Category Archives: feature

Poetic Justice

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As far as mainstream media is concerned, poetry is dying. However, the determined rise of the Oubliette podcast has proved that there is an audience determined to keep poetry alive. Dan Davies puts an ear to his computer and checks the meter.

Breakfast epiphanies
“I’m not a poet, I’m a film maker by trade but I like messing around with audio tech-ing,” claims podcast producer Richard Wood as we sup our tea. “Basically I’ve been into podcasting for years, I’ve just been trying to find the content and people to work with. I’ve worked with Matt Nunn on other projects – and he’s a published poet. Matt brought George Ttoouli in with him – who’s also published and works for the Poetry Society in London. Together we came up with the idea of Oubliette.”

Pidgin hole
An Oubliette is a type of medieval dungeon dug into the ground (FYI there’s one at Warwick Castle). The name derives from the French ‘oublier’ to forget. “It’s basically a hole where you put things to forget about!” laughs Richard. The name also encapsulates the niche of the podcast. Away from the commercial pressures of the outside world, it’s now easier to dig your own hole and though it’s tough to leave, people can be thrown into it with you.

I’m sent to Coventry – literally – as Richard is making the final cuts to episode four. I wanted to see this pit of poetic podding. When I arrive I’m surprised to find that Richard’s studio is simply a G4 laptop.

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Set-up list
“All you really need is a computer with an internet connection. For a recording device you can use either an inbuilt microphone, i-pod or even your phone… The software is straightforward – you can download it for free. Also software such as Audacity, iCast, CastBlaster, have been developed by podcasters. I use GarageBand for the Mac. When thinking about the content and editing, you’ve got to consider who’s listening and think about their attention spans. A good edit can go a long way.”

The live content of the cast is down to Richard taking his studio/laptop to poetry gigs and editing down their favourites for the show. The act of breaking out into the poetry circuit has also had a co-promotional effect. Performers are told that their work might make the next cut and a local following has grown. What has also emerged within the content is a specific West Midlands voice.

“I think it is something unique to Oubliette, to keep the talent within their region. You don’t have to go to a big city to be spotted. We can bring you to the world.”

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Oubtube
Though there are a few poetry podcasts out there, they mostly concentrate solely on performance. Oubliette is unique in that the show is in a loose magazine format. Here you can hear reviews, live performances, listings, net updates and a bit of history all in a friendly 13-15 minute burst.

“We keep as close to free conversation as possible. We have a sit down and have a chat about what’s going on. I’ll have my naïve side, George will have his established views and knowledge, and Matt brings in the comedy and one liners. We want the audience to feel part of it, we hope to have more of a rapport with them through using the comments pages and getting them to interact.”

Episode four is set to be more interactive than ever, featuring the first review of spoken word on a CD sent to the boys by Frank Burton and a Skype interview with a poet from Washington, who discovered Oubliette through their myspace site.

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Switching narrators
As a parting treat, Richard gives me a sneak preview of the next episode. I find out a bit about how GarageBand works and offer some EQ advice. To really see it in action we need to record something, so I offer myself up for interview. We have a quick chat and I even recite some of my own poetry. I could make it onto episode five, fingers crossed I get tossed in.


Raving Socialism

The DJ article is out but annoyingly it’s been creditted to Paul Clarke. I can prove it was me – look the transcript is here! I don’t mind as long as I’m the one getting paid…

The many resurrections and reinventions of Tim Sheridan.

Tim Sheridan has a DJ career that spans two decades and has ‘careered’
in more directions than most. From his baptism by the Utah Saints,
head honcho for Kiss FM in Leeds, major Dope Smuggla, saviour of
Ministry and Manumission to releasing a bunch of ‘wrong’ youngsters on
the scene; his musical moves can be justified by his love of sound as
much as melody.

“In the Yorkshire Dales where I used to go exploring I remember there
was a whistling steel cable on a windy hill and when I whacked it, it
made that same ‘laser’ noise as in Star Wars but with a longer decay.
I learned recently from the DVD special features that it was almost
exactly how they made the noise!” He pauses before coining a famous
sample, “So began, my journey into sound!”

It was whilst working at a rehearsal studio in Leeds around the mid
eighties that he met the U-U-U-Utah Saints who were making music under
the moniker of MDMA.

