Al Hodgson is at it again with another belter of a video filmed with O.W.L. Skateboards affiliates and friends in the city of Brighton and Hove. Witness 12 minutes of VX goodness below once you’ve read his interview by Jono Coote. Pavilion features the likes of Dougie George, Harrison Woolgar, Dan Fisher-Eustance, Cal Dawson, Henry Bailey, Ash Humphrey, Jimmy Silver, James Griffiths, JP Arnold, Josh Gislingham and more.
Brighton and Hove sits at a unique crossroads in the British public consciousness; a faded Victorian seaside resort, it has nonetheless avoided falling completely prey to the dilapidation which followed naturally from the advent of cheap air fares and package holidays. A combination of its unusual architecture, proximity to London for commuters and thriving music and arts scene has ensured that it doesn’t have the same run down seediness as Hastings or Bridlington, though something of this rough and ready nature still lurks in its piss-splashed nooks and crannies.
Like any urban centre of a certain size, it highlights societies contradictions; Brighton is a city of art galleries and arson, of grease drenched chips and of Michelin Star restaurants, of posh hotels and dirty needles. It is Paul Theroux’s monotonous frenzy and spent pensioners, it is Graham Greene’s stooped beach comber and dead crab beaten and broken against the iron foundation of the pier and it is his evocative description of the seagull, ‘half-vulture and half-dove’, sweeping through the pier.
It is the perfect place in which to explore crooked streets and winding hills on four wheels if you have a fetish for unforgiving street spots light years away from sun drenched Spanish marble or skate-friendly Scandinavian architecture.
With their latest video Pavilion, O.W.L. (Orwellian World Landscape) Skateboards have created a love letter to not just Brighton, but to every small town where skateboarders try to emulate what they have seen through various media outlets with the architectural tools at their disposal. In this it is an encapsulation of British skateboarding; not merely ‘making do’, but actively enjoying every tree root thrusting through the tarmac and every cobbled run up. Somewhere on the ever shifting axis of masochism and fun lies skating the streets of Brighton, and O.W.L. were definitely happy to combine the two. I caught up with Al Hodgson to find out more about what makes Brighton skateboarding so unique.
Sometimes, when you say ‘Al’ and ‘Owl’ in the same sentence, and have a tendency to mumble, they sound like the same word. Taking this into account, is O.W.L. Skateboards secretly a mega vanity project and does this make you Brighton’s Mike Vallely? And if not, who and what is O.W.L. Skateboards?
Haha a few people have noticed that correlation, I assure you it’s unintentional.
We started O.W.L (Orwellian World Landscape) about six years ago in Bristol, but I’ve been running it from my hometown of Brighton now for the past three. It’s essentially just the handle through which we release all our videos, with the occasional limited runs of boards and apparel alongside.
I’ve always been super inspired by how Yoan Taillandier ran Minuit, how Zach Chamberlin did Sprinkles, and how Matt Creasy and Alex Rose run their Threads Ideas Vacuum projects; essentially video first approaches with occasional product to support. That’s the kind of model I really wanted to replicate with O.W.L., but representing our scene here in Brighton.
And other than the move from Bristol to Brighton, how have things developed since Nocturnis and who’s in this new video?
Wow, Nocturnis feels like an eternity ago! Quite a lot has changed since then I think, that was us kind of finding our feet. From there we made two Bristol centric videos, one in Bordeaux and two more Brighton ones prior to Pavilion, so naturally things have shifted a little with time. There’s always been a connection between the two cities, but moving back to Brighton switched the crew up a bit, and now that I’m here full time again it pretty much centres around here.
Pavilion is shot entirely in and around Brighton and Hove and comprises footage from Harrison Woolgar, Dougie George (who filmed half of his part in a day), Dan Fisher-Eustance, Ash Humphrey, Cal Dawson, Henry Bailey, James Griffiths, Jim Silver, JP Arnold and Josh Gislingham.
And filming only within the borders of Brighton and Hove, especially after two Brighton videos before Pavilion, means you must have explored pretty much every nook and cranny now, right? I noticed Portslade in there, how much did you have to push to the outskirts to find new things to skate? After all, Brighton doesn’t exactly have the reputation of Barcelona when it comes to street spots…
Yeah it’s safe to say Brighton has been scoured in its entirety for this one! It isn’t a big city at all and despite a lot of recent redevelopments it’s pretty old architecturally speaking, as well as being heavily residential, so can definitely seem challenging or lacking in spots at first glance. I spent hours spot hunting on Google Maps and cycling around the suburbs, and we did have to push along the coast a little and head just outside the city once or twice to keep things fresh and to avoid the inevitable cabin fever. Fundamentally the video’s overall locality to Brighton was intentional as we really wanted to try to authentically represent what skating/filming on the streets here is like.
