Saturday, 31 December 2011

Shit From an Old Notebook #2:
Early Learning The Hard Way.

(FIG. 4.1).

Here's something I wrote a few years ago when half of my friends appeared to be settling down while the other half of us were living out of vans and hotel rooms chasing teenage dreams of rock n roll around the world. Then my Visa went tits up and I went back to England. It was time to stop being a big baby and grow up... perhaps into a manchild like everybody else in East London.


A Sociology Lesson for Teenagers: The "Before I Reach Thirty" Index.

When you hit your mid-twenties or thereabouts you will notice a sudden spate of marriages among your contemporaries. The pattern will appear linear and you‘ll infer this is what adulthood is all about: getting your best suit dry-cleaned every three months for the rest of your life.

The reality is this is not a pattern. It is just a spike; a surge; the First Wave. Within two years there‘ll be no more weddings for the foreseeable future and, at least for the time being, your peer group will have split into two distinct camps:
• Those who chose to get married, settle down and have children.
• Those who chose to get wasted, dumb down and have abortions.

At the peak of the marriage trend, it will appear the field is wide open: "Just who's gonna make an announcement next? It could be anybody!" But in actual fact some people are more predisposed to settle down before the arbitrary thirtieth year than others. At the time it will seem impossible to tell, but looking back the signs will be painfully obvious.

FIG. 4.1: Subject displays nascent signs of arrested development and nonconformist disposition, observable through inappropriate behaviour and appearance relative to social context (he is the Wedding Photographer).

Skate Fuckups.

As a responsible role-model, Corey Duffell teaches kids how to fall correctly.

Here's an article I wrote recently for Leisure Magazine about how professional skateboarders are the worst (and therefore best) role models a kid could wish for. It ran as part of their 'Heroes' Season:

Read the article here.
Or if the above link doesn't work, try here.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Shit From An Old Notebook #1:
An Armchair Guide to Feminism.

Kathleen Hanna: obviously a celebrated feminist icon for no other reason than being the marital property of a Beastie Boy. Skim-readers and kneejerk-reaction types should note this caption contains sarcasm. (Image via Leoscheer).

An unwritten rule among writers is to not commit anything to print before the age of 25 because it will only embarrass you later in life. While trawling through an old hard drive at my mom's house, I found an article I wrote for [Sample] Monster zine at the age of 21.

Feminism was one of my (probably insufferable) cause célèbres during my late teens, accompanied by a curious desire to see Girl Power pop crossover with Riot Grrrl politics. So when I was given an open brief (the only proviso being to keep it light-hearted and accessible), a layperson's guide to feminism was the natural choice and I tackled it by taking myself and the subject too seriously and not seriously enough. (This is probably still how I write today).

Is it cringeworthy? Naive? Patronising? Sexist? You be the judge. Personally I'm quite proud my 21 year old self stayed in smoking weed and penning articles like this rather than going out to shitty nightclubs with you and pulling a different girl every night. If anything, as an increasing number of my friends become parents, I'm more embarrassed by my former pen-name 'Cot Death Chris' (a skatepark nickname derived from the fact I spent the first year of my life at death's door).


Many people might consider it ironic or inappropriate that the following ill-informed, armchair discussion of feminism is hosted by a man. Indeed, I am not Cot Death Christine, but Cot Death Christopher – a male! I have a pair of balls to scratch and a damned Y chromosome to pretend I know all about. I am a descendant of that fig leaf-wearing biblical goon, Adam, and possess a genetic makeup which permits me to whistle at passing women from atop a scaffolding, grow a handlebar moustache, fight in pub car parks and talk fast cars and football with my male counterparts. I have no real right to ramble on about women’s issues and the struggle against patriarchy, but I intend to do so anyway – not because I am an arrogant male trying to stake my claim on female territory, but because I have no LESS right than the multitude of men who preach twisted, bullshit token-feminism to the world on a daily basis.

Feminism did not begin, as the men in suits would have you believe, in the early 1980s with the release of that film about Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton working 9-5 in a New York office. In fact, the women’s movement has been around for centuries, campaigning for social, political and economic equality between the sexes. Early proponents of feminist theory included Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Mary Shelley, who – despite being upstaged by a daughter famed for writing a novel about an animated corpse and getting smacked-up on opiates with Lord Byron – achieved modest notoriety for A Vindication of the Rights of Women, one of the first radical feminist texts.

