoulders... craft, son.

But professional, competitive athletics holds a powerful sway on how we talk about and evaluate skating, even if you subscribe to the 'its totally an art, dude' school of thought.  Just read any skate mag, and see how those valuations creep in, with skate 'careers' described in a similar trajectory to football or basketball, even if the dude in question is working an alternate job the whole way through.  This affects us as normal punters, consciously or otherwise feeling 'past it' when mainstream athletes our own age start retiring, even though they exist under a totally different set of circumstances.

But, I strongly believe nothing affects our feeling of when we can and can't skate than the perceptions of others...  the assholes: the subject of the next post.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Be more Swede

With the large indoor park in Nottingham closing its doors (as of 1st May) social media chatter has jumped between hopes that the current owners will find  new investors to bold dreams of brothers getting involved themselves and putting money down before the ramps are taken away.

But without careful reflection, simply jabbing the repeat button on the previous strategy will result in exactly the same outcome a few months down the line.

Running an indoor skate park in the UK, and anywhere in Northern Europe, is a worthy thing to do, and hugely important for the local scene  - given the prevailing weather conditions for two thirds of the year.  However, recent history is strewn with similar stories - and Flo's Facebook post citing "increasing competition from outdoor parks and also lack of support from our local community" suggests both a fundamental misunderstanding of the service-community relationship and a lack of imagination. 

This gap between how things are and how things could be looks even wider after viewing Phil Evans' incredible 'Coping Mechanism' documentary on the skate scene in Malmo - a small, post-industrial Swedish city, previously grotty but now the beneficiary of major regeneration, that has much in common with grand old Nottingham (something identified with actual science !!!?! in some research I produced for Nottingham City Councils' Growth Strategy in my day job). 

Coping Mechanism is a film that is hard to watch without thinking "we should do things differently."

Rather than raging against a 'lack of support' from the community, as if such support were a given right - the skaters and entrepreneurs of Malmo have thought creatively about what they want their scene to look like over the long term, what needs to be done to achieve that vision, and how viable businesses and public services can help achieve that.  Whilst the Malmo street and DIY scene, Pontus and Polar all provide inspiration for the rank and file skaters, of all ages, ability and gender, Skate Malmo and the Bryggeriat indoor park & high school provide ideas for those with grander designs within their local scene, including prospective entrepreneurs and skate park campaigners looking for a more fruitful dialogue with local government.

Demand for indoor skate parks is fundamentally seasonal; urban business floor space is expensive; and councils and government agencies are loathe to give money away to anyone who doesn't appear to know what they're doing (unless they're re-constructing Lady Bay skate park, unfortunately).  However, Bryggeriat has flourished - achieving significant public funding from the Swedish Government, genuine high school status, and bagging that recent Berrics coverage courtesy of Chris Mulhern - facing those same challenges.

Skateboarders will always favour the outdoors when the sun is shining: we should not be blamed for this behaviour.  However much time top pros now spend in southern Californian warehouses to maintain their bankability, the rest of us giddily race outdoors at the first sight of dry concrete.  This doesn't make us disloyal customers - we're simply behaving as skateboarders always have and will do: its predictable, and any business plan needs to account for this.

A well run indoor skate park has to do two things: plan for this seasonality and draw on income streams significantly in excess of just admission fees - in other words, be more than 'just' a skate park.  This is where the Bryggeriet example comes in, even though Conservative Britain is far from social democratic Sweden.  If we want a sustainable indoor park, within a healthy, productive and fucking rad scene, the following lessons are surely worth thinking on:

  1. Do not plan to make profit in the traditional sense (this also goes to those setting up board companies right now).  This sound obvious, but the objectives in a business plan tell your bank and other investors (e.g. venture capitalists) what you expect to achieve, and what's in it for them.  If you promise significant returns, and then go off and build a skate park, you will have disappointed investors who will want their money back.  If your objectives are social, qualitative rather than quantitative, a skate park (or portfolio of multiple skate parks) won't make you rich, but it may attract a different kind of investor.  In short, a skate park in the UK is much more likely to be sustainable if it looks more like a social enterprise or charity, rather than a traditional for-profit company. 

