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Waxing the Curb

The Psychoanalytic Skatepark 
     Dan Graham, Skateboard Pavilion, 1989. 

Rassvet in Exile: On I Missed You 


   

Russians in exile. Russians in Mexico. The conceit for Rassvet’s most recent video, I Missed You, invariably calls to mind Frida, the 2002 biopic starring Salma Hayek as the eponymous artist, Frida Kahlo. Kahlo was part of a group of socialist artists in Mexico City who were partly responsible for helping Communist revolutionary, Leon Trotsky find asylum in their city in 1937. In the film, Trotsky and his wife take refuge with Kahlo and her estranged husband, the muralist Diego Rivera at Kahlo’s family home, and their conversations pose the film’s most salient questions about the artist’s role in society. Can art be political? Is emotion or ideology more persuasive? Are people rational beings? How can the personal become political? Should the artist subsume her intentions to the project of the nation, the revolution, the worker? Trotsky and Kahlo have an affair, a romance Trotsky soon sacrifices to protect his own marriage. As the couple departs for less secure accommodations, the notoriously unfaithful Rivera confronts Kahlo, asking her why she would put the worker’s revolution at risk. She spits back: “Because we wanted to.”

I Missed You takes place within a similarly exiled state, in which national identities are brokered under foreign circumstances. Here, though, an opening animation reminds us that the quest is as much a matter of asylum as of finding like-minded people, when it longingly asks, “Where my friends at / Where has 2020 been?” Rassvet is a Russian company and its founder, Tolya Titaev has stated that “[o]ne of my main goals was to make sure that if someone thinks about skateboarding in Russia, they immediately think about us.” He is also the proprietor of Moscow’s Oktyabr Skateshop. Many of the company’s recent videos have granted outsiders a canny perspective on the Russian scene. To say that it feels Russian is a bit weak. More, amidst the cutty spots and granite plazas of Moscow, and the Soviet-era post-industrial ruins that still haunt the country’s urban fringes, a strong sensibility comes through. It’s cocky, declarative, prone to grand gestures, and yet, everything comes across with the elegant strategy of a grand plan. Watching the company’s videos has the same vibe as discovering that one of your smartest, most artistic friends spent a year in jail for beating someone up (as once happened with me and my brilliant painter friend, when he whipped out his old prison ID card at the bar). The experience is thrilling at first, the shock giving way to a more conspiratorial conversation. But, as with Rassvet’s output, the confession leaves you wondering who this person really is, and what kind of past lurks behind a person’s persona.


The same sense of gritty suspicion, of constantly having to prove your bona fides comes through in Rassvet’s video travelogue. Filmed primarily in Mexico City, Paris, and Los Angeles, the video positions each of these international capitals as the locus of operations for the company’s international team—places where, owing to various border disputes and dislocations, it became possible for a creative community to form, however ad hoc the circumstances. Mexico City held a special place as a wayfaring station for many during the pandemic. It was the backdoor for Europeans and other world travelers to reenter the United States, so long as they holed up in the Mexican capital long enough to pass quarantine, and thereby cross a more neutral border.
Hence, lots of skaters found themselves in a not unwelcome state of limbo, and the city became a meeting point for Rassvet’s internationally diverse team, gathering skaters based in the US and elsewhere. In many ways, the opening segment in particular recalls Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926): against the beautiful, beaux-arts architecture of the Mexican capital, characters with nowhere else to go tread the line between beauty and self-destruction, much the same way Hemingway depicts in his novel about the vagaries of the Lost Generation. Zurich’s anarchic Dada scene and the debaucherous years of Weimar Berlin also come to mind. A decadent setting that lends itself to the romanticization of an invisible pain, and a certain nihilism about the past in general.