Things began to hot up in the early 20th Century, when Emmeline Pankhurst and her band of Suffragettes kicked the ass right out of the patriarchal establishment with their militant campaign for women’s rights to vote. Between 1906 and 1913, Pankhurst and her gang chained themselves to railings, heckled political meetings, refused to pay taxes, went on hunger-strikes and, in 1913, bombed the home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. By 1918, women in the UK had been granted limited franchise. 1920 saw women in the USA achieve the right to vote, and by 1928, the UK vote was extended to all women over 21.

The postwar years saw a far greater social and economic equality between men and women as a result of the industrial roles women adopted on the Home Front. In previous wars, a woman’s role had been a Florence Nightingale affair: providing third-world medical care and spreading venereal disease among soldiers fortunate enough not to have lost their penis to bombshell or bayonet. After proving during WWII that a hairy chest and a gravelly voice were not essential to the manufacture of arms or the driving of buses, things started to look up for the fairer sex.

Fast forward to modern times, and there now exists a 'myth' that women have achieved equality with men. With the exception of pissing on campfires, it would seem that women are free to do all of the things that men have always done. Job opportunities and civil rights are less of an issue now that girls wearing trousers in school and the televising of women’s football are topics on the current agenda. Post-feminists claim that gender equality has been achieved so there is less of a need for feminism today. I would argue, however, that there is more need than ever for feminism today. We need feminism to keep calling us men out on our shit, to nit-pick at all those little gray areas of inequality and, most importantly, to ensure that male chauvinism does not quietly regain a foothold while our society basks dreamily in the belief we have an egalitarian culture.

Take a look at our society now. The gender indoctrination still exists from birth with all the pink and blue clothing. Look at the children’s toy market, and it is plain to see that in a culture where men and women are supposedly equal, girls are still being directed toward A La Carte Kitchens and dolls that poo themselves, while the boys are encouraged to do whatever they damn well please – guns call the shots, remember! Though the armchair feminist does not deal in the mucky and misleading business of statistics, in adulthood it is plain to see that many women still earn less than men, despite performing the same roles. Meanwhile, our politicians, leaders and influential investors are still largely white, upper-class, heterosexual males – running a system that ultimately benefits and maintains the dominance of white, upper-class, heterosexual males.

If women are truly free from male dominance, why do they have to celebrate this ‘freedom’ by adopting a man-made social stereotype? You know kind of thing – the Career Woman; sassy, assertive and successful, juggling her business success with her well-managed domestic scene and monogamous sex life. More recently, the Independent Woman has emerged: cool, professional and strong-minded; not necessarily dependent on a man, and not necessarily interested in maternal life, yet in many ways trivialised (by men, women's magazines and Sex and the City) as a phase or flirtation before they ultimately settle down. Even the ‘Ladette’, who rejects traditional concepts of femininity and gives the blokes a run for their money is following the Girl Power trend – an ideology believed to have been created by the Spice Girls, but largely pushed by male management and disseminated through the media by male tabloid hacks and advertising execs.

These modern stereotypes are viewed by critics such as Cook (1992) as being positive, in that they allow women a successful "…reconciliation between the apparently rival claims of femininity and feminism." In other words, women are presented with an attractive and realistic solution to the dilemma of asserting themselves in a patriarchal society whilst maintaining their sexuality and gender identity.

Fiske (1990), however, sees this as a process of incorporation, by which the dominant groups in society take elements of the subordinate group’s resistance and use them to maintain a status quo. In this case, it may be that advertisers have taken the less radical aspects of feminist politics and incorporated them into an idea that appears to benefit women, but ultimately serves the interests of the capitalist male (by using the stereotype to sell products) and maintains a subordinate status of women (by reducing revolutionary solidarity by perpetuating beauty/ success rivalries within sisterhood).

One doesn’t even have to look far to see how this incorporation exists in our society. For instance, the diluted, vaguely feminist ethos of Girl Power was seen as acceptable to both men and women throughout the late 1990s, giving the public an inoculation dose of feminism to stop them moaning about the outdated housewife image lurking around from the 1950s. Meanwhile, the hardline academia of eminent contemporary feminists such as Kate Milett, Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer, who presented some groundbreaking and potentially revolutionary ideas, was often the subject of mockery. Real feminism, as opposed to the current trend of token-feminism, is rarely taken seriously, its theories often playing second-fiddle to the hairy-armpitted, man-hating, oestrogen-fuelled fishwife stereotype.

