Tune! with Jacob Yikes

In preparation for his upcoming exhibition Even in Darkness (opening at Fiksate on April 1st, 2022), I was lucky enough to sit down with Jacob Yikes and chew the fat over not just the new work he was getting ready to present, but a range of topics. Music was inevitably on the table, and it has long been known how central music is to Yikes’ creative practice (from song titles used for shows and works, to his choice of accompanying soundtracks for exhibitions), serving as a constant companion to his work.

When I asked him to put together a playlist for Tune! he jumped at the chance and sent me a list of a dozen songs within a day. Then he sent me a new list the following day. It was clear how much of a role music plays in his process and life. The music is, much like his art, evocative and transcendental, smooth and yet dark. From Miles Davis to Mara TK and a choice cut of independent hip hop and jazzy down beats, this is a truly killer playlist that needs no lengthy introduction…

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Mara TK –Highly Medicated

Blockhead – Give Them Their Flowers

Khruangbin X Knxwledge – Dearest Alfred (My Joy)

Blu – amnesia

Skyzoo – Free Jewelry

Med, Blu, Madlib, feat. Anderson Paak – The Strip

Ivan Ave –Phone Won’t Charge

eLZhi, feat. Royce da 5’9 – Motown 25

Oh No- Elegant Smoke

@peace –Fine Night

The Doppelgängaz –Boston Beard

Miles Davis – Blue in Green

Even in Darkness, a selection of paintings by Jacob Yikes will run from April 1 to April 30 at Fiksate Gallery, 54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham

Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:

The Flare Street Art Festival, March 2-12, 2022

Christchurch’s street art reputation is, in many ways, built on the legacy of festival events. The likes of From the Ground Up, Rise, Spectrum and Street Prints Ōtautahi established the city as a destination for artists to find opportunities and for a new audience to experience amazing examples of urban art in a setting that was forced to re-imagine it’s creative profile and identity. It has now been five years since the last significant festival was staged in Ōtautahi, but with the emergence of the Flare Street Art Festival, Christchurch is braced to once more flex it’s status as Aotearoa’s leading urban art city. We sat down with Selina Faimalo, project manager for Flare, to discuss the challenges of developing a street art festival in 2022, what Flare promises, and who we should be excited about…

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The Flare Street Art Festival is just days away, how are you feeling? Are the nerves jangling or is it just excitement? 

I’m really excited to see it all, well nearly all, coming together! Obviously, I’m still a bit nervous because things can change between now and then, as we know, but we’re pretty fool-proof under the red traffic light setting. We’ve adapted.

What are some of the significant changes you have had to make? 

We originally planned to have a large celebration of street art culture, hip-hop and urban art at the end of the festival. We were going to close down High Street and have a big market and festival with live music, dancing, skateboarding, food trucks, urban stallholders and a pop-up gallery, all sorts of things. That part of the festival had to be cancelled, so instead we’re doing micro events over the ten days; we’re going to have street art tours with Watch This Space, which we were always going to have, they can still go ahead. There will be tours on each weekend of the festival. We’ve still got a pop-up gallery and kind of hang out space, that will be open during the days. Fiksate and Offline Collective are collaborating and going to do some street art projections in some vacant spaces in the SALT District. We have the panel discussion with the artists, that is also with Watch This Space, with some of the headlining artists at 12 Bar, which will be an awesome way to interact with the artists and get to know a bit more about them. It’s going to be live-streamed as well, which is really cool as we can’t host as many people as we wanted to…

It still is a really good program. I think it is important for street art and mural festivals to provide chances to engage with different elements…

Absolutely.

The festival or market day would have been amazing, but I guess there’s a silver lining in that you can now perfect it for next year and grow the festival as a recurring event… 

Totally, it might be a bit of a blessing in disguise. I’ve spent about eight months on the process of organizing this festival, so I think it gave us a lot more time to re-evaluate things and put that energy into different things. Obviously, it’s unfortunate that we had to cancel those elements, because we have musicians and vendors were relying on that income from the event. Cancelling those individuals and businesses was really sad, because you have already committed and turned down other bookings… It’s been tough for all in the events industry.

Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson is one of the headline artists for the Flare Street Art Festival

Bringing together the wider urban art community is really important. As you said, there are the headline artists, but that’s not the whole picture, you’ve got other artists too, like the Fiksate team, the artists with work in the pop-up gallery and some smaller live painting events as well. There is a much wider array of people than the names on the posters… 

It was important to involve as many Christchurch artists as possible, to make it inclusive and diverse, including, the “OGs” as well as the younger generations, as well as making sure there are female artists represented, who are not always as predominant in the street art scene.

