Farran Golding sat down with Joe Allen to talk about his new full length video ‘Pétanque’ filmed in Leeds and various other parts of northern England. To coincide with this interview Joe’s ‘Pétanque’ section has been uploaded to the web in full! Enjoy the interview, photos and Joe’s section below then go support this top fella by buying ‘Pétanque’ on DVD via the skater owned stores below!
As one of the most consistent documentarians of Leeds’ skate scene in recent years, it’s quite bizarre that Joe Allen has flown under the radar so long. However, a VX1000 and the motivation to point it at your friends regardless of weather or more pressing responsibilities is a simple, magical and transformative thing – as you’ll soon read.
Having picked up a camera upon returning to Leeds for his final year of university, Joe began filming with the few people he knew. The skating and production quality of his videos grew with each instalment, as did his crew and premiere size. As a student of the Johnny Wilson school of video making, his key concern, always, was “Here are my friends, I hope you enjoy watching them a fraction of the amount I do.” Meanwhile, there’s a Max Palmer-esque quality to the wobble of Joe’s trucks and his eye for opportunity; coupled with a wheelie game fuelled by Nik Stain admiration. Misleadingly quiet but by no means reserved, Joe’s chuckle, often heard behind the camera, is as distinct as it is heartwarming.
Having ended up amongst the cast of his latest video, PÉTANQUE – a two-years-in-the-making ode to northern England and the “traditional” skate video format – I sat down with him on a chilly evening, outside Northern Monk’s Leeds Refectory, to discuss the video he’d premiered here to an impressed audience a few weeks prior.
What was your introduction to skateboarding and to skate videos?
I started skating in Sheffield with my mates, Edwin [Ashman] and Aubrey [Chaukura], towards the end of my GCSEs. Edwin and I were around the same level but he showed me a bunch of videos. Basically, old Mark Gonzales – Video Days particularly – so I’d watch anything with the Gonz for my first year or two, around 2012/13.
Adidas had a lot of cool, straight-to-the-internet edits so I was watching those more than anything Krooked-related. I probably didn’t establish the differences between a “full-length video” and a web project until a few years down the line, how parts within a bigger project are individual to the skaters and so on.
But straight away I liked skate videos as a whole concept. The vibe was like nothing I’d seen before. Although I’d only just gotten into skating, I always had an interest in films and filmmaking. Watching a skate video felt attainable, like something I could make with my friends if we got good enough.
Did you move to Leeds specifically to study or did studying double up as an excuse to move here?
Leeds was always high on the list of universities I wanted to go to. I liked how close the uni was to the city centre and also how close Hyde Park Skatepark was to the uni.
In the end it was either Nottingham or Leeds. Nottingham’s campus is a little further out and I didn’t see a skatepark on the open day. I think that’s what it came down to [laughs].
Were you already filming at this point or just dicking around with a camera?
I feel like I’ve always been filming to some degree but… I don’t know man, I’m still just dicking around with a camera. It’s not changed that much [laughs]. I’ve always been filming but not with the intent to make skate videos, until a certain point of living here.
Skaters who are filmers often end up studying something in that wheelhouse, whereas you went down the route of a Physics MA. How come you didn’t have that overlap?
Well, I was good at maths and science so there was always the idea, I guess, that I was going to end up doing something there. I figured it was better, employment-wise for the future. I always liked doing something creative but I could never see myself studying it seriously or taking it as anything more than a hobby.
You were quite elusive for your first few years in Leeds and it wasn’t until towards the end of your degree, coming back from a year in Australia, where people became more aware of you. Why did you end up out there and how’d that trip become a catalyst for getting into filming, properly?
I was studying in Perth as I would’ve been here. It didn’t fully count but you got a better grade than if you stayed put, so you could chill a little bit.
Before moving, I was already a big fan of Australian skateboarding and their videos. Geoff Campbell [Pass~Port filmer], Tully West, Ethan Delacey – and Quentin Guthrie was still in Perth at this point. I’ve honestly no idea how I got put onto Aussie skating but I thought it had a very distinct style, always VX and Super 8, filmed solid with no bullshit throughout.
