Audio Influences in Skating: The Blah Records Connection
Photos : Jorgen Nijman, Leon Humphries, James Bower
Text : Leon Humphries
What really synthesised my interest in music was the variety of artists featured in the corpus of 90s skate videos. The most featured genres at this time would be metal, grunge, punk and hip hop. Videogroove (VG) & T-bone films both featured a variety of rap songs that became the anthems of my adolescents. Skate videos were the fertile ground to a growing and lifelong connection with rap & hip hop.
I was properly introduced to music in the mid 90s. Memories prior to that period are limited.
There were always guitars in my house, my Dad playing for most of his life. My sister also played the guitar and we gravitated towards rock, grunge & metal. I always remember 'grunge' & 'metal' resonating with me particularly.
In the earlier days of my internet use, I scanned Napster and explored any options of file sharing to slowly build my collection. Exploring the recesses of the internet for songs reverberating in my mind became a regular obsession. Much has been said about file sharing damaging the music industry. However, my eagerness to source music I 'needed' has developed into a healthy relationship of respecting and paying for the creative work that interested me.
Hip Hop and rap has influenced a huge area of skating and vice versa. The 'boom bap' style of beats prevalent in the 90s married perfectly to the pace and rhythm of skating at the time. The rhymes were often oriented around street life & culture. Sometimes lyrics were poetic and moving or despondent and violent. At first, the East Coast NYC rap scene resonated with me heavily. Most of the tunes referred to acts of violence and related to complex social & racial issues. At the time I was certainly drawn to the darkness and attitude of the MCs. Big L, Nas, Big Pun, Wu Tang Clan, Kool G Rap & GangStarr were but a fraction of the artists on blast at the time.
The boom bap era was defined by hard beats and I felt like emulating similar feelings through my own skating. The hip hop style & aesthetic was clearly reflected in the clothing choices of a generation of skaters - sometimes to absurd lengths. Many of us, myself included, might have questionable video clips in the public domain. Wearing baggy clothing was one thing, but the depth of jean sag got out of hand.
The close connection to this art form and aspect of culture profoundly impacted the development of skills and attitude on my skates. As my knowledge and experience grew, I realised that the UK rap scene was vibrant and brimming with life. Growing up in London, there were various local scenes and venues that accommodated the culture of free styling and local artists performing. Take for example Deal Real Records in Carnaby Street, Oxford Circus. The now closed store opened their doors on Friday nights. A group would convene, ciphers emerging in and around the store. There would be live performances from renowned artists; I recall seeing Skinnyman and Task Force perform there. US artists also came to the store as its reputation grew and its stature solidified as an important venue for UK rap. I attended Deal Real Records with friends who still skate now.
This was around the 2002/03 period. Both cultures seemed completely congruous, at least in our eyes. One skate friend who attended Deal Real records is now a successful rapper - Professor Green. Other friends also developed livelihoods nested in the cross culture of skating and rap. 'Oliver Sudden' aka Oli Lamb is a respected rapper / DJ. Based in Croydon, his roots are within skating. High Focus records artist and founder ‘Fliptrix’ is also rooted in skating. They later formed a connection with Sam Crofts who wore shirts and put together some promotion for their label. There seems to be a huge network of producers, MCs or musicians who are in some way connected to the skate world. It would not be for some years that I would discover the extent to which these connections existed.
It isn’t surprising that many skaters evolve into musicians. The creative process in skating loosely relates to visualisation and imagination, expression and form. Rhythm and coordination also heavily relate to the act of skating. These mental and physical attributes translate to the creation of music.
In this moment, the music industry has permeated the online landscape. Social media sites, Band Camps & YouTube channels provide a vast depth of material to be revisited or discovered. The combustion of availability, variety, artistic connotations and reasonable pricing creates a strong relationship between music and sub cultures. Skating is now primarily active on social media sites; skate videos are created, promoted and presented via these channels.
The mainstream video sites do not permit the use of music tracks without the agreement of artist and or record label. Although music may not seem completely central to the meaning of a skate video, it irrefutably adds layers of feeling and exemplifies the essence of a skaters style. A true collaboration between these two artistic forms would be better served with an agreement or at least acknowledgement. I have used or suggested the use of many songs by artists I adore, often wondering whether their blessings would be given. In all cases previously, no validation was sought after.
My own attitude has changed over the years. I had recently written to ‘Bardo Pond’, a band who I love dearly. I wanted to share with them my gratitude for their inspiring work. I had sent them a video of me which had a music track of theirs.