Can you give us a little bit of background on ARCC, who are the organization behind Flare

ARCC is a group of business leaders and place-makers, who just want to make a bunch of cool stuff happen in the city and revitalise what’s happening here. George Shaw from OiYOU! is a part of ARCC and is obviously a big advocate for street art and he recognised that a lot of the murals from the Rise and Spectrum festivals are not there anymore, as the city is being rebuilt the visual aspect of street art is not there as much, it’s being built in front of or covered, so he just wanted to bring that back, putting it on new buildings and filling these blank walls with street art again and retaking that status as a street art capital, we were obviously in the Lonely Planet as one of the street art capitals of New Zealand and the world…

A lot of that recognition came from the festival events, because you’re seeing a lot of work appear in a short time, there is a rush in activity that captures the attention. So, Flare becomes an important way of re-claiming that title. How did you come to be the project manager for Flare

I’m actually a trustee of the SALT District, so I already knew about ARCC because a lot of the team are on the SALT District board as well and they had mentioned it. I was going along to the street art meetings and they were talking about it and I’d already been in touch with George anyway because I’d mentioned to him ages ago that I really wanted to do some type of hip-hop street art event and I wanted to know how you would make that happen. He said let’s keep in touch, maybe there will be something that we can do. I also run the Conscious Club with Kophie (Su’a Hulsbosch), we do social and environmental events in Christchurch, we’ve been doing it for the last two years, in which we weaved creativity into the majority of our events. We have held exhibitions together and shared creative working space with her for a while now. I’m not part of the street art community, but I’m a massive fan of street art culture and hip-hop in particular. I really wanted to do a hip-hop event, I talked with Red from the Hip Hop Summit about all the different things that we could do. George’s plan was to run Flare, but he had another exciting project come up. The timing wasn’t great for him to project manage Flare, so he asked if I would be interested in project managing it with his help and guidance, along with the rest of the team at ARCC helping out as well. As business leaders they have great connections to building owners to help make this happen. One of the biggest challenges of a festival like this is getting a building owner to agree to getting their wall painted without knowing what it will be, so without those connections and networks I don’t think it would be possible!

Local legend Ikarus of the DTR Crew is another Flare headliner for 2022

There’s a fine art to that side and you probably had to learn on the fly a little bit! You want wall spaces that are visible and attractive, but you also want to ensure that that building owners are supportive of artistic credibility and freedom. You have to find that balance of great walls with the right people, right? 

Yeah, we’re telling artists they will have creative freedom, but obviously it can’t be anything offensive or inappropriate, and when we say inappropriate, like when we spoke to John Hutchinson of Team Hutchinson Ford, about painting his wall, he said as long as you don’t paint a Holden! It was little things like that, I just wouldn’t think about. In general I would say building owners can be a little bit conservative, and like to play it safe, might not want certain things on their walls, so it’s a balancing act of letting some know and showing them designs and then we will be surprising some!

I’m a big believer that part of the job of street artists is to bring the audience along, rather than being dictated to creatively to fit a popular trend that supposedly speaks for everybody. The reality is that we are incredibly diverse as a population, made up of individual voices, so why not let murals be a voice of an individual and in doing so, present a little bit of a challenge to the public audience to come with the artist rather than the artist having to go to the audience? What other skills that you maybe didn’t expect to draw on were needed to bring Flare to life? 

I guess navigating the street art scene is something I didn’t know a lot about. I’m quickly learning it is tricky! Obviously, graffiti comes from the streets, which means there an element of rebel and conflict. Having people involved in the festival like DTR crew and Kophie, has helped with those situations. The panels along the Smash Palace pathway will be painted with local graffiti artists, and I don’t think that was my call as to which artists would be involved in that, so I asked Dcypher and Ikarus to facilitate that part of it, so they have led that part because they can navigate the relationships within the graffiti community. Even curating the headlining artists, that was tricky. George actually curated that aspect, but I was part of the conversation, and I don’t think I would have thought about who you should choose in case their work gets tagged over because they’re not respected in the street art community. That is a huge thing that I’ve learnt a lot about recently, if you put the wrong person on a wall, then it’s likely going to get continuously tagged over because they don’t have that respect or that mana in the community…

Kophie Su’a Hulsbosch is the third Christchurch-based headliner for Flare 2022

In terms of the final headlining artist roster, from Christchurch we have Kophie, Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson and Ikarus, and from out of town are Elliot Francis Stewart from Auckland, Kell Sunshine from Gisbourne, Swiftmantis from Palmerston North and Koryu, who is kind of itinerant, kind of travelling around NZ, right? 

Yeah, well, he’s based in Geraldine…

That street art mecca!