Watching so many of those videos and maybe not having much of a crew factored into how much I wanted to skate and film with a VX. I knew people in Leeds who I’d kind of filmed with before, so I thought, “I’m going to get a VX, people will be hyped to go filming and I can try to make something that looks half decent.”
I ordered my first VX a week or so before I flew back. I’d been there for twelve months straight and it was waiting for me at my parents’ house.
Did you have any idea how to use one?
Beagle taught me how to use a VX, via YouTube [laughs]. There are instructional videos, like, ‘How To Use A VX1000 With Beagle!’ which are sick because he teaches you exactly how to get the settings right. I don’t think I’ve changed how I set my VX up one bit.
I was also watching a lot of Josh Stewart and Johnny Wilson around this time, definitely a lot of Bronze, and earlier skate videos too. I really liked A Visual Sound [Stereo, 1994]. That was quite influential, in terms of how it sets a tone that carries throughout the whole video which feels really unique.
I was on a pretty tight, video-every-six-months schedule when I got back from Australia. I filmed for six months over winter, then Adelaide came out. I filmed for six months over summer, on some really cheap Hi-8 because my VX broke, and that was Buddy. After that, another six months through winter for 1979. That was back to a VX. The Japanese VX.
Oh yeah, explain that one…
Well, it’s not like I learned Japanese. I just had to figure out how many rows down each of the settings were that I needed to change. Essentially, I was rewatching that Beagle video, counting how far you’d flick through on a display, whilst making a little notebook of instructions. It was the exact same process to set it up, just Japanese.
Is it fair to say that filming helped you settle into the scene in Leeds?
I think I started off my university “career” well, which is probably the wrong way around it because the first year doesn’t count for anything. Towards the end, I was getting more into skating and filming and less into Rocket Science – that Physics degree [laughs]. I ended up getting a 2:1, which I was happy with, but there was a lot of relief at the end.
I actually think about this a lot, I wonder how integrated I’d be into the scene here and how well I’d know people, who are close friends, if I hadn’t been filming all the time? Also, working on videos has helped push my own skating too so I don’t know how far I’d have gotten with skating itself if it wasn’t for filming.
That’s the motivation for me. If I learn a new trick, it’s always to film it on the street. Personally, I want to learn tricks so I can get footage that’s more interesting. It’s only with this last video where I feel I’ve skated ‘properly’.
In what ratio does pushing yourself and wanting to document your friends make up your relationship with filming?
Primarily, it comes down to documenting your mates. If you’re going to be a filmer, it’s somewhat selfless in that you spend a lot of time, sitting there, filming others when you could be skating yourself. You have to be down for that and excited to showcase your friends who are sick at skating, who people aren’t seeing much of. A few of the people I started filming with around Leeds, like Victor Mputu, Adam Smith and Harry Pye, not a lot of people had seen street footage of them, I guess.
Weirdly, I kind of started filming with George Worthington but he’s somehow only popped up in every other video whilst also being the person I’ve filmed with the most consistently over the years.
Each video has brought at least one new person who ends up with quite a big section. During 1979, Alfie Warrin, James Kelley, Luke Humphreys and Alex Petz became a proper crew in Leeds and I’d skate with them all the time. That was definitely where I found “my crew”. That was solid and ran from 2018 throughout Stickers and about a year into PÉTANQUE. With those past videos, I must have been thinking along the lines of, “Alright, spend six months filming and I’ve got a winter vibe video, with loads of night skating, then I’ll film through summer and that’s going to look different.”
I thought there was a nice consistency. In a way it worked out that I was making videos seasonally. Maybe that turnaround was also to do with not having the best quality control. I still like those videos, and wouldn’t change them one bit, but through filming PÉTANQUE for two years, and it only being twice the length of what I’d previously made, I feel I’ve become more conscious of what goes in.
