Magenta In The UK
From Sidewalk Issue 202 - July 2013
The following is a collection of interviews with all but one of the skaters involved in the recent Magenta UK tour. Those already aware of this skater-owned outfit and their cultural output will know that Magenta presents a vision of skateboarding that is entirely their own. This vision is not one predicated on selling you tricks, or striving to be the best – its simplicity belies its message: one of remembering and relishing the sheer joy of riding a skateboarding through the city. There’s a hell of a lot to read in the pages to come so I’ll keep this brief, just remember that, as Bertrand Russell once said,
“In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”
Words with Vivien Feil
Okay then Vivien, before we get into the insanity of a French skater-owned company doing its world premiere in England, let’s get a bit of background for those people who don’t know what you’re about…Magenta is 100% skater-owned and operated, correct?
Absolutely. We’re 100% independent. My brother Jean does all shipping and shoots photos. Soy does all the artwork and I do the business and marketing. Yoan is our main filmer and Leo helps out during trips to make sure we get everything we need for the projects we’re working on. All the riders are encouraged to give their opinion on everything we put out and we discuss important directions together. No middle man, no financier, we own and operate our own ship and we intend to keep it that way.
Yourself and Soy were both following a more traditional sponsorship route before Magenta and your brother was an in-demand freelance photographer – what made you decide to collectively embark on a different journey and start up your own thing?
I can’t narrow such a life-changing decision as starting our own brand together with family and close friends to one factor. A lot of things weighed on that decision. I had thought for a while that the talents of my brother as a photographer, videographer and more and Soy as an artist weren’t shining as much as they rightfully should have.
I had spent long years mostly travelling and skateboarding alone but felt I had done the full circle of it and continuing on the exact same journey would just bring repetition. Soy, Jean and I had been daydreaming about starting our own thing for years because we weren’t feeling how skateboarding was represented and we wanted to do something about it.
In 2008 my long time girlfriend and I left Paris and went on a trip throughout Asia and the Pacific for 7 months. I subsequently cut myself from the rest of the world (there is not much internet in Laos or in reclusive islands in the Philippines). It gave me ample time to think about life choices and realize how incredible skateboarding was as a tool to connect with people instantly, regardless of ability and skills. I met, got hooked up with a place to stay, spent time & skated with skaters based on our common passion in India, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, Japan and pretty much everywhere we went.
Upon returning to France in 2009 my girlfriend and I broke up and it wrecked me. Here I was back in France feeling quite awful on unstable ground with no routine, comfort or anything to lose that would hold me back from changing my focus radically, which I had been wanting to do for a while but had never got around to do it.
I called my brother and Soy and asked them if they would be down to actually start our own skateboard company together to promote our vision of skateboarding. To my surprise they were immediately down. I had a bit of money saved up and I knew my brother had a little bit aside too. I asked him if he was willing to risk his savings into the company, knowing the chances of losing it all quite quickly were very real.
True to his typical wise man nature, he told me we should just do it and if we lose all so be it. Soy and Jean’s reaction gave me a tremendous boost of energy and from that moment we all went to work trying to figure out how to create something good and viable that would represent what we love about skateboarding: freedom, creativity, city life, brotherhood, the pure fun and enjoyment it procures and connecting with skateboarders from different cultures around the world.
It’s clear from the videos, products and team that Magenta as a brand represents a very particular vision of what skateboarding is, and is something that everyone involved is passionate about. Was this not available for you in your previous incarnations as sponsored/pro skaters or artists?
As sponsored skateboarders Soy and I were involved in many projects with various people from around the world over the years and always tried to push our views. We were also writing articles and Jean was shooting photos for various skateboard publications across Europe trying to spread our vision of skateboarding that way. Magenta allowed us to have complete freedom over our message and the way it’s presented to the world and involve only people that are deeply passionate about skateboarding in the project. Thankfully people have been feeling it and the company has been growing rapidly since our start 3 years ago, so we’re now able to work on bigger more elaborate projects like SOLEIL LEVANT, which is the video project we’re the most proud of so far.
So was Magenta created to stand in opposition to things with the ‘skate industry’ that you didn’t like, or thought were misrepresented? Or did you all just want an opportunity to do things your own way?
The skateboard industry’s current focus on performance by displaying almost exclusively difficult tricks, whether technical or dangerous, is not something we relate to on our daily experience on our boards. We feel that skateboarding has much more to offer than being only a sport. It has cultural, social, artistic, sociological values and much more and it seems all these aspects are being widely overlooked by the industry. Magenta is our outlet for representing the wide spectrum of possibilities that skateboarding carries within itself.
