Mark Stern – Haunts
It’s been a long three and a half years since Mark landed himself his First Light, and during that time he’s worked his way through a variety of image changes, hopped on a couple of trends, survived a good few injuries, and has somehow come out the other side…pretty much exactly the same. Only occasionally wearing trackies.
Despite hailing from the Northamptonshire hamlet of Towcester – which is about 10 miles outside of Milton Keynes, for the sake of the uninitiated – and holding down a real world job for Barclay Card whilst enjoying a seemingly normal adult life which involves living with his girlfriend and tending to his beloved Sternmobile (a 2007 Ford Focus ST, as you can see in the portrait). Mark isn’t without his eccentricities. He’s got a grime artist alter ego which comes rushing to the surface after an appropriate level of alcohol has been consumed, and alongside James Bush and Lucas ‘Goose’ Healey, has penned some of the first emotional-grime tunes known to mankind, snippets from which can be found accompanying select Instagram clips coming out of the Milton Keynes area right now.
Whenever he’s struggling to manipulate his board in the desired manner, Mark also transcends his usually fairly placid state and takes on the characteristics of a vexed roadman, which is always amusing to experience, though probably more so for everybody bearing witness than for Mark himself. Calling his board a “pussy’ole” and asking it questions such as “why won’t you flip, man?” are quite commonplace once this happens, though it’s rare Mark won’t be able to manipulate the situation back into his favour and land/film/shoot whatever it is that he’s trying.
Since his first printed appearance in the mag back in 2013, Mark has steadily turned into a Sidewalk regular, and truth be told, this Haunts is definitely long overdue, but owing to the occasional injury, constant video deadlines for various projects and fitting in shooting with CJ around working a full time job, the wait was always going to be inevitable.
Anyway, over the course of 2016 the interview stars have aligned so you can finally enjoy the solid grip of banging photos Mark’s managed to accumulate during the last few months filming for ‘Get 420’, and take in his documented conversational musings at the same time.
And keep an eye out for Mark’s section in ‘Get 420’ from the Get Lesta squad too, which should be greeting your waiting eyeballs in late October.
Have you got your ‘cool guy’ persona switched on?
I’m trying yeah…
What’s a cool guy attitude entail anyway? Pretending like you’re too lit to care about anything or…?
Nah more like just pacing around the flat giving it large whilst I’m talking to you; thing is, I can’t walk at the moment so that’s not really working out. Normally I’d be pacing around…
What have you done to yourself?
It’s a partial rupture of a couple of ligaments in my ankle. I might as well have broken it though because it’s going into a cast.
I tried to ollie some rail, went too fast and came down on the bottom steps – my own fault. No ambulances or anything though thankfully. Got a lift from a friend who took me to see another mate who knows about physiotherapy to get an opinion. He sent me to A & E because he thought it might be fractured but it wasn’t, so now I’m getting treatment from the same guy.
Why a cast then if it isn’t broken?
Well it’s quite a common injury in skaters and the problem usually is that it doesn’t heal very well because there’s too much movement without a cast. Hopefully by doing this it’ll insure that there’s no displacement in the joint whilst it heals and it’ll get better quicker.
Was this whilst you were out on a filming mission?
I was filming but in a more mellow situation than usual, with Ashseck after work. It’s a stair set that everyone skates but nobody had touched the rail so I thought it’d be cool to go over it – but it turns out it wasn’t, (laughs). Well it still would be cool but it probably won’t be me doing it.
You’re off work because of this self-inflicted skateboarding injury then?
Yeah I work full-time at Barclay Card in Northampton doing a desk job but I’ve been signed off by my GP for four weeks because of this.
Are they not stressing that you’re off work?
They might be, but in the real world if you hurt yourself and a GP signs you off work then there’s not really anything they can do. I’m sure they’re not very happy about it but it’s not like I did it on purpose. To be honest, I’m not all that happy about it either. My boss actually grew up with (Rob) Selley and a bunch of OG MK heads and he used to skate himself so he understands it…
What do you do at Barclay Card? You’ve got a fairly legit white-collar job haven’t you?