Saying that, I remember watching your videos before we knew each other and each felt noticeably better than the last one. That sounds like a backhanded compliment but I don’t mean it to be.
No, that’s exactly what you want to hear. With making skate videos, making anything, you want the “next thing” to be noticeably better than the last. Everyone wants to skate better, you think about tricks more, push each other further.
I think that’s what you want with most things in life in general. There’s no point in not striving to do better for the next thing you’re working on. That’s the name of my next video; Striving For Better Than The Last Thing [laughs].
Early on, I remember you telling me your intention was to make a traditional, part-by-part, full length and put it out on DVD. I once interviewed Josh Stewart and he said, “It’s smart for kids or a newer filmmaker. I think that you have to do that to show that you’re capable of capturing people’s imagination for a long amount of time,” so I found it interesting you came to the full length further down the line. What videos do you consider the most influential during your time filming, personally and speaking broadly?
In terms of “traditional” videos, Static IV and V was something I took as the best guide for how making a longer project should be done. Static as a series has been going way longer than I’ve even been skating but those last instalments really solidified my love for the full length format. It’s been said a million times but East Coast skating just looks a whole lot like the UK – although I don’t think it’s just because of the texture of the spots, it’s the way people are skating in a cramped city and interacting with it. I love how hectic New York is in footage, there’s always something going on. Perfect example, Steve Brandi crossing the street, mid-line, whilst a fire engine drives nearby with sirens blaring.
Johnny Wilson’s videos are up there as the person I’ve followed the most. I’ve watched them religiously. Sure, HORNY, all of those, alongside the Call Me 917 videos which he contributed to. He’s a big influence for anyone of my generation getting into making skate videos. For me, definitely more so than any of the Supreme videos which sort of ran in tandem, even though he contributes to those now too.
There’s more to the vibe of Johnny Wilson’s stuff that appeals to me. It’s just his crew. Max Palmer, Nik Stain, Cyrus Bennett, they’re amazing skateboarders but clearly just his mates. I’m into any video which quickly establishes that. Kei Tsuruta does the Homies Network videos which are great, because you can tell how good friends they all are.
When it comes down to the fine tuning of editing a part, I always look for the thing which brings out the camaraderie.
Leeds isn’t exactly blown out but the spots which have stood for a couple of decades have seen some very heavy things go down on a local level alone. Do you have a preference between “classic spots” and finding new ones?
It might have been to do with restrictions, but l ended up filming more than I would’ve initially liked to in Leeds itself. However, I got quite into having a lot of “classic” spots in the video – Henry Moore, Millennium Square, Beeston Banks – but I guess there are new routes and different takes on them.
When I started slowly getting out again with the main crew, there was a lot of one-on-one filming. I basically had a rota in place at one point [laughs]. A lot of stuff wouldn’t have gone down if it wasn’t for being able to focus on working with one person, especially with the weirder spots we ended up skating that weren’t in Leeds city centre, because it felt bait. Having something to work on got me through a tough time. Everyone’s had a tough time the past two years, in one way or another.
I’d been meaning to go to London to film more with friends who had moved there, like Jake Mitchell. I never got around to it, then you literally couldn’t do that, but I like that there’s no London footage in this video because it keeps it very much a “northern video”.
Most of the skateboarding output being seen from outside the UK is coming from London, maybe Bristol, anyway. That’s not a diss, they’re just bigger scenes. It’s nice to have something just filmed up north. Manchester have been the main producers in that regard for a long time.
Why name your video after a spot, essentially?
Much of the thought for the name came after I decided it was a cool title [laughs].
Bond Court was a spot we skated a lot and it’s always a go during winter but you’re not often on the side of the spot which has the ‘PÉTANQUE’ sign. I walked past it one day after getting rained off and thought, “That’s a cool word.”
