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ART: Big City Freaks

Featured in Freestyle Volume 03 2007. Interview by Jason Jaram. Photography courtesy of Big City Freaks.

Whodini once said “the freaks come out at night”. Sometimes they come out in the daytime too, with crates of spray paint, ladders and a slab of beer. Sometimes they turn the drab grey walls of the big city into spectacles of aerosol art. What’s guaranteed is they’ll have a fun time doing it.

Could you give us a bit of an intro for the readers out there?

Styles: I’ve played with a few different names but mainly write Styles, Skote and more often, Zen. Started subway writing in 1984 as a Breakin’ crew member with the Zulu Artists, Digits (as B-24), International Bomb Squad, New Rock Crew (with Teedo and Sevn), Park Side Killers (original members were just Cassim and Styles in 1986) and FAB 4 (Future Art Beat 4) from 1986. After a big break I started writing again in 1995 by my self and then 97-98 with Big City Freaks, Oh So Fresh, TM and PLS. These days just BCF.

Pudl: I write Pudler, 1990 was when I did my first piece, although I had been dropping tags and “trying” to draw graffiti a little before then.

Set: Set 1. BCF, I have been writing for just over 5 years now and have been living in Sydney since 2003.

Snarl: I’ve been writing Snarl since 1995 and was put down with BCF in 1998.

Can you tell us a bit about the BCF crew how it started/members/what it means etc?

Styles: Big City Freaks was a name I came up with in 1995 and didn’t really make it happen until I thought it would be nice to form a crew again with like-minded people from the Sydney scene in about 1997-1998. The crew has gone through a bit of a bumpy road over the years both internally and externally but over the last 2 years and especially this year we have been very productive and are now a positive group of not only writers but also friends who stick by each other.

Snarl: For me, BCF is about quality productions. Skote put down writers that all had a certain level of commitment to their own graf and were willing to work as a team towards a common outcome. Each of us come from a different period in graf history so we all have a different approach to our own individual art making, this helps to keep things fresh.

You all have quite a history with the Sydney graf scene could you tell us a bit about how you got into graf and what the whole scene was like back then/influences etc?

Pudl: When I started writing, it was something unique, something that the average person knew nothing about, and also something sneaky. It was probably a natural progression, as I had always liked to draw from a young age. South of Sydney where I grew up, there were only a handful of us that did it, so there was really no “scene”. We would travel to Sydney just to check out other peoples stuff. Memorable names that we used to bug out at such as Kade, Scram, Gane2 and Taven were quite predominant around the city at that time. Also, back then, there was no internet, just a few magazines, and definitely no artists being sponsored by paint companies.

Set: I was pretty much the only one painting where I grew up, and then I met Mr. Snarl. He schooled me on how it is and why it is. I am still somewhat of a youngster in the Sydney graf scene, but have learned the history and respect what those before me have accomplished.

Snarl: I think graf got into me rather than me getting into graf. Growing up around Newtown as a kid I was always taking notice of the cryptic writings that seemed to appear overnight, and I remember contemplating who was responsible. Seems, Mr. E, Sevn, Gane, Wicked, Breech, Fink, and Fumen, were some of the influences who helped spark my initial interest. Eventually I became one of the names that appeared nocturnally and I felt like I belonged to something bigger than me. In the late 90’s Sydney graf exploded and I managed to get up and earned some respect from the people that I looked up to. Everyone in Sydney got along back then but things have changed now.

Styles: 1984 was my official start date as a teenager letter-constructing writer. Before this I always loved writing my name in the old “Scotty wuz ere” in ‘Kilroy’ style (you know the dude peeping his nose over a wall) but this was just graffiti and anybody that reckons they were a subway writer (apart from Cassim) before 1984 is full of it, ‘the writing was on the walls’. I was the writer in a breaking crew in those days at Bondi and also out at Lewisham as well as hangin’ out with the ‘Digit Dance Team’ who were all Western Suburbs B-boys. I first started writing ‘Dr Ice’ with my mate ‘Teedo’ and launched the first ever pieces at the Kings Cross end of the Eastern line with “Teedo helping me to fill in the letters. In those days Eastern line was ‘the shit’ because Cassim (‘Zapped’ at the time) did ‘Tracer’ which blew everyone away from East to West.

