There is always an abundance of fresh-to-death talent out there. You just have to get through the incredible amount of shit floating out there in the digital-ether. I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the last year on the road meeting and greeting some very lekker talent, so here is my roll-call of people who I’m digging. I used to make books out of these lists, the times-they-are-a-changing! Peace+love ADZ
The Street Kitchen
The Lennox Brothers
It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you
Without a strong rhyme to step to
Think of how many weak shows you slept through
Time’s up, I’m sorry I kept you…
Soz for being a bit quite lately as I have just put my youth advertising book to bed and about to begin writing a book about South African creativity and the amazing talent there. I hope that I can help build a bridge between authentic culture and talent and the brands. The talent needs the brands money to develop. The brands need this to survive. This is the new life cycle of the world. Well, my world anyroad.
Today, the art of effective communication is now about understanding that culture is merging with commerce and vice-versa. Perhaps in a few years we won’t be able to tell where the culture ends and the commerce starts. It is vital that brands understand and get involved in the lives of their consumers as much as possible and actively take part in trying to improve those lives. I’m not talking about waving magic wands but start at the bottom and work your way up. And before they know it brands will have created a real link with their customers, and because of the digital nature of this conversation, this will lead to authentic, effective research.
Off to South Africa!
A while ago I went to a party thrown by HarperCollins to thank all of their writers. I was looking forward to meeting some legendary wordsmiths with whom I could perhaps talk to about writing. But instead, it was full of people from the telly. All the ‘famous’ ‘writers’ who were there had TV shows, most of which featured food, and they were all sticking together like icing on a cupcake.
In the taxi out of there, I realised that I had to take my shit back to where it belonged: underground. Not underground as in some kind of bullshit counterculture sense, but underground as in I don’t give a flying fuck about projected sales; the state of the industry, the current market (completely fucked); promotional shit (boring) or legal shit (complicated). Well, about anything other than writing a killer book that I absolutely love and other people may or may not like.
It made me think that what I should be doing is writing something that I just have to get out there to keep my sanity from evaporating along with my meagre advances. I need to write book that I have absolutely no choice but to write, not something that’s been focus-grouped or tested for viability. Something real.
Over the last few years, I have become caught up in the idea of getting some mainstream success from my work. This was down to the fact that I had a mortgage, a car loan, two teenage kids, blah, blah, blah, but mainly due to the fact that I was thoroughly bored of being skint. I wanted the finical stability that this kind of success would bring. Thanks to years of no drinking and drugs (the curse of the Banksy generation), working my ass off seven days a week, years of relentless self-promotion and – most importantly – getting a powerful agent, I was in a position to become richer and just a little bit more well known. Or so I believed.
But then this writer’s party shook me out of my trance-like state and everything went and changed inside my head. All I ever wanted to be was a writer of books: books that talked about what it was like to be one of us (the chemical generation), books that dealt with coming out of suburbia in the 1980s and being so fucking bored with the surroundings that sometimes you went and did crazy shit. I certainly didn’t want to be knee-deep in projects that were tailored to a certain market or engineered to be commercial successes.
What the fuck is going on? Really? Then this hit me: how do you have the strength to sit down and write a book when you know that no books really sell unless they accompany some lame-assed, god-awful TV show presented by some half-witted, inbred twat who’s just doing what they’re told for the money, or a biography of a Z-list celeb or WAG with more tits than sense? What on earth do I do now that I need some mainstream success just to live? There is no way I am going back to working a real job as I’m too far down the road and have burned (blown up) all my bridges. I’m fucking unemployable.
My last book was called Street Knowledge and it was a project about art, music, writing and culture from the streets that has taken me 25 years to be able to create, not something I’d just knocked up overnight. Its subject matter is something that means a lot to me, something that I live, breathe, eat and sleep. I know deep down that my heart is in it and that it’s the best thing I’ve ever produced. That doesn’t guarantee that it’s going to sell though.
The fact that, unlike the other party guests, I don’t have a TV show means that I have to work my tokhes off to generate a buzz about the book, which then, hopefully, rolls over into sales. But will it be enough to fight the books written by the party fools from the TV?
I’ll see on the other side…
I stumbled into the Brain club by chance one afternoon in1990 during my first year at St. Martin’s. My art crew (The World Famous Temple of Shaolin) were looking for a place to hold our debut (!) exhibition and for some reason I climbed the stairs of 11 Wardour street to find Mark Wigan sat at the bar of his newly opened club. I think it was the mad Haring-eque décor that lead me in… I outlined my mission and he said that the concept of the Brain was to be both gallery and club, and that I could have the first exhibition there, after he had taken his art off the walls. This was the start of my 12-month residency in the Brain club, regardless of what I had on the walls. I hung out there nearly every night and got to know Mark and Sean McLusky as well as anyone can really know people in the club scene. The writer Trevor Miller was one of the other regulars, (we’re still mates), as well as James LeBon, Barnzley, Derek Delves, one of Sade’s band, George Michael(s)…
I might work in a few different areas (books/tv/film/advertising) but the one thing I love the most is food (cue shouts of ‘fat bastard’). Everything about it is so irie: getting out there and discovering it; writing about it; shooting it; cooking and – most importantly – eating it with interesting people. But looking around right now, I’m shocked at how bad the image of food has become in the media. I’m not even talking about celebrity chef’s here – most of them are ego-driven overlords at the best of times, no doubt about that – I’m talking about foodies here. Whoever invented that word has so much to answer for. Food – it starts so well – ies, but then that little extension on the end just goes and fucks it all up. It takes something amazing and bends it into something so wack. I reckon Foodheads is a much better term for what we do. Foodies are aspirational wanabees with big plans for their own line of pasta sauces and obligatory cookbook – but no original ideas or any real clue (let alone talent) of how they’re gonna get all that done. Foodheads are just into food and see it as one part of the culture we all dig.