“Bored as fuck,” reads a super that introduces the section, and indeed, there is a listlessness about this prologue, which underlies the entire video, but which is tempered by individual video parts later on. Here, however, is a group of skaters stretching their legs for the first time on foreign soil—no one on this team is actually Mexican. The spots all have an overgrown beauty about them, as if the city were lost to time. The moldering tilework and artisanal basin of an empty fountain offer the groundwork for Val Bauer’s noseslide popover, the skater folding effortlessly across the threshold as if to suggest the arch-like trajectory of water jet in this otherwise dried-out water feature. Void of people, as quarantines were still in effect, and filmed in some of the quieter areas of the city, the empty streets, with their gorgeous time-worn cobblestones make Mexico City look like the European capital time forgot. Much like the novels of the Lost Generation, the peaceful timelessness of such urban limbo has its stakes, even if they lie on the fringes of ones memory, or the events they refer to are presently taking place abroad. Indeed, from the start, the video reminds us about the war going on elsewhere, its very first image offering solidarity with the afflicted: “NO TO THE RUSSIAN INVASION / WE STAND WITH UKRAINE”.


By the time Rassvet reaches Los Angeles, angst has percolated to the surface. This crew bares all the telltales of the creative set: the heavy denim and the thick cotton duck of workwear, Chuck Taylors, and really baggy pants. Differentiating themselves is a more collaged sensibility, a whiff of Balenciagia’s recent end-times aesthetic. I may not know all the reference points, but I do know that religious icons and Bauhaus t-shirts are as prevalent as wallies and pole jams. The soundtrack, too, shifts to the enveloping fuzz of Shoegaze and Sonic Youth tracks that feature Kim Gordon’s moaning vocals. A doleful mood. Glancing. Discordant. Skating seems more burdensome, now. Bauer takes these scrappy, economical tricks to gas station parking lots, cast in a stark neon light. Cambryan Sedlick, as if hallucinating a better spot, does a backside ollie on a grass covered hillside.
Though skaters gravitate to society’s edges, and tend to drift unmoored from a specific place, existing on the fringes can destabilize your sense of self, and engender reactionary ideals. Sedlick skates someone’s home, a gesture that comes across as somewhat hostile, throwing into question whether skating is a coherent ideology, or simply entitled and reactive to circumstances. Is skating just a kind of nihilism that admits too well to the world’s corruption, and holds up self-indulgence as the last meaningful ideal? It’s a tragic scene, and after the homeowners hastily dispose of the plywood Sedlick used to reinforce the grippy surface of the roof, mother, father, and child dispatch the crew with a pair of middle fingers. (Perhaps because Paris has a longer history of welcoming artist exiles, a friendlier passerby later wags her tongue at the camera, her lips pursed into a smile).

Cameos abound, collecting these lost souls under the shadow of internationalism. We get a few clips from the Portuguese native Remy Taveira, a skater who, like so many of his countrymen, came of age in Paris, seeking better opportunities in the French capital. Accolades and overheards come to us in a variety of languages: Spanish, French, Russian, Portuguese, English, the international language of skater gibberish, and the expression “Let’s go!” In spite of this eclectic vision of skateboarding, one of the narratives that I personally enjoyed in the video is that of the Midwestern idler making inroads with such an international crew. Patrick Franklin is from Illinois, and was, for a time, synonymous with the Midwestern scene centered around Chicago. But his beautifully stylized skating, which he honed in weed-ridden parking lots, abandoned malls, and other post-industrial wastelands now finds resonance in the streets of Paris, as if, like a character out of Hemingway, his cornfed ennui has made intimate bedfellows with a broader, more urbane malaise. His tricks do belong to these stone-lined streets. His slappies and various combos recall the innovations made by Kevin Rodrigues and the Blobys in the decade past, a romantic version of skating that found bravura in the gutters of Paris, content with a curb so long as it was surrounded by a beautiful setting. Everyone seems to shave themselves bald, and have snake tattoos on the backs of their heads.