One of the first crews of dedicated subway writers back then were the ‘Zulu Artists’ (at this time I started writing ‘Styles’ and ‘B-24’) which mainly consisted of blokes and one female (Hego) from the inner city and Bondi ‘East Side Rockers’. After a massive graf campaign ‘Zulu Artists’ became too hot to write (Graf Squad Detective Andrews was on to it ) so ‘IBS’ (International Bomb Squad) were formed from ex-Zulu Artists members and an American sailor from NYC who Game, Mean, Bezz and Chow met on a typical local seedy night at Kings Cross in 1985 when a US ship was at port in Sydney (then I was writing ‘Brave’).

IBS, in the same fashion, was also dropped by all existing members and started to get written by many others (none from the original crew). Around this time I thought it was time to keep illegal graf separate from the more ‘sort of legal’ crew I was in, FAB 4 (Future Art Beat 4) and started writing different names sometimes a new one each week just to keep the heat from FAB 4. Some of those main names were, New Rock Crew, Vanodi, Crash and Crasher, Vandal, Park Side Killers, Cobe, Dmise, Soeism and Pose. Most people didn’t even know those names were me which was great although a lot of those names were later used by others with no respect or even bothering to ask for them. For me these were the ‘golden years’ of my life, which I will never forget. From a graffiti point of view they were groundbreaking, innovative, fresh, new ideas were rising and it was a subculture that I can be proud to say that I was involved in from the FIRST GENERATION!

Over the years you would have seen a lot of writers come and go what do you think it is that has kept you in the scene?

Styles: I do it purely because I like it and don’t consider myself part of the scene. I never feel the need to be competitive and try to keep that aspect at arms length. Unfortunately “the scene” can be an ugly place that in most cases has no respect for old schoolers and little respect for themselves and the world around them.

Pudl: “The scene” can be an ugly place at times, hence, I just try to keep progressing from my last piece… although, this doesn’t always work!

Set: I think continual improvement and development is very important, for this is what motivates me to keep painting graffiti. Progressing and doing better than the last. No matter how good you are there is still room for improvement.

Snarl: I try and distance myself from “the scene” as I find it can be detrimental to the purpose of my writing, which is my own personal style progression and development. It’s hard to be original if you’re part of a scene. I don’t want people to remember me, I want them to remember my pieces.

BCF have a reputation for producing quality productions. Can you tell us what to you makes a good production and what sort of time, effort and planning goes into one?

Styles: A good production is well balanced - complementing colours, democratic ideas and people who work well together. We haven’t done anything this year that has taken longer than 3 days to complete and that’s usually the big ones when ladders are involved. Mostly we do a whole wall in a day – characters, background, the lot.

Pudl: For me, the foundation for a good production begins with fresh letter styles – this is important. Characters, background etc. are always secondary.

Set: Our productions sometimes have weeks of planning behind them and at times they are more of a spur of the moment kind of thing. All that really matters is the end result. Working as a team and being open to ideas and suggestions on an individual level is the key to producing a quality mural.

Snarl: Usually one of us will have an idea that we put forward, then we search for reference material or draw up our original ideas. Usually who ever sparked the concept plays art director and we try and give the artwork a bit of room to take on its own form. If some thing is over-planned then you can lose that spontaneity that is part of the fun of painting graffiti.

A lot of your walls have a central theme or idea behind them. How do the initial concepts come about?

Styles: Everybody needs to have an active role and equal input, somebody comes up with a concept, and they express it to the others in the team. It gets the OK, and it gets painted. We also like to be spontaneous and pull it together on the spot. I think this is more fun for us and is how we do the majority of our work. While we are painting we always listen to what each other has to say if we need to make changes we run it pass the guy who’s playing Art Director (a title used very loosely).

Set: Ideas for walls can pop into your head at anytime, anywhere. The great thing with creating productions is seeing them through, from conception to the finished product.

Snarl: We all enjoy trying to conjure up something that hasn’t been done before, so when one of us plants a seed of an idea we all brainstorm it to see where we can take the initial concept.

Do you each have a unique role within each production (i.e one does characters/ one does backgrounds) or is it a shared process?