Yeah! He is based in Geraldine, but he travels a lot, he is originally from Japan.

Gisbourne’s Kell Sunshine is one of the visiting artists headlining Flare 2022

So out of that list, who are you excited to see? 

Out of all seven? I mean, I’m going to say Kophie, big respect to the wahine! Being a woman in general is hard and being a woman street artist is even harder and I think she has really stepped up. she has been doing it for over ten years now and I think this is her time to leave a mark in her own city. She’s done commissioned murals but this time she gets to paint what she wants to paint and she’s so talented.

I’m a big fan of Kophie too, she is super talented and its great to see her given this platform. Anyone else? 

I would say Koryu, I think his mural will be very cool! I’ve seen his design as well, so that’s why I’m really excited to see what he’s doing. I’ve been watching him this summer, watching every mural that he’s painted and it’s incredible.

He’s relatively new to it as well, right? But he’s developed a style that is both very distinctively his, and I think also speaks to his heritage, but also something that you can understand why the public gravitate towards the detail. It’s graphic and pictorial, you can easily see a crowd going, wow! He also just seems like a lovely guy! There is some amazing footage from South Sea Spray where he won the ‘People’s Choice’ award and he did a break dance because he’s a b-boy as well… 

I know, he’s so amazing! That’s one thing I’m really sad about, as part of the festival we were going to have hip-hop and break dancing, and it would have been really cool to have a headline artist paint and dance!

Japanese artist, Koryu, now residing in Aotearoa, is another headline artist

Maybe he could still do that at the panel discussion! 

I think so, just break it out!

So, the Flare Street Art Festival begins on the 2nd of March, when the headline artists start painting, but how can people find out more? How can people get involved in the various events? 

They can head onto Facebook for the Flare Street Art Festival or the website which is flare.nz. The full program is on the website and if you want to book tickets to any event, you can do that online. I recommend having a look online because that will be have the right information, it is the digital age, we can update things!

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The Flare Street Art Festival is located across the SALT District with a range of activities – follow Flare on social media or visit their website for more information and booking options. Flare runs from the 2nd March until the 12th March, 2022.

Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:

Tune! with Kophie Su’a-Hulsbosch

In this issue of Tune! artist and designer Kophie Su’a-Hulsbosch shares the music that matters to her. For the founder of Future Apparel and member of the Conscious Club, music is a vital component of her creative process, with hip hop a driving force in her thinking and making. From shooting and editing music videos with her partner Local Elements, to designing posters and album covers for local and international acts, Kophie’s art is deeply entwined with music, while her love of hip hop also reflects her social activism…

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My name is Kophie and I am a freelancer artist/designer among other things. I have been drawing since I was young, and growing up in Wanaka, I was influenced by the skate and snow culture. Moving to Christchurch at the age of 10, I went from a small country town to an urban environment, I became obsessed with graffiti and it’s been a journey ever since. I used to love walking around the city and the tracks before the earthquakes, looking at all the newest pieces. Then the explosion of graffiti post-earthquake was cool to witness. My style is primarily influenced by hip hop (including graffiti), politics, street subcultures and lowbrow art. I have had a lot of art stolen, so I think I make art for broke people like me!

Music certainly influences my work, I listen to many genres but my primary influence is hip hop. Nothing touches my soul like hip hop, especially the power that lyrics can have. There are so many sub-genres within hip hop which I think is evident in the songs I have chosen, but I absolutely hate trap! I listen to most of these songs while I am working or creating depending on my mood or what tasks I have…

Songs: Verbz & Mr Slipz – Hope Feat. Nelson Dialect and Ocean Wisdom – Voices in my Head

I love UK hip hop and the movement over there is HUGE. I have been lucky to design single cover art with some big names in UK hip hop through an awesome producer over there called Planky. My favourite UK record label is High Focus, they are releasing the best artists. These two songs are artists from High Focus.

The Verbz & Mr Slipz track is my new favourite tune, and the Ocean Wisdom song is an old fave, it a track that is a bit more real and emotional.

Album: Choicevaughan and Tom Scott – Deuce 

Tom Scott from Homebrew is probably my fave musician of all time and I have been listening to his music since high school so its had a massive influence on my life, he tends to talk about real-life New Zealand problems and politics. This album is a newer collab with Choicevaughan, a New Zealand producer featuring many other local musicians. It’s a pretty upbeat album and I listen to this on the weekly. My other favourite song from Tom Scott is Home, which gives me goosebumps or makes me cry every time I listen to it!

Song: Eno x Dirty – GETURSELF2GETHA

Eno x Dirty is real representation of New Zealand hip hop and I love the incorporation of Te Reo in the lyrics. I especially love the track GETURSELF2GETHA talking on all the bullshit conspiracies going around and the rise of fake news, the decline of critical thinking and the increasing division on social media.

