I wrote a piece for 032c on the subject of non-skate shoes being used as skate shoes a short while ago. It was actually meant to be part of a bigger interview with some people, but we struggled to get the Q&As in time, making it more a stream of consciousness than a cohesive history. Continue reading THE ART OF SKATING THE WRONG SHOES
We watermark crew members might be too cheap to pay to get our Getty shots unlabelled, but some images need to be shared. I won’t apologise for my relentless sports store nostalgia, and these 1984 shots of respected investigative reporter Armen Keteyian posing in a branch of Athlete’s Foot for a Sports Illustrated story photographed by Lane Stewart. There’s a beauty to those early 1980s walls, seeing as the majority of the stock has made multiple comebacks, but this one is a real beauty — 990s, Campus, Lavers, Air Forces, Grand Slams, Equators, Internationalists and Challenge Courts all seem to be present. As far as ageless design goes, it never got much better than this era. Flawless stock. Thousands of great shoes followed, but they were never future proofed like this display of masterpieces.
On the subject of watermarked imagery, this footage of skaters at South Bank from the 1970s via The Kino Library is gold. It’s devoid of audio, but you can open up another tab and play Back Street Kids by Black Sabbath or something similar to give it extra energy. Given the close call this historical area had over the last couple of years, this kind of thing is extra important. Plus, it was Go Skateboarding Day this weekend, which makes this extra timely.
I’ve covered Phat magazine on this blog before (though, by using Imageshack back then, all of the imagery has since vanished — something I’ll rectify.) This was actually written for Ala Champ Magazine, but a format issue rendered it vaguely Burroughsian with a cut and paste approach to narrative. You should still buy issue eight of that publication though because it’s excellent. Here’s the article in its full form.
“There are those who are not happy about handing over our beautiful country to these ignorant hoodlums.“
(Auberon Waugh from The Daily Telegraph in a discussion about Phat magazine, 1993)
Nothing screams a certain early 1990s naivety like phat. Phat beats. Phat denim. It was still a mainstay of po-faced anti RnB rap-night flyers until the end of that decade. Then somebody decided that the extra letter was a waste of consonants and spelt it correctly again, but some phats are harder to shift than others.
I was witness to a failed coup on paper as a bored teenager on a trip to Devon in summer 1993. As a magazine obsessive from an early age and far from privy to any industry politics, I was perplexed as to why R.a.D magazine — a seminal British skate publication — had become little more than a pamphlet, but the appearance of a R.a.D-like UK-based title called Phat on a village newsagent shelf had me intrigued. Those glossy, easily damaged pages hurled multiple topics together — movies, girls, video games, music, skate and BMX — during the boom time for Pete Rock productions, In Utero, big clothes and World Industries that still causes misty-eyes in thirty and forty somethings, plus legions of premature nostalgics wishing their twenties away.
Phat spoke to me. Loaded wouldn’t set the lad-mag movement off until Easter the following year, though Phat had the spirit of that magazine’s more literate early intentions with Gavin Hills — who wrote for both R.a.D and The Face before his tragically early death in 1997 — as editor. Whereas the male-orientated successes following in Phat‘s wake would celebrate the lad mentality, Hills’ editorial would sneer at the “Kev” everyman characters whose attitude was at odds with its target readership — an in-the-know 13-16 year old male audience.
Speaking for the newly formed C12 Publishing, ad-manager Laurence Stubbs told the press that this was a project, “…aimed at the pre-Face and Arena reader.”
America had the fabled Big Brother magazine (which had caused its own outcry for a suicide article in 1992) that no store in my hometown stocked and around the same time I discovered Phat, Sassy‘s little brother, the BMX-centric Dirt (helmed by Spike Jonze and Andy Jenkins) would crop up in a comic shop packaged with a copy of Silver Surfer. All three shared the same attitude and, like Phat, Dirt would be short-lived too.
Operating as multiple fanzines in one, Phat‘s modular approach to editorial, irreverence, information overload, celebration of consumerism connected with every subculture I’d ever fixated on. Riffing on R.a.D‘s early life as Skate Action — a BMX Action Bike magazine insert in the late 1980s — this was that approach amplified.
Much of Phat‘s staff were former R.a.D crew members, down to the stewardship of UK skate ambassador Tim Leighton-Boyce. A last-minute buyout of R.a.D — which had been subject to a number of ownership changes in its lifetime — by a publisher known more for windsurfing magazines after Robert Maxwell’s death at sea left the magazine a slim shadow of its former self, with Phat reading more like a reboot of what its predecessor could have been.