There’s a lot of overlap between the video output of the company and the stuff produced by Yoan through the Minuit series – what’s the history behind your friendship with him?
Soy and I first met Yoan and Leo about 8 years ago on a visit to Bordeaux. They were both already their own self even though they were teens and looking like kids to us. Yoan was filming street skateboarding with a sharp vision of what aesthetics he wanted to present, smiling all the time and Leo was his dedicated opinionated self already. In 2009 Soy went on a trip to Japan to film for MINUIT with Yoan, Leo, Masaki and a bunch of Bordeaux locals and got to know them better. When we started Magenta, Leo was the first rider we had in mind. Yoan was the first videographer we asked to contribute to our first video MICROCOSME. He agreed and him, Jean and myself filmed the majority of the video. I’m quite proud that he got his first paycheck from skateboarding through Magenta. He then offered Soy and I to film a short section for his upcoming video MINUIT, which ended up being distributed through Magenta. Yoan filmed the majority of SOLEIL LEVANT and Magenta recently started distributing MINUIT clothing. I moved to Bordeaux from Paris a year and a half ago after getting back with my girlfriend and having a baby boy together, so we skate together with Yoan, film and hang out almost everyday when I’m not on father’s duty. He recently started doing some designing work for us, as he is pretty darn good at that so he’s coming to the office regularly. Yoan is the man.
Yoan and you guys seem to have a clearly defined approach and have somehow managed to create content for the web and in reality that has enough cultural value in and of itself to generate shit loads of views and internet noise without anyone having grind a 90 stair handrail whilst stabbing them selves. What are your thoughts on this?
Videos play a huge role in the representation of skateboarding. Nowadays they’re a lot easier to make, you can film on your phone or using a small camera. But making a memorable video is still as hard and energy consuming as it ever was. We try to produce videos that make sense in regard to what we believe is culturally important in skateboarding and what makes it unique: the local scenes, the experience of cruising around the city with your eyes wide open, the architecture which is very much tied to the type of skateboarding happening at any given place… we try to use music that’s relevant to the environment where the video was shot and ultimately we try to bring a message for the viewers, hidden or obvious.
Even though you grew up in a house where TV was prohibited under the strictest French regime imaginable I know that you’re all pretty aware of what goes on online, at least as far as reactions to the stuff you put out goes, so with in mind: what’s the funniest thing you’ve read online about Magenta?
Ha! People can get pretty creative on the comedy side. I like the comments saying we ought to be a wheel company because of all the cruising and powerslides. We seem to create a bit of confusion in some people’s minds. That’s good. Getting strong reactions positive or negative mean that we’re offering something that stands out and shake people ideas of skateboarding, which is exactly our intention. But my favourite comments are the ones of kids saying it made them and their friends want to skate the city.
You’ve got a good sense of humour (for a Frenchman) so you must have enjoyed that ‘Shmagenta welcomes Jacque Lally’ parody clip – they say imitation is the purest form of flattery, right?
(Laughing), the moustaches and French flags are just perfect!
From what I can see, part of Magenta’s whole deal is connected to establishing a relationship with certain cities that isn’t based on knowing where the biggest handrails are – Bordeaux, SF, Tokyo, NYC etc – what is it about certain cities that draws you guys there?
Bordeaux and Paris are our two bases. Soy lives in Paris with a lot of our crew and I visit quite often since I moved a year and a half ago. Leo, Yoan, myself, and a lot of Magenta affiliates are based in Bordeaux. What attracts us to other cities is mostly their setting, architecture, urban landscape and history inside and outside of skateboarding. If a city has made a glorious contribution to the kind of skateboarding we enjoy, or is making one now, we’re naturally drawn to visiting it. We all enjoy the experience of skating inside big cities, the randomness and uniqueness of it, wandering from spots to spots trying to find interesting new stuff to skate, getting kicked out, people wondering what the hell is going on, meeting maniacs and talking with all types of people in the streets… We’re naturally drawn to large cities where that sort of lifestyle happens.
As we’ve broached the topic of national stereotypes – how much pain did it cause a bunch of French dudes to premiere their newest video in the UK?
It was devastating. If I told my dad, he would probably fall to his knees and curse the lack of Frenchness in the education and values he gave me, (laughing). We chose to premiere the film in London and the UK because of its cultural signification worldwide. English is the most spoken language in the world and certainly the one shaping the world of today. The UK is where it originated and London is the centre from which it originally spread to the world. We’re trying to display our message for skateboarding to as many people as possible, so it made sense to do it in a place that has been so successful at spreading its vision and values on a global scale.
