Cult Streetwear | a book by Josh Sims

I’ve got to be brutally honest: while the title of this book is probably the best way to sell it to a mainstream audience, the term ‘streetwear’ makes the bile rise in the back of my throat. Maybe it’s the non-committal nature of the word, maybe it’s because every leisure brand claims to fit into the category… I’m not sure.

But, that said, this book by Josh Sims does include a fairly broad range of brands and goes beyond the usual high street selection. I picked the book up out of curiosity (and the sharp 123 Klan illustration on the cover was certainly another reason) and once I started flicking through, I realised that the content was actually much better than my first assumption. Old, jaded and sceptical: that’s me.

Google the book and you’ll simply find a load of hype blogs copy-and-pasting the press release from the publisher’s website, which isn’t very useful. Let’s take you through some of the contents…

Split into three sections – Streetwear, Sportswear and Workwear – there’s a good selection of brands, profiled in alphabetical order. Kicking off with our friends at Addict, you get a one page bio of the label, with quotes and background information, before launching into a series of spreads showing design elements, garment shots and other interesting paraphernalia.

Other featured brands in the streetwear section include A Bathing Ape, Fuct, Goodenough, Maharishi, Neighborhood, One True Saxon, Stussy, Triple 5 Soul and X-Large. There’s a great section on Zoo York, which shows some of their old adverts (pre-Ecko involvement), along with some board graphics and I liked the unexpected Mambo showcase, with the page of original display cards and adverts too.

Moving into the Sportswear area, we kick off with a little section on adidas, before moving to Burton (the snowboard brand, not the UK high street retailer), Converse, Fred Perry, Lacoste, Nike, Puma and Vans. Nothing really unexpected in there, but it’s well-chosen and nice to see all in one book for once. The Workwear section is one of the most interesting (if short) parts: I liked seeing the Carhartt catalogue covers from the ’60s and the Dickies pages particularly.

The book doesn’t try to cram misinformed statements or cultural observations down your throat, preferring to stay factual and present easy-to-digest breakdowns. For that reason alone, I think it’s well worth picking up – a real asset to the bookshelves.

The only copy-and-pasting I’m willing to do on here are the book details, so here they are for you:
Paperback / 900 illustrations / 208 pages
292 x 220 mm / ISBN 978 1 85669 651 7

Phat Magazine | Hot Stuff For Hoodlums

My good friend Mr. Warnett covered Phat Magazine tremendously well over on his blog already, but I feel it would be an injustice to miss out on an opportunity to write a little about it myself.

Drawing parallels with other magazines doesn’t really work so well for Phat: it was a unique compendium of different topics, perhaps centred around skateboarding, but progressive enough to go off on a tangent at any moment. The only other real comparison might be with Spike Jonze, Andy Jenkins and Mark Lewman’s ‘Dirt’ magazine, but that’s a topic I’ll return to at a later date.

Before Phat, there was R.a.D. (Read and Destroy) magazine. And before R.a.D. was BMX Action Bike. When skating slowly infiltrated the pages of my much-beloved issues of BMX Action Bike magazine, I was initially dismayed! How dare they cut pages of BMX only to replace it with skateboarding photos? In 1985, I was still fully immersed in riding my BMX: trying to race very occasionally for the Bexhill Burners and then learn flatground tricks by copying people such as the Curb Dogs. Skateboarding was not on my radar at all at that point, so when December 1985’s issue of BMX Action Bike came around, I was surprised to see a 16-page ‘Skate Action’ special tucked into the magazine. Today, I would kill for a replacement copy of that pullout (please get in touch if you have one), but at the time I felt slightly annoyed.

Seeing my buddy Rich on his Variflex Twisted soon changed my mind and I gradually swapped two wheels for four, as BMX Action Bike morphed into R.a.D. magazine at issue 53.

R.a.D. was a complete anomaly on the shelves of the newsagents. Whilst there were other attempts to take ownership of the UK skate demographic, editor Tim Leighton-Boyce and his editorial team were by far the most influential. Freestyle BMX magazines tried to cram skating into their pages, but fell by the wayside early on, whilst Skateboard! and the abysmal Sk8 Action slowly faded into obscurity (Skateboard! was all ready to relaunch as ‘Crack’ or something, but it never materialised: I’m not surprised, with a name like that). R.a.D. truly held the banner aloft for the UK skate scene.

Due to a variety of shenanigans (Robert Maxwell being a main culprit), R.a.D was put up for sale and despite being offered to the staff who were running things, it was sold to another party who went on to ruin the magazine. Speak to anyone today about that period of R.a.D. and they might recall how the mag halved in content overnight. Meanwhile, the original R.a.D. team went and launched their own magazine: Phat.

Phat had a loose but unique structure that made it particularly accommodating to anything that was deemed worthy of publication. A cover feature formed a major part of the content, but the other parts of the mag were broken down into three different sections that went far beyond the realms of skate-only content. In short, the magazine hooked you in with the skate stuff, which was just as good as it had been in R.a.D., and then took you somewhere completely else. Little amusing lists (ie. ‘5 Reasons Not To Be A Ragga’ or ‘5 Fashion Items We Never Want To See Again’) were peppered between UFO articles and interviews with graffiti writers and comic book artists.