They call it ‘Subject Matter Expert’ but it’s basically the telephony complaints department. I’m the assistant manager of that department – we handle complaints in essence. The actual complaints process after the initial customer call…
So a fair amount of responsibility then I assume?
Yeah, I’m responsible for people’s adherence to the rules and to an extent for their performance; making sure that they’re up to speed with training and all that. I also handle some of the more difficult complaints personally.
How many people do you manage?
On our team there are twelve people, including me, and I’m responsible for certain aspects of what they do but we have another manager who is in charge of all of us.
So there are people who are older than you who are under you in your role at work then?
Yeah, and as I’m sure you can imagine – some people don’t like that very much.
“Some kid with a skateboard is telling me what to do” wouldn’t always go down too well…
Yeah, at the moment there isn’t anyone in our team like that but there has been a few in the past. I don’t think they were too stoked on it.
Is it a full suit and tie job?
No, actually I get to go to work dressed just as I do to go skating because we’re never customer-facing and at the moment they’ve got us down in the basement so it’s all fairly relaxed as far as dress codes go. There are 3500 people who work in the same building but we’re kind of hidden away where we are.
Considering that you’re quite young and already have a respectable professional job – what inspires you to go out and hurt your self on your skateboard; as opposed to just skating at a lower level I mean. Where’s the incentive to go out every weekend, travelling the country and film with Callun (Loomes) when you’re clearly not chasing after a career in skateboarding necessarily?
That’s a hard question. Sometimes I will just go out on a mellow one and then a situation will present itself to try something a bit harder than normal. Other times it’s more a case of me finding it interesting to see where you can take your ability I suppose. I don’t have any plans or any great desire to chase after it no, but if something came my way then cool, other than that, I’ll be quite happy to carry on doing what I’m doing now. As far as the incentive to hurt myself – I’m a bit of a pussy really, I try to avoid hurting myself as a general rule, which obviously isn’t working out that well, (laughs).
How much of what you go out and do on your skateboard is down to you, and how much is down to Callun bullying you into performing for his camera?
(Laughing), before myself and a few of my mates met Cal, we’d still go out and throw ourselves around and see what we could do but it was more of a special event to ‘get gnarly’ or whatever you want to call it, like something you’d almost plan in advance. These days it’s pretty much an every weekend thing as long as he’s out filming, screaming at us and calling us all ‘faggots’ and forcing us to jump off cliffs (laughs).
I remember seeing you go ham in Milton Keynes years ago though – like the day when you varial heelflipped the Pritchard gap at the Biege…
Yeah but I probably only tried that because you were there filming Sean (Smith), (laughing).
Yeah but you know what I mean – filming is normal for my generation. If there’s someone there with a camera then you’ll try that bit harder.
On the subject of MK – is that the place where you were introduced to skateboarding with a capital ‘S’?
I’d skated for a while when I was living in Swindon as a little kid but skating there didn’t mean much more than going out and skating the drain outside my house. There was no scene or main spot that I knew of at that point – it was just the general kerbs and carparks deal. I moved to Towcester in 2006 and began skating in MK almost straight after that and being there definitely shaped how I skate now.
Were you skating MK before the Buszy plaza stuff was there?
Nah, it had been there for a couple of years already.
Can you remember much about your early experiences of going there?
Mainly just that everyone was so good. Moving to Towcester from Swindon and then going to MK, I’d just hadn’t really seen that level of skating before. All the EGC guys, Sean Smith and all that crew – they were just amazing. It was a totally different vibe from anything I’d experienced before going there. You’d see Sean do mental stuff everyday – like stuff you’d see on a skate video just going down like it was normal. I never saw too many US pros skating there back then – I missed that DC Battle of the Buszy thing with the Plan B team because I got too stoned with one of my mates. I did see Brandon Biebel there once, on a Matix tour I think: I watched him nosegrind down the whole length of the long downhill ledge by the stairs. But mainly it was the MK locals that influenced me the most.
There’s just everything you need there to learn how to skate, well, apart from anything transitioned, which is why I suck so bad on ramps, but for a street skater you’ve got ledges, manny pads, stairs – everything really.