You travelled to various cities in the UK whilst you were here and from what I’ve been told some pretty intense conversation went on about spots. What exactly makes a skatespot “too rainforesty” and why does it matter?
That’s not something we worry about at home because we know the dynamic of the city we live in and we know where we want to go and what it’s gonna feel and look like. But when travelling abroad we’re at the mercy of luck in our wanders and we have pressure to film and shoot photos in a short time. It’s important that the places we film and shoot photos at are relevant to the aesthetics of the city and country we’re in. One of our goals is to encourage people to travel and discover new sights and perspectives. If we were to show some random looking stuff that could be found anywhere, the incentive to travel is gone. A ditch looks like a ditch no matter where you go around the world. We want to show the diversity of architecture and landscape, which makes each city unique.
How does the reaction to what Magenta are doing vary from somewhere like London to say Japan?
So far the reaction have been very enthusiastic everywhere we went, which is great. People everywhere didn’t expect the film to be so unconventional and were really surprised. Soy and I are meeting with Zach and Jimmy in the US for the East Coast premieres of SOLEIL LEVANT in 2 days. I’m looking forward to the reactions there.
Being that your French obviously the title of the flick is a deliberate reference to the Monet painting of the same name, the one that kick started the Impressionist movement – what meaning does that have in relation to your shared vision of skateboarding?
SOLEIL LEVANT means “rising sun” in French which is the symbol of Japan, and is indeed also a reference to the famous Monet painting. The impressionists were the first artistic movement to be recognized for breaking the rules of painting which had been the same for many hundreds of years: mainly focusing on technical skills and huge paintings. They choose to focus on their own impressions of what they felt when looking at landscapes and urban scenes rather than trying to impress by their outstanding abilities. With Magenta, much like the impressionists, we’re trying to find our own interpretation of the experience of skateboarding in the city and express the feeling it procures rather than trying to do better than the next man.
Let’s end on a stupid one – imagine that you are somehow appointed as the fascist leader of global skateboarding culture with the power to change/ban/destroy any aspects of current Skateboarding that offends you – give me your 5 first executive orders…
Ha! I’m not much of a fascist so I don’t usually indulge in these types of fantasies. What I would love to see in the future though is skateboarding being more open, creative and diversified and skateboarders taking a more active part in the industry and the representation of skateboarding, not only as puppets for some companies unrelated to skateboarding to buy themselves a credibility, but to take it into their own hands and tell their own story. That’s not really something you can force people into by a fascist executive order, is it?
Words with Zach Lyons
How does a dude from DC come to ride for a skate company run by French men?
Around a year and a half ago I was living in SF for the winter. Leo Valls was doing the same. We became great friends through our mutual friend Evan Kinori. I met the rest of the team when they came out for the filming of Hill St Blues part 2, and the rest is history.
You were on Organika before that right – what prompted you to switch over to what was, at the time a small, niche independent ‘European’ company?
I had quit Organika maybe four months before due to lack of movement as a company. And after meeting Leo and the rest of the team and seeing what they were all about, I knew it was a perfect fit. I really can’t imagine skating for anyone else. The size of the brand didn’t matter to me; the drive behind it is one thing that really got me hyped. Everyone seems to be just as motivated as each other, which is a great feeling. And the fact that it is a “European” company was a huge plus, I’ve had my fill of the California skate industry.
DC’s scene seems to be very city-focused with Pulaski as one of the few remaining street plazas with a scene attached – something that us Europeans take for granted – what’s the story with Pulaski, can you still skate ‘Freedom Plaza’ or is it on lockdown these days?
I’m now living in Baltimore Maryland, which is about an hour away from DC so I don’t get to skate Pulaski nearly as much as I wish I could because it is truly one of the best spots ever. I learned so much about skating from the time I’ve spent there. People still skate there everyday and it’s still a bust. It goes through phases of being more or less of a bust but that’s just how it goes.
Magenta seems to be a brand that represents a kind of skating and interaction with the city that is slowly being killed off in Cali – is their attitude and approach to the city part of what got you hyped on them in the beginning?
Oh yeah absolutely! We are all individuals but still on the same page in terms of the aesthetic and atmosphere of the spots and places we want to skate. And I think with the rise of skate parks all over the place it’s something that needs to be held onto.
Seems like right now the rise of the indie brand is in full swing again with various smaller skater-owned companies offering a real alternative to the culture of mainstream skateboarding – what do you think about that?
I think it’s amazing!! And I feel so lucky to be apart of it, I really think about it sometimes and can’t believe I’m skating for my favorite company and get to be a part of this movement. I think it’s great that small independent brands are doing well again because it’s showing people that they can do it them selves and do it however you want, not just catering to what they think will “sell”.