“This was some years before Ecstasy arrived,” Tim sighs, “It was the
first time I’d seen an electronic drum kit. There were no samplers
then but sequencers were a prehistoric embryonic version. They were
always years ahead of their time… they still are! It’s very
interesting when people look back and think that the early
incarnations of electronic music is really basic but in fact at the
time people like The Shamen and Utah Saints, were at the total
bleeding edge of technology and progression. You may splutter
incredulously but sorry it’s just a fact. If you are at the forefront
you don’t get left behind you usually stay ahead.”
Tim does concede that staying at the ‘pointed end’ of the scene does
have its fair share of hazards. In situations like this, praise from
peers rather than po-faced pricks counts for more.

“It’s quite natural that fashion and hype types follow. You mix with
the beautiful people and there is always some twat cooler than you.
Always. As a survival knee-jerk people quite easily dismiss others.
Even if you are Ricardo Villalobos or someone untouchable, there is
someone dissing you somewhere and it can hurt.”

The appreciation of a long time player like Mr C matters much more
than a Shoreditch twonk,

“Richard (Mr C) is one of my benchmarks. He’s one of the best DJs and
if I’m good enough to play alongside him it’s good enough for me.
Although he’s a lot cooler than me but that’s ‘cos he’s a naturally
cool fucker and I’m a bit of a weirdo!” laughs Tim. “We’ve trodden
very similar paths though. He had to shed The Shamen in same way I had
to shed Dope Smugglaz. It’s about re-inventing you and making yourself
still relevant – chameleon-like. David Bowie is a great influence to
me.”

Ahhh yes, the Dope Smugglaz… fitting quite comfortably onto Oakey’s
chart focussed label Perfecto they were cool because they had the
established dance credentials to back up their seemingly ‘popped out’
chart success. Tim explains:

“We shot ourselves in the foot really by making it too much a
producer’s playground. It was a little too self-obsessed and
misconceived in many ways. We just thought people ‘got it’ but they
clearly didn’t. The trouble is you can swan around thinking you are
the KLF and everyone else thinks you are a twat! I suppose those
people who put us at Number One got it.” Tim chuckles ruefully, “The
bottom line is, when we got signed we were actually cool as fuck,
believe it or not. It was ’96 and really fluffy bra-bra land. It took
so long for us to break through we became outdated a bit as the scene
started to accelerate. One thing we didn’t control well was our image.
We gave a whole contact sheet of photos to our PR person once and of
course they chose the only one that made us look stupid. We wanted to
look like Kraftwerk and we ended up looking like Madness… You think
all your job entails is to make music but it’s like… 0.1% of the job.
It’s a sad fact these days image is everything, including those who
think they are above it.”

Aware from the glare of the lens, is Tim’s drive to push others.
Another career swerve was into helping Kiss FM in the North. Kiss had
got it wrong in Tim’s eyes when they launched in Manchester (“I mean
there were no Black DJ’s for God’s sake – in Manchester!”) Tim was
determined that they weren’t going to make the same mistake when they
launched in Leeds.

“I was doing some work for them in London when I heard, I begged them
not to get it wrong – especially as the license covered about half of
the UK. So I started off as a Sherpa, a local guide to show them round
the pitfalls and I ended up staffing the whole place! My job role was
‘Specialist Music Producer,’ which meant I didn’t control drive-time
and breakfast but I was pretty much in charge of everything else… for
fuck all money! I was on air for four hours every night too. Tell you
what; you get good pretty quick when you are playing to a million
people every night for two years. No DATs then – mixing, talking and
operating a computer and desk all at once. I had two pairs of
headphones on at the same time!”

We chat about the stations roster, which included DJs as diverse as
Ralph Lawson and Huggy, L-Double, Jon Berry, Carl Cox, Rob Tissera,
Paper Records, 808 State, the Back To Basics lot and even Reeves and
Mortimer.

“If I do say so, it was the best radio. We had a real laugh too. I had
Thomas Bangalter’s ‘Spinal Scratch’ on our daytime ‘A’ playlist! But
the whole thing went to shit. Galaxy bought Kiss out secretly and I
had to get out. I held a meeting with everyone and said ‘I’m leaving
and I suggest you do too, because in a year you’ll all be gone.’ The
day I left they changed the locks, took off Bangalter and put Robbie
fucking Williams on hourly rotation instead. They were nearly all
fired a year later too. It’s still shit by the way!” Tim chuckles,
“They sold the franchise lock stock, it ended up being run by
advertisers and all decisions by committee. But you know for at least
two years we had a clean run and I’m intensely proud. I could do it
again but frankly I try not to go back once I find something is
underhand. I’m way too naive for Big Business. They are my natural
enemy.”