Mix: Don’t Sleep Records

I love Don’t Sleep Records and I listen to this mix of boom bap and jazz hip hop all the time while I am working. It was recommended to me by my good friend Lucia. The samples used throughout this mix are about not sleeping, which I strongly relate to!

Song: Stephen Marley x Mos Def – Hey Baby

This one is a classic! It was released in 2007, but I love Mos Def/Yasiin Bey so much and his verse gives me goosebumps. I could listen to this song all day! I put this on when I want to be inspired…

Radio: Lo-fi – STEEZYASFUCK

This is my favourite lo-fi radio to put on when I really need to concentrate or do a lot or writing or research.

Song: Local Elements – Nine to Five

I have to slip in this upbeat track by my partner Local Elements – it is some awesome Christchurch hip hop!

Follow Kophie on Instagram and Facebook for more of her work…

Check out the other issues of Tune! to build an ongoing playlist!

Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:

Juse1 – Elemental Tools

Back at the beginning of the year, Ikarus shot me a heads up that Wellington  and Aotearoa hip hop legend Juse1 (TS crew) was in town for the second annual New Zealand International Tattoo Expo and suggested I try and interview him. Much like Ikarus, Juse has a lengthy history in graffiti, but his exploits also spread across the realms of hip hop, notably as an MC. On his last day in town we finally got to sit down and have a chat, grabbing a coffee while local artists VROD and Sewer prepped a wall for a colab in the Hereford Street space. Not only is Juse a dope artist, with a can, a microphone or a tattoo needle, he is also a thoughtful figure whose experience has given him insight into graffiti writing, hip hop culture, the relativity of creative processes, and the importance of learning throughout life. Sitting down for a while and listening to him talk, it was clear that he has a lot of wisdom to pass on to the upcoming generations, much like he acknowledges having learnt from his influential mentors…

I know it’s your last day in town, but I will still say welcome to Christchurch! I was looking through your Instagram feed, and one of the things that I got to thinking about was the idea of tradition. Not in a regressive way, your work is always fresh, but there is a clear respect and reverence of the traditions of a lot of the different realms that you occupy, right? Is that a big thing for you?

Yeah, not always consciously pushing it as tradition, but I guess it’s my foundation and it’s something that I have learnt. I always found that when you plant a foundation and you decide to build from it, it is always going to influence some way or another the work you might be doing ten years, thirty years later. I guess in a way, I’ve never been one to drastically jump, whether it be my [graffiti] style or my rhymes. I guess it’s me as a person as well, I kind of tie that not only within hip hop, but also being of Samoan culture as well, it does play as an influence into my creative aspects. The culture is something that is sort of engrained in me, so it comes through. Learning history for me has always been really important, and I guess the more knowledge you gain from history, it influences what you do and how you go about doing things, and how you approach it from all the different perspectives you have, you know what I mean?

You mention those two elements: graffiti writing and rhyming. I have recently been reading a lot about pre-hip hop New York graffiti, the early seventies and the guys who were just as much listening to psychedelic rock, soul and disco, stuff like that, and I was thinking, New Zealand’s possibly a bit different. Because of the time graffiti arrived, you almost can’t remove it from hip hop, right? Hip hop and graffiti are so tightly entwined. Did you get into writing through hip hop as a culture, or did graffiti provide a pathway to the other elements of hip hop?

For me, it came with hip hop. Visually I saw graffiti first, like in the eighties, around my neighbourhood. There were dudes getting up and doing full pieces when I was a kid, but I didn’t know what it was because I was a kid. But when I actually started to get into it, and found out what it was, it was through hip hop, through early Source magazines, through album covers, stuff that my older brother would bring home. I was young so I couldn’t access it at all. Everyone caught a tagging buzz in like 1990, and from there, we just kind of grew. Like you were saying, it is linked with hip hop, but graffiti in itself, the energy of it, can relate to so many things and I guess that’s why so many people who don’t necessarily come from a hip hop background can relate to it just as well. It’s kind of universal in that way. The energy of graffiti is to get busy, it’s a movement in itself, but it can attach itself to all these different genres…

Juse1 on the mic at the Villains hip hop show in Hamilton
Juse1 on the mic at the Villains hip hop show in Hamilton

It has all these off-shoot variations…

Yeah, but personally, it was through hip hop for me. It was through the album covers and the magazines…

When people think about your hometown, Wellington, nowadays they probably think of the trendy hipsters…

The cafes! There’s a lot of coffee there, bro! (Laughs)

But Wellington is also such a key place for hip hop in Aotearoa; the Upper Hutt Posse, DLT… When you look back, do you appreciate that importance?