Had you been over to the UK before this trip?
I had never been there before so I was really excited about it! I’ve always thought the London scene looked really great, and it was! I got to skate Southbank for a minute and that was cool because I grew up seeing it in video and magazines. It did rain about 99% of the time, (laughing), but other than that it was awesome!
I like all the comments saying we ought to be a wheel company because of all the cruising and powerslides.
Was there really a conversation about whether or not a certain spot was “too rainforesty” to film at during this UK visit?
(Laughing), yes there was. We are a very passionate group of people and sometimes that ends up with an argument about trees; Soy hates trees. Also it seems like the French like to debate everything.
What is skateboarding?
It’s the best thing ever! It’s a pure creative outlet, a way to travel and make friends all over the world; it’s a very simple act that can be anything you want. I’ve spent most of my life skateboarding and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Cheers!
Words with Glen Fox
Right then Glen – tell us a bit about yourself please – you’re from Jersey right? Are you part of Luka’s crew?
Luka and me have skated together since the Primo skate shop days (R.I.P), back when we were about 10. Primo was where our whole crew met up and chilled.
‘AT LAST’ (first scene video I saw) kicked off our younger generation filming with blue tacked on fisheyes and Hi8’s.
Despite being slightly off the chart as far as media exposure goes – Jersey has produced one of the best skate photographers in the world as well as numerous rippers from the last couple of generations – tell us about the skate scene over on the island.
Jersey is a 9 by 5 island so it is super small and easy to hook up with mates, there were only a handful of crews when we were young and Primo brought us all together. At this time there was no skatepark in Jersey – that happened about 4 years ago – so we grew up filming and skating street.
Skating in jersey is a mission, people don’t really get it, they have the worst attitudes towards skateboarding out of any of the places we’ve all been to skate together; (London, Bristol, Murcia (Spain), France, etc – people kick off, the police are c*nts and the newspapers are always giving bad press about skateboarding.
A lot of the spots are private property or monuments so people don’t like it, but there are amazing hills and green lanes as Jersey is essentially the top of a mountain sticking out of the sea. There are no perfect ledge spots or Barcelona shit but there are some nice roads to skate.
The first time a lot of people became aware of you was from that Bordeaux Exposure video that Julien J made – how did a kid from Jersey come to be on that?
For the past 3/4 years we’ve done yearly Subterranean (local skate company) have done trips to visit our friends in Murcia, south of Spain. Last year me and two friends Dylan and Armando drove form the North of France (St Malo – 45 minute boat from Jersey) and down South to live in Murcia for the summer (7 months). I met Vivien in Bordeaux after sending him e-mail about buying some TightBooth Production stuff and we stayed in touch after that. We skated in Murcia all summer with friends, Felix B, Poncho, Pedro, Isidro, Yeah and more homies. In November Luka came over for the last few weeks we were in Murcia and the drive back after returning to Jersey in September from London.
We went to Valencia, Madrid, Zaragoza, Barcelona, through France to Bordeaux where we met Vivien again along with Julien, Soy, Leo, Aymeric, Yoan, Masaki, Emilien and we all chilled and skated together, this was when I filmed that line in Bordeaux Exposure. Then after we travelled to Rennes then back home for Christmas. So now I have good friends in Bordeaux and I am working on projects with the Magenta crew where Vivien is helping me out a lot, so I’m visiting Bordeaux more often and touring with them.
Magenta is our outlet for representing the wide spectrum of possibilities that skateboarding carries within itself.
You did some next level skid in that video which caused quite a bit of internet discussion – it looked like a backside powerslide where you ollie in the middle and then go into another powerslide – what’s up with the skid magic? Is that a Leo inspired thing or are you just on it?
“Next level skid”, (laughing), powerslides are a big part of skating hills so I guess it came from growing up in Jersey sessioning the hills with my boys, well that and Tommy Guerrero.
What do you do aside from skateboarding?
I spend a lot of time painting and chilling, lounging, and parties are good too. But right now I’m saving up to go on more skate trips. We’ve been working on a Jersey scene video that has spiralled into a look into the different scenes we have all visited (London, Bristol, Spain, France), so uploading tapes, going through footage and all having a say on it, drawing out titles, more chilling… the video is called CONEXIONES. It’s turned into quite a hefty project and has parts from all the Jersey heads, Bristol and London heads, the Spanish crew and also friends from France.
Was this trip your first experience of a tour – how was it?
Other than skating round Europe yeah man, it was sick, it was good to meet the rest of the Magenta team and have a chance to chill with everyone, also meeting so many people from each city was dope.