Historically Brighton does have a pretty poor reputation for street spots, which I’ve heard lots of people complain about over the years (and potentially explains it’s unhealthy obsession with The Level), but realistically no city owes it to us to have ‘good’ street spots does it? I’m a firm believer that all you need is a fresh set of eyes or a considered approach to make the most of any city. I think how the guys skated Brighton for this vid is a rad example of that, so I’m really stoked to have been able to document it!
I think the ‘fresh set of eyes’ thing is really important, and for me it makes for a more enjoyable watch when I can tell that someone’s worked for a spot – something that’s been passed by hundreds of skaters without a second glance before the spot is finally realised. I guess extending that, maybe it could apply to towns and cities themselves?
For example it’s pretty easy to jump on a train from Brighton to London and film an edit at Canada Water and Southbank, but can come across as lazy. Brighton is obviously fairly unique architecturally, but in general I’ve always liked the aesthetic of seaside towns in skate footage – some aura of seedy disrepair and salt-damaged concrete that comes through in the backdrop and in the spots themselves. Do you reckon that smaller seaside towns are the logical next step for filming missions once urban centres have been finely combed by every VX wielder within the city limits?
I totally agree with you, especially about the hopping on a train to London thing, I think that can come across as pretty uninspiring sometimes. London’s skating is on such a high level and it’s so well covered already by some really great filmers, so I find it hard to believe we could bring that much to the table without spending a long time there.
And likewise I also really like the architectural identity of seaside towns and agree how there’s something special about them, so I’ve always thought Brighton looked quite good on footage for that reason. Obviously things are changing a bit now with redevelopment but generally I like to think that charm is still there.
To be honest, as cool as it would be, I see it as pretty unlikely that people will start coming down to the seaside towns from London to film. London will always have new exciting spots and still has so much untouched potential. And the people that do come down here tend to get stuck in the vortex of The Level anyway haha… but hopefully that will change with all the new spots popping up in the city at the moment, so who knows?
Brighton Pavilion is an iconic piece of Brighton architecture, and I love that what should be such an incongruous style of building in a Sussex town has survived fires and wars to become indelibly a part of it in the public consciousness. Pavilion takes it’s inspiration from this grandiose royal getaway – can you tell us a bit about why, and how different elements of the video loosely tie in to this theme?
Yeah I think it’s precisely because of it’s incongruity that I became a bit fascinated by it. Growing up here you never really question that there’s a huge Taj Mahal in the centre of the city. It’s one of Brighton’s main tourist attractions and such a quintessential part of the city’s image and iconography, yet (aside from the Pavilion housing wounded Indian soldiers in WW1) Brighton doesn’t really have a particularly prominent Indian heritage, nor does it hold a notably large Indian community. So it seems odd that we would have a building like that. That’s not to say I don’t think it should be there, it just seems unusual when you think about it. On top of that, that style or architecture can be found all over the world, but three of the five British Indo-Saracenic buildings are found here in Brighton…
So being such a big part of Brighton’s identity it felt like it was a pretty suitable visual motif for the video, but I wanted to also try and reference that pseudo-Indian identity in the video by using covers of western songs by Indian artists or tunes with samples from Indian music.
(Fun fact: Hitler ordered his forces to not bomb the Royal Pavilion because he wanted it to be the Nazi HQ when he took over England.)
Suddenly it all gets very Welcome to the Places of my Life…
I’ve been loath to resort to the obvious when doing interviews recently and mention the C-word, but the fact that this was all filmed since the beginning of lockdown is definitely worthy of mention – what sort of challenges did that prevent and how did you get around them? Conversely, were there positives with regards to emptier streets, lack of security etc.?
Haha! Does that make me Brighton’s answer to Partridge? I hope so…
Yeah so Corona basically meant that two thirds of the video was filmed one-on-one as we had to avoid being in big groups. Brighton’s Corona cases were fairly low but we still wanted to avoid any unwarranted attention and try to stay cautious regardless, so that meant lots of solo missions initially.
However, the guys all being furloughed or working from home, and the amount lockdown opened up the city, were once in a lifetime opportunities. Brighton is so busy usually and there are a lot of good spots that are practically untouchable, so while things were shut down we were able to hit a few spots that I doubt we’ll ever be able to hit again.
Obviously the temptation now is to use Partridge quotes for the rest of the interview; which I’m resisting hard and which is why I’m not going to phrase this question about the Brighton skate scene as ‘Bouncing Back’, but I do want to talk about how the scene has changed. If nothing else, it seems much friendlier than when we used to travel to The Level in the early 2000s as teenagers and get vibed by older dudes with hangovers. Is this a fairly accurate statement?