That is not to say that the armchair feminist cannot also criticise radical feminism. From the laid back, slightly drunk and slightly snoozy perspective of the armchair pundit, it is possible to embrace some ideals whilst simultaneously rejecting others. One quite dramatic example of ‘feminism gone mad’ (as that terrible rag, The Daily Mail, might put it) is the movement to completely overhaul the English language, under the assumption that it inherently disadvantages women due to being developed by men. One such proposal is to re-spell the word ‘Women’ as ‘Wimmin’, thereby removing a dependence on the suffix ‘men’ – an idea sound in reasoning, but ludicrously impossible in practice.

More bizarrely, as reported in The Spectator, a feminist group at Stockholm University are campaigning to ban urinals from campus due to the belief that, as Jasper Gerard reported, "…a man standing up to urinate is deemed to be triumphing in his masculinity, and by extension, degrading women." Apparently, standing up while pissing is considered "a nasty macho gesture," suggestive of male violence.

Of course, one can see the logic behind this argument, but once again it takes a man in an armchair to point out that when most men use a urinal, triumphing masculinity over femininity is the last thing on their mind. Conversely, they are concentrating on their aim, humming to themselves and trying to block out the uncomfortable fact that they are standing hand on penis, flanked closely on either side by two other men, also with their dicks out. Furthermore, male toilet habits are not a gender-exclusive club. If any women would like to join in with our ‘nasty macho gesture,’ they are more than welcome to stand next to me at the urinal and dribble down their leg.

On that note, with the tone sufficiently lowered, it is time for me to sign off. Before I go, though, in the spirit of feminism, I think that I should bow at least once to proposed custom and avoid ‘triumphing in my masculinity’ any further and piss sitting down – and what better place to do that than right here, in my armchair! Ladies, you’d better count your blessings you have been emancipated from the traditional housewife’s role – if it weren’t for modern feminism, you’d be cleaning up my mess! 

SOUNDTRACK: Fugazi vs Destiny's Child – 'Independent Room'

Friday, 9 December 2011

A Mug's Game.

Many moons ago I worked for a newspaper chain. Myself and two colleagues with a similarly absurd sense of humour instated a G5 Power Mac (at the time a state of the art machine) for the sole purpose of keeping a record of all the drinking vessels in the department. The types of mugs you find in workplaces made us laugh. In the interests of irrelevancy, said document will now be archived in this repository.


Observer Graphics Production Department Mug Inventory:

• 3 tier navy blue mug • Abstract pattern x4 • "Albion - Loyal Supporter""Andrew" • Arçopal France (white with floral) • Aspro Holidays • Birmingham City "Blue Army" • Churchill (green speckle with white base) • Cleggy's Baggies (West Bromwich Albion) mug • Cow & butterfly design • "Crunchy Juicy Apples" • David Beckham • Debon Air • "England" • Excelsior (white with gold trim) • Floral design • Friends • Garfield (Libra) • "Groovy John""Have An Ice Christmas""Hot Stuff" • "I Could Learn to Hate Jane Fonda""I Feel a Right Tit" • Just Mugs (turquoise with flower) • Leicester City Official Supporters' Mug • Lexus - Pauline • "Liverpool - Champions of Europe" • Behemoth Metallica Rebel Skull ceramic Mug • Octagonal mug with ship scene • Pale green Accounts mugs x6 • Pink & yellow with red swirls • Pink conical mug with elevated base • Plain blue x2 • Plain green • Plain smoked glass mug • Plain yellow • Ransat - bone china floral x2 • Royal Norfolk (white with floral) • "Screw U" • Sheep & insects design • "Shibden Hall, Halifax""Shopaholic""Snail, My House, Dog" • Snap-On • Star Wars - Luke Skywalker • Steelite International (white) • Summer Fruits • Takeaway Cantonese • That bloke with his ballbag out • The Beatles • The Blues (Birmingham City) • Tigger • Kanti's "Tone Please!" mug • Wallace & Gromit - "Yummy!""Whirlpool - The Big Turn On" • White with raised food pattern • "Wolves & You" (Wolverhampton Wanderers) • ""

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Brooklyn/ BK/ Crooklyn/ Brook-Nam.

VIDEO: Manolo's Tapes: New York City via Already Been Done.

Following on from the last post, here's more New York footage from the time when the East Coast ran skateboarding. It's all here: perpetrators catching beat downs, slams into oncoming traffic, Sal flips in in Timberlands, late legends Harold Hunter & Keenan Milton, Lennie Kirk's awesome boardslide @01:48... all pulled from VHS and set to the most triumphantly relevant soundtrack imaginable. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A Grudge Supreme.