You still spend a lot of time skating there too, right?
Yeah a bunch of us – me, Bushy, Zeta, Swampy, Kizza – we all still go there at least once a week I’d say – it’s still pretty much the hang out spot to go skate. It’s definitely different these days though, we’re now the older generation and most of the guys we skated with and looked up to when we were younger have all got other stuff going on in their lives and don’t really skate too much any more. Then there’s a younger generation but they’re a lot different from how we were. They’re still all super good but the vibe of their scene isn’t how I remember MK being – it’s not all baggy jeans and switch backtails any more. When I was younger we looked up to the older scene but I don’t think anyone’s looking up to us these days, (laughs). I don’t want to sound like a dick but that’s basically the difference: Skateboarding as a whole is way different now in general. Maybe because of the Internet and things like Instagram…like everyone has their own shit going on, they all film their own clips – they don’t need to look up to other skaters anymore. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, it’s just different…
You’re no stranger to Instagram yourself Mark.
No that’s true – I love playing the Instagram game too. It’s a good excuse to ball bag it isn’t it?
How did you come to be linked with the Get Lesta thing in the beginning – you weren’t part of their original crew were you?
No, I first bumped into Cal and those guys a bunch of times when they were over in Northampton and MK filming for one of the earlier videos, ‘What’s Cookin?’ I think. Shezz would always tell me to come up to Leicester and skate but I had this idea in my head that Leicester was way too far away to go to, like, “why would I go that far up the M1 to skate when I can just go skate Buszy?” I’d always say that I’d go but I never did, then there was a comp at the skatepark in Kettering and I got a message from Cal saying that I should go and meet them there, which I did, and it was really good fun and I did pretty well in the comp and filmed a bunch of stuff with Callun, then after that I just started linking up with them more often. James Bush started coming with me, then Charlie (Munro) joined the crew and that was it.
Is Callun as much of a dictator as he likes to make out? Not necessarily in a bad way but there aren’t that many people in the UK on the hammer mission like he is these days – he’s almost like a throwback to the generation or so before him…
At the start, a lot of the motivation definitely came from him as the filmer and the guy who was down to make it happen, plus in the early days he had to be nice to the newer people in the crew because he didn’t really know us well enough to start giving everyone shit. You get away with more when you’re still ‘fresh’ – you might still be able to get away with filming lines with wallies and no complies in them basically, (laughs). Then once he gets to know you the real him comes out – the dictator. Like, “Hey Cal I’ve got this idea, do you want to film it?” To which his response will generally be something like, “No, that’s bullshit. Why don’t you do a trick down the Sneinton 3?” (Laughing).
The thing is though, 10 or 15 years ago, back in the Dan Magee, Neil Chester etc era – that was the prevailing attitude coming from the people filming and making the influential videos – they were harsh, but they were harsh for a reason – to push the overall standards in the UK. I know skateboarding changed and handrails and stairs and trying to do the hardest tricks and whatnot fell out of fashion over here but it’s funny how Callun, and by extension the rest of you lot involved in Get Lesta, are still kind of militant in the same way about spots and tricks and whatnot…
Yeah I guess. Normally he’ll be the one with the spots and when you’ll say, “I don’t think I can do anything there”, he’ll be the one telling you what you’re going to do there, (laughs). His whole outlook is, “if you’re willing to try then I’ll get up at 7am and drive 200 miles but if you’re not, then don’t bother coming…”
That approach seems to work though.
Oh yeah, it definitely works. And don’t get me wrong, we get to do our own shit too, it’s not always tricks down twelve stairs – he’ll still film other stuff and we do get our own input, at times. The bottom line is, if you want to do something then you will, if you don’t want to then you won’t, regardless of how much bullying is involved.
What’s the worst torture you’ve seen him inflict on someone?
He basically killed Bushy about five times, (laughing). We kind of do it to ourselves really because we want to do the stuff that he comes up with the ideas for. At the end of the day some of the blame is on him though. Personally I haven’t really injured myself too badly on a Callun mission, most of the time I’ve been hurt it’s been when I’ve been on a mellow one and something’s gone wrong.