30,000 went out to the newsagents, ready for a hungry audience to consume. So what happened?

It was the cover feature on issue 1 that caused irreparable damage to Phat. A feature in The Sunday Telegraph picked up on the gun culture cover feature and used it to fuel a diatribe on how the teenage gang phenomenon was being encouraged by publications such as Phat. The reality couldn’t have been further from the truth: the gun culture feature was actually a fantastic argument against guns, written by the late, great Gavin Hills who wrote some truly great articles in his time. The cover photo (well-respected UK skater Matt Stuart, holding a replica Beretta with a daisy stuck in the end of it) and the ‘teenage gangsta’ headline gave the media the perfect ammunition to cause uproar from nothing. If they’d actually taken the time to read the article, things might have been very different.

The end result: some backers pulled out, John Menzies insisted on vetting every page before stocking it and in the end WHSmith decided they wouldn’t stock the mag at all. With their monopoly on distribution, it meant there was nowhere to go with the magazine, despite a last-minute attempt to move things under the Time Out wing.

So, with a limited sales outlet and a negative media frenzy, the magazine seemed doomed. Throw into the mix that the lead designer (the extremely talented Steve Hicks) was poached to work on another magazine (Mouth 2 Mouth, based over in the US) and that sealed the magazine’s fate. That said, the fact that Tim and co. managed to get the third issue out there before the coffin was sealed is a testament to their determination. In three issues, they’d made more of an impact on my life than any other magazine has done since.

On a personal level, I’ll always be extremely grateful to Tim for giving me the chance to contribute (a small number of product and music reviews) to both R.a.D. and Phat – something that inspired me to keep writing and led to me writing for a number of other magazine titles down the line. I still find myself pulling the old copies of Phat off the shelves and reminiscing. Thank you Tim.

C21 Publishing (the publishers of Phat) were genuinely innovative. Phat was one of the first magazines to begin using the Internet (in the early CIX guise) for both internal communication and inviting outside participation. Remember, this was 1993: most of us hadn’t even sent an email at that point, let alone logged onto a website.

As early adopters of email and other forward-thinking technologies, Phat was truly practising what it preached. Part of the mission statement said it was ‘a revolutionary new magazine for those who will be 21 in the 21st Century’.

The infamous ‘first issue’ that ultimately caused the unfair media backlash, Phat was talked about in a hush-hush tone as ‘the new magazine that Tim and the guys were doing’. My friend Ray (who was working as an editorial assistant) told me what was going on, and I was excited when I finally got hold of a copy. The thing that stood out was that there was plenty to read. I found myself spending ages trying to absorb everything in Phat.

‘The fun, the facts, the fear. Your guide to gun culture’

A great feature that ran through the facts and opinions on whether guns needed to join fashion and music as a complimentary (but often visible) accessory to youth culture. The ending paragraph simply states, "Practically all this world’s problems are caused by men with guns. Life may be tough and we all might want to be cool, but shooters are strictly for losers. Because the thing about guns is: they kill people. From Moss Side to Sarajevo: from Somalia to South LA; Bang-Bang and you’re dead sucker."

The reviews section in Phat was something else altogether. Where skate magazines had kept to equipment, clothing and perhaps the occasional video review, Phat delved into anything that had interested the team that month. As a result, you’d get little insights and personal opinions about anything from hip-hop albums through to television programmes. To someone ‘not in the loop’, it may have appeared disjointed, but to us, it was all relevant. The term ‘peer to peer’ never felt so appropriate.

The cover poked fun at the media backlash from the first issue (Lewis Goodyear holding a banana in a gun-like manner). The little bar down the side of the cover let you know what was going on inside, in case you felt nervous and the lead feature – ‘The top 100 babes’ – was more Viz than FHM.

One of the funniest and bizarre female run-downs I’ve ever read. ‘Seven pages of charming chew’ had me laughing and grimacing in equal amounts: there were clearly some diverse tastes at work on this feature! Nicole (French actress, Estelle Skornik, from the Renault car adverts) sat alongside Katie Puckrick (c’mon now…) and Jessica Rabbit (yes, the cartoon character) in a lighthearted and amusing celebration of the female form. The fact I had some video footage featured in the article (a chance liaison with a girl who’d been watching me skate Fairfield halls in Croydon) only added to my excitement.

Before Geoff became globally renowned for his skating abilities after emigrating to the US, he was practically a household name in the UK. Known for balls of steel and style, his little feature in this issue of Phat was nothing short of great.

Perhaps my favourite issue of any magazine of all time. With its ‘International Info Overload’ tag line on the cover and the cover’s ‘Theft special’ feature, the boundaries were blown to smithereens on the the final issue of the magazine.