Their response was prompt and completely heart-warming. In my eyes, a precedent had been set by the acknowledgement of the two arts combining. I felt that writing to artists who I revered, respected and found great inspiration in would be the right thing to do. The feeling of acceptance and validation was strong. With a sense of confidence and excitement I was propelled to explore this avenue of communication further.
I mentioned the connection with the UK Rap scene earlier. In 2014 I had become aware of the Blah Records Label. My attention to the work under this label had gone as far as using one of the tracks from Runcorn based rapper Lee Scott. The beat was produced by London based producer ‘Morriachi’. I knew that Morriachi had previously collaborated with Oli Lamb aka Oliver Sudden. From this point onwards, albums such as ‘Prozium Peddlin’ by ‘Hock Tu Down’ or ‘Tourettes Camp’ by ‘Children of the Damned’ had become regular tunes in the session. Naturally, my imagination was never too far from these sorts of tunes when thinking about how I wanted to skate.
As my awareness of the Blah Records movement grew, so did my intention to reach out and ask whether it would be acceptable to use their music. A few months ago I did exactly that. Via Instagram, a DM was sent to Lee Scott, giving due props and broaching with him my idea. Lee wrote back promptly, saying it was cool ‘as long as you don’t skate like a donkey’.
Spurred on by an encouraging response, I next chose to DM a producer under the same record label ‘Sam Zircon’. His album ‘Anxiety Skits’ available to listen to on YouTube and purchase on his Band Camp blew me away. I reached out to Sam, again, giving due props and rational for wanting to incorporate his music with my skating. I was certainly not prepared for the response. Sam messaged me back promptly with a picture message.
The picture message was of the DVD menu for Matt Watts, Ally Brightwell and my skate video ‘TEEM’. I sat back, stunned. What this meant was that Sam had a seminal London skate video, I had a direct hand in making, to hand. He understood the gravity of this connection and just posted the photo to articulate it. We then had an exchange, Sam explaining his connections to skating, people he grew up with and the sense of reverie for those formative years in his life. Not only did Sam give a blessing to use some of his music, he suggested the potential to work on exclusives specifically for skate videos! As if this wasn’t enough of an incredible synchronicity, it evolved into an even more surprising and affirming situation. Sam went on to tell me that his friend and co artist, rapper ‘Stinkin Slumrock’ aka ‘Slummy’ also had a connection to skating. Slummy is part of ‘Cult of the Dammed’. The Cult, are a rap group within Blah records. Its collective of artists are creating some of the hardest and dopest UK rap right now.
Slummy, hailing from Walthamstow, used to own the Razors ‘Leon Humphries’ skate and drew inspiration from some of my earlier work. He went on to say that he knew James Bower and some of the other east London skaters. Subsequently, an exchange with Slummy occurred, with him falling into reveries of the past. He partially joked that making some music videos would be necessary, remarking that he would certainly skate again. I reached out to Bower to share this amazing story. I was totally blown away by the degrees of separation. What was to come really prompted the articulation of this story.
Coincidentally my birthday fell on the Cult of the Damned’s last tour date in London this year. They had recently released their latest album, Cult of the Damned: ‘Part Deux Brick Pelican Posse Crew Gang Syndicate’. The night was mad. Everyone went hard, wilding on the dance floor and stage. Conversations were had, particularly with Sam and Slummy who took time to discuss the relevance of skating to their own lives. At one point, Sam intimated that my choice of Klashnekoff, ‘Son of Niah’ in ‘Teem’ was partly responsible for his affinity with beat making. This was a classy show of respect from Sam. I shared with him how his music had influenced my ideas in and outside of skating. It was meaningful to recognise the two art forms coming together. As we wandered off in the early hours of the morning, the evening’s events would leave a lasting impression.
I thought this story was worth telling. Initially, I attempted to explain the connection with rap & hip-hop music to skating, and its effect on our culture. The connection was propelled by the use of these songs in skate videos, igniting obsessive interest in mid-90s music.. Over the years I had explored other genres of music to give meaning to the spectrum of experience contained in my life. In a cyclic and synchronous process, I had discovered new music which spoke to my skating instincts and impulses. The process left me in wonder and appreciation of the rich and diverse pool of artists, some of which firmly nested in skate culture. In celebration of this realisation, I chose to present this latest piece of video with music by Sam Zircon. I hope increasingly work on more original video pieces with the blessing and input of the artists that I connect with and love.