The main problem with food (ies) is that it’s been mystified into something that it isn’t. Foodies like to give it that it’s so complicated, but in reality cooking is not exactly rocket science (maybe that’s why I’m ok at it!) Not if you’ve got passion and a bit of a clue of what works and what doesn’t; trail and error. That’s the beauty of cooking. No-one gets hurt if you fuck up. There is no train-wreck. Ok – so if you’re really dumb and don’t check that your ingredients are fresh then you may well poison someone, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
The bottom line is that a lot of foodies are obsessed with food on tv but not really obsessed with the actual cooking. According to the Economist, the British public would rather spend an hour watching some twat of a ‘chef’ on TV than actually cooking a meal. 9 times out of 10 they then go and pull out a frozen pizza, ready meal or pick up the phone to the Golden Chopsticks.
I’ve been writing about food for over 5 years and cooking for 35. When I’m in my yard I cook every day as my other half isn’t that enamoured about slaving away at the stove. I’m at my most zen when I’m in my kitchen with some dope reggae sounds and something lekker to cook. That’s when the magic happens deep inside and when I’m most at ease. And this magic is why I want to bring some style, some substance, some originality back to food. Ever since Elizabeth David revolutionized food in the UK, at the end of the 1950s we have had a steadily growing choice of global food.
One of my long-term goals in is to write/talk about authentic food and show you how easy it is to make at home. Some of the dishes you’ll be familiar with (Indian, Pizza), but some you will have never even thought about before, let alone tried to make in the safety of your own kitchen (Bunny Chow, Sabich). It’s also about the journey or events surrounding my discovery as this is sometimes as important as the food itself. I absolutely love getting on the road and trying out new dishes and then working out how to recreate that magic at home, as the taste will invariably take me straight back to the place of discovery. And then when I’m home I can drop the bomb and serve up some killer food.
A defining moment for me: No biggie just go with my flow…
And there we sat, on a couple of cheap metal chairs dragged over from a stack of many, leaving a trail in the rough stony beach. The days heat was slowly blowing away and yet it was still seriously hot, but the incoming breeze made it bearable, just. Ali threw a stone into the water, missing the Evian bottle floating there. I had a go and missed also, then relit the hash spliff I’d wrapped up earlier in the youth hostel. Nice beach 1989. Year dot. This was our life: Up at seven when the one-armed yank who ran the youth hostel charged into the dorm shouting ‘Hands off cocks on socks!’ and thought he was funny. Every day he shouted the same old same old bullshit line and I was dying to point out this out. Then we’d go out to the supermarket to buy our food for the day: Two baguettes, some salami and a packet of La Vache qui Rit cheese. This was all we could afford.
Me and my best mate Ali had come down to Nice after the 1989 bicentennial celebrations in Paris. We checked out Jean-Paul Goude‘s parade and then jumped on the overnight train to Nice. The previous day, Ali‘s credit card had been swallowed up in a cash machine and so we were well under manners and a tight budget, until his girlfriend could make it down to Nice and sort us out with some more cash. On the train down I hooked up with a Black French guy going south into the army who sold me a chunk of the massive bit of hash he was holding. We smoked all night in the corridor, and I was completely baked by the time Ali dragged me off at Nice station. I promptly fell asleep on the beach that day and almost got sunstroke. We then checked into the temporary youth hostel (a fire station) that opened each summer, and lived out a meager, but chilled, existence, trying to make the money I had last. We thought about buying and selling soft drinks on the beach (‘BOISSON FRAIS!’) but the competition from the Moroccans was a bit fierce, we figured they would cut us up as soon as look at us after finding out we were trying to jump their game. After tanning all day listening to a Balearic beat tape (Sunrise FM and Centerforce) on my bright yellow Walkman, we‘d go back to the youth hostel and shower. I‘d wrap up a joint and then we‘d go back to the beach to eat the other half of our daily food ration and watch the night descend, stoned to the bone.
To pass the time, we‘d throw stones at floating Evian bottles, just for the thrill of hearing the crack of stone on plastic, and after a while the sea would merge with the sky and I‘d have to look away. This was where I came in. Began. This was year dot, back when things were simple. The airport lay across the bay and planes kept dropping in overhead, almost swooping into the sea, coming in so low I could read the safety shit written underneath on the fuselage as they bombed past bringing in the Cote D’Azure faithful. This was how we spent the summer. It didn’t matter that at the end we would go our separate ways – Ali to Manchester and me to St. Martins. All that mattered was that precise moment: the silence was comfortable and the laughter real. This was about friendship, we gave a shit about each other and that was it.
I’m still down with Ali – my brother from another mother.
At the beginning of the noughties, when my Ad ‘career’ was having a bit of a hiatus, before the books the films the TV etc etc, there was a project that I edited for a couple of years called 100proofTRUTH. It was a free PDF (is there any other kind?) that was a collection of global street culture. There was no brief, just to get fresh-as-fuck shit out there for everyone to see. In it’s heyday each issue got 10,000 downloads, thanks to sites like Wooster Collective, NotCot, and BigShinyThing kindly hyping the shit out of it. This was what helped Thames&Hudson commission me to write books for them.
Someone recently made a film about what I was up to, and it was during the shooting I mentioned 100proofTRUTH. No-one had heard of it as they were all about 20. This got me to thinking about getting a little reminder out there. The journey is as important as the story. Often in my work they are one and the same. It’s not about where you’re going, it’s more about getting there. Every step is vital to the bigger picture and when I look back at 100proofTRUTH I can see the seeds of other projects like The Urban Cookbook or Street Knowledge, bubbling away waiting to spring out into reality.