    This fundamental difference in business objectives, and the kind of organisation delivering them, affects how much and what kind of money you can access....  which brings us to the need to:
  2. Secure public funding.  Very few long-running UK skate parks survive through private revenue alone.  Entry fees and revenue from events may suffice through the autumn/winter - but they are unlikely to be sufficient to cover the spring-summer slump, year after year, unless you try to compensate by marking up the entry price: in which case you push costs beyond the means of punters in their teens and early twenties (i.e. your majority demograph), or you need to draw in hundreds of casual, short-term users on scooters (mainly small children) - driving out the people you built the place for in the first place. 

    Even in these austere times, there's a lot of public and third-sector funding out there - if you can make a sincere case and are then willing to deliver the promised outcomes.  The guys who set up the House in Sheffield credited the importance of a Prince's Trust grant in an interview in Sidewalk, whilst the original establishment of Skegness' X-Site plaza and indoor park was supported by major regeneration funding secured through Lincolnshire Enterprise and the now-defunct Regional Development Agency.

    And the timing is ripe for this.  The next round of European 'structural' funding starts imminently (the European Regional Development Fund, ERDF, and the European Social Fund, ESF, for 2014-2020), funding bids for which will be considered by the Local Enterprise Partnership - with literally millions of Euros available to those organisations who can meet the criteria.  The likes of Sport England and the Arts Council, although heavily affected by cuts, have policy objectives around 'raising participation' for children and adults in sports and active lifestyles (a clear rationale for funding a skate park) and in the arts (more of this later).

    Accessing this sort of investment may make a skate park viable in the long-term, but cannot be pursued lightly.  If you are aiming to cynically hoover up every bit of public or charitable funding possible, you are not only the worst type of person - you'll also never make it through the long meetings, application and monitoring forms, and evaluation required (quite rightly - this is public money that could otherwise be spent on health centres, care for vulnerable children, etc. - impact needs to be provable). 

    It has to be approached with a heartfelt aim of using skateboarding to meet the social objectives of the funding applied for - which of course it can: we all know dudes who'd be lost to drugs and alcohol if not for skateboarding. 

    There are also a load of creative ways a skate park can meet such social inclusion and regeneration objectives....
  3. Diversification.  Indoor skate parks need large premises / Skateboarders are polymaths with an appreciation of diverse but related interests - fine arts, graphic design and web-based multi-media, photography, music, journalism, architecture, healthy lifestyle practices such as yoga, vegan cooking, etc. (as well as unbelievably unhealthy living - but lets leave that to one side), to name a few (and I can name some brothers with an interest and annoying skill level in all of these). 

    In Mulhern's Bryggeriet documentary, former London locatee (and one time Unabomber am) Gustav Eden talks about how young skaters absorb knowledge across a broad spectrum without necessarily recognising it, giving them an educational 'head start' on other young adults - as long as they are able to recognise the connections between skate board life and the wider world, which is where facilities and mentoring can play a really important role.  Eden talks about using what teenagers love to motivate them to engage in the skills they need for the rest of their lives.

    A well-thought out business plan could tap into these opportunities to generate diverse ways of productively using all that unused space.  A dark-room, that local photographers share and pay a small rent on?   Gallery space, perhaps in the café area, with a rotating cycle of stuff from photographers and artists?  Can the café area double as space for evening and weekend art lessons?  First aid courses? Film premieres and lectures?  Funders like interconnectivity - so time spent leafing through Nottingham's Growth Strategy, the Creative Quarter, etc. will pay dividends.

    Combining all of the things skaters are interested in, and good at, under one roof, can help you:
  4. Achieve social rather than commercial objectives.  In order to access that all-important public funding in a legitimate way, and achieve the kind of things that may stop us all burning in hell for the ignorant-ass hip hop and metal we listen to, linking the use of space with meaningful objectives is paramount. 