Which places did you visit that you hadn’t been to before?
Well I’d been to Bristol and London once before this trip and I think they are both sick. Manchester was my first visit, I met Dom, Tony and the Note lads, it is full of so much interesting architecture and the streets look sick, seen some mad street characters to. Apparently New York was inspired by Manchester, which I was pretty hyped on. But yeah, the skate scene there is really strong we had some good times. I was pretty gutted that it rained so much though.
What’s next for the Fox?
(Laughing), more trips for sure where I’ll be chilling and skating with everyone and hopefully meeting more people for sure and CONEXIONES! Stay tuned….peace.
Words with Jimmy Lannon
So then Jimmy, how does a Floridian go from riding for Element to riding for an independent French skater-owned company named after a street that two of the owners used to live on? Isn’t that a reverse rags-to-riches story?
Well my friend Ryan Garshell met Leo in SF. Ryan went to skate France with Leo, Vivien, and Soy so Ryan hooked me up with Magenta. After skating for Element, the idea of skating for a brand actually run by skateboarders sounded great! I prefer rags!
It’s great that some people make tons of money with it, but personally, my main goal in skateboarding is to progress as an individual, not to follow rules defined by a capitalist industry.
What’s the deal with skating in Florida?
In Florida, it’s super hot in the summer and it rains a lot. The winter is perfect for skating. There are so many skateparks now in Florida so kids grow up in skateparks and get stuck there. Street skating is much harder than skating the park because street spots are never perfect. We’re still out here skating the streets! Society wants skaters in skateparks but city skating is a lot more fun and exciting.
What’s your perspective on the rise of these smaller brands and their ‘message’ so to speak?
It’s a cycle that has happened before! When the people running a skateboard company don’t really skate it shows. So skateboarders are gonna make what they like and the skateboarder population is gonna feel that shit, na mean!
Magenta have embraced the Internet as a platform for a different perspective and aesthetic to rise and attract as much attention as the one pushed by larger more established brands – what do you think about this?
Larger brands or corporations always have restrictions. So they push a formula of conformity. Smaller brands can do whatever they want! It makes them more interesting and feels more free. It’s all about street skating, adapting to whatever you find and exploring…
Did you see that parody clip, the ‘Shmagenta welcomes Jacques Lally’ one?
I hadn’t seen it before but I just did and yep it’s funny!
I asked Vivien this but I’m interested to get an American perspective – surely the reality of a French-owned skate co holding the world premiere of their new video in the UK must’ve been a bitter pill for Viv/Soy to swallow – were they secretly weeping about letting us Philistines see it first?
(Laughing), I think they just wanted to cheer you guys up, all that rain can be depressing!
Have you been involved with the world premiere tour? How did the reaction vary from country to country?
The Japan premieres were awesome. It was a celebration of cultures united through skateboarding! It was quieter at the Japan premieres; they are a more polite culture. The England ones where hilarious, much more reactions and heckling!
Words with Soy Panday
Okay so you’re in charge in all of Magenta’s graphic output Soy – what does that involve in terms of an average day of work?
I am in charge of designing all the board graphics, clothing lines, ads, catalogues, logos, flyers and whatnot. That implies a lot of exchange of ideas with Vivien as to what ideas we want to promote, within and beyond skateboarding, as well as a lot of inspiration research, a lot of drawing, and a huge amount of Photoshop time, which I knew nothing of before we started Magenta. It’s an interesting process to learn new things, but it does make for pretty full days.
The aesthetic that ties the Magenta vision together clearly connects on every level – from the videos, to the graphics, ads, riders etc – from a personal perspective what inspires you on a graphical level? I can see elements of Klimt, Mucha, Art Nouveau and Symoblism in there – is you own aesthetic perspective directly connected to any particular style or movement or do you pick up inspiration from everywhere?
I wouldn’t say from everywhere, but I definitely have a lot of different influences. Aesthetically, I’m fascinated by Klimt’s paintings, by the Austrian Secession and the Impressionist movement, by the use of hidden Symbolism in traditional painting, by the Japanese art of calligraphy (Shodo) as well as Japanese graphic design form the 1960s, that appears to me very simple, pure and refined. But I also believe art is not only supposed to look pretty, it’s supposed to convey ideas, thoughts and values. Anyone who has an audience ought to have something to say to it. So, more than the sheer aesthetic, I take my inspiration from what it is I want to say, and I try to find a way to say it. I’m highly interested in Astronomy, Science, and the Universe at large, which forces you to look at things at a very different scale than what we’re used to. Since Time and Space are bound, looking at immense distances in Space forces you to look at immense periods of Time. It gives you a wider view of our planet, and of humanity at large, and of the evolution of human ideas through immense periods of Time. Tomorrow’s humanity is being shaped now; the values of tomorrow will be the ones that survive today. So I guess my main inspiration is to try and promote the values I think are good, however ridiculously small or insignificant my contribution will be.