Wow yeah this is something I feel pretty strongly about, and I hope my response doesn’t make me any enemies haha…
Brighton has definitely become a much more welcoming place for skateboarding in the past ten years, and I’m super glad about that because it’s about time the narrative switched up.
If I’m entirely honest, I’m quite resentful of a majority of Brighton’s skate heritage and reputation. I don’t know what it was about the early 2000s old guard of Pig City and The Level that made them so hostile, but that shitty ‘locals only’ culture and attitude was prevalent here for so long. It had a detrimental effect on how the rest of the UK viewed Brighton’s skating for a long time, not to mention how much it could suck being a young skater trying to learn there. The Level could just be such a toxic place at times with a lot of really big egos. The fact that it was such a celebrated part of the skating here was something I just never understood…
Then you had this weird Level-centric attitude to filming that skateboarding had here for about 20 years. Brighton didn’t come out with an all street video until Sirus F Gahan’s death aesthetic video in 2016 (which you should all watch by the way), which still blows my mind… so I’m glad that’s changed now too.
Don’t get me wrong, there were lots of really great people and super talented skateboarders that were part of the scene here that I looked up to a bunch growing up (gotta shout out Stevie Thompson and James K especially here), as well as some great videos like Brighten and LIKE that are definitely worth watching. But overall I’m pretty glad things have come forward a bit from how Brighton was back when I started. For example now I see so many girls starting skating in Brighton and it gets me so stoked because the old Level just wasn’t a conducive environment for that at all.
Man death aesthetic is so good! I guess it also speaks volumes of the Brighton skate scene’s blossoming out of The Level days that included in Pavilion is some gnarly looking guerilla concrete. Obviously DIY spots are the ‘acceptable’ face of transition skating in predominantly street skating videos, but big concrete transitions are now a common sight in major video productions again. At what point would you resort to skatepark filming? I was at Forest Row the other day and I’m pretty sure that the OG corner is rugged enough to count as a street spot now…
That’s a question I’ve debated a bit in my head the past few years. I definitely prefer more purist ‘street’ spots to film and watch footage of, but DIY spots kind of blur the lines a bit so I’m on the fence about them…
As a personal preference, these days I generally steer away from even DIY when it comes to filming, but it really depends what the trick is. For example in our new vid Giz’s BS Nosegrind was just so impressive that it had to be filmed. It was so gnarly, he really really worked for it and there’s literally a story-and-a-half drop the other side. But that’s one of only two DIY clips in the vid, and I kind of intentionally didn’t film any more there.
Don’t get it twisted though, I think with DIY spots and prehistoric parks (like the OG section of Forest Row for example) footage can look awesome, because just like a good street spot – to do anything on them at all is super impressive. Skating a lot with transition guys like Stevie
Thompson, Sam Roberts, Mitch Wheeler, Rich West, etc. back in the day really opened my eyes to that.
But that being said, again, I probably wouldn’t film there myself. I find it’s often really hard to portray how difficult these parks and transitions are on footage and you often have to have skated it to understand how gnarly it is. I think those nuances are something a bit easier to translate with ‘street’ filming, so that tends to be my preference.
I suppose it goes back to what we said earlier about seeing a spot people have worked to find, rather than resorting to a nice easy skatepark session or even a DIY spot with a clear location. I also feel like sound maybe has an underappreciated role in showcasing those nuances – hearing the change in gradients under urethane or the click clack of broken paving slabs can really highlight how rugged a spot is, while skateparks and even DIY spots are more likely to offer a uniform sound – maybe I’m overthinking it, but Brighton’s floor is basically a patchwork of different flooring and I think that adds to the whole vibe of a clip.
I think that’s a really good point man. Sound plays a big role I totally agree, and I’m glad I’m not alone in appreciating it haha. English skate videos are always a cacophony of different ground textures, and i think Brighton is certainly a notable one for that. Like you say it’s a real patchwork, and the mix of the old and new here plays a big part in how rich I think the street footage can look and sound. Add to that a VX1000 mic to that equation and you have a pretty ideal combo in my opinion, undefeated to this day!
Ahh yes the humble VX – Pavilion, alongside a zine and boards, is being released to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the VX1000. What is it about the VX that keeps you using it, and with the upcoming discontinuation of essential bits of kit will you try and keep the torch lit? How hard is it these days filming with a camera which most of the outside media world has deemed obsolete?
Ah man, it’s hard to find things that haven’t already been said by every other VX enthusiast about why we see it as so special and such a labour of love.