It’s not torture exactly, that’s a bit strong, but he definitely pisses me off sometimes, well, he pisses everyone off at times. If you’re trying a trick down some stairs and you haven’t landed on one for 30 minutes then he’ll have no qualms about saying, “imagine me in the shower with your mum” or “I’m going to leave you here if you don’t land it”. (Laughing).
What about this Whatsapp group I heard about – threats of sending nude selfies to people’s parents if they don’t land a trick or something?
(Laughing), I’m not sure it ever went that far but there was definitely some horrible shit said to each other at times. Cal’s actually left that group, he’s deleted Whatsapp now and he claims it’s because he needs more storage on his phone but we reckon it’s down to his bird, (laughs). Everyone’s mellowed out in that group these days – it used to be that someone would leave it every other day in disgust, really upset about something that’d been said but those days are over. I left it a few times myself because of everyone making fun of me for stressing too much, even though I don’t. At the same time he made that Instagram clip of me throwing my board and stressing so hard – I couldn’t take it (laughing). The Whatsapp group was actually called, ‘It could be worse, you could be Mark’ at one point. Too much man… Everyone has started being a bit nicer to each other these days.
Is there more pressure now that the deadline for Get 420 is coming?
Not for me no, I won’t be skating for a couple of months at least. Everyone else is killing it though. Cal’s always out with his girlfriend at the zoo or a nightclub in Shoreditch or whatever these days anyway so it’s not as gnarly as it used to be, thank fuck.
It’s nearly done though right?
Yeah, the premiere is on the 22nd of October – the filming deadline is the first weekend in September. As far as what to expect – it’s probably going to be really long just because of how many people are in it, plus you know how he loves a 10-minute intro, (laughing). Everyone will have an 8-minute part; it’ll be 2 hours long, (laughs). If you’re first or last, you’re chilling – you don’t want to be in the middle. I was hoping for first part because I’m not a last part kind of guy but I think I’ve blown that now by fucking my ankle as I can’t really put anything else into it. Joking aside though, everyone has worked really hard on it, some harder than others admittedly – people are going fucking mental now towards the end.
Charlie (Munro) needs to chill though because he’s making the rest of us look shit.
Had you been involved in organized filming before Get Lesta?
Yeah kinda, Brownie (Giles Brown) and I used to go out filming in MK a lot when we were younger. We both had cameras kicking about and would always be filming each other. Brownie made a video called ‘Yesterday’s Reality’ that came out a long time ago that we all had parts on. After that it was more a case of filming little clips and uploading it to YouTube – I have an account with a bunch of old montage videos of us in MK. It was never as militant as it is now, but filming and skating have always been a part of it.
Leicester based pop shove over rail and brick. Photo Chris Johnson
You’ve been out filming with different people of late too for various other projects – Will Miles for Nike, Rye for us, with me a little bit – how has that differed from what you’re used to?
I feel like I’m going Cold Turkey if I’m not having abuse thrown at me. If I’m out trying to film a trick with Will or Rye and they’re being nice, it weirds me out. I just want someone to start shouting, “You’re a fucking dick!” at me because it’s what I’m used to, (laughs). When somebody says something supportive to me like, “You’ve got it, it’s going to look good”, inside I’ll be thinking, “Fuck off man, why won’t you just tell me I’m shit?”
I Googled your home town of Towcester to get a feel for it and most of the news headlines were either about drugs, boy-racers or tractor theft – is that a true representation of the place?
Yeah that’s pretty accurate. I used to hate it before I could drive, it’s pretty close to everything but without a car you’re basically stuck and all anyone does here is M-Kat. That’s literally all there is to do. Now I’ve got my own place and a car I actually really like it – it’s really safe, my girlfriend walks home from the pub at night and I don’t have to worry, it’s really close to London, MK, Oxford etc and it’s surrounded by countryside.
You’ve got a skatepark too, right?
Yeah just a little catalogue park but it’s cool. It’s floodlit until 11pm every night too so it’s good to have around the corner. I’m not sure how we managed to convince the council to flood light it for all seven skaters in Towcester though, (laughs).