    Creative thinking can link what is necessary for public funding with what you would want to achieve for a productive, inclusive skate scene - diversity in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background; harnessing the efforts of volunteers who'll give you their time just for the dumb fucking love of it; and connecting to and supporting other ventures across the scene (local shops and companies - in and connected to skateboarding).

    Despite the excitement generated by the Bryggeriet school documentary, I would be very surprised if Britain were ever to host something similarly progressive-minded   - given the leap of faith required to let kids learn by doing what they love (remembering that Bryggeriet is so much more than just allowing kids to skate in sports curricula, which is occurring in the UK).  Michael Gove, for all his talk on freeing up creativity in schools, is no progressive. 

    But, if we want - and I certainly do - skateboarding to embrace and benefit a wider demograph than upper-middle class 18-25 year old white males in Supreme 5-panels/ Teutonic side-partings (they'll be fine, indoor park or no, there's still Instagram) - the loss of an indoor park provides opportunity to think of the kind of stuff that should happen to secure our scene in the long-term.  Skate lessons for young kids - boys AND girls, working with local schools  and (most importantly) Academies in more deprived areas; getting parents participating rather than just standing there worriedly...  'rad dad'/mum' shouldn't be a derogatory term (Telegraph columnists can go sit in a puddle);  Working with Broadway and the Contemporary to build on those film and art links....  some of the output brothers casually shit out and bung on youtube stands up pretty good.
None of this makes money, but it justifies funding.  The two things are different - one might make a couple of individuals some cash in the short term; the other supports the scene, and the local industry, to be something we will all benefit from in the long term - and will create more sustainable employment.  Social enterprises might not make huge profits, but they can pay living wages - for a broader range of motivated people than the (sadly all too common) fare of a couple of bored looking blokes sat by the entrance who desperately wants to shut up for the day, and love skateboarding far less for working within it.

I'm sure brothers in progressively minded parks like X-Site and the House are already nailing much of this.  But I live in Nottingham - and a lack of an indoor park will hurt come October.   

Thursday 3 April 2014

The Stainless Steel Rat

"We must be as stealthy as rats in the wainscoting of their society. It was easier in the old days, of course, and society had more rats when the rules were looser, just as old wooden buildings have more rats than concrete buildings. But there are rats in the building now as well. Now that society is all ferrocrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps in the joints. It takes a very smart rat indeed to find these openings. Only a stainless steel rat can be at home in this environment."
(Harry Harrison, 'The Stainless Steel Rat', 1957)

This morning I had seriously wanted to write some kind of acerbic response to Lee Coan's article in the Telegraph Online (normally for newspaper's web presences, putting 'online' after their title is passé and pointless, but for the Telegraph all this modern shit is still pretty novel, confusing and frightening).  But then I decided that a far more positive response -  that would simultaneously refute and devalue everything that article, and its writer, stands for - would be to post some stuff about my friend Ian Rees - skateboarder, adventurer, mystic and weirdo.  Dave Bukowski Bevan has already written a great qualitative piece on this dude in Sidewalk a couple of months' back - but, to my knowledge, he's never had a full interview/'haunts'/'shine on' thing in Sidewalk or Kingpin, despite racking up photos in both over the decades.
Its timely to shine a light on Ol' Dutty Donno, not just because he's still shredding hard on all terrains, but because his successful existence sticks a finger up at (and just up) everything that snide article in the Telegraph said about skateboarding 'after a certain age'.   Interestingly, I think if the columnist responsible were to meet Rees - he'd probably come away snorting that he seemed like a "pretty interesting chap."  This is testament to someone who hasn't compromised in living the normal life (avoiding mortgage plus job that you hate), and has maintained conviction in doing this on his own terms - travelling, skating to a ridiculous standard, reading widely, and manufacturing some of the most surreal, perverted actually-did-happen stories known to man.  Myself on the other hand - house, job I hate etc. - if I were to meet Lee Coan, he'd walk away thinking I was some hateful loser, who'd failed at life, even though, in career terms, I've done OK.  But I wouldn't go into this hypothetical meeting with 100% conviction that my path had been a good one - I'd be full on compromise and uncertainty.  And the occasional 1990s rap reference.  Rees has the capacity to charm even the most close-minded of people - to the extent that they'd fail to bat a hypothetical eyelid as he inevitably shared a graphic story about getting one's genitals stuck somewhere terrible.
First scan is from a copy of an August 1995 Sidewalk curated by Scotty at 42, Rees' 'First Offence' (pre First Light rename....  didn't RAD magazine used to call their equivalent 'Fresh Meat'?).  This flat bar is behind Showcase cinema in Nottingham, which Jon Weatherall had a contents page crooking - a 50-50 on this is rock hard though, as its so close to the corrugated wall. Try it... think its still there.  Me and a buddy went with the express objective of crooking it a few years ago as a mid-winter Weatherall homage mission.  I succeeded, he failed...  it rarely works that way round. 
This is from the August 1997 Sidewalk, back when they did a regular feature called 'twisted' with dudes succeeding at weird, tricky, scary stuff - which Rees excels at.