OK: it’s not a full feature, but the little interview with James Lavelle, when he was in full flow with Mo’Wax was both inspiring and encouraging. The DIY ethics that Phat promoted were instrumental in my wanting to write later on in life. A great piece that really sums up the positive and realistic angle of Phat’s journalism.

An in-depth article that looked at the facts behind the question ‘does crime pay?’. With a shoplifter interview, a section on how much prison will cost you financially and a review of ‘The Italian Job’, it was a great (and unique) piece.

My friend Ollie was the model for this feature, which was pretty cool.

Deathbowl To Downtown | Skateboarding in New York City DVD

deathbowl to downtown dvd

To say that I was excited about seeing this DVD is an understatement: I’d been reading about the production for a while on various websites, blogs and magazines, and I was keeping my fingers crossed that it would reach the UK. Luckily for all of us here, the distributors realised they had a gem on their roster and made sure it was available for all.

Skating in New York had a beginning far removed from the Californian image of a long haired surfer guy weaving in and out of crowds on the sidewalk. And, although drawing a parallel might seem like a tenuous link, skating for us here in the UK wasn’t like that either. Cold winters (anyone else remember that dope Zoo York ‘wind chill factor’ advert and the Blueprint ‘we thrive on cold winters’ messaging?) , dirt, traffic, no legal spots… these are things that we shared with the NYC skaters. They had the Brooklyn Banks, we had South Bank: tolerated skating locations, but far from legal until more recent years. They have Supreme, we have Slam City. I could make a million of these connections, but that’s not what this review is really about.

I didn’t need any endorsement or positive reviews to know that this was going to be a real representation of skating in New York City. The role call of who was involved in the production and included in the footage was more than enough validation. Rick Charnoski and Coan Nichols were behind the excellent ‘Fruit Of The Vine’ film back in the late ’90s, which focused on the hunt and uncovering of backyard pools – another worthwhile viewing session, if you can find a copy.

deathbowl to downtown dvd

deathbowl to downtown dvd

So, what’s the film actually like? The main feature (ie. disc one of the double DVD pack) is phenomenal. It takes you from the very start of skating in NYC, from the ’70s and brings you up to around the ’98 or ’99 era. The photos and articles I’d read in Transworld or the Supreme/ Metropolitan/Zoo/Illuminati/Rookie/Shut ads I’d clip from Thrasher were great, but there really wasn’t too much visual material outside of that. Zoo York’s ‘Mix Tape’ or the incredible Eastern Exposure series were my first proper video introductions to what was happening on the East coast, but I knew there was more in the archives somewhere. So, that’s what you get here: the story of skating in NYC, with historical context and plenty of background information.

There’s nothing to question here. From Chloe Sevigny’s role as narrator through to Futura talking about the Soul Artists or Pete Bici, Bobby Puleo and Jefferson Pang on the ’90s Zoo York movement, it’s all totally legit. It was good to see the Sheffey and Coco Santiago shots from the first Shut era in there too: I remember seeing those in the magazines at the time.

deathbowl to downtown dvd

There’s a bonus disc with a whole host of extras – well worth the price alone – but the main feature is where I’ve been hitting rewind again and again. With the passing of Andy Kessler in 2009 and the loss of others such as Harold Hunter, Justin Pierce and Ali, this is a timely tribute to all those who’ve ever put urethane to concrete in New York.

deathbowl to downtown dvd

I suggest you hit up the official website here, and place an order at your favourite online film source. Peep the YouTube trailer below:

Style Wars | hip-hop & graffiti documentary

Filming began in 1981, following on from director Henry Chalfant’s

documentation of the early New York hip-hop and graffiti scene (best

demonstrated in his and Martha Cooper’s ‘Subway Art’ book – something we’ll return to later on Trashfilter). Chalfant linked up with Tony Silver and between them they filmed and collated over 30 hours of raw footage. The formative era of b-boying, with Rock Steady and the Dynamic Rockers is captured, but it’s the interviews with the graf writers that makes this so essential to me.

If you’ve ever picked up a can of paint or a marker, you owe it to yourself to study the film in full. The now-legendary clips of Skeme and his mother, the exploits of Seen and Duster, the wars with Cap and the MPC crew, Min One and Iz laying it down… It’s still just as invigorating to watch now as it was back in the ‘80s.

Documentaries come and go over the years and there have certainly been some fantastic efforts when it comes to documenting hip-hop culture. But nothing has knocked ‘Style Wars’ from its well-deserved pedestal.

Henry Chalfant and Tony Silver were forward-thinking enough to start

cataloguing and recording the pioneering days of a worldwide phenomenom that will outlive all of us today. As an open-eyed 8 year old, I couldn’t

necessarily relate to what I was seeing on the screen at the time, but I knew I wanted to find out more. Channel 4’s infamous screening one Christmas in the UK was carefully dubbed and shared until an official VHS release of ‘Style Wars’ appeared in the early 1990s. I made do with that copy until the

excellent reissue on DVD courtesy of Plexifilm in 2003. And now there are rumours of an HD version being created if funding can be found.