'A Love Supreme' by Thomas Campbell, NYC, 1995 — Supreme Industry promo edit from 411VM #18 (1996). 

This charming three minute Supreme promo was the most captivating thing ever when it dropped in 1996, and in many ways it retains that allure now. It oozes Kids-era New York trillness, from a time when Zoo York, Alleged Gallery, Brooklyn Banks, Eastern Exposure 3, Grand Royal and X-Large ruled street culture.

I wasn't the only English kid to be seduced by this notion of New York. It was an environment we could all relate to – kinda like Birmingham, Manchester or London – only the streets were more raw, the buildings more grand, and the evenings enchanted by the mist of fire hydrant spray, the rumble of subway trains and the excitement of make-out sessions with cool girls that hung out at spots. (Cool girls that, for some reason, rarely chose to hang around multi-storey carparks, loading bays and ledges in the English Midlands).

My friends and I skated through suburban traffic in packs, És Sal 23s, shirts off and backpacks on both shoulders, not so much in imitation of the NY scene as young kids deluded we were part of it. People just didn't get where we were coming from. A couple of years earlier I remember going to the UK's oldest working arthouse cinema to suggest they screen a forthcoming film about New York skater kids by an unknown Tulsa photographer and a nascent cinematic auteur. I was laughed out of the building by people who should have known better. Eventually I persuaded a cinema in Chinatown to screen Kids but only myself and two friends showed up. Yeah, I was there etc. Sort of.

The downside to all this romance was that after waiting four years to finally make a pilgrimage to Supreme, I felt let down. I should have known that unless you're an active player in the local scenes they foster, skateshops are often pretty boring, seemingly elitist places. I was bummed on Supreme for making everything seem so awesome and then just being a shop instead of... I dunno... a magic portal directly into this video or something.

As unfair and irrational as it is, I still hold a grudge against Supreme. Not just because it fell short of my childish expectations, but because in my crestfallen state I went on to buy absolutely nothing. That's a whole lot of nothing I could now sell to people with a love Supreme at vastly inflated prices, or trade for the handful of Supreme items I genuinely would love to own. Don't worry, I do know I'm a dick.

Monday, 17 October 2011


If I was rich I would invest in an exceptionally tall horse that I'd mount for the express purpose of shouting forth any self-righteous moral standpoints I might have. Note on my less opinionated days I would ensure the animal was well looked after, probably by 'horsey types'.

For the most dogmatic of occasions, I'd also purchase a hillside plot where I'd go to get on my high horse. The land would be known locally as 'the moral highground' and I would remain there until my point was made.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Skate Tough or Go Home.

California Spot Graffiti (Photo by C.R. Stecyk III).

Is it a terrible double standard that I find aggressive localism perfectly acceptable — even kinda cool — at skateparks, BMX trails, waves and gang spots, but utterly abhorrent anywhere else in life?

Monday, 31 January 2011

A Whole Lot Less: The Sporadic Relationship Between Dr. Martens and Skateboarding.

Aesthetic perfection: Matt Hensley in Hokus Pokus (1989).

Some footwear is unquestionably affiliated with skateboarding. No conversation about skate shoes would be complete, for instance, without the mention of Vans. But for some otherwise iconic shoe manufacturers, like Dr. Martens, the link is so tenuous as to be almost non-existent.

Who would ever think of skating in Docs (or any 'sensible' shoe for that matter)? With their thick soles and heels they'd be downright impractical, surely? Well, yes, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been tried on occasion. And believe me these instances are so rare and beautiful they're the stylistic equivalent of Haley's Comet shooting past a solar eclipse during summer solstice at Stonehenge.

The Trailblazer: Bill Danforth. (Photo via Motor Punk).

While some skaters (most notably the Santa Cruz team) had already been pictured wearing Docs off the board, the first person I heard of actually skating in Dr. Martens was Alva gnarler Bill Danforth. I think this was less a deliberate decision and more a case that he was active in both the skate and skinhead scenes and his dress occasionally crossed over. Nevertheless I was super young and it struck me as utterly badass. So badass, in fact, that I covered one of my school textbooks in a poster of the 16-holed hero, and was promptly made to remove it because "he looks like a thug."

The Trendsetter: Matt Hensley, merch table hippie jump, Vans Warped Tour, 2000. (Photo by Larry Ransom).