Styles: It is a shared process mainly, if there is one main character Pudl usually slaps that up. If there are more characters Snarl does a few and this year I have been dabbling as well (and painting clouds). Generally we allocate tasks and crack on with it.

Snarl: Once the concept of the production is agreed upon we allocate tasks to each individual based on our individual skills e.g Pudl does the characters, Skote (Styles) does the clouds, young Set talks to the people walking past the wall and Snarly buys the beer....

Does it ever become competitive on the walls (within the crew)? Or do you always try and have your pieces have a uniform look?

Pudl: If it’s competitive, then it’s friendly competition. All the pieces have their own individual flavour, that work well as a combination. The whole point of working as a team is to make the pieces work well as an armoured unit.

Set: Graffiti is a very competitive sport... and while we don’t really battle each other within the crew, we do try and keep our pieces up to a certain standard. I guess we kind of compete as a collective.

Snarl: You’ve got to have a competitive nature about it, otherwise it’s way too easy to become complacent, but this has more to do with pulling some crazy style out of the bag, not going bigger than everyone else and doing a sixteen colour fade with a twenty four colour bubble background. It’s important that the pieces carry the same weight and are placed correctly. You’re working together so the pieces should compliment each other.

What sort of reaction do you get from the public (passers by) when you are painting a production?

Styles: Nine out of ten are usually very positive. The odd one is usually the people who are very narrow minded or associate us with ‘the lad’ who has written on their fence. We recently had a street party in our honour – all the people in the street came out to celebrate a recent big production in Newtown.

Pudl: It varies. For example, it could be totally embraced by the friendly community of Newtown, then absolutely hated/despised and even vandalised by the so-called open minded people of Surry Hills… you get the picture.

Snarl: It’s all positive, apparently grandmothers in baseball hats love homicidal sword wielding samurai. I can’t remember the last time I got a negative response.

Do you have a different approach when painting individually?

Styles: Not really, I guess you just get have fun and explore and stick with what you know.

Pudl: For me not really a different approach, just perhaps a little more keen for experimentation.

Set: I do most of my bombing and illegal stuff solo. I don’t really take a different approach, but am definitely more aware of my surroundings when painting by myself.

Snarl: Definitely. Painting solo is important because this is when your uninhibited style finds its voice. Collaborating is when you get to share what you’ve developed and make it all work together.

How would you describe your own individual styles?

Styles: Armed and embellished like weapons.

Pudl: Mine is a combination of traditional “New York style” and “Sydney style” lettering. I enjoy breaking up the four letters of my tag, making them bounce and connect, and interlock back together again.

Set: My version of Sydney Style. Every part of my piece - pump, connection or whatever - has a purpose within the piece and is relevant. There is a formula. I am influenced by many Sydney writers - too many to mention. I also like the work of FBA, FC and TM7 crews just to name a few.

Snarl: An amalgamation of 3-D and 2-D techniques combine to create my very own style called “Organic Digitalism with sprouts”.

How important is the letterform to your work?

Styles: That’s the most important aspect of the whole art form, they must be balanced, have fluidity and proportion. I see every piece as a personal and sacred script of ones self, all your physical and mental energy in one concentrated point. Who’d have thought graffiti could be so deep!

Set: Letterform is the most important aspect of my work.

Snarl: Very important. If you cant do it with chrome and black, it’s wack.

What are your thoughts on the commercial acceptance/exploitation (fashion/advertising/computer games etc) of graf these days?

Styles: If you choose to make a living from graf good on you. I have no respect for writers with no history or street credit that play up the “I’m a graffiti artist” to all the fashion muppets. Grow some roots then let your tree flower.

Pudl: As far as “exploitation” goes - it was bound to happen. In regards to “commercial acceptance”, as long as the artist feels the job is relevant, and for the right product/brand, and he/she is getting paid what they deserve, I don’t have a problem with it… ”keeping it real” and tagging the streets forever won’t pay the bills… unfortunately.

Set: It’s cyclical… graf is in vogue at the moment and it is “cool” to pose in fashion magazines with bandanas over your face and claim to be hardcore. I could be wrong but I think the commercial acceptance will fluctuate in the coming years and the people that are “faking the funk” will be sorted out. But in saying that, in my opinion it is not a bad thing if a company uses graffiti for a marketing tool as long as it acknowledges and has an understanding of the culture and respects the artform... and pays well!