The excellent Style Wars website, designed and built by the legendary Mare 139 (who also features prominently in the film) was the first graffiti-themed website I’d seen where the design was as carefully considered as the content: the pieces and photos look great on there.

Tony Silver sadly passed away in 2008, but his name will live with future generations through his work on Style Wars. Henry Chalfant is still very much around, often attending exhibitions and shows, proving that he’s very much ingrained within the threads of hip-hop. His photographic partner Martha Cooper is also still shooting and writing, as her own ‘Hip Hop Files’ book will attest.

I had the opportunity to see some of Henry’s original prints (and sit down to a big screen showing of ‘Style Wars’) when in Paris for the ‘Born In The Streets’ exhibition. Judging by the crowd, the

magnetism won’t ever end.

Make sure you take some time to watch the film, whether you’re fully immersed in hip-hop or just have

the yearning to see a well-made and intelligent portrayal of one of the most exciting subcultures to have ever emerged.

adidas ObyO | MTN Boot 2

adidas - ObyO - MTN Boot 2

You can sit and approach a shoe ‘review’ in a number of ways: sitting and rewriting a press release is one way that works for some people, as does finding other online reports and copy-n-pasting their text as a quote. The day you see that here on Trashfilter is the day you have permission to extract my teeth with a hammer. I’ve had these adidas MT 2 boots here by my desk for a few weeks now, waiting for the chance to wear them: the all-white uppers aren’t going to be too forgiving in the London winter.

Kazuki Kuraishi’s subtle approach to design has long been celebrated in the Far East. Although he’s primarily recognised as one of the lead designers at Hiroshi Fujiwara’s fragment design, his work as a freelance designer over the past decade has resulted in a strong and consistent portfolio. adidas’s longstanding relationship with him culminated in 2008 with the launch of the ObyO (Originals by Originals, in case you were wondering) range: a series of products that reflect Kazuki’s attention to detail, love of technical fabrics and his characteristic muted colour palette.

I first met Kazuki in 2005 or 2006, when working on a research project for adidas Originals: I found myself lost in Tokyo for a week, but managed to link up with him for a short interview in the Originals store in Harajuku, before a short earthquake scared the hell out of me. Since then, I’ve watched his understated and strong design skills infiltrate wardrobes on a global level, somehow managing to make something that reads as ‘basic’ more interesting than you could ever imagine.

In his initial footwear strike in the ObyO range at the end of 2008, the black, white and red ZXZ Waterproof model really stood out to me. I’ve made enough regrettable purchases over the years to know when to leave the credit card in the wallet, but it was clear from initial rumblings that supply wouldn’t meet demand on these. With a Gore-Tex® upper, you could punish the hell out of them without destroying things – I’d love to pretend I went hiking on the fells with them, but the reality was a blur of walking round the streets of Soho, hopping on the Tube and drunken stumbling home.

adidas - ObyO - MTN Boot 2

The original MT Boot came out the same time as the ZXZ, but whilst it was nice, I went with its low-cut partner. This time around, the second incarnation of the MT Boot gets my vote. Available in two colourways (a more traditional black and dark blue combination is out there too), the white and green ‘tennis’ colourway is pretty interesting. Summer colours but partnered with a heavyweight construction means that the fear of being caught out in a rain shower can be laid to rest. A leather toebox might not be breathable for hot days, but a little style over function isn’t a bad thing. In fact, the reinforced leather toe eliminates the distress of tourist footprints ruining the ice-white look. Opinions seem divided on the strange attached-to-the-side tongue, but it actually works well, is comfortable and stops you having to fish around inside your shoe when the tongues move the side. D-ring lace fastening is all good with me too and I like the extended length right down the side of the shoe as it makes your foot look a little smaller. There’s no Gore-Tex® on these, but the ballistic nylon will meet the demands of most and looks great.

It’s Kazuki’s excellent attention to detail that really makes these stand out. The tongue labels, the green heel strikes and embroidered inner sole all give a true premium feel to a shoe that already ticked the boxes. I might return to this feature with a performance update once I’ve broken them in. Initial reports are extremely good.

adidas - ObyO - MTN Boot 2

One heads-up for anyone interested in buying them: check the sizing very carefully. The first pair I bought were way too tight, after following the same sizing as I did on the ZXZs. I’ve gone true to size on these, but it’s debatable whether I should have gone up an extra half-size in the end. Time will tell…

World Industries | skateboarding and anarchy

world industries steve rocco
world industries steve rocco
world industries steve rocco
world industries steve rocco
world industries steve rocco
world industries steve rocco
world industries steve rocco
world industries steve rocco
world industries steve rocco
world industries steve rocco
world industries steve rocco

Nike SB | Fluff book

I have to be honest – although I consider myself pretty well-informed in anything skate-related, this book initially confused me. A little exploration and research quickly informed me that Fluff is a respectable skate mag based in Holland, with a little more focus on creativity than most other magazines. Flick through a copy of the mag and you’ll notice that photography is given a priority over pages and pages of text.

