Interview with the Director of “The rise of graffiti writing – From New-York tu Europe”

23847449_1320262628077853_7787442259472335058_oLast summer we had a chat with René from Red Tower Films. He told us about the finalization of a report that recounted how graffiti came to Europe. What an exciting subject! We were really looking forward to this first season of The Rise to Graffity Writing: From New York to Europe. 114 minutes of reportage cut in 10 episodes which detailed the already long story of graffiti from 1972 to 1986. The complete season is edited on the Arte Creative website. An incredible journey in the golden age of stylewriting where you will find a lot of international graffiti pioneers. Impressed by the quality of the report we want to know more about the motivation of René the Director and Editor The Rise of Graffiti Writing: From New York to Europe. Here is down below a recap of our chat.

By the way and as a teaser, we learned that a second serie is planed for April/May 2018. It will featured the writing scene from Paris, Berlin and the Scandinavian…

And in case you still have not seen the Season 1, we can only suggest you to click on this link HERE and plan not to be disturbed these next two hours!


Who participated in the production of this documentary?

Me and my Red Tower Films team, the ARTE Creative team from Strasbourg and Lars from Copenhagen, who we thought is a good character to host the series.And of course a few people, who helped us here and there networking or in research. Art Critic Carlo McCormick for example helped a lot networking in New York, or Mickey from Amsterdam, who curated a big exhibition in 2015 called New York Meets the Dam, basically a very similar story to what we trying to show in „The Rise Of Graffiti Writing – From New York To Europe“. So she had experience in that type of research and already had contact to Gallerist Yaki Kornblit, a key figure in the story we trying to tell.

What did you want to show by doing “The rise of graffiti writing”?

The idea to cover that part of the graffiti history came because we thought there is much more stories to tell, than already written in books. The story of how Graffiti Writing made its way to europe is very complex and almost impossible to tell without missing details. That´s one reason why we thought, its time to talk with artists, filmmakers or gallerists and put it on film. To me personally it was quit new, that  Wild Style The Movie played such an important role when talking about how graffiti spread from New York to Europe. I mean, of course I was aware of the importance of movies like Wild Style, Style Wars or the book Subway Art. But I did not expected european graffiti pioneers like Bando, 3D or Loomit basically telling us, that Wild Style was the firestarter for them and how this movie shaped the early graffiti movement in France, Germany or the UK. Also the importance of Futura2000 was quit new to me. I knew about his important role, his Break Train and his early appearance in Paris and in London, but did not really know that it had such an big impact on the early european graffiti movement. Everyone we talked to, from that era, confirmed that Futura2000, Dondi, Lee and a few others from the New York Subway Art Era, had a big influence on their first artistic process and style.
All this shows that there is still so much little uncovered stories to tell and that ís also the reason why I thought it´s an good idea to do the series and the movie later in 2018.


How long did it take you to do this video series?

For the first season: 9 months including preparations, research, shooting and editing. And we still working on it, the series goes on as the story is not covered completely.

Why interviewed the TATs crew to present the first wave of writers in New York? Same with Skeme (that finally paint trains only during 2 years – however he painted a few of the best cars of the history he is maybe not the most representative writer from the early age) ?

Its very simple. The TATS Cru is part of a generation who grewed up with – and was strongly influenced by – the main protagonists of „The Rise Of Graffiti Writing – From New York To Europe“. I thought it´s a good starter of the series, to hear their voice on people like Futura, Lee or Skeme. The TATS Cru today is one of the most important graffiti collective from New York and the USA, so its interesting to hear their story of how the virus spreaded inside New York back then and who called a Master in that time. They basically doing the introduction of a time period between 1978 to 1982 in New York City. Those years were really important when talking about how Graffiti Writing spreaded to Europe. Skeme and Lee were leading characters of two of the most important movies in Graffiti history. So thats why we talked to both. While doing the Skeme Interview my impression was, that he was not really aware of how much impact his role in Style Wars and his Style in general had on the european movement. There is only a few New York Subway Artists, who´s lettering influenced more. Even he painted subways only for a very limited time. Lee for instance was a bit more aware of what Wild Style and all his amazing wholecars and murals did to european kids back in the early ´80s.

In the report Charlie Ahearn tells how he came to achieve WILD STYLE. It seems that it was really curiosity that led him to make this film. He knew nothing and had just seen the city completely covered by tags and pieces. It’s look like he was very naïve about graffiti when he did that film, right ?

Well, I would say he was very aware of graffiti in general. I mean, Charlie was just a young filmmaker who recognized graffiti as an important movement with amazing artists. So he tried to get in contact with people like LEE, which was not that easy, as LEE explains in the interview. At that time in 1980 it was the New York Downtown Movement with all its little events here and there, that made people meeting up, talk, discuss and finally collaborate. Thats also why Fab5Freddy became such an important architect, both, of the graffiti and later on the HipHop Movement. Because he connected many people and finally working together. Thats how Wild Style came to life and that was also the time when young filmmakers, punks, NY Subway Artists and artists from the not yet called Street Art Movement met within the New York Downtown Movement. In my opinion the most important time and the foundations of anything that made its way to europe later on.