Although the timelines are tangled (remember he had DJ’d since the
eighties) the next significant swerve was from big business to
superclub. The main break was being a resident at Home.
“Or the The Towering Inferno as I like to call it!” Tim chuckles “It
goes to show on the DIY ladder that the big shiny stuff can very
easily go to shit. I think the story of Home was well documented but
few know the real story. It was a truly great place and Danny
Tenaglia, Steve Lawler and myself supporting did some truly ace nights
but Westminster Council did it in more than anything. They are
horrible and I really shouldn’t go into it, as they are exactly the
sort of types who’ll take me to court. Basically the entire Industry
imploded after the millennium. It was big and fat and bloated and it
had to burst.”

In the scramble for survival the superstar DJs wanted to stay in the
manner in which they had become accustomed to. Promoters were faced
with an extortionate price or getting their enthusiastic mate in for
£50

“In the UK I was fighting and competing with people who didn’t have
the twin stigma of the charts and Home round their necks. So I just
left! I reasoned why fight in London when the meritocracy in Ibiza
meant you could succeed and people come to you for six months a year?
I went over there without a penny or a word of Spanish and it was hard
at first.”

Hard?

“Fuck off actually it was brilliant! What am I saying? I used to walk
everywhere in the Sun. I was so happy then I could have burst! Dead
healthy too. Then I eventually got a gig. Manumission had a flagging
rep to be honest, for them the show is everything; they had no musical
credibility at all. They asked me take over the back room. I just
played as different as I could to everyone else, which then was quite
easy. Of course like absolutely everyone who works there for a bit, I
found out how unpleasant they were to the staff. I couldn’t bear it.”

Whilst there Tim started his bright burning relationship with Smokin’
Jo. Together they ditched Manumission and ably assisted by Los
Pirates’ Joe Upton, the brilliant bastard Nastydirtysexmusic was
conceived,

“I think being a free party says ‘NON MORE FOR REAL’ in huge letters
to everyone. I always wanted it to have the attitude that the music we
play is what you play at home on a Sunday morning to your mates in
London. At that time lot of DJs would pack an ‘Ibiza box’ you know –
sunshine, bongos, handclaps and flamenco guitars – very patronising
and thoughtless I reckoned then. I just wanted to be a bit more
realistic – to focus on the tunes not the surroundings. The music IS
the surroundings if you do it right. Nastydirty’s popularity provided
a renaissance for all involved, and gave Ibiza a fair kick up the arse
too.”

This time the image had been struck just right and imported back to
the UK it re-invigorated Ministry

“It’s like getting married and suddenly you are beating off the birds
with a stick.” He pauses then adds “Where were you lot when I was
knocking one out nightly?!”

Then once again the bubble burst:

“I always crash and burn and start again innit! So I went back under
the stone that I came from. Back underground, which I know some may
chortle but it’s very much my natural environment. Always have been.
You can’t even BE overground without a total understanding of the
underground. It’s where we all come from and return to – ashes to
ashes…” he chortles.

Now we have the new turn: Veryverywrongindeed which goes back to Tim’s
roots “dirty little after hours places full of weirdo’s” and
supporting new talent.

“After a bit of touring I found some good people across the UK with
similar ambitions and set these nights up and was able to set back
with reasonably priced local DJs – who were fucking brilliant. So I
adjusted everything to a more DIY approach. The Leeds incarnation was
the key. The punters made it their own and it was made the top
after-hours club in the UK by media consent. Even in the Times! I
couldn’t be prouder. I’m a big advocate of making friends and I ended
up doing Leeds, Manchester, Bristol, Brighton and Glasgow. It’s a 100%
DIY ethic you don’t have to make much money to survive if you make it
small and do it right. Small non-profit success is the way –
organically growing something rather than constructing it out of
plastic. All the London stuff is for charity too. The Red Cross are my
partners and I’m dead chuffed to be making our silly games into
something that makes a difference. It’s very gratifying when The Key
let us have the venue free, and DJs like Ewan Pearson and Mr C donate
their services and we save lives basically. Particularly in those
places the fucking British government is making a stinking mess. The
Red Cross are frontline, but also next door in your street.”

We are living in exciting times, youtube and myspace are leveling the
playing field and DJ’s are able to create a following that doesn’t
rely on the old guard but is able to push from the frontline. Elder
Statesman – Tim may be but he’s fighting with us.

“I get great Kudos from this current generation, I’m always amazed at
how many people come to gigs and how keen they are. But I’m not a
Daddy of the scene; I’m just a part of it. We’re going to see some
really big changes. Clubs are crumbling because they aren’t giving
people what they want. Promoter and crowd working together is an
egalitarian dream.”

Another side to Tim that impresses us is his raving socialism. In both
senses of the word.