Sometimes, as I often wonder about my American friends in Berlin, the exile is not to be trusted. What are they running from? Why haven’t they learned the language yet? If it was so bad at home, why didn’t they stick around to fight, to work to make it better? Is the exile actually extremely bourgeois, self-interested, privileged to leave? The unplaceable mid-Atlantic accent—a combination of American and British intonations, garnished with ESL expressions—that issues from the throats of those expats on a permanent semester abroad would suggest some kind of pretentious put-on. Franklin, however, does not suffer fools about his position on the team. With his giant nerd glasses, complete with adjustable tether fastened tight to his head, he could not look more American. His choice of Chuck Taylors not only positions him as part of the avant-garde, but also within the Sandlot-like image of youthful Americana. In taking his skateboarding abroad, practicing his work in a context that does not make the same assumptions about who he is or where he is from, he is able to speak more generally about his American perspective. In the US, he’s just another suburbanite from nowheresville. In Paris, he speaks the international language of skateboarding. There is a sense of liberation about his skating, too. He’s more able to dedicate himself to his craft, proferring backside flips that are as crisp and taught as any of Hemingway’s finest sentences. And while he partakes of the image of the guileless, innocent American, he pairs it with something more ruminative and oblique. He approaches curb cuts not simply as kicker ramps, but rather as lyrical rejoinders. Childlike tricks such as the fingerflip stage a thoroughly adult psychodrama when Franklin turns one off a curb. And though he might huck his ender like a true American, the sidelong gesture of the frontside shuvit dangles with the leering, surreal, Lynchian clarity of a knife.
Born too late, millennials will always feel as though they missed a city’s boom years of artistic creativity and international cultural melding. Berlin was gone by the late 2000s, when they would have been graduating from college. Cheep rent in London or Paris is gone. Even second cities like Portland felt more like a Gen X paradise, than a millennial mecca. And don’t even get me started on New York, though I hear Tblisi is the next Bushwick. Or maybe Lisbon….It’s almost a defining characteristic of this generation that they missed the boat. But much like Trotsky and Kahlo’s interactions, I Missed You speaks to more universal human conditions. Exiled at home and abroad, the experience of Russian millennials mirrors that of American millennials, hence a certain uncanny echo between Rassvet and the scrappy, unmonumental ethos of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit, and even aspects of Los Angeles. They, too, inherited a country in decline, with money and resources greedily hoarded by older generations, labor protections gutted, and incomes, on average, less than what their parents enjoyed. Gone is governmental support in general, be it subsidized education and affordable rent in the United States, or the more pervasive assistance provided by Soviet state.

Overall, the ornate symbolism of Sedlick’s skating steals the show. Grabbing melon on the blind rotation of a frontside half cab, he clears a massive gap in one grand flap of his limbs, a menacing gesture that bares strong resemblance to a vampire draping open his cape. But it’s his video-ending clip that sums up the situation of the Rassvet team best. Thrusting himself out of a curb cut, Sedlick clears an impossibly high barrier, tweaking himself into a backside shifty. In this awkward position, he crashes into place on the curb, his wheels squeal against the time-worn pavement and flagstones, before he exits the trick fakie. With the camera continuing to move away from him, filming backwards but moving forwards, all movement appears to reverse direction. Time seems to stop, or lose any sense of momentum all together. Nearly impossible to reconcile, it’s as if the frame is moving, and the material world has crystalized into a standstill. Similarly, that Titaev has seen to an entrepreneurial self-sufficiency, building out his own commercial infrastructure that supports a growing skate scene is not only impressive, laudable, and the epitome of service in the skate world, it also suggests the underlying ambivalence required to exist amidst the global cultural stasis of the neoliberal world. Strangers at home and abroad, I Missed You presents history’s orphans who have been forced to figure things out on their own. •••


Tinker Skater Portland Burnside: On Brent Atchley’s Satori


   

Portland skaters tinker. I don’t know what it is, perhaps the forced interiority of the city’s long, rainy winters causes this compulsive behavior. Sequestered to their garage or basement, Portland skaters analyze and scrutinize every detail. The same conditions have pushed them to the fringes—more so than in most American cities, whose scenes are often defined by obscurity. Here, they search for small pockets of cover, sometimes having to belabor a small patch of dry pavement, to dissect every angle of a crumbling, mishappen hunk of concrete that doubles as a grind box or quarterpipe. They know these objects inside and out because they almost always build them themselves. Any skatepark that offers cover has received a Portland skater’s most thorough attention. So beyond the basic configuration of the bowls, they retrace the skatepark’s original composition into a mandala-like overlay. A quick little tap can mean everything. Interludes and oblique angles abound. It can seem as though they have unlocked the hidden meaning of this manufactured ruin. As both Silas Baxter-Neal and Tyler Bledsoe have recently demonstrated—and as Matt Beach long ago pioneered—a Portland skater will take a plaza apart, and put it back together again—with their mind.