So it’s very appropriate that Nike SB collaborated with the Fluff guys to create this incredibly impressive promotional book. My buddies Ray and Pete sourced us a copy (thanks!) to check out on Trashfilter and I’ve spent the past couple of weeks combing through the weighty lexicon: at 610 pages in length, it’s incredibly heavy (we’re talking around 4-5kg) and will give you dead-leg syndrome quicker than a long-haul aeroplane flight.

Photographer Marcel Veldman was given creative freedom to give his insight into the 19 European countries that form the background behind the visuals. You get plenty of full-bleed action, lots of great sequences and enough text to give you something to sit and read once your retinas retain their focus.

A very limited (ie. a rumoured 12 pairs per country, to coincide with regional exhibition spaces) Nike Bruin model was created as well, in a very nice light grey suede and canvas combination: the as-expected ‘overnight queue’ system kept the hype levels at a premium. Standing outside a closed store overnight in the depths of February’s icy conditions shows dedication!

The book must have taken a hell of a lot of hard work to compile and in some ways it’s a shame that it seems to be a limited item, considering the amount of skaters who’d probably like to own a copy. That said, it’s free (seriously!) and there do seem to be copies available through selected skate stores, so check if your local skate store has any left.

Check out the Nike SB Fluff website for more information.

80s Casuals | book review

I’d read that the 80s Casuals book was coming, but it was my ex-colleague Mr. Warnett who ensured that I dug into my pockets and purchased a copy with his own excellent write-up. Like him, I’m not a by-product of the casual movement, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the appreciation of fine clothing and footwear isn’t of interest. The closest I ever had to a living reference was my own uncle. His love of Sergio Tacchini, Fiorucci, Lacoste, Fila and adidas influenced my early sport shop trips, before I went the way of Beat Street and focused on a more b-boy aesthetic. That said, my continued obsession in several items (particularly jackets) wasn’t a million miles away from the casual connoisseurs. The working class ethic mirrored my own upbringing to a certain degree: like Gary, my polo shirts were more likely to have a glued-on shark motif rather than a crocodile on them. Mum certainly wasn’t paying £30 for anything credible like that.

Dave Hewitson and Jay Montessori’s labour of love has manifested itself in this great collection of images, facts and stories. There’s a foreword from director Nick Love, which seems fitting after his recent ‘The Firm’ revisit, and a short introduction before you get right into things with the adidas footwear section. Trimm-Trab, the eponymous Lendl range and the obvious Forest Hills are all featured (amongst many), with some great in-situ photos and classic advert scans. I’m all for nice clean product shots, but seeing the shoes in the casual environment really helps to tell the story of the movement. There are a couple of great pages about the Wade Smith store, which took me back to begging friends to find me pairs of Gazelles when heading up to Liverpool in the early ’90s: if there was one place in the UK that defined the term ‘treasure trove’, this was the spot.

Seeing one of my top three shoes ever with its own page was another highlight. The Nike Omega Flame didn’t immediately strike me as being a model that tied in to this world, but my personal memories of the shoe are of trying to convince my parents that my 8-year-old size 3 foot would be ‘fine’ in the size 9 display model in the shop. I’m still on the hunt for a reasonably-priced pair.

Clothing quite rightly takes up the remainder of the book, with pages and pages dedicated to tracksuits, jackets and denim. Flicking through brought back memories of queuing for Chipie and Chevignon, whilst the Stone Island crew left me a little confused: I knew I liked the jackets, but at that time I had no true cultural reference point for them. I didn’t stand on terraces and I was more likely to be painting the trains rather than catching the 6.57 from Portsmouth.

A good sized book – A4 is always preferable to ‘pocket sized’ – with 168 colour pages, this isn’t a quick flick through. In fact, whilst it probably shouldn’t be classified as a ‘sneaker reference’ book, it’s got more credibility than many publications lumped into that whole genre. Limited to 2000 copies, the £20 price tag should guarantee that it quite rightly sells through quickly. Buy your copy from here:

Dom Marley | photographer

Personal Effects | Hiroshi Fujiwara

When you’ve been crowned ‘the Godfather of streetwear’ by your contemporaries and followers, you’ve got a lot to live up to. And if anyone is going to qualify themselves for the accolade, then Hiroshi Fujiwara is probably a pretty good contender. His work for various brands over the past years has often been interesting and his attention to detail and thought process is something to aspire to. Add to that, he’s a very personable chap as well: he popped into the old Unorthodox Styles/Crooked Tongues office back in 2003/2004 along with Nike’s Mark Parker and Tinker Hatfield and we enjoyed meeting him.

This little book is nothing more conceptual than a little visual list of some of Hiroshi’s favourite items that he’s picked up. And when I say ‘items’, it’s as broad as it gets. You get a page of text (in both Japanese and English) and a photographic plate of each item, which ranges from technical Burton jackets, through to Gibson guitars and even his favourite elastic bands and artificial sweetener! Something like this could easily be a tasteless display of self-indulgence from others, but the little descriptions and the feeling of passion behind the selections makes for a very interesting snapshot of Hiroshi’s world.