Yeah, I really do man. Growing up there, before I started travelling around and meeting other scenes, I took it a bit for granted. But going away and coming back, I realised that the city and the scene itself was special. I mean the city, in terms of the environment, allows for people to see each other often. It’s not a big city, but geographically it is centralised, and if you have got to do something, you all come to town. You can stand in the middle of Wellington and guarantee you are going to see at least three people you know. In regard to the hip hop scene, that was a real way for people to link, because everyone could get to one point, and just share whatever they had. I think with the hip hop scene in Wellington, I’m lucky enough that generations before me are still active and are still around, you know what I mean? It’s something I’ve noticed a bit more than in other cities. When I say generations, I mean people who go way back, watching That’s Incredible! [An American television show from the early eighties that became an important early influence on New Zealand hip hop due to performances by b-boy crews] There are still dudes that turn up to the graf walls, or the MC jams or battles, and you still see them. The benefit of having these local pioneers around is that the knowledge is shared, and the scene just grows from generation to generation…

That must be important due to the fact that comparatively, New Zealand has a smaller cultural history in that regard, right? Even looking at those older scenes around the world, many of the older participants kind of disappear and then pop back up, especially now that there are more platforms of exposure, if you think again about the figures from the early New York scene…

The guys who disappeared and then popped back up…

Yeah, like all the photos of Taki 183 at different events over the last few years. I think there was even a photo of Taki and Cornbread meeting for the first time not too far back…

That’s crazy! (Laughs)

So, in places where there is an older culture, those figures can ghost away and become legends, but when they are still around, as you say, it helps feed the culture, the traditions, but it also helps people develop because they can see that historical lineage, right there…

Yeah, if you ever had questions, they were around. The thing Wellington was known for across all the realms, was a being a little bit hard-headed in regard to teaching. If you weren’t doing it right, you were told you weren’t doing it right, you know what I mean? It wasn’t necessarily, do it like me, but just that you’re not doing it right, if that makes sense. It was a harder form of guidance and if you got shut down, you weren’t expected to stop and disappear, you were expected to go work on your shit and come back better. That was kind of the teaching through all of the elements of hip hop, from DJ’ing to b-boying, to writing and MC’ing. Even fashion sense, like if you were trying to rock some new shit and nobody was feeling it, you got told: ‘That’s just wack, bro, don’t come back to the gig looking like that!’ (Laughs) In a way a lot of people, from outside the scene, thought that it was quite snobby, or kind of elitist, but to me it was just a firmer hand to teaching, you know? It wasn’t as cutthroat as people thought it was, but it appeared that way. I definitely see why people can see it that way…

'Cake' piece by Juse1, 2016
‘Cake’ piece by Juse1, 2016

Does that approach help crystallise your own views? That hard-headed-ness, as you say, it’s not, ‘do it this way’, it’s just, you’re not doing it correctly, and surely that helps crystallise an approach in your own head because you are being forced to think about it more and more….

Yeah, it does…

So, did that ensure that you developed a strong, enduring philosophy about letterforms, and how you make letters? Obviously for a lot of people, there’s a science behind their construction of letters, and some people talk in great detail about how they build depth and use negative space, those sorts of things. Is that something that you have developed through that expectation of having to go away and perfect something?

Yeah, definitely, like not just in the elements of hip hop, but life in general, you’ve got to keep learning and studying, especially if you love what you do, and you want to rock it for a while. You should take your own time and discipline to really break down exactly what you are doing, why you are doing it, and yeah, it definitely relates to that teaching that if I wasn’t doing this right, how do I make it right? Not just to please someone else, but for yourself. How can you get the best out of every letter for example? Like, if you’re doing a five letter wildstyle, one letter itself has to be dope before you start doing the next letter, then the next letter, then the whole thing is going to be dope. So, stripping away all the bells and whistles of a letter really helps. For me, each letter, each angle, each arrow, has to be on, you know what I mean? That teaching definitely helped with that, you can’t just be throwing shit around, because it doesn’t really have a foundation or a sense of why it comes from there…

Semi wildstyle by Juse1, 2018
Semi wildstyle by Juse1, 2018

The other aspect is that when it comes to things like composition, colour, balance, those formal aspects, the beauty of graffiti is that it’s not beholden to established ideas that that they would teach in painting classes, right?

Yeah, like red and pink don’t go together, that sort of shit?! (Laughs) Graffiti writing is anti-establishment in most ways…

Yeah, so in graffiti you can find any sort of combination that pops or reflects some idea or reality, or is simply created out of necessity, right? You had these colours, it was what you could get, so that’s what your painting…

That’s it, that’s what you had. But also, the drive was to be seen, to be noticed, so smashing together colour combos was how you achieved that.