According to Leighton-Boyce, the purpose was simple, “Phat’s original intent was to do whatever we needed to do to keep a decent skate magazine on the streets of Britain.”
The genesis of the magazine was fast, “Phat came into existence in a great hurry. We rushed around, raised some money and got organised to take over [R.a.D]. But someone else was also interested and they presumably offered to pay more. So, suddenly we found ourselves with everything in place to carry on with the magazine, but no magazine to carry on with.”
It’s curious then, that issue one (preempted by C21’s giveaway PSP Phree Skate Press newsletter to preview the project and explain the situation) relegates the skate content to free supplement status once again, but Phat’s breadth of content was a strategy to get it on shelves, “The potential distributors, rightly, suspected that what we wanted to do was launch a skateboard magazine, for which there was almost no market in those days. ‘This isn’t a skateboard magazine, is it?’ was their big question.”
“TEENAGE GANGSTA!” “PHWOAR!” “BOUND & GAGGED?”
With its “Hot Stuff for Hoodlums” tagline, Phat‘s chapters included C21, a screen grab laden section documenting cult films, graffiti, the paranormal and even including some business advice from a young James Lavelle, Buzz, with its shops, clubs and classifieds, plus Produx, with its onslaught of street and skate wear from the likes of Droors, Pervert and Fuct, shoes, record reviews and loosely related gadgets and toys.
Chris Aylen, who contributed to R.a.D and Phat, taking that spirit to the launch of influential website, Spine Magazine (as well as giving me my break) sees that launch time as a pivotal one, “At the time Phat was launched it was clear that the boundaries between skateboarding, hip-hop, graffiti and street fashion were blurring. Skating in old-school trainers — primarily because they were cheap, not necessarily because they were ‘cool’ — was more in line with hip-hop than skate rock, and we started hearing rap and more funk-based soundtracks in skate videos, which led to an interest in associated activities such as graffiti and buying records.”
Leighton-Boyce recalls it being passion project, “I don’t think we ever included anything that someone in the group wasn’t really into. I think that shows in the quality and density of the content. Although there was no master plan, what circumstances led us to do was to fill up a magazine with loads of stuff which we thought was interesting or exciting, or funny. That’s not something you can easily fake as part of a marketing strategy.”
And what about that strange-sounding digital stuff? Phat’s editor was quite the early adopter, “We [Phat] did try to lead readers towards the skate world online, but we were too far-stretched to do anything more than that at first.”
Phat ran pieces on newsgroups and treated email as a viable mode of communication when we were still assuming it was a gimmick. In fact, BMX Action Bike had a preposterously long Telecom Gold email address in the magazine as early as 1985. In 1994, State51 was launched as an early agency of sorts for clients like Virgin Records to dip their toes in the nascent world of the internet.
R.a.D‘s The Wall was a section dedicated to recommendations of small-town hookup spots for skating and socialising like some proto-forum, which would eventually become the early crowdsource project, knowhere.co.uk. Leighton-Boyce already knew how to engage with low attention spans, “If Phat had survived it would have blossomed online immediately. We were always passionate about making the magazine as interactive as possible — the aim of The Wall was to make it easy for readers to get material into the magazine without having to do something formal like write a letter, let alone an article.”
Sadly, the magazine’s fate was sealed from the very beginning, a victim of its own appetite for controversy and the dangerous assumption that reactionists would take the time out to read the content before forming an opinion. A gun on the cover of August 1993’s inaugural issue, previewing a provocatively written anti-firearm article, would lead to newspaper columns, radio show phone-ins and Parliamentary debates on corruption of young minds and gang culture’s supposed rise — a precursor to the nation’s alarmist attitude toward any youth in a hoody a decade later.
All publicity might be good publicity, but when it causes nationwide retailers to boycott it and for big-name advertisers to back off, that’s a significant problem. Two more editions would follow in September and October and then, nothing. A few write-ups hinted at a resurrection while the team — now, without a designer — tried to find a lifeline, albeit in vain.
In a parallel universe without firearm controversy, could Phat have sustained? Aylen felt that the editorial approach was almost limitless, “I think that Tim, Vernon Adams, Gavin Hills, Ray Calthorpe, Simon Evans, Steve Hicks and the rest of the editorial team kept the theme of the magazine loose on purpose, which led to a number of really interesting articles.”