So the M-Kat thing is still big there?
Yeah, not so much the Spice thing like in bigger cities, but Mandy, M-Kat and weed are pretty rife here. I stopped skating for a few years to see how much weed I could smoke without my brain melting though, so I can’t really say anything. I think I sold a set up once to buy weed, that was probably my lowest point. The only reason I actually started skating again was to see what it was like to skate when I was mega high, (laughing). I turned up at the skatepark just after it had opened, squeezed on some skate shoes that were too small and got back into skating. Weed career over.
Do you bring your performance towel with you to the park?
(Laughing) knobhead: I have still got it but no, I don’t take it down the skatepark. I got so much shit for carrying that thing around. Yet more ammunition for the bullying…
How addicted to your iPhone are you?
I’m pretty bad. I’m on Instagram basically all the time – lurking the Explore page, or trying to conjure up an idea of what I’m going to post of me next. You’ve got to maintain your continuity haven’t you? I’m trying to win the game – I’m not even sure if that’s possible, but that’s my goal. One day I will win Instagram.
Whether people like it or not, Instagram and Facebook are basically the main ways that skateboarding is communicated these days…
Yeah, definitely, I lurk pretty hard. I’ve been looking at the teamlightwork Insta a lot recently – they post some good shit.
What’s your own personal high scoring clip?
Probably from when we left Barca – I put together a compilation of clips from a group mission there and that did pretty well. I don’t want to brag numbers though, (laughing). It’s insane how quickly it’s grown – especially in skating. I mean how long ago was it just a photo-sharing app? Less than two years ago or something… These days it’s part of most pro skaters contracts isn’t it? We were talking about it this with the Primitive guys when they were over – how like a lot of top pro skaters have somebody managing their Instagram accounts for them because they’re so important these days and they’re contractually obliged to post a certain amount of sponsor-related things on a daily basis. Pretty nuts.
Is it true that you got pretty heavily into graffiti for a while when you were younger?
Yeah I first got into that at school in Swindon when I was around 13 or so. Someone at school said, “You should come out tagging with us…” but I didn’t really know what it meant at that age. I started going out with markers and just scribbling, then that developed into buying paint and painiting a lot of legal walls to learn how to do it first. I never really got into it too deeply though, into the illegal stuff I mean, I did a couple of bits then dropped out of it once I started to understand how heavy it was if you got caught. I wasn’t trying to get a criminal record for painting trains as a teenager you know? I still like it as a thing but I haven’t painted myself for a long time.
On the subject of hidden talents – I hear you have something of a ‘gift’ for freestyle rapping after you’ve had a few. Will you be dropping any more bars on the nation soon?
(Laughing). Is this because Zeta keeps posting Instagram videos with me rapping in the background? She always posts the worst bits too; it’s winding me up. I’ll drop some sick bars then she’ll go and post something that doesn’t even rhyme properly. I’m not trying to claim I’m any good at it but of late quite a few people who I haven’t seen in a while have said, “Oh you spit bars now?” I’d like to set the record straight – I don’t spit bars. But, if I’ve had a few beers I will attempt to spit some bars. I’m sure you’ll hear some more soon enough, next time I have a beer and Zeta secretly records me doing it.
What’s this I hear about you breaking Zeta Rush’s nose?
Zeta and I grew up together and went to the same school, and when we were both about 14 I was pissed off with somebody at school one day. I was telling Zeta how I was going to punch whoever it was in the face, throwing pretend punches in the air next to her head and then I accidentally hit her.
Yeah. It was gnarly. It was a total accident but I punched her straight in the nose – blood everywhere, in tears etc etc. I was apologising every second as I walked her to the toilets to get cleaned up. We get there and one of her friends saw us, looked at her face, saw all the blood then looked at me and gave me the dirtiest look ever. It was really bad. I’m pretty sure Zeta’s mum hated me for years because of it. It was a complete accident but it was horrible – I mean obviously it was worse for her than for me but I felt so bad. She came to school the next day with a purple face and two black eyes. We laugh about it now but at the time it wasn’t cool at all. Sorry Zeta.
Tell us a bit about the Get Primitive trip that you went on.