Snarl: Exploit me!.... It’s about fame isn’t it? As long as people are getting paid to do what they love I don’t see a problem with it. I think it’s corny and shows how shallow some of these companies really are, but, f**k it, money puts food on the table.

Legal vs. illegal? What are your thoughts? Are legal productions still graffiti?

Styles: The primal nature of the art form is its application - up in your face - where society that conforms to rules hates it. You can never take that away, especially the fact that it originated on trains, and that will always be the ultimate homage, and the time you spend at Mecca. Legal productions are where the art form grows and gains public acceptance. How writers perform on legal walls will only promote positive growth and win hearts and minds. Some good old-fashioned psychological warfare.

Pudl: To be “legit”, you must partake in both forms. If a legal production consists of traditional elements such as tags, letters, characters etc then its still graffiti, just in another form.

Set: Doing both legal and illegal graf is important to me. Legal walls are still graffiti - they are still confronting and in your face, the art has just taken on another form. Legals really give you a chance to push the technical side of things and test your limits.

Snarl: Both are good fun. Graffiti has so many levels these days that I think anyone who limited themselves to one particular category would soon become stagnant, depressed and retire.

What are your thoughts on the current Sydney scene? Does the future look healthy with the next generation of writers?

Styles: One can only pray!! One day maybe when the bitchin’ stops and people stop starting fights or tagging on peoples artwork just to get known in the bombing scene.

Pudl: There’s a handful of younger guys around that kill it, so it’s possible that the future is looking healthy... hopefully.

Set: Sydney has some very good writers that are crushing on the regular, and the future should be bright, but in saying that, there are a few hurdles to jump - the buff is pretty bad here and seems to be getting worse, and there are still a lot of f**kwits that participate in the artform that actually detract from the culture.

Outside of graf what are you into?

Styles: Surfing and my newborn son.

Pudl: Working a creative job that I enjoy, along with some really talented people, listening to music and hanging out with friends.

Set: I’m currently pursuing a career playing pro basketball... Lots of training!

Snarl: Heavy metal gigs, beer and hanging out with my kid. I’ve been taking her fishing lately and all we caught so far was a puffer fish!

Best and worst part about being a graffiti artist?

Pudl: Best - painting with people that I’ve looked up too, both local and international. Worst – getting busted.

Snarl: Best part - there is usually beer involved. Worst part - being associated with every other Tom, Dick and Harry that’s ever touched a spray can just because I use a spray can.

Set: Best - good life experience. You get to meet a real variety of humans and often find yourself in situations you would never usually experience in regular day to day life. Worst - Snarly hit the nail on the head!

Styles: What Snarl says, I couldn’t agree more!

Ok, one last question, here at Freestyle we like to talk about cars so what is your all time favourite?

Styles: I just love old Aussie Cars I had and old EJ and a HD Holden once and they look mad when done up traditionally.

Pudl: 1969 Camaro.

Set: The RR Phantom.

Snarl: I saw a white Lamborghini Countach getting around my way the other week and I got excited which is weird for me. Some poor bloke was reverse parallel parking next to it, he was shitting himself. I don’t think he could even see where it was out his back window.

Shoutouts?

Styles: Dianne and Miles, Snooze & family, Gane2, Kerupt, Scram, the OSF Crew, Romsy and all the old Zulu Artists still kickin around out of the graffiti scene...

Pudl: Troy, Dan, Frank, Stox, Mick, TM, OSF and the NextGen Crew...

Snarl: phool gbs, vinny barbareeno, lord jonathon, tommy ruts, mike, oe, baz, elbow, larmo, noodle, cripo, yabba, phib, duel, olly bubba & fam, carl, al & fam, butler & lisa, deon, domer & fam, gav and the gang, billy james, my girls kel & miki and the rest of my family...

Set: Peace to my family... Shout out to crews VHS, SIC, GBS, PS, TM, OSF and Yas.5 and Tabu.

To find out more about Big City Freaks, visit www.bigcityfreaks.com
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