For Leighton-Boyce, there were early signs of trouble in that the sales weren’t high pre-controversy, “It may have been ahead of its time in that people did not buy it in sufficient numbers even before it started to be pulled off shelves.”
He also faced some questions regarding the sheer amount of topics each issue covered, “I recall that when we were trying to keep Phat going by trying to sell it to other sympathetic publisher, the publishers of Viz questioned whether we would ever be able to carry on generating such an amount of good content each month.”
Flicking through Phat‘s pages, the layout is very much of its time and not every piece of writing has held up particularly well, but that’s beside the point — it reads like the predecessor of the lifestyle blog, with its escalating clusterfuck of cultures and disciplines in one place, existing in a realm where every WordPress is deemed a lifestyle magazine. Phat was an experiment — to some it was just another dud launch, but for many who did pick it up, the impact was immeasurable.
Nowadays, corporations want to claim their own terrain in the skate world by any means necessary to win the hearts and minds of the same teen audience that trio of magazines was looking to engage with. Leighton-Boyce and team Phat’s smartly-executed subterfuge of their actual intentions reiterates just how much has changed in 21 years, “The impression I get now is that all manner of things try to attach some kind of ‘skate’ label to themselves and to mix in some skate content as a sales point. We had to deny that we were a skate magazine.”
The covers here are borrowed from the excellent Vintage Skateboard Magazines site that should make my fellow victims of motherly magazine culls get a little weepy.
I’m unpacking from Berlin. My respect for Vans’s Syndicate line has been mentioned here an awful lot, as has my disdain for both the state of collaborations and physical retail spaces. If every footwear brand had the US/UK facilities that New Balance has as well as a top-tier project as strong as Syndicate, life would be a better and sneakers wouldn’t be as stale. Forgive the stereotyping, but the Germans are thorough. Berlin’s Firmament and Civilist went in this week, offering the antidote to Bread & Butter’s vast denim stands, chambray and Polo shorts and the popularity of Iron Fist clothing.
I love Germany’s ability to throw itself into a sub-culture with an obsessive zeal that’s almost unmatched beyond the otaku types in the far east, and their approach to skate was unhampered by the Berlin Wall before it began to fall on 9 November 1989 — they simply adapted to that existence and used the imagery, surplus and restricted landscape to forge their community. While we were swanning around in fluoro shorts and applying Rip-Grip all over our bulbous boards, East and West Berlin’s youth faced an adversity that strengthened their scene and necessitated a DIY approach. Shouts to Mr. Charles Morgan for the hookup on Civilist’s Syndicate pack — a set that leaves most other dual-label projects in the dust. The leather Chukka Low’s smartly executed, but the pin badges, military-themed Velcro badges on the bag and even the pocket tee that accompanies the set are pitch-perfect in their design.
Some people base a shoe on their favourite ironic ’80s film. Civilist opted to use the Berlin Brigade, the Allied Army unit based in West Berlin and culled from the units already in Berlin made of British and American troops as a result of post-WWII rulings. Brought together for the Berlin Wall crisis in 1961 and disbanded in 1994, the US Army’s Berlin Brigade badge, with its flaming sword, is a key identifier in this project. It’s a striking piece of imagery.
The Morganator put me onto last year’s ‘Transit: Berlin Skateboarding Retrospektive’ ‘zine too, providing some excellent background information and imagery on the scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Tied with an in-store exhibition, Civilist and Vans created the best thing I saw (or put on my foot) this week. Team Civilist are also the minds behind the mysterious Aspekt Ratio — a newspaper-size publication which I assumed never had a follow-up after issue #0 in early 2007.
A few years on and Aspekt Ratio #1 is out ( I think it dropped much earlier in the year), shitting on much of the print competition. I admired the preview issue for its sprawling interview pieces, but issue #1’s pieces on clubbing, Australian youth movement, the Sharpies (particularly enlightening) and interviews with Mike Mills and C.M. Talkington are very much my “thing” if that “thing” could ever be defined. I’ve seen a lot of attempts to put this thing of ours onto paper after the gradual cancellations of several key magazines that educated me during the ’80s, ’90s and early ’00s (are those rumours about the return of ‘Mass Appeal’ true?), but this is among the best thus far. Did I mention that it’s free? There’s a website (www.aspektratio.com), but don’t expect some cuddly abundance of detail on their. It’s worth the hunt.