The obvious factors of the perfect MK1 fisheye/4:3 aspect ratio combo to frame the skateboarder and keep an element of energy and spontaneity, the amazing sound & colours, the ergonomic, utilitarian and perfectly weighted design and the nostalgia value/cultural capital it holds in skateboarding are just some of the attributes that make the VX such a great and important tool. It was just such a perfect accident of history that it came to be the prevalent visual communication of skateboarding for so long, but it’s an obvious testament to how suited it was and still is.
But I think personally for me there’s just something so special about the craft of VX filming itself and how it passes down and evolves in skateboarding. It’s such a physical form that’s so unlike anything else. When you watch a skilled VX filmer and skateboarder in the moment it’s like watching Olympic fencing or a martial arts demonstration or something, yet at the same time there’s something almost creatively improvisational about it, like musicians jamming together.
Undoubtedly the VX has some obvious drawbacks when compared to the modern approaches, but I actually see them as part of the beauty sometimes. People are often comparing it to HD filming as an argument to move ‘with the times’ and away from the VX, but fundamentally I don’t think a comparison can really be made because they are such different approaches. Colin Read (Spirit Quest, Tengu) once said “comparing VX to HD is like comparing oil painting to photography; they are two different things”, and that really rings true with me. I see VX as an artistic craft more similar to skateboarding than other videography. Some people are definitely able to portray the same energy in their HD approaches, especially with the rise of the 4:3 HD options, but on the whole VX still always steals the show for me.
In terms of part discontinuation, 2020 has been a pretty mad one for the VX. The 25th anniversary of the camera has seen Schnieder/Kreuznach (formerly Century Optics) discontinue the MK1 fisheye lens, as well as Sony discontinuing their Premium MiniDV tapes, which any VX filmer will tell you are the best ones. MK1’s are now popping up for double their previous price, and out on the battlefields it’s hard to keep them from getting scratched or damaged. So the future is unclear right now…
As for the difficulty of filming VX these days, yeah it is tough to keep these things running, but there’s lots of good practice techniques and work-arounds to prolong their usage, and some great VX fixers out there helping keep the culture alive (big shout outs to both @vx1000medic and @vx_doc for all their help sourcing parts and keeping mine and countless others running).
For this new video, in order to try and work around tape costs and glitch issues, I used a firewire capture device mounted on the side of my VX for the entirety of filming for it. It captures direct to card out of the firewire port of the VX and avoids the use of the tape deck and heads (a common fault with these old cameras). I’d seen a few people experiment with these capture units, but it wasn’t until I figured out a way to side-mount the device that I thought it was worth doing and it’s actually been a game changer. Since I did that and posted it on Instagram, a lot of VX heads from around the world have got in contact looking to do the same thing. It’s been rad to be an active part of the global community and to be able to actually contribute something to it.
So as we bring this interview to a close, does Harrison Woolgar have a time machine which leads straight to a clothing store in 1992? Some pure BPSW hype going on in there…
And finally, what’s next in the works for O.W.L. project-wise?
Yeah man Harrison is on some interesting shit, Jimmy (Silver) said something the other day about not really being able to ‘define his genre’ which I thought was really funny. I like to describe it as late 90’s skater cosplay meets bogan trailer park boy…he’s the dude, and he’s great to film with. It’s nice to have someone as hyped on trying to find new spots in Brighton as I am, and he really killed it for this vid.
In terms of next projects, we’re doing a little trip around the South West in September (which is likely to have been wrapped up by the time this comes out), so there’ll be an edit, some long sleeves and a zine coming out for that. But then I’m probably going to have a little break from filming over the winter and try to skate a bunch, as that kind of takes a back seat when we work on these videos.
The good homie Mangham at Workshop Distribution who distro’s our product now, so there’s more scope to be able to put new bits out more regularly and hopefully we’ll have some new stuff dropping for the new year. Then I imagine it’ll be back on it for another video. Maybe this time we’ll leave the confines of the city…only time will tell!
Full video in Newhaven based around the Eazy-E bench maybe? And to wrap this up, any thanks, props or disses you want to throw out there?
Ha! I’m sure Harrison would be down for that. Newhaven has a couple spots to be fair…
I definitely want to thank Vague for always being so supportive and giving us a platform for our videos, thank you so much guys. And thanks a ton to you Jono for this interview and always being so kind about our stuff, I really appreciate that too.Big ups to all the dudes in the vid for putting up with my constant texts persuading them to film and for going in to get their clips, and finally thank you to my wife Amy for being so patient with me spending so long working on it all.
Plenty of disses but I’ll hold them for now… Cheers guys!!
New releases by O.W.L. Skateboards which you can see below to coincide with the release of PAVILION. Support them HERE
PAVILION by Al Hodgson