Turning around in the Duke of York’s, the whole of the Brighton skateboard scene is here. Past and present. Pasty is up on the top row, somehow the godfather of someone I used to know, probably some drunken proposal and promise on a cider night down the beach, always looking a little lost and ruffled.
Near him is Tom Banham, whose footage from the early 90s still circulates from time to time, ripped from old VHS tapes in bedrooms, basements and closed down skateboard shops back when times were a little simpler. Once the best in Brighton, now always promising to me that one day he’ll get back on a board.
Seeing him up there I remember seeing him the week before, down by the West Pier, with a skateboard next to him, but still not under his feet. Jake Snelling to my left, the loudest in the whole room who always stayed true to the style of skating he thought was best, the same 80s style with the fastest movements and loudest music.
In front are dozens of new skaters, little thirteen year olds who have only just discovered the joy of riding a board through the city with their friends. Some will pass up the skateboard in a few months, maybe a year, for responsibility or time they feel needs to be used more productively, at the urging of their parents or a future girl. Some though, will stay riding, and despite early injuries of grazed knees, broken bones or slams, they will get back up and submerge themselves in the city’s skateboard scene, learning not only the best places to skate, but where the best once skated, and how they did.
It’s not just a skate scene in this room though, it’s a British skateboard scene, from a little seaside town down the south coast. It’s as British as a melting Cornetto on the beach with a bag of chips on the pier pinched by a seagull until it pisses it down, with some cheap cider and roll-ups in the evening followed by a sneaky hand job in the early hours.
Nonetheless, it’s a scene that’s proud of itself. It’s represented here by people that represent Brighton – intertwined with its graffiti, music and art scene. The art is both in the skateboarding and in the film. From the music chosen to the shots captured, around Europe and around our city, the spots used to create the best skating. The locations that only a skateboarder could look at and see as something as usable, in an endless stream of possibilities led by a piece of wood with four wheels.
The energy is restless and raw, flowing straight out of the hearts of hundreds of kids that don’t ever want to grow up. It’s all coming from the one thing – skateboarding. Tearing shit up with your friends, smashing the state, creating art, it’s all the same. It’s the energy of being on a board that pushes people to do new things and become what they never thought they could be.
Young energy that drives the art and culture, energy which cannot be created or destroyed, but only moves from one form to another. This is the energy that initiated punk music, powered hip hop, pushed for civil rights and has consistently proven to be more original and powerful than all the ideas and adverts pushed by forty-something media men with big cars, perfect families and trophy wives. They who have never experienced what it feels like to be at the very centre of pure excitement. This is an energy that you cannot help but be imbued with.
The screen goes white and a face appears up there, a young face with big dark eyes that looks out at everyone in the room. And everyone looks back, making as much noise as they possibly can, and those whose lives he touched by entering into them, all know very well that Felix Cooper Robinson is that that room with them all tonight, and is so proud of them.
When Ed Hubert’s ‘like’ film starts, he has the absolute attention of everyone in the room for the thirty minutes the film plays, and probably everyone walking past the cinema can hear the chants, claps and shouts. It’s hard to imagine that the building isn’t shaking, it’s hard to imagine that the whole fucking building isn’t glowing and the atmosphere isn’t felt within at least a mile radius.
Everyone makes a wall of noise when the next skater appears on screen, whether it’s William Greenfield, Niall Birnie, Dan Emerson, Jake Wisdom, Isaac Miller, Dyllan Vd Merwe, Amir Williams, Stevie Thompson, Dexter Daniels, the Antoine Brothers or Leon Karakashian. This is some of the best skateboarding we’ve ever seen – it’s also the some of the best editing we’ve ever seen.
The director gets a kids’ television presenter from our childhood to star in the video, to base the whole theme of it around a social-networking network that connects hundreds of millions of people each and every day, and to set it all to a soundtrack that at one point featured in all our lives.
The skateboard scene could go anywhere now. When it started in the 1960s as a children’s toy, much like the yo-yo or the etch-a-sketch, no one imagined it would re-emerge with the surfing scene a decade later when it suddenly became a way to ride the concrete wave when the tide was calm. It went from amusement to movement and then something happened. A man named Alan Gelfend invented something called the ‘ollie’, which changed everything and probably saved skateboarding from ending up a fad.
At the end of the 70s it once again began to die out, and only the truest, only the realest motherfuckers – probably the ones Snelling is so inspired by ¬– kept with it. They built wooden ramps in their garages and front gardens when all the skateparks closed and started filming themselves and their friends. This was the time when the cities became one big skatepark.
In the same way that NIKE is currently capitalising on the resurgent interest in skateboarding, the 1990s threatened to turn it all into an industry. Yet punk rock and the streets became the base of 90s skateboarding, the dirty raw energy taking it into the new millennium. Now in the current century we are seeing skateboarding become a fashionable accessory, an image for people to reblog around the internet. But no matter where it goes, right now, in this room it’s a bunch of people all connected through the same thing, having a lot of fun.
And so I think of when I first moved to Brighton when I was four or five years old with my mother, back in 1999, before the millennium came and everything changed a little but no one could explain why. I think back to one lazy walk along the seafront on a summer’s evening and remember the shadows over the old paddling pool next to the rotting West Pier, the shadows with the energy, and the pieces of wood underneath their wheels, and remember thinking that’s where I want to be. Old Pasty and Tom Banham were probably there as well, in their younger days when they ruled the town.
I remember when they filled the paddling pool with concrete, and still the skateboarders took over the place, skating on top of the old pool, over its tomb and grave, because that’s what skateboarding is about – not letting the intervention of a city council, of building proposals or angry locals stopping you from expressing yourself. To mark your spot in your city because ultimately it’s you who owns it.
And with ‘like’, with its energy and music that has been skated to over the decades, with its memory of a loved young man, and its reminder of how far skateboarding and filmmaking has come in the skate world, it’s neither the present nor the future of British skating, it’s just like.
Duke Of York’s Cinema, Friday 14th September 2012
Words by Andrew Finch