Category Archives: Cultural Reflection

Gator Stoked (Blowback June 04)

Still going with the strong thematic links. Issue 8 in June 04 of Blowback was an extreme sports edition. Not bad, considering not a single one of us was very active in anything other than magazine production. With the article I hoped to reflect the way the film worked by dropping the main Gator bomb halfway through the piece.

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 Closure 

Helen Stickler is wrapping up Gator’s story for everyone

 

On one level the story of Stoked is the story of Mark Gator Rogowski. On another it is the story of skateboarding.

 

‘Beyond the horrible tragedy of it, it was something that people still had strong feelings about,’ agrees director Helen Stickler. ‘Gator’s experience echoed their feelings with the transition from vert to street skating and the whole economic decline of the late 80s. All the fads and trends changed at once – music went from big haired bands to grunge. There was a real radical shift for people who were Gator’s contemporaries, by bringing us his story they were able to bring some closure to that.’

 

Gator was a real 80s product. When he started out he was earning a few dollars for pulling off moves in abandoned swimming pools, at his peak he was earning millions. Gator oozed star quality and he was bottled up and pushed out, he was the face of Vision, his own skate decks were best sellers and his appearance at vert skate shows, induced hysteria. But when that started to fade he couldn’t deal with his emotions.

 

‘In sports that are male dominated you tend not to have forums for guys to talk openly about their feelings!’ agrees Stickler ‘Which was definitely Gator’s problem, because in the 80s it was taboo to go into therapy or have all of the kind of medication, this was like, pre-Prozac.’

 

‘Anyone from a particular generation can remember the 80s so vividly and Gator’s story seemed to epitomize more than just himself. It was more about the collective experience of a lot of people but his was definitely a lot more extreme.’

 

The beginning of the film encourages the collective experience of those early days. The way it is edited with star wipes and overlays and the Dead Kennedy / Minor Threat soundtrack is reminiscent of those early skating videos.

 

‘I used the video program, Toaster and other technology from back then. To begin with, it was going to be a bit more extreme. At the end of the day, I’m quite happy with what we did. I didn’t want it to be too campy because it is a documentary and a tragic story. Keeping that in mind, I wanted the first third of the film to allow the audience to experience the fun of skateboarding and for them to get excited about it the way that Gator and all the others were excited about it when their careers are started.’

 

‘Although the crime is for-shadowed at the beginning of the film as you hear him [Gator] from prison, there’s actually 40 minutes where I don’t bring his voice in. I wanted people to forget about the fact that he’s gone and live in it real time.’

 

The story keeps rolling by in chronological order. Then the cracks begin to show, in one scene Gator is trying desperately to learn new street moves with two other pros on camera,

 

‘It was shot for Vision and I think what happened is Vision went “Why don’t you do street skating? It’s what the kids are doing now.” Most Vert guys didn’t want to street skate, it’s a radically different discipline for them, it’s not interesting, it didn’t feel good. You can see all these human factors there, he’s embarrassed and angry with himself, he’s being filmed, so he’s under pressure, and it builds and builds, and the two other pros are moving further and further away!’ 

 

Not one thing is blamed for what happened to Mark. It’s never as simple as ‘Vision pushed him too far’ or ‘porn made him do it’ it clearly points out that it is a culmination of events.

 

‘One thing I felt strongly about the film is there is no easy answer, it’s a combination of all these different elements. If you took anyone apart from the others it probably wouldn’t have happened. It wasn’t one thing or another, it’s a lifetime, which is why I wanted to pack 10 years into the film. So it wasn’t just the crime, nothing just happens in one night.

 

The rumours continue though,

 

‘These are the rumours I was trying to squash but they live on because people don’t realize – if it’s not in the film, it probably isn’t true. It is such an urban legend. The other thing about skateboarding is people want to be in the know because it is such a gossipy small world. There is still a lot of stuff flying around, it’s no big deal.’