As with Vivien, prior to Magenta starting you had already followed a more traditional sponsorship path – what was it about your previous experiences that pushed you do embark on your own brand, rather than riding for other people?
Vivien and I have our own understanding of what it is we like about skateboarding, and at some point we felt it didn’t make much sense anymore to represent other people’s ideas, given they were so different than ours. We felt something was missing in the way skateboarding was being portrayed and in the direction skateboarding was going, and we thought, why not propose our own?
Can you give us a little insight into your own skateboard upbringing? Obviously you’ve travelled a lot but presumably it all began somewhere specific for you?
It did indeed, and I remember it very vividly. I was 12 and sitting at the back of my parent’s car, stuck in traffic in the centre of the city we lived close to. We lived in the suburbs then, and the city centre already was fascinating to me, as there was so much going on everywhere I would look. From the car window, I saw a skater who must have been about 16, cruising by, dodging traffic and ollieing a little street divider. I realized he was all I was not, and all I wanted to be. He was free, playing in the city, crossing streets outside of walk paths and cruising through cars without parents to tell him what to do. I was in a non-moving cage, bored, and under my parents’ authority; he was older, outside, playing freely. I immediately started skating, embracing all that skateboarding had to offer, watching every video, liking everything. When I first saw Ricky Oyola footage around 1994, the memory of that kid instantly came back, and I turned my head to East Coast skateboarding, as it was more city centre oriented. A few years ago, I had a similar feeling when watching some Japanese video, because they’re not burdened with rules like we seem to be in the West. To this day, the feeling I got from seeing that kid dodging traffic when I was 12 remains my biggest motivation to go out skating.
Magenta and Yoan are on the forefront of a particular style of video representation – how would you describe the aesthetic involved, and what elements of it are most important to you personally?
Just like I said for my drawings, the most important aspect for me is the message and values that are encrypted behind what you see. I see skateboarding as something fun and creative, a place that has no other rules than the ones you apply yourself. This is what I personally want to show in a video, that you don’t need to risk breaking your body to create something visually pleasing, interesting, that looks fun, and that makes people want to go out and skate. I want to show appealing architecture that incite people to travel outside of their country, because travelling is an amazing teacher. I want to show unique architecture so that people may want to go lurk and find some on their own, because hanging out in the streets all day is also an amazing teacher. If you look at a video and you want to go to that city because it looks beautiful, you want to meet those skaters because it looks like everybody is having fun together and you can see that regardless of your technical abilities you would have fun skating with them, then it’s amazing I think. Yoan is in my opinion one of the best filmers in the world, the Bordeaux scene is filled with nice people, Bordeaux is a beautiful city and it shows in his videos, because he knows how to show its beauty, and nowadays more and more people want to go skate Bordeaux. I think it’s sick. And then videos are an amazing medium to convey ideas that go beyond skateboarding. This is what I’ve learned form Takahiro Morita, who we’ve met through skateboarding on the other side of the planet. If I have learned something from life, then I want to share it with whoever is watching, and showing only skateboard tricks is I feel a little too reductive. Why not use a skate video to try and say more? Then again I understand it’s not necessarily everybody’s cup of tea. But it’s ours, and if some people like it then I’m stoked.
When you look outwards at the mainstream of skateboarding at this point in time – what do you see?
I see an organized and established sport, with people trying to surpass their physical capacities. I understand it’s interesting to know the extent of what a human can do with his body, how he can juggle regular or switch, and how self-confidence plays a major role. It’s fascinating to some and I can fully understand that. But then again, it’s not my cup of tea. I often compare skateboarding to painting, and I see mainstream skateboarding as Photorealism, where technique is the main aspect of the artwork, more than the subject of the painting. And I see the more underground side of skateboarding as Impressionism, where the main aspect is no longer technique, but the painter’s thoughts and how he chooses to represent what he perceives of reality. Now I don’t dislike Photorealism, I have respect for people who can do it. Some people will paint a banana and it will look like a photograph, and I think it’s an amazing skill. I will look at it, be amazed by the technique, then turn my head to someone who has painted a banana in a bizarre way, and I will look at it much longer, because I’ll want to understand why that person sees things differently than I do, why he chose to represent a banana in that particular way, and what he’s trying to tell me though his painting. And that’s how I look at skateboarding. I’m trying to understand what people are trying to tell me. I like to look at a skater’s part and get a feeling of who he is. Everybody is unique and I like it when it shows. There will always be someone who comes and is technically better than the previous champ, but no one can be better than you at being you.