The whole skating in Docs thing did not make total sense until I saw Matt Hensley's seminal video part in H-Street's Hokus Pokus. As the opening chords to Sub Society's 'A Whole Lot Less' droned out, Matt gave the concept of 'sensible footwear' the boot with a super styled, slow-motion bench lipslide in low top Dr. Martens 1461s (see screen shot at top of post).

Suddenly everything fell into place. Right before my eyes that whole Calvin Klein advert/ 90210 preppie look that was emerging at the time (but always seemed a bit too jock-ish for skaters) was legitimised. Never had stonewashed 501s, Bouncing Soles and griptape looked so good together. It was a victory for fashion over function.

Captivated by the aesthetic perfection, I rewound that intro many times over the years until the tape was chewed and the image imprinted on my brain in all its lo-fi, fisheyed, VHS glory. It was just one shot (Hensley was better known for the Chukka boots, stripey tube socks and shorts thing) but it's part of the reason my brother and I have frequently worn cuffed jeans, chainwallets, white socks and 1461s ever since.

Matt Hensley went on to become a skating and folk-punk legend, more on account of his talent than his footwear, but the Hokus Pokus style was a timeless look he still nods to today. When I had to fly home from a tour with Matt's band, Flogging Molly, having accidentally left my skateboard behind, it was shipped back to me bearing the words "Cheers Cree$e, thinking about you a whole lot less, Matt H," in reference to the lyrics from his classic video part.

VIDEO: Jason Lee (yes the actor) in A Visual Sound (1994).

Despite the overwhelming visual cue provided by Hensley in Hokus Pocus, the Dr. Martens and skateboarding association failed to develop beyond that solitary lipslide. On the basis of impracticality, the skateboarding community probably wrote it off as a joke (which, perhaps, it initially was).

Nevertheless, Hensley's spark must have ignited a flame somewhere, a flame that was patiently kindled by the likes of Jason Lee and Ethan Fowler, reaching a modest blaze upon the release of Stereo's A Visual Sound in 1994. This was a film that redefined the boundaries for lo-fi creative expression in skate videos.

VIDEO: Ethan Fowler in A Visual Sound (1994).

Nestled among its many artistic innovations were two sartorial skits clearly born of the Hensley skate-prep aesthetic, yet fleshed out to include a broader range of 'sensible' (dumb) shoes for skating in, Dickies slacks, cardigans, plain white Ts, sideburns, vintage bicycles, period architecture, SF streets and a swingin' beatnik informality to the skating. 

There was, of course, an element of ironic playfulness, but the skits were substantial, bold and confident enough to be taken seriously. There was some profound Art Direction going on: Chris Pastras, I'd imagine. While the embellished aesthetic didn't change skateboarding overnight, mid 90s skate fashion embraced a watered down, functionalist approximation: plain white Ts, cuffed blue denim, white socks and Simple shoes for the fresh; button-down shirts, jacked-up slacks, white socks and plain black low-tops for the hesh. Sadly, however, no Docs.

VIDEO: Man About Town Starring Kilian Martin, A/W 2010.

'Sensible' shoes, it would seem, have not touched griptape in recent years in any noteworthy fashion aside from the periodic creeper runs of veteran punkers in Thrasher ads. That is until this winter when Man About Town magazine dropped this stunning promo to support their 'Winter Sun' issue.

The resurrection of freestyle skateboarding with a 50s twist (courtesy of Kilian Martin) is a stroke of genius from Art Director Atelier Franck Durand. The nostalgic 2010 take on clean-cut preppie staples is the vision of Stylist Diane Boulenger, who adroitly selected Church Shannons (almost imperceptibly similar to DM 1461s) and 90s Vision Street Wear hi-tops. 

I'd put money on this promo being massively inspired by the historic cues noted in this post. Not that I'm implying they're biting the style, rather that they've done their homework and tastefully refined the fleeting, lo-fi skate-prep aesthetic via the high production values of the fashion world. Indeed, if you listen carefully beneath Ricky Nelson's dulcet crooning you can almost hear the distorted opening guitar stabs of 'A Whole Lot Less' drawing you back to where it all began.

SOUNDTRACK: Sub Society – 'A Whole Lot Less.'

UPDATE:  Also see this post for more on Matt Hensley and the H-Street era.

Matt Hensley, handstand. Image via Gary Warnett. I became aware of Gary's blog after he gave this post a glowing review and a number of referrals. He's a more committed blogger than I am, and he writes insightful and funny posts about all manner of good stuff from an 'industry' perspective. You should definitely check him out.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Dumb & Dumber.

I can always rely on my brother to be more retarded with technology than me.