In Brent Atchley’s case, tinkering translates as refinement, his skating seeking to master the art of finesse. Since the 2000s, he has brought an unusual approach to the bowls and concrete skateparks that predominate in the Portland scene, eschewing the gnarly for something more languorous, atmospheric, lyrical, and even pleasantly glib. As he demonstrates in his recent part for Satori, a downtempo, but no less enjoyable affair, there’s a wittiness to his skating. In full command of his board, he’s able to pop out of tight quarterpipes, airing four feet from an involuted backyard bowl where others would confine themselves to the coping. Working the lip, too, he does not do your ordinary grind or slide. He bifurcates a rock fakie with a nose manual, and pirouettes 360 degrees on a razor’s edge—completely stationary, mind you. Elsewhere, he gerrymanders a tiny, decorative chunk of basalt into a functional quarterpipe, and lobbies the new district’s potential into a blunt to back disaster. The guy has some kind of third eye for this type of stuff, a hunter’s mindset that tracks vital details the rest of us are too oblivious, too course to pick up on, as when he wallies up a waist-high concrete pediment into a nose manual. Hardly a skateable object, the most obvious exit appears blocked . But, as if following some animal intuition, Atchley somehow bends his forward-moving trajectory into a hard left.
Though such tricks speak to a high level of skill and precision, Atchley is actually quite a casual skater. More than a decade ago, when I lived in Portland, I once saw him chug a 40oz, and then saunter around Burnside with the command of someone who knows every square inch of the skatepark. His somnolent cruising anticipated every rhythm, imparted gravity to every dimple and idiosyncracy, and reduced the oververt bowl to a mere a ripple. Sticking to the edges and interstices, his improvised route seemed to be an exercise in pacing, and I felt as if I were witnessing an expert jazz drummer reacquaint himself with the fundamentals before a session. Here was a street skater bringing his abilities to transition, but it was also more than that, too.

Though Atchley’s debut parts in Element’s Elementality (2005) and This is My Element (2007) demonstrated his abilities to launch into orbit, they also show how he chose a more lyrical route upward, as if wafting amidst an invisible updraft (notably, when his contemporaries were making careers out of a scrappier, more explosive approach to Burnside). Atchely’s understanding, like that of is Portland peers, such as Mikey Chin and Ben Krahn, sought to expose the nuances of Burnside’s geometries, highlighting the park’s subtler features, and more tucked-away corners. Their style was more cerebral, and looked at things from the bottom up, preferring the park’s mellow spine, its pyramid, and the tight angles of the crow’s nest. They popped their ollies, nollied the hip, and treated the sharp edges of the pyramid like a hubba. When they weren’t picking apart Burnside’s more cramped quarters, they skated the big walls switch (Chin, Mikey, Why Wouldn’t You).
Portland has changed a lot in the time since I saw Atchely at Burnside. Massive condos surround the progenitor of DIY, replacing the post-industrial muck that had made this an attractive, and relatively rain-free place to build something (personally, I always thought it was funny that a tea factory once neighbored the site). But Atchley’s Satori part shows that the tradition is still alive and well. Popping out of an axle stall on the western parking block wall, he recasts the simple 5050 into a crushing back lip. Several clips take place on the liminal space between the oververt bowl and the mini spine, a sort of no-man’s-land where Atchley finds an unusual runway for lines, bridging his transition tricks with a 360 flip, a switch heel flip, or simply a quick bit of stance maintenance. Most people generate speed on the hump that separates this overlooked alley from the parking block quarter, or else, they recognize it as a barrier. To Atchely, who flows right over it, the hump is the world’s shortest manual pad. 