VERYVERYWRONGINDEED VS ZOMBIES CHARITY RED CROSS BALL IS THE LAST SATURDAY OF EVERY MONTH IN LONDON. VERYVERYWRONDINDEED RECORDS AND TIM’S NEW TUNE LAUNCHES IN MAY. VVWI the afterparty tours the UK on Sundays.


Cassette Boy (July ’05)

Replicating the style of Cassette Boy’s cut-up was the objective here. Check out Chris Malbon’s beautiful design. For full effect you need to compare Side A with Side B (pages 1 and 2)

cassette-boy-july-05.pdf 

cassette-boy-july-05-2.pdf 


Do y’ know Juneau?

Whilst Blowback was launching, Dan Jones from Channel 4 Ideasfactory came to see us. We struck a co-promotional deal: when it was deemed suitable, we would run a Blowback article and an alternative Ideasfactory version. The criteria for Ideasfactory was different to Blowback, the features needed to be made more midlands focussed, more about ‘access’ and traditional in style.

Whereas Blowback took stylistic flights of fancy, Ideasfactory was more a pragmatic, practical sister. Actually some of the IF articles are longer lasting than the BB equivalents. I may put their Blowback equivalents on-line for contrast.

————————

Dan Davies meets Ben and Phil AKA ‘Juneau Projects’, who first formed through doing casual work at the Ikon Galley, Birmingham. United through their love of music and art they joined art rockers ‘The Only Men’. At one performance for the ‘Grizedale Projects’ in the Lake District they learned about a series of residences and applied as Juneau Projects.

“The reason why we used that name was because we wanted something that wasn’t just our names. I loose track of the duos that are just artists names, they sort of all merge into one,” points out Phil.

The Projects

Though they didn’t get the residency, they were accepted for several projects. The first performance was part of a show called “The Great Escape,” based around a camping theme, with various Army Camp wardens, drills and axe throwing. Urban dance classics were strummed out on acoustic guitar around the campfire, sung by Ben and Phil and the local scouts group. Among the cover versions were Groovjet’s ‘Spiller’, Alice DJ’s ‘Better Off Alone’, The Fugees’ ‘Killing Me Softly’ and Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’.

“It makes you feel quite old because we choose tracks we thought everyone knew. But particularly with Massive Attack and The Fugees they’d never really heard it. With the Alice DJ track as well, obviously you were just repeating it so actually it was kind of mournful.”

Tragi-Comedy

Often what was intended to be funny in JP’s work comes across quite tragic.

“I suppose we like the pathos of that situation and also the amateurish edge,” admits Phil “Especially with the more technical work. A lot of the things we do are based on our ambivalence to technology. A lot of our early work was to do with breaking an element of technology. Like putting a walkman in a lake and recording its own demise.”

After a couple of minutes rowing out into the lake, the walkman is dropped into the water and then brought back to shore. The walkman refuses to die, popping and screaming scrambled Strauss strings all the way to the close of the film.

A Jubilee Piece they did featured a copy of The Sex Pistols’ ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ being set alight whilst playing ‘God Save The Queen’. The needle jumps off the buckling record and swings back scraping against the side like a warped heart beat. The sound keeps playing for an eerily long time with the arm still burning. It’s the struggle of the needle, to return and keep playing which is almost sad.

This can prove more difficult with digital technology that just blacks out if you take out a main line. The piece they did using CD players (firstly drilling through the CDs then through the players themselves) had to be rehearsed. Not because of the danger element Phil explains, “It’s only 3 Volts! We had to make sure we drilled it in the right place so that we missed all the vital organs!”

Appliances Not Accessories

Although the electrical appliances are always as cheap as possible their destruction makes you think about how you view your own possessions. What they represent isn’t as precious as we think. So would Juneau Projects destroy anything that was dear to them?

“In a piece we did recently, two mobile phones are set up facing each other on two stands and played through a lap top and various effects. Because of their closeness they feedback and we kind of made them talk to each other.” Phil’s eyes light up, “Then we took a blowtorch to one of them! One of the phones we used was my girlfriends and even though it hadn’t worked properly for a while, we were sad to see it go.”

Playing Out

Another recent project involved touring a road show round the country with a few tracks they’d made themselves. Fanzines and personal CD players were laid out and kids were given the opportunity to write their own lyrics, then record them in the caravan. Each song was videoed and each kid got a CD.

“There is a weird kind of Karmic balance to the stuff we do. On the one hand we’re taking things out of the world, like Fax Machines and TVs and on the other we’re putting things back like kids on CDs!”