 

Helen explains her version of events,

 

‘It’s described as cognitive dissonance. He was trying very much to lead this Christ like path, becoming a born again Christian. He’d been on this path for several months, however he was still Gator and the things about his previous lifestyle would come back again and get to him. The night he committed the crime he drank heavily and he’d not been drinking for a quite a while. He hadn’t been hanging out with flirtatious women, which Jessica  was, and he’d hung out with her for the entire day. He told me he took out a lot of hatred of himself on Jessica.. He was going through this severe identity crisis and couldn’t deal with who he was – things he’d done and things he wanted to do. He had anger about his girlfriend leaving him and his career, his friends, frustration of what’s next – it all boiled up at once…poor girl.’

 

At the end of the film all that remains is everyone else, attempting to come to terms with seismic reverberations that Gator left both  in California and the world wide skateboarding community,

 

‘I didn’t want to be the person who came along and picked at the scab. But, to use the cheesy analogy, it obviously was a scab that hadn’t healed. All the raw emotion that I encountered was discouraging in a way but encouraging in another, because I felt there really is something here that could strike a nerve with people and resonate.’


Peter Saville (Blowback April 04)

The interview with Peter Saville was something that I’ll always treasure. It took about 6 weeks of persistant pestering. Finally one Saturday morning he allowed me to call him and we spoke for over 2 hours. Even the version I put in Blowback (with my voice completely removed) didn’t do him justice.

Now follows the version I would have liked to have published which clocks up a 2600 word count. Enjoy!

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Skipping The Groove

 

Peter Saville finds a place in history

 

I’ve been thinking what the essence of my work is, ever since I’ve started to find somewhere to work other than the music industry. The feeling that ‘is there life after this?’ was an issue as early as the late 80s. I became friends with Robert Longer through New Order and he began to encourage me along the lines that maybe I could operate somewhere in the sphere of art if I wanted. He said to me one day ‘Hey man, you’re an artist’ and I laughed because I hadn’t really thought about it.

 

We didn’t know much about contemporary art when I grew up in
England. It’s ubiquitous now, it’s a recognised part of popular culture, and yet there was no such relationship back in the 70s. I was 20 in 1975, then to me contemporary modern art was another planet. You knew about it and you knew that some people somewhere doing it, probably in
New York. However, if you went off to art college, all the groovy aware kids were in the applied arts: fashion, or textile design or graphics or photography.

 

I did find this free zone for myself in doing music and it appealed to me when I was 20 because it was groovy. But it also suited me, I don’t think I understood then quite how quintessentially it suited me. I was young, I had trained properly in Graphic Design, I just presumed as I got older I would naturally orientate towards the normal world. Because the music industry, as we know, isn’t the real world, it’s a post adolescent playground.

 

So in 1988 aged 33, I was making these tentative steps towards adult hood. I’d started working for the White Chapel gallery, for Nick Serota. He was encouraging me, like an amazing tutor who is demanding on you but doesn’t have a narrow preconception in which you must perform. I soon started working for Mark Asterly, a stylist in
Paris and then for Yohji Yamamoto. Yohji is a similarly open minded person. He wanted a spark of inspiration which wasn’t the conventional. The entry level was encouraging – but they didn’t make any money!

 

I’d seen my music work influence the high street, then I began to see my gallery work and fashion work begin to influence the high street. And this was a very nice feeling but I had a studio of about 8 people. We were in a way the R and D department, exploring the new territory. More often than not getting it right, and seeing more commercially positioned organisations selling it to the high st. They were making money and I was just losing money.

 

The reason for its conceptual success, I think was certain principles that I’d carried throughout my life. I always wanted to improve and enhance, I always wanted to make things better and to go a bit further. This got me fired up in the first place, from my Graphics studies I saw how amazing it could be. I was looking out from
Manchester to the rest of the world and I saw a Roxy Music cover or a Kraftwerk cover or Italian Vogue, and I saw a quality that you could aspire to. Then I’d look at everyday life and see it shabbily done  – so limited in its scope. I knew it could be better. We’d look in our history books and see the works of Bauhaus and classical designers and thought ‘it can be breathtaking.’ There was a sense of a crusade to do more and go further.

 

The idea of doing a record cover with a musician on the front was just banal, we didn’t need that anymore. You know what this person looks like and you will see them in the press. If it is a musician whose entire ouevre is about their personality like Frank Sinatra, then fine. If you’re dealing with a person whose work is abstract, can’t we go somewhere with the connotations?