Portland skaters have a tendency to fall off at a certain point in their careers. After starring in The Firm’s 2003 video, Can’t Stop, Matt Beach disappeared, only to resurface six years later in Transworld’s Right Foot Forward (2009), after a stint as a UPS employee. And it wasn’t long after Atchley’s second pro part that he faded from the spotlight, continuing to skate, but only in locally produced videos. Something about the Portland’s tinkering mentality seems to be allergic to fame or the skate industry. In my experience, the city has a darkside. It often feels isolated, making it an easy place to get lost.
Nonetheless, Atchley’s unique skating remains endlessly watchable. To see him cruise around is to watch a master craftsman in full possession of his tools, as if the board were an extension of his feet. The part has the taught, hypnotic effect of shows like New Yankee Workshop, or those YouTube videos that bring old and rusted objects back to life, narratives that portray the production process from start to finish, and which draw out the rich pleasure of going through all the steps to do something right. Such is the case, anyway, when watching him traipse a line through Portland’s defacto plaza spot. His nosegrinds in particular are so precise, it’s as if he fashions them with a jig. Curbs, too, really flex his abilities, like when he resolves the conflicting vectors of a fakie nosegrind, a revert, and a nose manual through some masterful joinery.

The same arch abilities are particularly on display when he chooses to skate the unexpected. He is slow, deliberate, and poised as he takes adequate measure of an overturned section of concrete drainwork, details that allow him to beautifully trace a nose manual over its parabolic curve. He applies no more pressure than is necessary, knowing the smallest measurement affects the whole. On the rare occasion that Atchley falls, it, too, seems to prove some kind of virtue. Attempting to nose manual the dented, slightly concave roof of an old roadster, he initially hangs up on the windshield wiper, landing himself well beyond the safety of the car’s hood. But he recovers quickly, and in the next clip, we see him float over the car’s hardbody exterior, light footedly dancing on the glass as if it were as solid as steel. Indeed, the clip is indicative of the part on the whole, showing that Atchley’s labor of love seems to follow one simple rule. The tinkerer’s creed: style is not simply a matter of force, but rather, possessing the patience and wisdom to know how much a given situation calls for.•••


Waxing the Curb

Skaterless Brooklyn 


Samm Kunce, In The Living Rock, 2004. Los Angeles Metro Civic Center Station.

To All My Friends: On Spanky’s Horses


   

They say indie sleaze is back. They say fashionable celebs are wearing Apple headphones with cords again in a nod to the company’s iconic electroclash ad campaign from the 2000s[1]. They say LCD Soundsystem has a new album and that people are wearing disco leggings to their shows. They say flannels are on the rise. They say people are finally partying again. And not only are people partying, they are documenting themselves in blown out photos with the flash definitively on. They say the hot mess is upon us. They say the shirtline has assumed a v-shaped migration south. They say antiquated technologies are cool—though by antiquated technologies, they mean iPods and not Super 8 or Polaroids. They say TikTok is obsessed with Miu Miu, and Fashion Nova has already knocked off the brand’s vintage designs. They say pop punk has made its triumphant return, though somehow Travis Barker never went away. They say a (skate) blog Renaissance has arrived. They say the hipster has reawakened from her neon-colored dreams. They say the Cobra Snake is once again telling us what happened after we blacked out—historically speaking. But, to me, the single most relevant marker of indie sleaze’s infamous return is a video part from Kevin “Spanky” Long, the skater who, in many ways, defined the 2000s for me. 

It can be hard to see the period of your own youthful indiscretions paraded across the internet like so much dirty, wolf- and eagle-graphic-covered laundry. To be confronted by my own exuberant naivety elicits an acute anxiety, and yet, as if to contradict myself, I also worry that the young people are getting the story wrong, are trivializing it as a mere fashion statement—or worse, that my own peers are capitalizing on it themselves. As I reconcile the personal with the historical, I recall a statement by the character Vershinin in Anton Chekhov’s play, The Three Sisters (1901), when he says, “What seems to us serious, significant, very important, will one day be forgotten or will seem unimportant…And it may be that our present life, which we accept so readily, will in time seem strange, inconvenient, stupid, not clean enough, perhaps even sinful….” The “not clean enough” part really describes the melancholy I feel about a very smelly period for me (I lived in Portland, what can I say?). But regardless of what will come out in the wash as we turn our attention to the post-9/11 period, Spanky’s Horses part for Baker Skateboards offers an initial opportunity to see what of this historical moment endures, and provides ample examples for what remains important.