It didn’t stop there though, as the resulting vocals were lifted, remixed and played out live by the boys themselves at The Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham. In this age of high technology Juneau Project lower the tone but they also find something beautiful in that. Kids that innocently and effortlessly create something new, or electrical items that come to life as they’re about to break. There is something to be said about Lo-Fi.

“People are very sophisticated with how music and films are made. It’s the immediacy of the moment which gives it a genuine appeal. We’re not against that per se but it’s certainly an antidote to for example of the anodyne nature of the pop business or
Hollywood.”

Which is why the Juneau Projects’ projects are so special.


Mike Gaffiney (Sept 06)

Robot in disguise 

We chat to Mike Gaffiney about the differences between soundtracks and music and the transformation of Robot for TV 

Mike’s been making music since he was a youngster and has been involved with TV production for the last seven years. He set up his own company last year, MKG Soundscape after he identified a need in the soundtrack world.   

“I started off as researcher and camera man, then moved into sound libraries. I know from being behind the camera what film makers want. I’m hoping I’ve spotted a gap in the market where I can make a bit of money.”  

On his address list for invoices, Mike now has the BBC, Channel 4, Maverick TV, a few corporate DVDs and local news programmes. He specialises in three music genres: lounge music, ambient electonica and indie pop. Mike manipulates his MKG sound to for each client, using his portfolio he also lets them take the lead. An important skill to have, is to also prove yourself flexible in your client base, 

“It’s important when you start, to build up your portfolio and take on jobs. You’ll get credit for it and your PRS anyway. Word of mouth is the way the TV industry works. Luckily, I’m at the stage now where I’ve progressed from working for less than I’m worth.”  

Mike works four days a week in the BBC music library. His soundtrack work has meant that he can afford to take a day off. The rest of his free time is soundtracking. It’s fair to say that most soundtrack people are one man bands. Mike Gaffiney is certainly no exception, 

“In Robot I’m the songwriter / singer so I play the songs on acoustic guitar. I grew up playing the organ and learnt to play guitar in bands, my dad was a drummer so I have a rounded view. There’s no real ‘Clapton style’ solos or anything, which I suppose again lends well to soundtracking. I like writing lyrics, but melody comes easiest. That’s what makes the soundtracking easy to do, because it’s loads of  melodic ideas.”  

The next step is to be a one-man producer.  

“I’ve slowly built up a studio and learnt studio craft and production. I no longer need five people in a studio and a producer. Because I’ve got a proper recording studio and a master suite I can do it all by myself. Every night after work or on my days off, I just build stuff.” 

The advantage of producing the Robot tracks in the home studio are also apparent.  

“I have the studio tracks so I can break it down to stings for TV: three and a half  minutes, 30 second, 10 second or five second versions. That’s just a good way of getting a full band sound. It’s great because it’s started to generate income for the band as well.” 

In addition to his own MKG sounds, Robot have got a licensing deal with State Of Independence providing music for anything from computer games to adverts. Using the music in soundtracks is by no means a case of cut and paste. 

“It should enhance your enjoyment of the programme but shouldn’t detract from the narration. You’ve got your work cut out because your natural instinct as a musician is to grab people’s attention, you have to back off melody lines and dynamics.”  

In the long run it just seems to be a case of living life creatively.  Just as Mike’s Robot work has fed into Soundtracking the reverse is also true.  

“I’ve got stuff stacked up which wasn’t appropriate for the client that I might use with the band…As a composer for TV, it’s best to pick your genre and stick to it, I think being in a band gives me a genre straight away.”  

 


Chris Keenan

The following will appear in the forthcoming 4Talent site:

What is Prime Objective? 

It wouldn’t be fair to call Chris Keenan AKA Prime Objective just a VJ. In fact, considering his pseudonym, the man has many objectives. His projects range from photos with Holgas, SLRs and Lomo, to films using digital, stop-motion and Super 8. He’s also a notorious mandolin player.

Check out any of his work or projects he’s involved with and you’ll see that there’s plenty of overlay. Perhaps, most telling is the work he has done with Southern Comfort. Originally invited to New Orleans to take photographs for Blowback magazine, Chris was commissioned by Southern Comfort to extrapolate his film making skills; which in turn led to VJ sets at Southern Comfort’s Fat Tuesday’s tent across some of the best UK festivals.

We’re sitting by the Fat Tuesday Tent at the Big Chill festival, Chris is snapping merrily away – whilst inside his visuals are scrolling out on the screens. It occurs to me that there is a connection to these shots and Chris’ short films. Chris’s Super 8 style, from his first film ventures to Fidget is always about catching snatches, quick glimpses and moments of stillness. Always loosely edited to music.