Afterwards, I spent so much trying to rationalise why I’d picked that name, including the fact that the area is built as a public space for people to play pétanque, there are chess boards on the benches too, and it’s a place where a lot of skaters go, especially during the winter. Even though it’s not got a whole lot to offer you can have a lot of fun there.
I liked it for that reason; it’s thought out as a public space but also has the inadvertent dimension of being a skate spot.
How much of the video’s direction was shaped before and after settling on that motif?
In some ways a lot, but I tried not to go too hard by having pétanque balls all over the place or whatever [laughs]. The video’s intro was guided by that aspect and I was really lucky that I managed to get some people playing pétanque because, even though it has a court, you don’t see people using it much.
I shoot Super 8 once every so often because it’s so heavy to carry alongside a VX. If someone gets a trick, I’ll shoot a little follow up and over the course of a year I had this one roll of film going. There was loads on there I really wanted in the video. I had all this footage I was stoked to get back and when I eventually did, the whole roll was blank.
I got that back pretty last minute so, equally last minute, I had to buy a new roll and go out over two days and film enough to piece together an intro. On the first day I went into town and I was filming at Bond Court. These dudes, I’m assuming French, showed up and started throwing their balls about [laughs]. It was so perfect.
The song I used in the intro is called ‘Courtyard’ and it’s by Bobbi Gentry. It’s a really pretty song which worked well with the Super 8 and setting of Bond Court. Sometimes, I search for specific words within lyrics, when I really want to tie something into a video. It never actually worked out but that was one instance where it did. Although, searching for “Bond” led to fuck all apart from James Bond theme tunes.
Alongside making PÉTANQUE and filming your own part for it, you also filmed a part for Will Smith’s video, Assembly. Did Will’s video provide a more objective outlet and a breather from your own project?
Filming for Will’s video was a nice break. I’ve basically been filming for the past four years straight. It was less pressure but also more pressure in a good way. I’d usually let someone else skate a spot, or be more selective with what I choose to skate. It didn’t feel like juggling anything because I was on furlough a lot of the time. It was definitely a different vibe going on a session with a filmer who isn’t me, because that’s the only way I’d done it before.
I pretty much finished my part for PÉTANQUE maybe six months before the video came out. My last trick was the last thing I really wanted; then it was just filming everyone else for my video and filming with Will, so they were two separate things. If I had my camera out, I was filming for the day. If I was out with Will, I would be skating. It was a nice split.
Just before the world ground to halt, and later on after travel opened up, you went on a couple of snowboarding trips to film with Will alongside Sparrow Knox. How does filming street snowboarding compare to filming skating?
Street snowboarding is gnarly. You don’t go to a park or a spot to warm up before actually getting the camera out, you ride around for ages and obviously it’s freezing cold. When you find something, there’s like an hour or two of building the run-up and ride-out even for a “mellow” spot. Lumping snow around for two hours is so tiring. Then they strap in and literally jump straight onto a handrail. No warm up.
Sparrow’s snowboarding is fucked. He’s a loose cannon. With Tom [Knox – Sparrow’s pro skateboarder brother], his skating is well thought out and creative, the way he approaches lines especially. Sparrow is creative too, but the approach is more, “How can I be creatively insane?”
The first time I met Sparrow was on a trip to Italy and we found this hotel which must have been five or six stories tall. One side of it was a steep incline, almost vertical, and it had these slits running down it which you could barely fit a snowboard in. He just dropped it in – switch. I was blown away.
How does handling a VX compare to a HVX in the snow?
Filming with a HVX is cool. I quite like filming with them. I’ve got my own that I initially bought to film skating, but still haven’t, which I think says how much I like the VX for skating purposes [laughs]. I actually took my VX on that trip to Italy and it didn’t cope one bit. It wouldn’t even turn on it, it was too cold for it.
You got hurt a couple of times towards the end of PÉTANQUE. How’d that affect finishing it up?
I rolled my ankle claiming something gnarly at Millennium Square for Will’s video, recovered, and then I was into the last month or so of filming PÉTANQUE. I wasn’t trying to film for it but I wanted to get some more stuff with Will.