At the same time, because you’re not necessarily subject to the normal expectations, you do need that kind of guidance I guess in some way, but you’ve also got that freedom to experiment within all of those things as well…

Yeah, that’s it. You need some knowledge of foundations in all aspects of life.

'Juser' piece by Juse1
‘Juser’ piece by Juse1

Having been active for quite a while, what’s your take on Wellington’s, and more broadly New Zealand’s, graffiti scenes at the moment? Can you define scenes from city to city anymore, or is it becoming too difficult?

Nah, it’s muddy! I’m not saying that it’s wack, but in previous eras you could see definite influences from prior writers instantly. Nationwide you could see it, from generation to generation to generation. You could almost see what the writers were doing at the time, and who they were looking at around the local scene. I’m not saying they were biting, but the influence was there, the style was there. You could define writers from Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, all quite clearly. I’m just talking about New Zealand at the moment, but on a global scale, I think now, you can’t really tell who is from where, because people take influences from everywhere, and put it into one piece, which again isn’t a bad thing, because everything changes and everyone experiments, and with graffiti, it opens up. It’s a realm where there are no rules. I suppose, it’s like, you could do what you want, just make it look dope, you know what I mean? I guess for me though it started changing, and the internet has had a huge influence. You have more access to stuff than ever; you can see shit from anywhere. But the other thing, the biggest thing, is that people stopped learning from other writers, and started self-teaching. To an extent that can be detrimental because you don’t really find out the whole knowledge on it…

Things aren’t just done for one singular reason, right? There’s always more going on as to why something is the way it is, and you need that depth of knowledge to really push it further, otherwise you are only getting that first layer…

And even on top of that, it had a wider effect on crews, because people were going out and learning from pictures, they didn’t really need other people to bounce ideas off or get energy from. I notice a lot of writers are solo these days, they don’t really roll as big crews anymore. Crews had heaps of roles back in the day, like for protection, if you go to a wall in numbers and shit, it became about strength in numbers to a certain extent. But at the same time, the unity of writers is kind of breaking down, it’s more about: ‘I’m doing this’, ‘I’m going to do that…’ So yeah, it’s kind of muddy in the sense of style and influence…

'Cake' piece by Juse1, 2015
‘Cake’ piece by Juse1, 2015

There’s possibly also more mobility as well, right? Like, going back to that global scale, it’s easier to travel now. Also, while it is still a youth culture, it’s not only a youth culture, because you now have people who make their life travelling and painting, right? So, there is definitely a different sense of fluidity and the flow of information and influence is making it all a different game… What about Christchurch and what’s going on here in terms of what you have seen over the last few days?

I’ve been here for a few days, and it’s been a while since I’ve been down, like four years I think, so having a look around is good. I was talking to Ikarus, who obviously is one of the main dudes here, and the older guys in the scene are doing a good job from what I can see, because there is a lot of influence. There’s a range of styles around which is cool as well. But also, people are putting a bit of effort into their burners. When you see people getting down next to each other they make the whole piece work, and you can tell there’s a bit of teamwork going in there, there is a shared understanding. I also haven’t seen much crossing out or capping. You guys have got way more walls than ever now, so there’s probably no reason to cross out people! (Laughs) But I like what I see in the Christchurch scene, there are dudes that just specifically do characters and do them well, there are guys that do backgrounds, and then there are guys rocking letters. There are still a lot of hits around too, which I like, even though there are a lot of legal spaces, people are still bombing and tagging. It looks healthy…

Because of the story here, the murals get all the attention, but of course, when you are thinking about the scene from within the culture, that whole spectrum is important, right? There are the hits, as you say, the handstyles, as well as the throwies and rollers, and when your eyes are open in a certain way, you get as amped seeing a nicely executed throw-up as you do a massive piece…

Yeah, for sure. A throwie, man, if the flow is all there, if you can tell they did it all in one line, man! One-line throwies, whoever masters that shit, that’s hard to do! Especially depending on your name. So, yeah, the scene here looks healthy, man. I guess on the flip side, compared to Wellington, there are dudes who are definitely in the scene, bombing and tagging, but not really pushing it much further, if that makes sense. And of course, not everyone wants to. Some people just want to fuck shit up, and that’s cool, that’s the energy of hip hop. There were a few crews coming through a few years ago, but they all seem to have stopped for some reason, and it makes me wonder why? I’ve been talking to Ikarus about what he’s been doing here, and it’s been good knowledge, it’s been good bouncing energy off someone who has been around the same time as me and has seen everything.