Final two photos for this post are two Icon ads - the now defunct Rollersnakes-owned brand of the late-90s-to-mid-2000s, pre-taking on the Unabomber brand.  Icon never quite found their image, but they had a diverse team of mainly midlands-based rippers - including, at various times, Scotty, Smedley, Rees, Culshaw, Derby's own (Franken-)Fletcher, Mark Vasey, Dan Leech, Brad Garner, and a few others.  The first, from May 2005 is at the old Sainsbury's hip in Beeston.  Stacey Lowery tres-flipped this on some tour or other, Joel Curtis back 5.0'd it, and Mark Baines did a tricky front-side noseslide to revert thing.  Rees' front crook is proper amazing - and at the time when the building behind was due to be demolished (sadly along with the banks, hip and bar) - so the run-up and out was even worse than it looks.  Me and my buddies lived around the corner and used to skate here almost every night - and hardly ever touched the pipe/bar.  Second photo is from Livi - in 2006, in a Nottingham bros trip to Scotland, that remains one of the best skate trips of my life - Rees on a mini bus driving, non-stop shredding, weird story telling, transcendental time-keeping tip the whole way

Friday 3 January 2014

Smudger: The Scotty Underdown Pro Shoe

In order to say both "happy New Year" and "happy birthday Scotty", here's a picture saved by Non Stop - clipped from a very early copy of Sidewalk  - that didn't readily fit into any of the loose themes of previous posts.
I'd date it at around 1995-96 - and its an ad for the 1990s home-grown skate company STM, based within Rollersnakes, which produced boards, clothes and, more importantly, a zine ('The System') and a VHS video magazine ('VideoLog) in the mid 1990s.  I say "importantly" with reference to the contributions both the zine and video mag made to UK skate history, as 'The System' provided early jumping points for Sidewalk dons Andy Horsley (as photographer/editor/writer) and Ben Powell (who I clearly remember being pictured in one issue, ollieing over one of the benches in Broadmarsh bus station).
Anyway, all of the Rollersnakes/STM output of the time was in keeping with the now well-established tradition of royally ripping the piss out of beloved co-conspirators, American skateboard heroes, and cross-over attempting corporate giants alike. 
This STM ad combines all three elements.  Dope photo of bonafide street urchin with a long-expired nickname (does anyone still call Scotty 'smudge'?); a piss-take of American pro-shoe ads (with features including "toe venting system, infused with the power of the dark one....  authentic dog shit smell"); and a photo of wrecked pair of Reebok's abortive attempt to copy Airwalks with 'Scotty' written on them in tippex. 
Scott rips on a skateboard, and has far smarter trainers these days.
My first ever skateboard was a Rollersnakes complete with an STM deck (maroon, with a simple Dark Side of the Moon-style pyramid line drawn motif), purchased in the summer of 1996 during a weekend visit to Nottingham, after watching Rob Johnson fly over a full-sized road cone in Market Square.  I decided it was the dopest thing I'd ever seen, and I had to at least give it a try.
On the subject of dope things, check this photo of Gaz Jenkins from Sidewalk in the early 2000s conquering the National Watersports Centre steps.  Happy New Year.