Although this seems to be a Japan-only release, it doesn’t seem too hard to find if you have a quick search online.

Keep The Faith magazine

Over the years, a lot of printed UK graffiti mags and fanzines have come and gone. If I look at my own collection of mags from the past few years – from early issues of Graphotism and London’s Burning, on to projects such as the recent Not Guilty fanzine and the always-good Wordplay – it’s clear that there has always been a high standard of self-published works in the UK. Looking at online photo collections is great, but I appreciate the effort that goes into printed matter.

So when I heard that Keep The Faith was on its way, I felt it was a good chance to catch up with the editor and get his take on the disappearing (and underappreciated) world of UK graf magazines.

All City Writers | graffiti book

Newly published books on the topic of graffiti seem to be getting released weekly. I remember when hunting out unseen graf books would involve visiting poncy art book stores and then being coaxed into dropping £40 on some obscure German-language photo book. The old Zwemmer book shop on Charing Cross Road in London was a prime location for these, but hardly the most appropriate place to hang out unless you liked being with stuffy art types. We’ll do a proper write-up on some of our favourite graf books down the line.

The peak of the ‘street art’ interest in 2007/2008 had every fake writer producing watered-down and uneducated shit (seriously, has anyone seen the ‘Urban Cookbook’? I’ll be addressing that particular crock of shit in my graf books feature), so it was often hard to see through the haze of nonsense to find the good books.

I first heard of ‘All City Writers’ in the summer of 2009: it had a cool styling to the press release and website, and the claims sounded a bit too good to be true. I mentally scribbled it down as one to watch for if I ever saw it on the shelves (I’m not blindly buying any art/design/graf books ever again, after being disappointed with my Amazon orders so frequently). I wasn’t sure when it’d be out, so I was pleasantly surprised to have found it when we went to the Cartier graf exhibition in Paris: it stood out on their table of publications for sale, so I grabbed a copy. I say ‘grabbed’, but the realism is that I struggled to pick it up, as this thing is a beast! With 410 pages and a good inch-and-a-half thick with a hardbacked cover, it’s not something to take off the coffee table without a forklift truck. That said, leaving it there for posing points is a total waste, because this thing is packed with features, interviews and knowledge that you’ll want to read. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a graffiti book with so much interesting text.

The angle is mainly European, but that’s not to say there aren’t lots of US contributions. The first half of the book is the story of writing in Europe, showing how the influences of NYC spread across the oceans and infected a whole continent. The second half of the book focuses specifically on Italy, documenting the rise and growth of the scene there. That might turn some of you off, but trust me when I say this isn’t throwaway content by any means. The images and stories are incredible and it’s clear that the six years spent putting this book together were well spent.

One of my favourite sections was the comprehensive story about T.C.A. (The Chrome Angelz) and how they developed from Zaki Dee’s Trailblazers into one of the world’s most highly regarded crews after their subsequent ‘Spraycan Art’ exposure. Thought Mode 2 and Bando and the guys didn’t hammer the trains upon their European travels? Think again…

Drax, Elk, Coma and Don contributed some great content on the London scene, which was enough reason to buy the book anyway. Real history from the people who created it and not some kid who’s been taking flicks of his best mate’s stenciling career.

There’s a great timeline in the opening chapter that puts the European graffiti movement in parallel with the NYC scene – and plenty of interesting stories about the European writers making their first trips to try their hands at painting the NYC subway system. There’s nice features with various graf magazine editors (including a breakdown of what went down with the guys at Xplicit Grafx when the Parisian crackdown took place a few years back) and a lot of images from some of the best fanzines that have been part of the scene.

For the £30 or whatever it’s retailing at, this is one of few books that’s worth the money. At the time of writing, I’ve had this three weeks and I still haven’t finished reading it. Available from most of your usual online book vendors – and you can check out the official website here.

‘Né Dans La Rue’ Fondation Cartier graffiti exhibition, Paris

“This exhibition traces the origins of the graffiti movement while offering a panorama of the diversity of contemporary writing”. A Cartier-backed history of graffiti? With the right people involved? Really?

Casting my ill-conceived preconceptions about fashion houses trying to connect with youth culture aside, once I’d seen the photos from this exhibition begin to appear online, I knew I wanted to go and see it for myself. The days of wanting to go and see graffiti in gallery spaces have long gone for me, but the opportunity to go and see some genuine artifacts from the pioneering days of New York’s graf scene was too good to resist. A quick Friday night hop on the Eurostar (courtesy of my good lady) gave us a full Saturday morning to spend checking the exhibition out.

Approaching the exhibition space from Raspail Metro station, it’s pretty clear you’re in the right area: the front of the building is surrounded in wooden hoardings covered in graffiti. Whilst that’s all well and good, it was the ‘graffiti taxonomy’ (see Evan Roth’s site for some great background shots) on the glass facade that stood out. Individual letters from a wide range of different writers in Paris, showcasing the diversity of tag styles in the same geographic region. It reminded me a little of Rammellzee and Phase Two’s explorations into letterforms, but without the scary costumes and complicated technospeak.