“The music gives the films a flow and something to edit to. I guess my other work VJing and making music feeds into that. I’m putting an extra layer of myself in there.”

Chris actually began VJing before he had a Super 8. Using his home-made skate videos and youth archive footage, he manipulated the footage through V-Jam software. Chris even managed to convince a local bar: Browns in Coventry to buy some equipment so he could play there

“One of the best times was at Christmas 2003. Me and a friend Mick did a six hour set taking it in turns to DJ and VJ. We spent weeks getting it together, it lots of fun but there was no real money in it.”

I ask him whether the preparation factor is intrinsic to his VJ gigs

“Well you build up an archive. Some VJ’s I see use simple, but effective material; graphical stuff and simple animation. Then for the live version they add effects – through certain bits of software. Video turns out to be a lot more time consuming – especially when it’s original.”

We slurp at our Soco Cocktails; whilst plastic alligators (put there to fit in with the New Orleans theme of the tent), goggle at us open mouthed.

“Sometimes visuals are done really well at big gigs. When it’s more of an event they take on more of a shape,” says Chris “It often works really well at festivals. The Big Chill has had some great work on the main stage this year. Incredible.”

Chris’ favourite gig was for Exposure Film Festival’s closing night at the Cornerhouse in Manchester. He was invited by Rant Magazine to VJ with DJ outfit Iacon.

“There was a long table with 5 decks: MPCs and Kaos pads. Then me stood at the end with a lap top – vision mixer and DVD players. It was amazing.”

Recently, Chris Keenan found himself another objective: to direct an MTV style video for My Alamo.

“I’d helped out on ones before and worked on treatments but this was my first proper music video. I directed a camera man, assistant director and a producer. I worked with a prod company Antidote. I edited it all as well – over several days! We’ve had a really positive response from it which is pushing me to do more.”

It’s Chris’ hope that in future he can develop an array of projects from photographic reportage exploits in the state’s to further Super 8 fun and mandolin madness

“A style and passion for your work is what makes people take notice of you. The small projects you set yourself can often be time consuming and costly but occasionally they snowball and can generate new work and even revenue. This is something I haven’t forgotten and I’ve got a load of other projects planned , you know, seeds to sow… which will hopefully bear fruit as they grow and develop. ” 


Jo Waterhouse

Grinding The Bar

 

From Concrete to Canvas to Spine to Wobbly Eyes with Jo Waterhouse  

When you meet Jo, or even read her book, you realise that she’s devoted her whole life to art, skateboarding and those who do both. A few years ago when she developed Crohn’s disease, she had to give up her day job and unfortunately her boarding. However, she was determined to do something which kept her mentally active and she set about establishing a website which combined the two passions.  

“I basically did all the content for it – tracked down artists, did interviews, did reviews and ‘what not’ on those two subjects: skateboarding and art. It was from there that I was looking at other books and thought, ‘wouldn’t it be really good if there was one book about artists who were skateboarders?’ I had a contact with Laurence King whose books I was reviewing anyway. They said ‘Do some sample spreads, summary of content etc.’ Also, I had work on the website which backed-up that I knew what I was talking about.” 

Laurence King gave the green light and Concrete To Canvas came out to muted reviews from the skate industry – but had a sensational reaction from the general public. 

“The majority who have picked up the book have liked what they’ve seen. It was in Amazon’s 1000 best sellers list at Christmas, which was amazing!” 

It’s gone so well in fact that Laurence King are falling over themselves to get Jo to write other books. She’s stuck to what she knows, and next Autumn Concrete To Canvas 2, hits the streets.  

“They asked me if I wanted a bigger format or more expensive paper but I want to keep it the same. The book was aimed at a really wide audience which included students and artists. Some design books can be about £25-£30, it was just £12.95.”  

After the writing deadline for the book is out of the way this December, she and her boyfriend (Chris Bourke from The Outcrowd) will launch Ours – housed in Chris’s skate shop, Spine in
Worcester.
 

“It’s a nice way of getting your own doodles and designs out there. We’ll do T-shirts, badges, stickers, little bags – whatever we think of really. The tagline: ‘It’s not much but it’s ours’ is about us carving out something for ourselves. We also want to do the catalogue as a zine and include artists. Coupled with that, we’re doing a wall of Chris’s shop; which is going to be the world’s smallest independent gallery!”  