 

I entered this phase in the early 90s trying to find a comfort zone for me in the real world but still with the mission to improve and enhance. And it didn’t work. To a certain extent I’d been spoilt for too long, by having a whole decade through Factory I’d had an almost fine art way of expressing myself. The hard service orientated discipline of high end graphic design was really difficult for me. In fact I didn’t really want to do it. It was hard work in a passive and highly reactive way.

 

It’s not about taking things somewhere – it’s about service from the clients point of view, the purpose of which is profitability and from your studio’s point of view the purpose of that is also profitability, and if you don’t do that then it doesn’t work. I realised, what drove my studio was something between Ultraism and vanity – and I was bankrupted in 1990. It worked culturally and it worked for my ego and sense of freedom, but it was broke.

 

So I was forced to face this in 1990 and I spent all of the 90s coming to terms with it. It started this process of, ‘what am I about?’ and during this period I built up an enormous amount of unpublished work, because I had no free zone in which to express myself. Factory had finished, New Order had deconstructed for a while. The thinking of my 30s wasn’t appropriate for a record covers anyway, there was this transition from surface to content.

 

There’s a piece I did for Yohji called Game Over and that’s the beginning of me thinking about content, but in a service industry they don’t have any use for it. Increasingly in the 90s my feelings about the commidification of culture began to be quite negative, so my own produce content was increasingly at odds with what the commercial sector would want. I was increasingly thinking we don’t need this so I don’t have any feelings for promoting it. Even when I started working with Dior and Nick Knight, it was exciting, but once I’d met the people who ran Dior I loathed and despised them. I thought I don’t want to improve and enhance a façade for very ugly people to hide behind. So I couldn’t focus on it.

 

Now Yohji was a kindred spirit to that extent. The first real campaign I did for him was in the early 90s and by then he’d got sick of it all. By the end of the 80’s he was tired of this gratuitous consumption and he started to make some collections that were, like Andy Goldworthy’s art, things you couldn’t buy. About this time he saw my album work and he called me and asked me if I would do something like that – without models or clothes.

 

So the first project was Game Over, he’d done a men’s collection that was like negative pop. The next collection was for a women’s and for that he just went bonkers! You couldn’t wear the clothes. His idea was, you can’t sell this, nobody will buy it. That’s the beginning of me thinking about content but in a service industry they don’t have any use for it. It’s not what a client wants, you have to sit down and think about what is right for this client occasionally it brushes with something you care about then that’s good. Increasingly in the nineties my feelings about the commodification of culture began to be quite negative, so my own produce content was increasingly at odds with what the commercial sector would want. I increasingly thinking we don’t need this so I don’t have any feelings for promoting it. Even when I started working with Dior and Nick Knight it was exciting, but once I started to meet the people who ran Dior I loathed and despised them. I thought I don’t want to improve and enhance a façade for very ugly people to hide behind. So I couldn’t focus on it.

 

The magazines hated the Y campaign. In
America the people who stocked his clothes, refused to pay for his advertising. It’s funny because if you look at a Condor Garcon shirt ad now, it’s fine. Back in 1991 if it didn’t have clothes in it they wouldn’t let you do it, What happened in between was, design became the new advertising.

 

By 2000 I was able to stop worrying about it…what happened was my history caught up with me. In the late 90s I was rehabilitated as a legend, they came and searched me out. In fact I’d carried on doing a few groovy things like Suede and Pulp. I hadn’t sold out, I hadn’t started doing Findus Fish Finger packaging. In fact I was still great. I’d retained my value and most importantly I hadn’t sold out.

 

So the retrospective pedestal started to be built for me which concluded with the book from Frieze and the show. I’ve seen myself since then become my own brand. I’ve almost transcended the service because people talk about Peter Saville as a thing. It doesn’t matter what I do, the fact that I’ve done it is a quality. The last few years have been what do I do with my own brand?