Once you’ve paid your €6.50 and go into the grounds, you’re confronted with a massive chrome dub (courtesy of Amaze) and a walk around the back of the glass showroom reveals a hut with Seen throw-ups, a Shepard Fairey wall and a couple of other bits. All good, so far…

Upon entering the exhibition hall, a friendly-but-firm voice told me ‘no photographs please’. I think my speechless expression said enough: you can’t claim to be presenting graffiti in its truest form without allowing complete freedom to let people document it themselves. Luckily, it wasn’t very difficult to take a few low-key pictures as we walked around – the staff were busy monitoring a class of schoolchildren, so it was pretty easy to get a few point-n-shoot shots. But this was one severe black mark to the organisers, especially considering I’d held out from buying the exhibition catalogue in the UK (Magma sell it for a fiver less) so that I could buy it from the ‘official’ vendor.

The ground floor has a selection of large freestanding walls, with art from a variety of different writers and artists on there. A couple of things stood out (such as the Jon One sculpture-framed piece and the Delta wall), but it was clear the downstairs section was where the real treats were being kept. In the first room, there was a cool handstyle animation on loop (by Evan Roth and Katsu), facing a wall with two nice Part One pieces on. Seen’s recreated ‘Hand Of Doom’ piece filled another wall, but the true gold came in the form of two exhibition cases with original sketches and blackbook pieces in them. Dondi and Tracy 168’s sketches looked as good in the flesh as they did in the books. Seen’s original sketch and photos of the ‘Hand Of Doom’ wholecar was pretty exciting to see, having looked at that piece again and again in ‘Subway Art’ over the past 20 years. Henry Chalfant’s contribution was great to see: a wall of photographic prints, featuring both well-known subway panels and a couple I hadn’t seen before. There was also a large presentation case with a transit worker’s uniform (as worn by Seen when painting trains) and a door with lots of classic NYC writers’ tags scrawled on.

Walking past a cool/weird Blade piece (a list of writers who’d died, bordered by mirrored walls and tags), the next room had a large projection of ‘Style Wars’/’Wild Style’-era footage, surrounded by some vintage canvas works by Futura, Quik and Lee. The highlights of this room were the Lady Pink/Lee denim jacket and the ‘Aboveground’ gallery poster, following on from the MTA’s anti-graffiti campaign. Walking out of this room takes you down a tag-battered catacomb and back into the main room. Exhibition over? Not quite.

As I pushed my way past over-zealous kids on the stairway, I went up onto the first floor bookshop, where I was quite literally blown away. I had to stop in my tracks to take in the comprehensive selection of graffiti books. They had easily over 100 different books there, ranging from just-released tomes through to various exhibition catalogues and classic publications. I’d only intended to purchase the official guide to the exhibition (which I still did), but also ended up with the Blade monograph, a signed copy of the ‘Seen City’ catalogue from his 2007 show – and the recently-released ‘All City Writers’ book. I also found ‘Stations Of The Elevated’ on DVD, which was an unexpected surprise. Posters were reasonably priced at €6 and everything was properly browsable before purchase. The best collection of graffiti literature I’ve seen in one place, for certain. With our arms weighed down with books, we left and went to see what Colette was saying, en-route back to Gare du Nord.

This is by no means the comprehensive history of graffiti that it promises, and some of the modern pieces are a little questionable in terms of relevance, but it was fully worth visiting. We thought we’d snuck in to see it before the planned closing date (which was originally set to be November 29th 2009), but they’ve just extended the duration until January 10th 2010, so plan a weekend to Paris before it finishes and have a look for yourself.

Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. 261, Boulevard Raspail, Paris 75014
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Flip Skateboards ‘Extremely Sorry’ DVD

With every modern-day skate film release, the online community proves a harsh and difficult audience to please. Peppered amongst the continual requests for download links and torrent files are opinions and spoilers – and although it’s good that anyone can voice their thoughts to a huge number of readers, it must drive the people behind the films nuts. I like to read what people think, but I also try hard to remember that these are opinions and not rock-solid facts. Some kid in Nebraska might not appreciate a bunch of flip-in-flip-out ledge trickery as much as I would, so I can’t let his damnation influence my preconceptions.

With a six-year gap between this and their last effort, Flip had a lot to prove with this one. Would ‘Extremely Sorry’ carry on the tradition of next-level progression that the guys have shown time and time again? I tried to avoid reading too much about the premiere reports. I couldn’t attend the London one, due to work pressures, so aside from hearing that it was favourable, I didn’t need to know the intricacies of the individual sections.

