Crack & Shine

To finally have this book in my hands after months of waiting for it to come out is a great feeling. I’d seen various preview images from the project over the few weeks before release, which just fueled my impatience further, and after seeing the launch exhibition I knew that it was probably going to live up to my expectations.

Freshly racked from their website, here’s a brief account of what to expect: Featuring forty of the most exciting and prolific graffiti artists to have lived and painted in London, Crack & Shine is the only London graffiti book ever to be published.

It’s funny to read that: I’d never really thought about whether London had been properly portrayed in a graf book before. Little bits here and there, token features in foreign compendiums and a scattering of magazine cuttings. All had generally been disappointing tributes to one of the rawest and progressive scenes out there. Graphotism tried its best at times, Hold No Hostage was dope, Bomb Alert went a step further, but magazines seemed to be as far as the coverage went.

And that’s where this book steps in. Even the title of the book is spot on, referencing the dominant dub style of many of London’s elite writers. If you weren’t down, you weren’t gonna find out very much and outsiders who tried to muscle in were dealt with in a variety of ways.

In the words of Dreph, “The London graffiti scene was a closed and unforgiving one. Information was guarded.”.

So taking on the task of documenting the history of London’s graffiti scene was clearly never going to be an easy job. For each person you pull out as an enigma, there’s another twenty who deserve just as much exposure. Whilst there have been whispers of another book in the making over the past few years, it was a pleasant surprise to hear that Crack & Shine was more than just rumours and was actually being printed. So I paid my £25 (via their website) and waited for the book to arrive.

First of all, the book isn’t a thrown-together collection of blurred photos and egotistical quotes. If you’re wondering what to expect, maybe flick back through your graf mag archives, pull out issue 9 of Graphotism and remind yourself of the DDS feature. All the good things that were in there – Brixton roof entrances, unseen full-colour panels, yard shots etc. – are all present and correct, but surrounded by loads more things you won’t have seen.

Instead of simply being a nice picture book, there’s great text to accompany everything. Interviews and quotes from people who shaped the way London looks today are given generous amounts of space. So instead of a collection of ‘Q+A’ journalistic nonsense, you have people like Bozo giving a first-hand account of painting Farringdon with Fume, Fuel, Teach and Elk. Or the background behind Zomby and Sham’s Christmas trackwalk up the Northern Line (I was living in Tooting at that point and remember taking flicks of the damage the week after). You’re probably not going to get that kind of personal account anywhere else.

There’s a strong emphasis on Tubes, which gives a harder edge to everything, and the mix of featured artists generally keeps to the core groups that have been out there relentlessly. You get hardcore writers like Zomby, Teach, Diet, Fume, Sub, Siege, Drax, Prime, Sub, Steas, Dodo/LDS, Pic, Grand, Fuel and Elk showcased alongside newer (and equally prominent) groups and individuals such as TPG, ATG, Vamp and Neas. You could sit and point out omissions perhaps, but it won’t make you look very clever.

Sput and Revok’s perspectives as foreign visitors sit a bit awkwardly on first glance, but when you read through their accounts, it’s an interesting angle and something I’d never really thought that much about.

Aside from the excellent collection of graf flicks from the writers themselves, there’s a lot of great portrait and in-situ photography from Will Robson-Scott that adds an extra level of aesthetic to the project. The sharp layout, clean use of typography and other little details (I liked the page titling at the top of each ‘chapter’) make the whole book reek of professionalism.

It feels like a lot of the right people were involved throughout the entire process of making this book, so you don’t feel like you’re putting money into the wrong pockets when you purchase a copy.

Go and grab one of the 2000 copies from the Crack & Shine site before it disappears off the shelves. Easily one of the best graf books I’ve seen to date.

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