Wild Style presents hip-hop as a multi-discipline movement, rap, dance, graffiti and Djing. Today some old-timer New Yorkers say that the graffiti had nothing to do with all that. Did Charlie Aheand tell you about this and how he tried to unite these disciplines?

Thats true and is also part of unpublished interview bits we still want to include. This topic will be covered in Season 02 of the series. But basically you can say, that graffiti artists like Blade or Seen had nothing to do with the early Hip Hop Movement. Seen was a bit older and came from a very different background for instance. Lets say Hip Hop played a much bigger role in the early european graffiti movement and thats also a reason why it was so interesting to include Wild Style in the story. As I mentioned before, the connection to the music, the dance and all this came more or less through the New York Downtown movement, medias and what some people made out of it, and how it was imaged in the mainstream medias in New York and later in Europe.  The mainstream was very important in moving graffiti to Europe. Look at the role of the german TV station ZDF or british CHANNEL 4 played in the WILD STYLE Story or all the Music Videos, Dondi in Buffalo Gals, The Clash and Futura2000, numerous record sleeve designs etc. It was the mainstream and mass medias who speeded up the whole process.  I think the fact that Wild Style made its way to Europe so early was incredible important for the french, german, scandinavian or the  UK graffiti and hip hop movement. Without Wild Style the idea of all this multi-discipline thing might arrived later and from a very diffent perspective. So, talking about the New York pioneers saying Hip Hop was never part of it, „blame“ movies like Wild Style or Style Wars for example. In Henry Chalfants and Tony Silvers Movie Style Wars you also can recognize elements of dance and music so there is a connection too. But look at graffiti now, 40 years later. Again, the movement stands for itself and the connection to music or dance is almost gone. I  personally liked the ´90s era, when all the disciplines were stronly connected, maybe that spirit was a key note and had it importance especially to the european kids at that time in the early ´80s. But as you can see today, it was about time when Bboys, DJ´s or graffiti artists taking different ways to express creativity and art. Which is fine and interesting. There is much more to tell about all this, take a look at Season 02, to hear some more opinions on that.
And yes, Charlie explained to us very detailed, how Fab5Freddy introduced him to the not called yet Hip Hop Movement in 1979 and 1980. Fred took Charlie to the clubs, to the bronx, to anything you can see in Wild Style. As Fred says in the interview, it was never part of the idea to transfer the idea of Hip Hop to Europe, it just happend.

Whether it’s the exhibition in Rome in 79, the “Time Square Show” and the “Beyond Words” in New York in 80 or the exhibition of Yaki Kornblit in Amsterdam in 83. We realize in your report that the galleries have always been part of the game and even promoted its expansion. Do you think that the graffiti would have been different without these famous exhibitions?

The exhibition of LEE and FRED at La Medusa Rome in 1979 did not really touched anyone in Italy or Europe I think. In my opinion the importance of that show is partly connected to the Wild Style Story. And how Fred ended up in Mainz, Germany at the ZDF headquarters at the same time, meeting Eckhard Stein of „Das Kleine Fernsehspiel“. As you can learn from Fred in our series, there was another early show in Milan a year later, that possibly happend because of the big success of the Rome show. From this show he directly went to Mainz. The rest is history. The Times Square Show in New York was very important because so many creative people finally met up there right between the Rome show and the Milan Show of Fred, Lee, Daze and a few others. I would dare to say: no Times Square Show in 1980, no Wild Style production in 1981. And Wild Style is only one „product“ of a a bit more coming out of this time.  But I can´t say how graffiti in Europe would have spreaded and looked instead in the early ´80s, without Wild Style. But different for sure. Graffiti would have spreaded to Europe anyways, also without Wild Style, Style Wars or Subway Art. Not that fast, but it was just a matter of time. Its just interesting how this all ended up and to learn a bit more about the key moments, events and persons while doing the research for our film project. As you can see in the first 10 episodes. MICKEY, DELTA or SHOE basically confirming that Yaki Kornblit´s shows had a strong impact. Yaki brought the New Yorkers to Amsterdam almost two years before Subway Art arrived in Europe and at the same time Wild Style was screened on German TV.  It was an interesting time for the movement, a few kids in Amsterdam were lucky enough to experience a very exclusive bit of the New York Graffiti movement through gallery shows, catalogs and the privileg to have  a face to face exchange with the writers from New York. SHOE for instance had a strong exchange with DONDI ending up in the CIA Crew. QUIK moved to Amsterdam  to make a living there and bombed the city. Or german kids were able to watch graffiti in action on TV in 1982 and 1983 through Wild Style. The New York City Raptour brought Futura, Fred, Dondi and a few more to Paris and London in 1982. Thats how the virus spreaded. Very slow, with a small group of people picking it up and doing it.


If we look back to the 1980s and the lack of communications, do not you think that graffiti is finally spreading at high speed all over Europe?