When people talk about Flip, they usually mention the team changes and other surrounding events that have happened over the past few years. Bastien, Arto, PJ, Boulala and, of course, Shane Cross have all come up in conversation many times – could the new video be able to fill the gaps that these guys left? Well, in short, yes. One of the things I’ve loved most about Flip is their nurturing of talent. Every year you hear about a new team rider who’s apparently amazing and who you’ve never heard of before. Their talent scouting is second-to-none and reminds me of the early ’90s World Industries strategy: doesn’t matter what your name is, if you’re good, you’re good. After Flip scooped up what was remaining of The Firm, it appeared that all angles were covered. You’ve got unheard-of mini-rippers sat alongside skating legends – and it works.

So, I picked up my copy via Slam City and pressed ‘play’. And this is how it went down.

As an opening curtain, Shane Cross’s section is a fitting tribute to one of the best skaters to ride for the team. His section only reinforces the thought that he was taken from us way too soon. Huge rails (including an unbelievable nosegrind), that nollie flip down the Rincon set, massive 360 flips and a fast and solid style makes this section one of the best openers you could have asked for. I didn’t even object too much to the added graphics and bits either. Rest in peace, Shane.

After Shane’s section, the general intro kicks in, with a rapid-fire minute-long assault of what’s due to come. If the website trailer didn’t get you excited enough, then this certainly will. Who better than Geoff Rowley to follow on from there? Half of us expected Geoff to have the final section maybe, but seeing him this early on in the structure only increases expectations for the rest of the film. Mixing the ‘big stuff’ up with some more of the controlled trickery that some of us UK skaters will remember him for years ago, this is his perfect part. Carefully edited, well filmed, interesting and slightly more diverse than most would expect. Box ticked.

I’m not going to run through the entire video piece by piece – there’s already enough spoilers out there – but I will pick out a few choice snippets that I particularly enjoyed.

Rodrigo TX’s part was always going to be impressive. The smiling man with the flip tricks excels beyond your wildest expectations. Plenty of pop, ledge trickery and body-contortion makes for an amazingly-good section. I could hardly ollie a bench off a bump, let alone switch frontside flip one from flat – and his kickflip frontside bluntside fakie on the rail in China was perfect.

Bob Burnquist’s section belongs as much in a stunt show as it does a skate video. Whilst I’m not a huge fan of the flamboyant canyon-jumping stuff designed to appeal to the X-Games crowd, I can appreciate the incredible trickery that goes down on the Mega Ramp. Watch it carefully, as he’s an absolute switch monster. Some people have claimed this to be a genre-defining piece of history, which it probably is, but how you ever aspire to conquer vert in a similar manner is beyond me. Entertaining as opposed to inspiring. But that’s because I’m a pussy who can’t skate vert, I guess.

One of the best sections on here. Luan Oliveira’s part is professional standard from start to finish. An amazing line of bench tricks right near the start sets the level for the rest of his section – and things only get more impressive from there. In my opinion, Luan skates a little like Mike Mo Capaldi which is an indication as to how good he really is. Ali Boulala’s got enough to deal with without people breaking down his section piece-by-piece: it’s entertaining, diverse and the perfect continuation of his part in ‘Sorry’.

A little three-skater section in the middle features Curren Caples (tiny/good/amazing pop and catch), Ben Nordberg (amazing! How come I haven’t seen this guy skate before?) and Willow (who does the best hardflip down a set of 13 stairs and has an incredible part overall). Can’t help but want to see more of those guys. Then Rune Glifberg turns up with the grind on those massive curved walls in the desert (I can’t remember the name of them, but they’re some crazy film set leftovers and absolutely stacked with vert) and a full-on concrete onslaught without any pads. Fast as hell, with some great backyard pool lines to interrupt the skatepark footage. Tom Penny’s section is classic Tom. People have already said, ‘Oh man – it’s not as good as I hoped… blah blah blah’, but you’re missing the point. The fact that Tom could hibernate for a year in the countryside and then turn up at your spot wearing Timberlands and still make the local hero look like a sniveling baby says it all. Watch for the smoothest ever tre-to-manual on the picnic table: dude looks like he’s on his way to buy groceries.

Lance Mountain’s section is so good. A great ‘family photo album’ intro, some lovely filming and editing and a whole lot of stylish pool skating. Whether it was intended or not, watching this part reminded me of Stacy Peralta’s production style.

Appleyard’s section is as good as better than you hoped for. That’s all I’m going to say on that one.

So, onto the last section. Dav-veeeed Gonzales. You’ve seen this once-little dude shoot up through the ranks of skate media for a few years now, so expectations were high for his part in this film. They gave him the final section for a good reason. Whilst I’m not into the ‘recklessness of youth’ (call me too old to appreciate a kid biting into a dead pigeon), this is a monster of a video part. He might do a huge backside 50-50 down a Hubba, but he’ll also do a kickflip-manual-to-front-foot-impossible on a manual pad too. A well-deserved ending section.

So, what’s the verdict? This is a damn good video. Some people have ripped it apart – editing, music (both of which I actually thought were great and appropriate), whatever – but approach with a clear mind and I’ll be surprised if you weren’t blown away.
You could download it, but pick up the DVD box-set and experience it full resolution on your TV as it was intended.