You’ve spent a lot of time in London in the past but this tour ventured outside of the capital – which cities did you visit that were new to you and what did you like/dislike about them?
I had never been to Bristol before, but I couldn’t say much about it except that I met some super nice people, because it rained pretty much non-stop. I liked playing pool there, (laughing). Manchester had a bit of a nice weather, so we skated there more. I had been there once with Landscape before, but surprisingly, we only skated outside of the city centre, which does not have the same appeal to me, and I was left with the idea that the city didn’t have much to skate. I was very surprised to see how wrong I was. Manchester is an amazing city to skate, with an amazing scene: the smoothest sidewalks of England probably too. I liked hanging out at Note skateshop too. During the few days we had there, I had my little Magenta office there so I could work when it was raining. Thanks for the hospitality Dan!
Sam Ashley told me that you all spent a long time discussing which spots would look good before skating them – is this regular behaviour? What exactly makes a spot “too rainforesty” and what’s the issue if it is?
I guess it depends on what you call ‘regular behaviour’; I don’t spend much time thinking about it when I usually go skate, but then again, I live in a big city, and I’ve grown up always skating a city centre. That’s where I take my energy and motivation from and where I feel the most comfortable. I like to feel that I’m a part of a city, I like to feel I’m among cars, pedestrians, buildings, sculptures; surrounded by city life. Now when on a tour filming for a project, it’s a bit of a different process. I guess we want to film on locations that would motivate us if we saw it in a video, or more important, that would push us to travel to that particular place or city. Travelling is very important to open up to different ways of thinking, to grow in our understanding of why is the world the way it is, to understand cultural differences, to understand more of where we’re from even, because when abroad, we see our own culture from a distance. And we see skate videos as a major incentive for skaters to go see how it’s like somewhere else on the planet. When we film for a project, we think in terms of how appealing things are going to look on video, and what could push people to want to travel to that particular city. I can enjoy skating everything, but if we only have a limited time in a city, then we want to focus on an aesthetic that we believe will serve our ideas best.
You’ve just travelled around the world premiering Soleil Levant – how did the reactions differ from country to country?
I honestly haven’t noticed much difference; everyone I’ve talked to really liked it, saying it was different than any other skate video they’d seen. But maybe only the people who liked it came to talk with me -I’m not trying to say everybody liked it. I’m happy with it; hopefully people will like it too. And if some don’t, then it’s fine too.
Okay Soy let’s finish on this one – what is the most cultural significant moment in the entirety of skateboard history from your own perspective and why?
I would say there’s been several. Mark Gonzales’ part in Video Days was a very significant moment, because he brought something new that shaped how skateboarding would look afterwards. The same could be said about Ricky Oyola’s part in Eastern Exposure 3, you can watch that part 20 years later and it is still as good. Stereo’s Visual Sound video from 1994 is still as enjoyable to watch, it didn’t get old either. All of skateboarding was following one direction, tricks were getting incredibly difficult and it didn’t look very appealing to start skating anymore, and they chose to go the complete opposite way and make skateboarding look fun again – before ending up following the mainstream route in the end to please the crowd, but that’s another subject. There are only a handful of parts or videos that not only had a huge impact on skateboarding, but that also became timeless. That’s also what I see in Takahiro Morita’s videos nowadays. He’s bringing a new dimension to a skate video, in the deep and very well built meaning he conveys through his editing as well as his skating. If I had to pick one particular moment, I’d probably say the mid 90s, because the skateboarding scene was smaller than it is today, and it seems to me that people were following their own personal ideas more.
Words with Leo Valls
How many of the cities that you visited on this UK tour had you experienced before? Which places did you enjoy the most and why?
I’ve only been to London once, a few years ago, and it literally rained the whole time. This time, it pretty much rained the whole time too but we were a sick crew so it didn’t really matter. I really love to get lost in London, it seems like the city never ends. I enjoy this feeling of not knowing what will come after the next building; it’s exciting. I thought Manchester was really sick too, with a cool New York City architectural style; and all the locals were super chill.
We currently live in a world where certain skaters can earn millions of dollars repeating the same movements over and over again on pretend handrails in sports arenas – where does Magenta and your own skateboarding fit into that?