The whole thing is pretty crazy really – the fact that it even happened. It was really enjoyable to be honest. All the Primitive guys were super mellow and it wasn’t like it was ‘us and them’ – we were all just a crew together and everyone got on well. I grew up watching Devine skating so being on it with him was sick, and Trent and Diego are just so good. Diego is a tank – he killed it the whole time. He’s pretty much killed that bump to bar now though, unless somebody fancies doing a fakie trick over it. I skated with them in London, in Bristol and in MK – it was really good. I didn’t fan out too hard, if I’d been 5 years younger I probably would’ve been sitting with my mouth on the floor. The YouTube clip’s on like 70k views and the full edit was posted on Facebook too and has like half a million views or something – pretty insane really. It’s rad for us for sure, to be involved in something that heavy…
What’s up with the portrait for this? Are you in love with your car?
Well I like driving it like a twat, (laughs). I wasn’t really a car dickhead in the beginning; this is the fourth one I’ve owned. First off I had a 1-litre petrol, then a 1.6, then I bought a 2-litre turbo diesel BMW 3 Series because I wanted to have a sick car, had that for 5 months until I realised that having a diesel isn’t really that much fun. Eventually I just decided that if I was going to mess around with sick cars then I might as well bite the bullet. I started looking – nothing too mental because I don’t have the money for that – I looked at Mini Cooper S’s, then the Ford Focus FT, and ended up buying the red one that I’ve got now. It’s a pretty chavvy car…
Do you get any attention because of it?
Now and again but if you’re not into cars it doesn’t really stand out that much and just looks like a regular Focus. It’s got some little subtle things that car heads will see though – twin tailpipes, it’s pretty loud, I can make it bang like a shotgun, and it’s pretty quick. I work hard though and I like nice cars so fuck it…
What advice would you have for anyone reading this who’s interested in the whole ‘getting sponsored’ thing? As in, what lessons have you learned so far?
I think the main thing is to not to wait for somebody to give you an opportunity to travel. It seems to me as if people tend to wait until they get sponsored to start missioning about, like they’re not able to just decide to go to Sheffield or London or wherever off their own back. That whole idea is wrong. If you want to go skate somewhere then you can. We all spend our own money travelling to do Get Lesta stuff – nobody is paying for it for us. You can go wherever you want – you can get the train, the bus, buy a car and just go explore. You don’t have to wait for someone to ask you to do it. If there are kids out there that really want to do the same kind of stuff, there’s nothing stopping you – just go out and do it. Maybe it’s partly a consequence of there being so many skateparks these days, so that people don’t feel as if they have to go anywhere outside of their town but if you want to make things happen, whether that’s the whole sponsorship thing, or just wanting to find out what’s out there – then you need to travel.
Didn’t you and CJ work out roughly how much of your own money you’ve spent filming for this Get Lesta section?
Yeah we did and it is expensive because we pay for it all ourselves. We get a little help here and there but it’s basically all self-funded. I think we worked it out at around £4000 over the two years of filming once you factor in all the petrol and eating on the road and whatnot. I think that’s roughly accurate – so we’re all basically spending thousands of pounds to go out and film skating…
Is it worth it?
I think so yeah. I don’t know what else I’d do really. Without skating I’d probably do the same amount of miles but just without any clear purpose – just going round roundabouts all day or something. We all want to do this, there are good days and bad days but I think it’s worth the cost to be honest.
Thanks to my family first obviously and also to my girlfriend Andrea for supporting me and looking after me when I’m hurt. Thanks to everyone I skate with: Cal, Zeta, Bushy, Swampy, Kiz, Ashseck and the rest of the MK, Ntown and Towcester locals. #towcestermassive Thanks to the whole Get Lesta squad. Big thanks to everyone hooking it up for me – Derby Daz at Unabomber/Rollersnakes, Vaughan Baker and everyone at NikeSB. Thanks to all you guys at Sidewalk, CJ for shooting the pics and for listening to me talk about how I don’t want to jump down stairs. Thanks to Simin for helping me out with my ankle. Hopefully I haven’t missed anyone out. Safe!