I was talking to Berst a while ago, and he said he found over time that there is this kind of five-year cycle for crews to blow up, to become really prominent, and then disappear, and a new crew comes up. I found that interesting because it is sort of indicative of a certain age range, of ‘growing up’…

Yeah, life comes up! Families and shit, jobs, and then people either stop or they keep pushing. I’ve known some real dope writers, from all ends of the scale, some real style masters, and they just stopped, they don’t paint anymore, and again, it makes you kind of question, why?

Changing direction a little bit, you are down here for the Christchurch International Tattoo Expo, which is another of your creative outlets. There is a strong relationship between graffiti and tattoo. In my mind at least, there are several things that suggest why that relationship was fostered; there’s sort of an outsider quality to both, there’s the idea of that alternative canvas, although in each case very different canvasses or spaces to master, and then there are skills you learn writing graffiti that translate into tattoo, like that certainty of line and mark-making. I’m always fascinated watching someone write a tag to see the refined and certain flow of movement of their hand and arm, how almost intuitive or engrained that movement is. Does that relate as a big part of that transition between graffiti and tattooing?

That definitely does, that fluidity of line and being sure of it, because especially when you’re painting you’ve got to know your start and stops and techniques, and so that mindset comes into play. I say mindset because the physical aspect of it is different, with tattoo you have a 3D surface, so a straight line is no longer a straight line, it’s a curve, and its permanent! (Laughs) It moves, and it cries, and it bleeds, it does all that shit! (Laughs)

Custom freehand tatau by Juse1
Custom freehand tatau by Juse1

It also has a different scale, right?

That’s the other thing, going from painting something humungous to miniscule, that’s kind of a mindfuck at first! But composition is important for a writer anyway. You’ve got to transform your outline from an A4 sketch to a painting a couple of metres wide, so you’ve already got that transition of blowing shit up. The same mindset applies to bringing it back down. I feel like it doesn’t take too long to adjust if you have a writing background, because tattooing is a natural progression for a lot of graffiti writers. But I also think tattooing, like graf, allows all walks of life into it, you can come from any background and make something dope. Definitely, the technical side of things, drawing and just being active, in that sense, translates really well into tattooing. Even the idea that when you are bombing, or painting, you don’t actually touch the wall, you don’t touch the surface, and in a way when you are tattooing you don’t really touch the skin, the needle does, but you do float a bit. So, there are those elements that translate as well. People bug out about how you can go from a fat cap to a fine round liner, but it’s good, I find it really good for me in the sense of balance. If I’ve been tattooing all day, I find it relaxing to go out and bomb something big. It’s different. Switching energies is good. Then vice-versa, before I was tattooing, I was actively doing a lot of painting, commissioned works were my day to day, and to sort of swap that for day to day tattooing, it was a nice shift, you know…

'Tiger Style' custom Wu Tang ink by Juse1
‘Tiger Style’ custom Wu Tang ink by Juse1

Is the blackbook work the middle ground that sits between the two?

Yeah, that’s the grey area! Fuck, that’s a good way to put it…

What about that flow of influence? Do you now find that one influences the other more, or is it quite an equal flow? Does what you are doing tattoo-wise start to influence more of your writing, or does what you are painting influence the tattooing?

It hasn’t yet. For me, with writing, I’m still pushing my own development in letter style. I’ve always been a fan of wildstyle, like well-balanced interlocking, overlapping, twisting around wildstyle. That’s something that even though I’ve been doing it for twenty years, I still don’t feel like I’m mastering what I want to do in my head, so every piece I do I’m pushing a little bit toward that. When it comes to tattooing influences, I guess, the only part that has come through in my writing has been my Samoan background and adding elements of that to my graffiti, and there are a couple of reasons. I was doing that before I was tattooing. Guys like DLT, Daniel Tippett, Opto, Agent and also the legendary FDKNS crew, and for a while, Phat1, they were using moko within their work, and I started using tatau and elements of the Pacific. Dyle was another cat rocking his Tongan patterns in there too. This was in letters and not just in backgrounds and stuff. What I noticed was that nobody puts the Pacific on the map in regard to writing. We could rock letters all we want, but if you put it up next to another piece, you are not going to necessarily say these guys are from Aotearoa or the South Pacific. So, it was more about claiming our identity of who we are. Our original influence was from New York in a big way, but it was important for us to put our hands up and say we love to do this too, how can we make it our own? Not through style necessarily, but by adding what we know is who we are to our work, and I don’t mean just putting some island background, or some trees, I mean adding to the letters, adding to the piece, creating something out of that…

Juse1 in mid-burner action, tatau forming the fill...
Juse1 in mid-burner action, tatau forming the fill…