It doesn’t fit. Magenta emerged because something was missing in skateboarding. It’s great that some people make tons of money with it, but personally, my main goal in skateboarding is to progress as an individual, not to follow rules defined by a capitalist industry. With Magenta, we want to think for ourselves, create and represent our own vision and understanding of skateboarding, what really feels right and good to do for us. Even if this isn’t what will make us the richest, I believe it is what will make us more open-minded, creative and happy with what we do.
All of Yoan’s videos seem to focus on the rhythm of the cities that they are filmed in and it seems that the skaters featured follow a similar kind of route – rather than looking for objects in isolation “spots” if you like – the whole city is itself the spot. Would you say this feeling has any connection to your own perception of what skateboarding is?
The city is the principle focus in our skateboarding. For Yoan, all the Magenta crew, and myself it is the main subject and you have to learn how to manoeuvre yourself within it. We like to skate where life is the most condensed because that’s what gives us energy. Interacting with streets, people, traffic, buildings, lights, anything that can come along your path, even getting kicked out is a form of motivation. I also believe we have a social message to give as skaters, that there is not only one way to look at things, not only one way to see our environment and use it, and people feel that when they see us skating. Whether they like skateboarding or not, they will be intrigued by it.
Today, I’m having fun trying to skate places that most other skaters would not define as a skate spot. Even if it’s nothing, you just have to learn how to make it special. Flying in between two cars can be the best feeling and look really cool. There are no rules to this; it’s all up to you!
In your recent Kingpin interview you talked about how skateboarding as an art form deserves to have more thought put into it than just ‘higher, faster, longer’ – can you explain what you mean by this and how it relates to what Magenta is about?
I don’t believe it’s a good thing to limit yourself by not wanting to think hard about skateboarding and simply accept the definition of it given by others. It’s so rewarding to put your thoughts into something and define your own perception and idea of it, to the point where you can find your own identity in what you do. It’s important to find a sense and understand what you are trying to do, especially if you are deeply dedicated to something as special as skateboarding. By having a message, by becoming expressive and having a unique representation, your whole craft can take another dimension in a very artistic manner. Magenta is essentially based on that understanding and tries to push these ideas to skateboarding and the world.
How did reactions to Soleil Levant vary from country to country?
The Tokyo premiere was incredible. It was in a huge movie theatre packed with people; our friends from OPSB did a sick concert before the show and they threw a great party at a club after. The UK and France premieres were all great too, and you could tell people were really surprised by the video. I think it’s been a great success at every premiere so far.
It is obvious that one can love the act of skateboarding itself whilst, at the same time, being horrified at some of the ‘culture’ surrounding it. What direction do you see skateboarding heading in right now and what do you think about it?
It can take the form you want it to take; it can be ridiculous and it can be very interesting. On one hand, I think skateboarding is to become more marketable and more mainstream as well as grow more creative and unique on the other. As long as you have ideas and you use it as a medium for expressing yourself, there are no limits with it, really.
Recently, I find it interesting that more and more montages from young skaters are showing rebellion to the whole mainstream skateboarding thing. I think the whole technical and impressive sport side of skateboarding is getting tiring while there is still so much more to do with ideas and creativity.
If you think about it, Skateboarding is only 30 years old and still at the beginning of how creative it can become.
If skating through the city streets at night is comparable to art, what is Street League?
I guess Street league is the culmination of mainstream skateboarding as a sport. Skateboarding done in a place made for it, with rules for everything, points, winners and losers. It is made as easy as possible to understand to touch as many people as possible. But I’m not the best person to talk about it though since I have no interest in it, to be honest.
When I was a kid I tried a few team sports like soccer and felt uncomfortable. You had to follow so many rules, had to train a certain way, and had no options of doing it the way you wanted to. When I discovered skateboarding, I fell in love with it cause it seemed so far away from all of this. I could just go out with friends anywhere in the streets, in any directions, not in a predefined place with a coach telling me what to do. I remember getting a strong feeling of freedom. I’ve always felt like I had to follow this very first connection I had with skating.
Skids and slides on the ground are an area of skateboarding that has been overlooked in favour of more defined trick movements but you, in particular, seem to be interested in that unexplored area of skateboard movement – what is it about it that you enjoy?
I’ve been inspired by a lot of styles of skating, from hill bombing to ledge dancing to creative Japanese skating… I try to mix them up in my skating.
I think flatground is the most natural way to skate for me and there is a lot to still be discovered. You can just go from A to B and enjoy skating different kind of grounds. I love powerslides because they’re this special connection between you, your skateboard, and the ground. They have this unique noise that’s different for each ground and it challenges the aspect of body movement within skating more so than tricks.
What cultural value does skateboarding have?