If you look around Spine, you’ll also notice that everything from the PIN machine to the holes in the walls, has wobbly eyes above them. I ask Jo about them and her own eyes light up…  

“I’ve just got into the habit of sticking eyes above holes for my own amusement. Loads of people were telling me it was funny and then some artist friends suggested I do something with it. I’ve sent an e-mail to artists across the world and I’m getting them to send in photographs. I was thinking of doing an exhibition and calling it ‘objects are people too!’ I mentioned it to Laurence King and they just went ‘What?’ I’m just going to collect the photos and see what happens.” 

Jo Waterhouse is a true artist of modern times; promoting and pushing other artists but also living life as an artist herself. As I leave, she hands me some wobbly eyes. I take them with me and as I’m writing this I put them on my jukebox in my lounge. I hope she uses it in her exhibition… 

Useful sites:  

www.concretetocanvas.co.ukwww.thisisours.co.ukwww.myspace.com/concretetocanvaswww.myspace.com/objectsarepeopletoowww.spineskateboarding.co.uk 

 


Alicia Dubnyckj

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Paint The City 

Travelling with Alicia Dubnyckyj 

At a time when conceptual artists can employ a whole team to realise their vision, there is something special in knowing that a painting has come from one hand; the brush strokes on canvas are as unique as a finger print. Paintings still invite a human dimension to art, one fixed person perspective and direct emotional contact. It’s traditional, purist – with no trickery…   

Alicia Dubnyckyj’s subject matter is the modern metropolis, principally its buildings, often seen from new and exciting angles. Her process is also distinctly modern – with a flash of virtual magic. Photos are taken of the subject, scanned in to the computer, manipulated, then painted out. Conversely for Dubnyckyj this was an organic evolution, 

“I’ve always taken photos from when I was younger so this was just a natural process,” she takes a sip of her drink, her arms are flecked with paint, “For me it wouldn’t be enough to take the photos and just show them. I don’t show anyone the photos, not even the clients. They’re just the source material. Painting is what I do, it gets emotion in there. My mood when I was there affects the colours on the palate.”  

A striking thing happens when you take a closer look at Alicia’s paintings… you can’t! The way the image has been rendered by the computer means that up close, it’s just painted abstraction. Also, as Alicia points out, you end up seeing your own reflection in the gloss paint. 

“I just wanted give the painting its own personal space. Also, because my work involves cities, I think it was important to make them modern and urban, gloss seemed to suit that.” 

Part of the appeal for the public is that her pictures vividly transport the viewer to the  location. Often there is an personal emotional link, with the buyer frequently returning to a memory. In my opinion, this is why many of them don’t feature people at all. You can be alone in contemplation in a space. Over the years, Alicia’s attitude to this has changed,  

“I used to wait around until all the people had gone before I took my photos. Then I realised that wasn’t what the paintings were about – cities have people in. Gradually people got put back into the paintings…there’s one painting I did in Central Park. It’s a snowy scene and there’s this couple walking along. Quite a few people have thought it was them.”  

Alicia has now visited and covered eight cities in depth. November is her first retrospective show for Sarah Myerscough’s Fine Art gallery in London and will feature three pictures from each city. As her international horizons continue to broaden, so does international interest in her art. Her second group show will take place in Paris in October followed by a solo show next year. It will also be the first time she’s been represented by a gallery from outside of the UK. In addition to this, she will also be showing at art fairs in Strasbourg and Toronto. So where next on the painted map for Alicia? 

“There’s too many places! I really love Japan, I’d like to go back and explore more. I have got a list at home, it’s really sad!” 

As Alicia gets ready to fly back to the studio for some more furious painting to supply demand, I ask her whether she keeps a decent balance between work and vacation, 

“It’s always, always, research even if I want to go on holiday, it never ends up being that way. My partner Paul is always waiting for me and I’m like, ‘I just want to take this photo’ or ‘Can we come back at night?’ I always end up seeing the city through a lens.”  

 

 


Ron English (July 04)

I saw Ron English’s art before I saw his billboard work, but in the end it was this double identity that interested me.
A documentary about him was looking to do a UK festival tour and I contacted him through the site. A full two years before the Guardian Guide picked up on him

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English Translations

 

The double lives of Ron English

 

It’s 10.30 in the morning, New York time. Ron English got up, had his breakfast with the family, said goodbye to his wife, dropped the kids off at school then came to his studio.

 

Most days he paints, creating modern day mash up pictures, Marilyn Monroe with Mickey Mouse breasts or fat McDonalds clowns – perverting modern icons so they carry a new message. Today we’ve got half an hour to chat before his crew come by and they do billboards. By doing billboards I mean, reacting to the subliminal buy messages and subverting them and exposing a new ‘truth.’ He’s not the only person doing this,
America has a whole billboard liberation network, Ron explains,

 

‘Actually the Billboard Liberation Front are in San Francisco. It’s kind of like I’m New York they’re San Francisco and the Californian Department of corrections is LA. We work together, I was in San Francisco the month before last to do a billboard with those guys. We think them up together over some beers and then do one over.’