I was getting back to skating, got one extra trick for Will’s video, then before anything else I broke my collarbone dropping into a steep bank on the outskirts of Leeds. Harry Townend had already rolled into it ten, maybe fifteen times in a row, without bailing once, for a clip.
“Surely I can drop that in?”
I love going to spots which aren’t exactly my ballpark but doing one fun thing then chilling and filming the rest of the time. But I stuck at the bottom and cleared a good six feet of curb into the road, onto my shoulder.
How close to the deadline did that leave you filming and editing to?
Just under a week. I stopped filming on a weekend and then the premiere was on the following Friday, where we are right now, at Northern Monk just outside the city centre which ended up being a perfect spot for it.
Doing it outside felt like the most sensible way to have something where people could get together. We caught the tail end of summer and it was just about warm and light enough to do that. The whole week before, I was checking the weather even more frequently than I would be if I was trying to go skating. Thankfully, everything went smoothly, everyone seemed to like it and it was a good turnout.
I was expecting a lot of people to come, but I hadn’t thought about it too much because of the other stresses and generally hoping the video is good. It was definitely a surprise how many people turned up, it was nice to see.
It was the first premiere in Leeds for over a year which made for a really nice atmosphere. What’s the importance of local premieres and what can a scene video do that company’s video can’t?
The best premieres are local premieres. Everyone knows each other and as soon as someone’s part begins, before they’ve even done a trick, there’s a big cheer just because they’re that person. People are always hyped to see their mates on the big screen.
Unless it’s special, company videos tend to lack that crew vibe I was talking about earlier; showing people who clearly skate together all the time and are hyped on their mates’ accomplishments. The tricks that end up in scene videos will also have more importance to the scene in general. They might not be super groundbreaking but the geography makes them special. I think all scenes need and deserve to have videos.
I once remember you explaining a dichotomy you felt between a video existing in physical form and the amount you watch it. Could you elaborate on that and why it was this one specifically you wanted to make a DVD of?
To me, physical copies are almost more important because you watch them less. It’s the same as how the songs you stream on Spotify weigh up against the vinyl records you have at home. Maybe you listen to the whole record once in a blue moon but when you do put it on, you sit, listen to it all and really take it in.
A skate video is like that. It’s more effort to find the time to sit down and watch an hour-long DVD rather than a part on YouTube. In watching them less, they’re more special because they don’t become rinsed. At least nowadays.
I’ve always wanted to make a DVD. If I was ever going to do one, I felt it should be for a video I’ve spent two years working on that somehow ended up at an hour’s running time. I owed it to myself and to everyone in the video to make physical copies so people can have it to remember it. It just makes it more special. I’m hyped Will has done one for Assembly as well, I’m excited to watch it again and have it on my shelf alongside PÉTANQUE as a little double feature.
What’s your main takeaway from spending two years making PÉTANQUE?
On a technical aspect, I think I’ve actually figured out how I want to film and edit in a consistent way. Some bits, from the early days, I can tell that it’s prior to getting that feeling so I’m excited to work on the next thing with a sense of confidence that’ll have even more of a consistent feel. It’s been nice to see my mates have a bit of shine, especially certain people who maybe don’t give themselves that shine either.
I feel like I’ve said more or less the same thing with every video I’ve done but, for this one, it’s actually true that it feels like a “proper” skate video just for the fact it’s on DVD, even though that’s because I decided it feels like a real skate video. In my eyes at least. I’m really thankful to everyone who trusted me to film them and showcase them in a certain way. Especially if they didn’t have any direction on their songs or whatever and just believed I wouldn’t make them seem wack [laughs].
Thanks to all the shops who stocked the video, I was surprised and touched at how many were down for that. Thanks to Northern Monk for hosting and supporting the premiere too. Thanks to you as well, for helping with a number of things.
On behalf of everyone involved, thanks for chasing us with a camera for two years.
Joe Allen – Pétanque