Spanky’s early career was a huge part of the 2000s for me. His debut in Emerica’s This Is Skateboarding (2003) remains one of my favorite video parts of all time, ushering a new type of skateboarder (to me) who was suave, listened to The Cure, and dressed like he had just left a Misshapes party, but whose hipsterdom didn’t stop him from taking knee-buckling drops—it helped that he was also a teenager at the same time I was. His style was by turns technical and reckless, unafraid to participate in the era’s stair-counting progression, while keeping himself tightly crafted. For one line, he takes a then-unpopular varial flip up a two stair before tweaking a kickflip backside shifty down an eight stair, a line that seems less about dropping hammers, than about something more sophisticated, ironic, as if he were performing skateboarding on a harpsichord, melodica, or some other children’s instrument that otherwise undercuts the culture’s self-serious risk taking. Immediately charming, he just seemed to be interested in something else.

The thing with Long’s skateboarding, however, is that it didn’t quite stop there. A knee injury set his stair-jumping abilities back, and he was forced to rely more heavily on his creativity to remain in the limelight. His parts in Baker 3 (2005), Baker Has A Deathwish (2008), and Stay Gold (2010) all reflect a more thoughtful, introspective Spanky, pioneering the use of wallrides, wallies, and slappies; he is the first person I remember popping out of boardslides, too. His paired back style favored low-impact spots, imparting a more casual, lo-fi thrust to his skating—sort of like Spanky’s answer to the faux-naif tape-delays of Panda Bear[2], and other bands distributed on local tape labels at the time.

The same period was also one of extensive partying and alcohol abuse, and he parlayed his skate career into a modest celebrity in the New York and LA party scenes. From Buffalo, NY, my hometown, this could not have seemed more glamorous. On Patrick O’Dell’s photo blog, epiclylaterd.com, which very much informed my understanding of New York hipsterdom, the art and culture scenes seemed to take skateboarding more seriously. Seeing Spanky partying with artists, musicians, fashion designers, and popular club kids, not to mention dating the defining manic pixie dream girl of the 2000s, Cat Power, gave the impression that you did not have to leave your board at home when you went to an opening or a party. Skateboarding had caché beyond our corny little scene, at least among the cool kids of that time. (O’Dell, too, transitioned from Thrasher to photo editor at Vice, one of the defining publications of the 2000s.) Still, as the Bush years sobered into the Great Recession, Spanky’s experience also became emblematic of the era’s pitfalls. In effect, he stayed too long at the party, and while his native charisma always guaranteed an invitation, he would be demoted from professional status before the middle part of the next decade.


Horses isn’t the first pro part that Spanky has put out since his second coming. His part in Emerica’s Made Chapter 2 (2016) was his true resurrection, the moment at which Baker reissued his pro board, and Emerica once again stitched his name on a shoe. Even Thrasher made light of Spanky’s resuscitation with a sidebar on the cover of its May 2015 issue, which reads “Spanky’s Back: From Pro to Flow to Pro,” marking him as the only skater I know of who turned pro twice. And there is his utter mastery of social media, making it appear as though he has been on a constant tear for the last several years in one of the most compelling uses of the medium by any skater—a rare feat, to adapt to the vibe shift, as they say. But Spanky is a unique skater, and Horses once again shows that his wide-eyed, jovial curiosity has contributed to his ongoing relevance even in 2022. It’s right there from the start: a stop motion clip of his hands as they compulsively twist the knobs on an Etch A Sketch to form the Thrasher Magazine title card at the beginning of his part, and the cover of Neil Young’s 1970s anthem, the lush texture of which sets a modestly epic tone, and makes clear that every detail has been filtered through Spanky’s kindly neurotic intention.