 

Now over my lifetime, the everyday person in the
UK began increasingly sharing in a thing that we now call lifestyle. The last piece in my show is a print saying ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ If you look now at what became of all this on one side it is better, on another it wasn’t supposed to be a tax on the people. It wasn’t supposed to make them addicts.

 

What I don’t like is the corporate abuse of counter culture. It’s over the counter culture the multinational large companies have figured out how to commoditise spirit. I wrote in my note book the other day ‘Smells like teen spirit? Sells like teen spirit’ Because it used to mean something and you used to be able to rely on it so if I walked down the road to a shop or café and it had a design sensibility that suggested to me positive things about the shop they were turned on and it was the best place to go. When I walk down the street now and see a designed shop it’s like a warning sign! It’s like you’re going to get fucked in here and you don’t need it.

 

Last summer I made a note in my note book, pop culture in the 60s was like LSD: a bit dangerous but exciting and definitely mind expanding. Everyone who’s taken LSD goes ‘wow I’d seen things I’d never seen before.’ Pop culture now is like Crack. There are no redeeming features to Crack, it will numb you out for a while, it’s totally addictive and will kill you

 

A case has been put for saying that my True Faith record cover was supposed to epitomise the E generation. Strictly speaking it isn’t. But the principal behind my cover designs is they’re open to interpretation. A place where I like to put my work is in between things, somewhere between the fact of a thing and the feeling of the recipient, I interject in the zone between the two.

 

Here are the facts: New Order write a song called True Faith that does have something to do with drugs and something to do with Bernard having a child, – that’s a fact – the audience has their own opinions and in between the two I put something. I intersect that zone with an image that is open to interpretation. This is why I didn’t like putting titles on things because it was so concrete and obvious. I quite like this imagery being an indefinite thing, it’s like a palinthset it’s open to interpretation.

 

For something like a record cover that suits me because it all means different things to different people. So when I am confronted someone’s luscious chocolate bar, there’s nowhere to dream. There’s a big difference between a bunch of musicians and a song which in a way is quite genuine, and a carefully cynically considered new television set which isn’t even the best they can do it’s the one they’re going to do this season, there’s nothing very honourable there. This is a lie. Can I make people dream about that? I don’t really want to.

 

The professional work for hire is more defined and categorised, even doing a Pulp or Suede cover is Jarvis or Brett’s cover and it’s John Galliano’s Dior campaign. I’m the facilitator that helps them realise their vision. It’s very mercenary but for nice countries. If they’re for countries I don’t believe in and they just want me to kill people, then I don’t agree.

 

Alongside that it’s this tentative attempt at dipping my toe in water, how can I make my own things? The Taxi project with Julian Mori was for
London records building, there were 12 sound graphs. They asked me to make pieces to go in the building so it was commissioned, but it wasn’t selling anything.

 

Another piece is the 3D rendering of Unknown Pleasures. I thought, every other fucker on earth has done something on Unknown Pleasures why don’t I? It’s a thing now – wherever I go in the world I see a fucking t-shirt. So I’m exploring Unknown Pleasures as a myth. Bill Holding at morph works in 3D render programs and he started it. I was able to see how it was interesting. It’s kind of virtual still but it’s a thing.

 

I don’t have a fixed opinion about art yet. But there’s something quite northern and pragmatic about me. If you see what I do in an art gallery it’s quite revealing. I’ll go through the rooms in about 5 minutes, unless something really strikes a chord with me and I look at it for ages. I then go to the shop and I’ll spend hours in there. I’m particularly fascinated about the point where art and life meet. For me art that lives in isolation is not interesting as an end in itself. What I’m interested in is art evolving and enhancing life. That’s why I like the shop because I can see how it’s effecting the ephemera of life and how it can intersects with how we live. That for me is the important bit, unless the wonderous is filtered into the everyday what’s the point?

 

When I did a record cover, it went into homes, it affects people, it changes things. One pet theory about this designer era was we brokered art into the mainstream. By using pop medium as a platform for change and cultural awareness, we got them young, in something they loved anyway. The music took it to their hearts and it delivered a message to their heads. Without the music it would not have been delivered. What was delivered was something that was relevant post adolescence. Kids in the 60s probably had loads of Grateful Dead ephemera but when they came back from college it wasn’t going to be part of life, so they shed it like a skin and moved on. People who grew up on Factory haven’t shed that skin, in fact I meet them now and they want business cards like their New Order record covers. So the music delivered it to impressionable souls at an impressionable time.