Actually changing the letterforms, because the letters become the vessel, right? They are a form to subvert, so by making those relate specifically to that cultural influence is important and unique…

Like having a taiaha for an ‘I’, or a hook or a weapon as a letter, because letters are symbols, alphabets are full of symbols, and the way they can interrelate like that is awesome. And it actually works, I’ve had people from New York, pioneers of the game, say: ‘I really like what you guys do…’ They don’t understand it at first, but they like it. (Laughs) But once we told them, they would be like: ‘Oh shit, amazing!’ So yeah, we are adding an older artform on top of an artform, to grow and create something new, which I think is dope…

Absolutely, and there is a rich visual culture to draw on from Polynesian culture. You also just touched on something that I have to ask about, looking through your Instagram feed, there are pictures with Crazy Legs and members of the Wu Tang Crew, in hindsight, is it hard to believe some of the people you’ve met?

Everyone! I count myself blessed in many ways, in that not only through the graffiti side, but also through the MC side, I’ve met a lot of people I’ve literally learned from, through their albums, through their artworks. I never ever imagined that one day I’d be touring with Ghostface [Killah] or having a cipher with the RZA, or one with the GZA, on separate occasions, smoking a joint with Method Man, meeting KRS One, Nas, all these cats bro. Then on the graf side, and even the other elements, I’ve met Mr Wiggles, kicked it with Crazy Legs. There’s too many to name. I kind of forget, and I’m like, fuck that actually happened! But one of my mentors, Kerb1, he told me many, many, many years ago that real hip hop is a small world. I didn’t really get what he meant by that. But now, twenty years later, I think it means that the energy that is shared amongst like minds, means names and fame don’t really come into it, because real recognises real. If you can get on a certain level, and connect on a certain level with that person, it’s good…

'Style So Sick' TS Crew colab, Juse1, Ceaper, Kerb1 and Reakt
‘Style So Sick’ TS Crew colab, Juse1, Ceaper, Kerb1 and Reakt

Do you think that is partly because hip hop was born, specifically in Washington Heights, but in those neighbourhoods, those boroughs, and that mentality of small scenes, even though it went global, hasn’t really changed in terms of understanding or connecting with people…

That’s what it’s about. The elements are tools, and the tools connect communities and people. When people say hip hop, they think of the music of course, because that’s the most commercially recognised thing. But when you break it right down, hip hop is about community, and it’s about people, without people there’s no hip hop, you know what I mean? Hip hop was the tool to help celebrate people being together, or how to connect with another person. So that mentality, from a small borough, no one thought it was going to go worldwide when they started it, but the energy that was created is recognised throughout the world because it happens everywhere, and like you say, that’s what brings people together…

The need for connection is universal. Nearly every subculture has that power to a degree, but for hip hop it is so holistic, because it combines music, dance, visual arts… It takes all the cultural ideas you need to make a deep, sustainable culture, rather than just one primary aspect. Having those four elements makes it so cohesive and inclusive…

It makes it accessible to everyone too, like if you can’t dance, you might be able to paint, if you can’t paint, you might be able to scratch…

I think I remember reading in a Source magazine article years ago a description of the four elements, with the MC as the bratty little sibling who makes all noise…

The loud one! (Laughs)

The DJ was the quiet studious middle child…

The watcher, the observer.

Then graffiti was the black sheep, the older one who left home…

The one who bailed! The rebel who leads everyone else astray! That’s sounds about right! I like that description!

Juse1 character next to VROD piece, New Brighton, Christchurch, 2019
Juse1 character next to VROD piece, New Brighton, Christchurch, 2019

Thanks for sitting down, it’s been awesome to get some insight from your long involvement in the game, and across different realms too…

It’s not as long as some people, but I’m still there! (Laughs)

Sure, but for some people five years is an age…

For sure, I never thought our crew would hit the twenty-year mark, but we did, and we are looking at thirty years soon. Three of us started the TS crew back in 1996, and I never thought it would develop into what it is now, so yeah, it’s a good thing. But like I said, having those pioneers still around has been important. My bro Kerb, he’s been around since 1983 and he’s still writing to this day, he is still a huge influence in what our crew do. So yeah, I guess it is a long time! (Laughs) I’ve been around a bit, but it’s a crack up, these young cats that Ikarus hooked me up with while I’m here [Sewer and VROD], I was telling them about some of the history here, and they were like: ‘Oh, have you been to Christchurch before?’ Twenty years ago was my first time here in Christchurch, I was here in 2000 for the Hip Hop Summit. They were like: ‘I was born then!’ (Laughs) It’s good though, to meet the next generation and kick it with them, to see where they are coming from. I need to do more of it in Wellington…

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