While people may be looking at the 2000s for tricks that were popular then—say, a recent uptick in kickflip shifties that I have noticed lately—for Spanky, these tricks have remained with him for the last 20 years. Early in the part, he switch wallies a boulder, surfing his way through the concrete corners of SoCal public spaces. The trick feels utterly contemporary, congruent with the tastes of younger skaters who were raised on Supreme or Frog, and who eschew outward displays of skill for a fetish-like appreciation of the understated and low-key. Skill, for them, smacks of effort. But Spanky shows his maturity in how he architects the line. He is unafraid to contradict himself, concluding the display with a frontside flip into a switch nosegrind, a trick that flies in the face of a generation that prefers the dissociative, Ketamine-addled languorousness of the wallie. To flagrantly show off your ability exudes a positivity, a joie de vivre, and an enthusiasm, shifting the line’s narrative from an affective, if deeply satisfying drone, to a more lithesome, angular contrapposto, posing opposing perspectives about the nose of your board as a destination, and a point of departure.

There is still something so captivating in Spanky’s slacker spectacles, which pair the theatrics of Baker-style hammers with the matter-of-fact, stupid-smart poetics of a boardslide or wallride, as when he launches himself out of a sidewalk bump, and then clings to the facade of a giant a-frame sign. The same ethos plays out in the song, Neil Young’s prophetic track “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”. The lyrics are directed at those suffering confusion and turmoil in a time of change, calling for you to take pause when the world seems bleak. Such pop wisdom, however, does not come from the childlike vocals of the old Canadian folkster, but rather from a more robust reenvisioning by Annie Lennox, with the hand-picked obscurity of the cover making such grim pictures seem as though they are being delivered by an aging hipster (a term I use here endearingly, perhaps because I worry that I, myself, am one). The song particularly suits the suite of clips Spanky records at LA High. He takes new angles to a spot he helped to popularize for millennial skaters when he backside flipped out of a tailslide on the big bank in Stay Gold. In Horses, Spanky builds off his earlier approach, similarly searching for overlooked options, though this time the results are more oblique and dissonant, not requiring the same stamp of approval that a flip-out historically offers. He lobs wallies off a side bank into lipslides on the brick steps, and even makes use of the benches the school conspicuously installed as skatestoppers. Perhaps my favorite clip in the entire video happens here, when he confidently rolls for a while, letting the previous trick really set in, before he taps a switch hardflip with a featherweight deftness that conclusively ends the line.

It’s hard not feel a pang of nostalgia, a tugging at the heartstrings for Spanky. He has always been one of my favorite skaters: I’ve had his shoes, I’ve dressed like him. I have done my best to learn the tricks he is known for, namely frontside flips, wallrides, weird pop outs, and more recently slappies. Even though he’s an LA guy, he opened my eyes to New York, and not only to New York, but to the downtown scene, a world I have participated in for the better part of a decade. Though he is only 2 years my senior, I have a great deal to thank Spanky for, perhaps most of all skating’s relevance to other creative discourses, and that immersion—truly living it—is the only way to learn the rules, and your only hope if you ever want to present as knowing and cool. Yet, no matter how much Spanky plays the wisened skater, Horses shows just how much Spanky remains the ingenue, the perpetual am, the perennial up and comer, remaining relatable particularly because of the defining millennial impulse of always feeling like you are emerging—a lifetime amatueur that never reaches his destination. It’s both symptomatic of a generational malaise, but also an appealing survival tactic.