 

I find this quite an interesting thing that Design UK was delivered through music. The culmination of it that is on Wednesday of this week I was appointed Creative Director of the City of
Manchester. I’m not sure what the job involves yet but this is surely a new phase.


This Is The News! (October 01)

This was my first ‘headline story’ for whatsonuk back in 2001 when Chris Morris was in danger of unravelling the ‘very’ fabric of society (‘like a kitten with catnip injected into its eyes’ as Morris would – probably – say.) I must point out there was a bit of a culture for plagirism at whatsonuk – it was a student magazine and many of my source material did get mashed in with original copy. From memory this article has debts to articles published in The Guardian, NME, the web and even the Daily Mail.

Chris Morris is possibly my biggest influence and re-typing it now it’s quite suprising how very relevant it is still and how much fun I had Blowin’ back the style.  

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When story breaks like twigs neck snap. And though your head be full of fuddyduddyness. Bring on race riot smash mash. The welcome. Aaaaah hmmm whompaf Welcome… Chris Morris.

When Channel 4 finally broadcast the Brass Eye Special last month, the UK tabloid community let out a small git of panic. Newsnight discussed it, MP’s and pressure groups condemned it (but didn’t watch it) and even my mum asked me if I’d ever heard of this Morris fellow. Complaints reached fever pitch and the press estimated about 2000 phone calls to the ITC and Channel 4. Chris Morris himself was no-where to be found for comment. Brass Eye’s main aims were easily his best statement. The guff had been dropped, time to clear the area. 

This is not the first time that Morris has courted controversy by a long stretch. In the past, he has been given almost near mythical sackings. As with all things Morrisian, all stories are grossly inaccurate and if you believe all you read then you’re a bigger fool than the fawning celebs that will read anything from a cue card.

Morris started his career at Bristol radio, working in the news team. The story goes that he began subverting from the inside. In one news broadcast he reputedly filled the studio with helium. Morris also had time to perfect his skills and on another occasion he re-edited the Queens Christmas Speech so she announced ‘It was in this room that my father would service men.’ ‘Contract terminated’

Next, GLR offered him a morning programme. Complaints began when Morris ran two phone-ins for the under tens. The first involved ‘The Sweet Game’ where a child would stuff their face then pronounce a sentence which in a kids sweet stuffed mouths would come out as swear words. Another was called ‘Kiddies Outing’ where children were encouraged to name and shame celebrities as homosexuals. ‘Released from duties’

Armando Iannucci heard him and asked him to anchor a mock-up news show On The Hour for Radio 4. Other noticeables in the team included Stuart Lee and Richard Herring, Peter Baynham, David Quantick, Rebecca Front and with the vocal talents of Steve Coogan, Alan Partridge was born. One stunt involved tricking The Sun into giving them £1500, after Coogan did an impression of Neil Kinnock acting drunk in a Holiday Inn (‘Forget Paddy Pantsdown, I’m Neil Bigcock.’) ‘Let go’

Its TV incarnation (without Lee and Herring) The Day Today, developed the Christopher Morris vs Jeremy Paxman persona further. With greater exposure more people where beginning to adopt the mangled soundbites that mimicked tabloid headlines ‘Russia Elects Cobweb’ ‘Headmaster Suspended For Using Big Faced Child As Satellite Dish’ being a few favourites. ‘Not invited back’

Back at Radio 1, he headed his own show where he started to interview celebs. 2Unlimited were early victims (‘Are there really No Limits’) and several people were asked to comment about the death of Michael Heseltine. The final insult was when he blasphemed profusely in an interview with Cliff Richard. ‘Resting’

Morris began work on Brass Eye in 1996 but the programme was shelved until early 1997, due to rumours surrounding the show. The first episode featured ‘a made up drug’ called Cake. Noel Edmonds and various MPs were seriously miffed at being duped. Back then Chris Morris had the energy to respond with

“People have been mocked out of their constituency who want to be informed as well as entertained… the whole of the media is a deception cloaked in coded statements – a pay rise, a sacking, whatever. I can’t stand that high handed attitude, that there’s a proper way to behave. Everyone is fucking about. You’re just displaying it. You can dupe people until the cows come home as far as I’m concerned.”