Of course. And it do so in different ways. Back then it was a one way spread from New York to the world. Now, thanks to the internet and easy communication influence, inspiration, innovations, style, techniques etc spread from everywhere to everywhere. I think it´s great and the movement grows in interesting directions.

During the report, you find yourself with Mode2, Bando, Shoe. Rather original situation. What does it mean to be in the company of the 3 heavyweights of European graffiti?

It meant a lot to us, to have those three on board. They formed the first european crew and travelled. Apart from the very few medias and gallery shows, this is how graffiti spreaded the most in europe. Travelling, painting and networking. This is how BANDO first met MODE2 or PRIDE in London, this is how SHOE met MODE2 and BANDO in Paris on his interrail tour.And this is how so many others met the first time. Thanks to MODE2, who was a big help in producing this series, we had the chance to hear how it was back then when only a small group of people has been active in Europe and influenced each other in different way. It must have been a great time, and this is also my impression from talking to Bando, Mode and Shoe. Its easy to say and read in books that there was a time when Bando´s style travelled the most in europe and influenced the european movement like no one else, but its different to have this confirmed finally on film. Its a significant part of the graffiti history in Europe, and I think many people were not really aware of SHOE´s important role in all this before watching the series. Including me. I have learned a lot from them, and the fact that there was a time when individual styles had such an strong impact. Almost impossible today.

You told me the other day that Bando was pretty cool. In France, for some writers, he has rather this reputation of rich spoiled child with a rather rigid vision of graffiti. Through the exchanges you had with him, does he still deserve this reputation today? 

Well, I don´t know much about his reputation in France. I think Bando discovered and picked up Graffiti Writing in the right place in the right time: the streets of New York. And, he took it to Paris very early. Yes, his opinion on Graffiti writing is very radical let´s say, compared to many others today. Graffiti to him means tagging and bombing the streets illegaly, with as much style as possible. He grew up with the origins, and thats how he did it and still talk about it. It was very suprising to me to hear from him, that he did not really realized, how much significance his style had in Europe back then. For someone who influenced the whole continent for a early period of time, Bando is very down to earth man. Bando in a very early age did what many kids still doing today, getting up as much as possible. And this is how he defines graffiti, back then and today. Bando is not that type of Style Professor you can talk to about letters for hours, but the combination of skills and activity, the right balance and high quality and quantity made him what he is today: the most important european graffiti pioneer in europe. No one really can take this from him.

What did you learn from the people you interviewed and who did not appear in the film?

We learned much more in the interviews than what can be watched in the first 10 episodes and there is more to come. There are so many things has been discussed in the interviews. About the time between 1987/1988 to the end of the ´90s. This is the time we focus in Season 02 and this is the time graffiti in europe really explodes. We will take a closer look to the Graffiti history of Paris and of course Berlin. Scandinavia and its pioneers has so many hidden stories to tell. Spain, Italy, Greece. There is many interesting europeans that has not yet appeared in the series. And for example we interviewed POEM from New York, who did the FLASHBACK Magazine, a media that played a big role in germany/New York connection. But keep an eye out the next episodes.

Through all these meetings, which one was the most interesting to you and why ?  

Everyone was really interesting to meet. 3D from Bristol for instance: his story was a big surprise to me, because I was not really aware of how early he was introduced to the culture and how he picked it up. Also his role in the early european stencil art movement was interesting to me, especially after I had a look on his new book before doing the interview. This is not covered in Season 01 but will be featured in Season 02 of the series.  Personally to me it was a great experience to interview LEE. Not only because of his amazing murals and wholecars in the ´70s but also because I´m a graffiti artist myself and always looked up to him. I did not had many heroes or masters, but he was definetely one of them. The interview with Futura2000 took almost 2 hours and we had such a great time listening to every single story he came up with. We interviewed about 35 relevant people in spring and summer 2017, and everyone had something interesting to tell. So its almost impossible to name „the most interesting protagonist“.

What is the most crazy anecdote that you have been told for this report?

There is one story that not appeared in the first 10 epsiodes. It´s about how Eckhard Stein of german TV station ZDF went to New York in 1981 to check out the WILD STYLE set and visit Charlie Ahearn while doing the movie. Charlie and Fred took him out to the yards and they got busted. This all happend and made the „WILD STYLE COMES TO LIFE“ part even more interesting. I mean, the fact that ZDF financed a big part of the movie and made it happen is probably the most unknown detail discovered through research and interviews. Basically you can say, no ZDF, no WILD STYLE. Before I just knew that ZDF was involved but not that strong.When visiting the ZDF headquarters STEIN´s secretary ANNE EVEN handed out all this interesting documents to me, such as the original WILD STYLE movie transcript and everything Fab5Freddy brought in 1980 to „sell“ the idea of the movie to Eckhard Stein and his „Das Kleine Fernsehspiel“ team. That was very great and I will try to find a good place to have all this on display, a museum or something. It also impressed me how the ZDF financed the movie with almost no guarantees. It was a big risk to support Wild Style with such an amount of money. Today its so much harder to receive support as a filmmaker. I just thought thats the right philosophy to support visions and ideas. Especially when the result is what we call today the roots of german graffiti writing.

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