Such a mentality is my main takeaway from Horses. The sense of constantly being on the brink is what makes it feel old and new at the same time. It particularly informs the pair of clips Spanky films at a low-slung brick hubba. For one, he switch noseslides up its rickety ascent, pitching himself into quick kickflip off the end. For the other, he spins an additional 270 degrees with the kickflip, as if some tornadic updraft had conveyed him up the hubba’s face. Though the trick is the type of thing that, once upon a time, served as an ostentatious component of many a sponsor-me tape (how those are a thing of the past), it has been part of Spanky’s repertoire since the beginning. Twenty years ago, it would have marked Spanky as a youngster, hungry, wanting in, and willing to do such hot-mess tricks to get there. But knowing what we know today, the clip also recalls all the doors that skateboarding has opened for Spanky. It got him onto Baker and Emerica—twice. As evidenced by epiclylaterd.com, it got him in the door at Sway to attended the late Ben Cho’s Morrisey Night. It got him in the door of Max Fish (the original location), which in turn got him immortalized in the New York Times, quoted in the infamous bar’s obituary when we thought it was actually closing—”“The top 100 times of my life have all been in this bar,” he says. Like all things from this era of indie sleaze, these images have a lot to answer for—like why does O’Dell call everything “gangster”? Cringe—and for the next decade at least we will be debating their significance. But somehow, even in 2022, seeing Spanky’s sophisticated mannerisms as he flicks the gangly blizzard flip over a hump of East LA cement makes a compelling, if appropriately jaunty case for indie sleaze’s renewed relevance. Though in Spanky’s case, don’t call it a comeback.•••
1. Before anyone put a name to indie sleaze, and well in advance of the vibe shift, Vogue columnist Liana Satenstein observed the widespread retreat from AirPods back to seemingly less convenient wired headphones. Though her original 2019 article was widely contested, with critics arguing she oversold a few tabloid images of Bella Hadid as a larger trend, Satenstein’s observations nonetheless proved prophetic when TikTok trend forecaster Mandy Lee (@oldloserinbrooklyn) identified wired headphones as a fundamental pilar of the nascent indie sleaze movement, indicative of both the 2000s obsession with antiquated technologies, and a nod to Apple’s aforementioned ad campaign.

The significance of wired headphones’ appearance in the mainstream obviously depends on where the edges of your particular bubbles falls, and how much weight you put behind Bella Hadid as a fashion indicator (probably a lot). But, to me, and to any skater who came of age during the 2000s, the outsize role such a seemingly trivial accessory plays in much larger cultural debates should be a reminder of the central place wired headphones occupied in conversations throughout the skate world in the 2000s. Perhaps because skaters have an oblique relationship to criticism, seldom seeking to ask fundamental questions about their cherished subculture, the most trenchant debates tend to fall upon seemingly benign and inconsequential artifacts such as headphones or pants. Whatever the reason, the launch of the iPod, and more importantly, the lightweight iPod Shuffle ushered in one of the most widespread and hotly contested conversations to hit skate fashion since everyone ditched Vision Street Wear for baggy pants. A friendlier pricetag meant that skaters were less precious about their new technology, causing a proliferation of wired headphones throughout the entire skateworld, including not just skateparks, but also appearing in ads and videos, visual real estate that was much more scarce and significant at the time. Younger skaters more or less adopted the new technology, but to older skaters, however, the ear buds closed the wearer off to the world around them, causing them to miss out on a fundamental sense of awareness that skateboarding offered. For people like legendary pro Mike Carroll, wired headphones spelled the end of skate culture as we knew it.

Regardless of which side of the debate you were on—and, to me, there was only one right side—conversations around headphones further prove the unpredictable nature of culture and history, and show how something that seems entirely trivial at the time can gain massive significance 20 years later. As Satenstein and May’s discussions demonstrate, this strange residue of our technological culture has come back around to be a central debate of our time, providing unexpected evidence of what we will remember, and what we will be remembered by (i.e. wired headphones). While there is a certain delight in overthinking such peculiar small details, it also shows how even the most insignificant moments of the past can be a source of power and premonition in the future. Or, as Taylor Scarabelli puts it in her salient second look at the indie sleaze trend: “in the age of social media, indie sleaze is not a subculture, nor a rebellion. If anything, it’s just another blip in the micro-trendscape created by Instagram, a hashtag destined to become enmeshed with the Y2K revival before it.”

2. O'Dell, Patrick and Sam Salganik, directors. Comfy in Nautica. Performed by Panda Bear. Skater: Clark Hassler. 2008.




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Waxing the Curb is ︎ by Sam Korman. 


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