The final episode was gaulessly cut to shreds at the last moment following a media uproar concerning a sketch called ‘Sutcliffe The Musical.’ Morris justified pushing the satire further than the rest,“Brass Eye should put an end to the recent spate faux pas prankster drivel… it won’t of course. It will spawn another host of second rate imitators. So top this you quisling fucks.”

Rumours abounded that when the 11 ‘o’ Clock Show was commissioned it was because Channel 4 didn’t have the guts to re-employ Morris. Daisy Donovan and Iain Lee split Morrisisms between them and as expected, didn’t match par. Richard Herring christened the programme ‘Brass Eye lite’ and after Ali G left only the occasional 3 minutes with Ricky Gervais stopped the audience from dying a smothering boredom.  

Meanwhile, Morris had gone back to Radio One with more ideas. Blue Jam lasted for three series and was broadcast on the station’s appropriately named ‘graveyard shift.’ Morris spliced sketches into leftfield Electronica and smart pop songs. According to Morris it “was about the way your mind works at night.” Listening to the show tapped into the subconscious, the songs offering cosy solitude to be banged abruptly by the sketches and often inducing nightmares in the semi-conscious. As much as a twisted humour and highlighting middle class hypocrisy the sketches played on fears and pushed new ground and broke taboos. Your sense of humour was always questioned, “If you make a joke in an area which is for some reason, normally randomly – out of bounds – then you might find something out, you might put your finger on something. But it’s a matter of finding yourself in that area rather than setting out to look for trouble.”

Aside from a few sketches involving the re-editing of the Archbishop of Cantebury’s speech on the death of Princess Diana, the show was left alone and went out surprisingly, un-cut. “[With Brass Eye] Most complaints were sort of ‘Can you imagine how I felt sitting through this with my daughter’ and that’s not going to happen in the middle of the night [with Blue Jam] unless you’re helping your daughter through her first steps through drugs.”

Jam the TV version on Channel 4 last year grabbed more attention due to its 9.30 slot. Morris achieved his subconscious infiltration this time by using a who’ll digital film arsenal. Such tricks as slowing down the film, chopping up and changing the shots, adding tracing filters and muffling the sound all added to the ambience. And giving the show a soundtrack was again aped on such mainstream copyists such as Trigger Happy and Double Take. “It’s designed to be hypnotic so that it weaves itself in and compelling, so you stay with it,” said Morris “And quite often jokes are going off underground – normally you’re given a cue to laugh at things, and here there aren’t many cues.”

There would be a case for saying that the shows ambience contributed to it going beneath the tabloid critics radar. Despite his constant sackings, a sign of how much respect he was given by the media cognoscenti is that he was able to get the show run without the traditional commercial break. This meant that there was no stoppage time or ‘reality’ check.When the first series of Brass Eye was finally aired, Morris commented “Watch this programme now, because it will never be allowed a repeat, British law prohibits a video release and I’m too puked to consider a second series.” 

Michael Grade (despite being called a cunt for one fiftieth of a second at the end of the first BE series) did repeat it, and this time put it out un-cut. To finish the series he also commissioned a one-off special.  Before the show went out rumours flew around the Internet as to what the special (ambiguously titled Trombone) might be about, Morris apparently even set up a bogus website to promote different stories. A tighter grip was kept on the actual content than before. However, it was postponed, due to the disappearance of two school girls. Then a few weeks later following firm pressure from web sites, the decision was made to air it.

Contrary to tabloid reports, the show did not glorify paedophilia. Its primary target was the very same hysterical media that reacted so hysterically! The response to the show blatantly exposed the tabloids for the frauds and hoaxers that they are. They perpetuated a panic fuelled media and stirred up the same irrational feelings. Perhaps anyone who actually saw the show should think twice before believing the hype.