 

Since moving from Texas, English changes his own crew on a weekly basis,

 

‘I have a waiting list of people who want to go out with me. So I try and use different people every time now. A lot of people just want to do it one time you know? It’s a lot better to have a hardcore crew because some of the stuff is really dangerous….There’s two I’m doing today and half the scaffolding has already fallen through. Usually in
New York city, the scaffolding is all metal. Broadly speaking, if you have a fifteen foot ladder you can get to any billboard in America – except the ones that are on top of buildings. Even 10 years ago people didn’t lock the buildings, you could go up the stairwell and climb up almost anywhere in New York. Now you have to make some kind of contact that will buzz you in.’

 

I fantasize momentarily about Fight Club style military operations, involving a three changes of clothes and various swipe card jamming operations. English brings me back down to earth.

 

‘I just wear T-shirts and jeans that’s what real billboard guys wear. They’re blue collar workers, you know?’

 

I imagine it must be a bit less dangerous to do it in New York as people are (generally) more liberal.

 

‘I found that the great thing about New York is that the media is here and if you’re doing the billboard to get a message out to people, they’ll amplify your message…I left Texas because I had a second degree felony out of there. I’d go to prison for a long time if I ever did anything else. That’s the attitude, when you doing someone’s billboard – that’s private property. They’re very into private property down there.’

 

I balk at this with a adolescent rant about how billboards invade my intellectual privacy and that New York must have billboard liberation because the shit you’re fed at any corner.

 

‘Yeah,’ agrees Ron ‘Also the billboards are always in impoverished neighbourhoods. You’ll never go to Belle Air and see a billboard, they’re protected from them. Since poor people don’t own their own buildings, someone will come and stick a big liquor add for their kids to look at every day.’

 

Ron has been quoted as ‘tickling corporate culture’s funny bone’ but it seems to me that there is a lot of anger present.

 

‘I would say it’s driven by a sense of civic duty, and the humour is necessary because you can actually transmit ideas through humour. It buffers the idea giving people a lot of time to absorb the idea instead of resisting it. People don’t like dogma and people don’t like being told what to do. Humour allows you to think about the other side for a second without feeling threatened and adopt the defensive posture.’

 

I wonder what Groening thinks about Homer Simpson being transformed into an intense abstract painter.

 

‘I’m actually friends with Matt Groening you know him? Some people are like “what does he think about people stealing his stuff,” he thinks it’s great, but he’s still an artist. The thing is an artist creates something, then it’s taken away from them by the corporations and the guy who’s not an artist isn’t going to understand where this stuff has come from. They’re not going to understand the creative process they’re just going to exploit it. Artists understand it’s like the old blues guys, everybody learns from everybody and everybody takes a little from everything. It’s an ongoing community.’

 

I burst into another rant about how, if The Simpsons was a plain sitcom it wouldn’t get broadcast but the cartoon element buffers the message.

 

‘Also if you realise The Simpsons is the most progressive show we have and it’s on Fox the most right wing station. Those guys don’t have news, just pure propaganda then they have The Simpsons because it makes so much money.’

 

How would you feel if corporations offered you money to do something?

 

‘I have no problem with that!’ laughs English ‘Obviously I don’t get many offers because people are really nervous of me. I had an incident with Camel around the time I was doing the Cancer Kids stuff. One day I get a call from their ad company in Chicago, they were saying they were launching a new campaign. I didn’t ask them why they were calling me, I just thought they wanted me to quit fucking with them, and they were paying me off. But they wanted me to work for them. I think it was because I was also known as a painter in
New York and they were looking for these down town celebrity painters. I don’t think they understood about this other side of me which was the billboard liberator.’

 

‘I didn’t know what to do then my wife just said “good let them pay for your bill boards!” What I did was, their new angle was to go for the trip hop crowd. There is this trick I used to do in my younger photography days, where if you take a skull and elongated it so you can’t tell what it is any more, if you stand sideways to it you can see the skull. I did all these streaky skulls, when you looked at it straight, it was a camel on top of a psychedelic pattern but if you went under the billboard and looked up you could see a skull bone looking at you. They were putting these billboards up all over the country until someone finally looked up and went “oh fuck!”’

 

English laughs and I laugh too. The crew swing by and English, dons his T-shirts and jeans and steps through the door – Mr Benn style – into another life.

 


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.’