I did another list for my buddies at Complex on the top 50 sneaker moments in movies – well, it’s more ’50 interesting appearances by shoes in films’ than anything comprehensive, but that wouldn’t bring in the click-throughs. I didn’t check the feedback because I assume it’s all, “You missed XXXXXXX you fucking idiot” and “This shit is lame, Complex fell off” etc. etc. Funnily enough, I couldn’t care a fuck – I’m onto the next one, though I am livid at myself for forgetting the PF Flyers in ‘The Sandlot Kids.’ Check out the list here. Shouts to Russ and Joe for getting me involved again.
Props to Mubi for risking his liberty to bring back these Patta mini-penknives that are a preview of their work with KangaROOS. Victorinox products are the promo products of kings. Shouts to team Patta for arming us.
I respect Kenneth Grange’s design savvy, with a portfolio that included trains and pens, and no signifier that they’re Kenneth’s work other than the fact each creation is very, very good. With an inspirational work ethic, the man’s a genius. In a world where you only have to change the colour of some buttons for some sycophant to bellow “GENIUS” on Twitter in the hope of earning an Retweet that doesn’t sound like much, but Kenneth Grange is the real-deal. To coincide with the ‘Making Britain Modern’ exhibition of his work at London’s Design Museum (bafflingly, the first Grange retrospective), there’s a book dropping in August too. It’s probably worth investing in.
The “I found it while I was looking for something else” argument for finding porn is shit, but it’s still used by husbands, boyfriends and sons globally, but I found the downgirlz.com (NSFW) site entirely by accident while I was working on a project on outerwear. I wasn’t complaining — not because I’m some kind of fetishist for feather filled jackets on females, but because, it was half-naked women and North Face. Then I realised that it’s a paysite and that some of the bondage content is a little creepy. Good titles though — “Betty is layered in 3 XXXL Nupste jackets” “Betty frogtied in Marmot” “Betty in Mountain Equipment Co-Op Expedition down jacket”
I had no idea that a North Face down jacket fetish actually existed but it seems I’m not worldly enough. It takes notions of jacket porn to a literal level.
My MacBook just died. It contained some things I was going to blog about, so I resorted to a backup plan. When in doubt, just recycle an old article that isn’t already on the internet. I see movements accelerated by online outlets to the point where they burn out in mere months and while it’s easy to chuckle at what’s no longer on trend (and we’re currently in a realm where 48 hours after anything arrives online requires some form of self-conscious “late pass” talk), there’s victims in any defunct element of a declining subculture.
Skateboarders love gossip as much as rap fans and graffiti nerds. They love tales of fatalities, misbehaviour and “where are they nows” more than most, and a key catalyst for misfortune was the transition from vert to street. Superstars plunged from grace as a new breed emerged, and the old guard had to evolve or die – of course that was meant literally in terms of diminishing careers and funds, but in the case of Texan skate legend Jeff Phillips — a childhood hero of mine —
the change in the culture’s physical landscape and personal problems led to his suicide on Christmas day, 1993.
We all know how Gator and Hosoi dealt with their problems in the early 1990s, but whereas Mr. Rogowski was afflicted with a douchebag streak, Jeff just came across as a guy who loved what he did for a living.
That enthusiasm was infectious. I recall meeting Joe Lopes (with my dad actually, who constantly made reference tour meeting with Joe until he too passed away – I think he was either trying to embarrass me or impress me with his memory. In the former, he failed and in the latter, he succeeded) in 1988 during a Circle-A tour of local skateparks. He seemed like a good guy (I’m sure he and his team mates were handing out pornography) and I was saddened to hear that he died in a car accident in 2002. I also remember a thinly veiled tale that pertained to the man in an issue of ‘Big Brother’ too, but this isn’t the time or place.
I’ve seen few truly progressive movements in my lifetime beyond skating, so I guess those left behind during its most significant leap. For that reason, stories like Jeff’s affected me a little more than the macabre tales Google frequently spits at me. I haven’t bothered with ‘Rolling Stone’ in a long time. Does it still take itself seriously, ’Almost Famous’ style? The last good article I read was a piece on straightedge gangs a few years back and before that the “bugchaser” piece in a 2003 issue. In 1994/5 they were still publishing some great material.
Kevin Heldman’s JA and GHOST trailing ‘Mean Streaks’ in the February 9th 1995 is a classic, but there’s a few more notable non-music assignments from around that time too. Peter Wilkinson’s ‘Skate Till You Die’ — a six page piece on Jeff’s last days — ran in the September 8th 1994 issue. It was sensitively handled and enlightening too, exploring the complexity of his depression. I miss excellent journalism.