Mode 2 interview by Count Von Kay One for Ubikwist magazine (NYC) 2016

Here is the full interview of Mode 2 that I did for NYC magazine "UBIKWIST". For those that want to publish it, be kind enough to give the right credit and never forget where you got it from. The feeling is mutual! Peace

 Mode 2 interview by Kay One 

         For more than three decades Mode 2 has inspired many people from inside the graffiti-writing scene, as well as artists, dancers and musicians across over the world, garnering recognition for being one of the most talented and original of his generation. Immortalized in 1987 on the cover of Henry Chalfant's book "Spraycan Art", he has that avant-garde style that many of his contemporaries tried to copy, but could not come close to emulating. Mode 2 is as comfortable and skilled with the tradition of “letter-writing” inherent to the aerosol culture, as he is with the new dimension and dynamism that he brought to the scene with his characters.
         As conscious about the society he lives in as he is with his work, and his many battles on behalf of the culture he's bathed in, it's always a pleasure to exchange with a man whose opinions are as pronounced as the breadth of his thinking. Watch out for his long answers though. As for him, everything seems to be linked somehow.

         Often imitated but never equaled, can you tell us about the artists that have influenced and inspired you?

         Having to make a roll call of those who have influenced, inspired, uplifted, or empowered me, would be a pretty tall order. I never had any art education, and am pretty much self-taught, so my influences vary wildly; just images that caught my attention at specific moments in my life, and stay lodged in my subconscious somewhere. You can be inspired from them, but make sure that when you think you're doing something wonderful and new; it may actually be a distortion of something you saw years earlier, that you're actually reproducing.

         Apart from the Gustav Klimt-inspired painting from the
Klimt Illustrated event of summer 2012, I rarely feel that I should have to sample and reproduce my influences from the more classical or historical artists that I am into; from Hieronymus Bosch or Dürer, through Leonardo, Velazquez, Hokusai, Schiele, Mucha, and so on. There are a whole bunch of writers, bombers (yes, we redefined that word decades ago), and style-masters who have shaped our perception of life around us; by showing us how we can use the alphabet, and add twist, shape, destroy and rebuild it to any rhythm that we wished, within a certain indefinite spectrum of what could be deemed as being funky, having flavor, having soul, rhythm, dynamics and harmony; or discord, whatever the mood or the situation.

         Also, with regards to the illegality of the discipline, in its purest form, there is another dimension that was added; and that being complemented by the relationship that the writer built up with the city, its architecture, it's transport network, and a whole community of other writers, competing for style, and how much you were seen all over the city. I do not follow on-line what is happening in or  what has become of that initial community these days, as there's just so much going on. I prefer to look at the tags, throw-ups, and the odd panel-pieces, or top to bottoms, that I still see rolling from time to time.

         When I started in 1984 though, after having already got into drawing letters in late '83, we had hardly any documentation on what was going on in New York City; but the names we discovered over the next couple of years had a massive influence on all of us, as there had been nothing of its kind before. Dondi (out of the Buffalo Gals video), Doze, Futura, Phase 2, T Kid, Case 2, Dez, Zephyr, Rammellzee, were just the tip of the iceberg, and everybody, who started around that time, had their own variation on the line-up of artists who we got to know; even if there was a whole load of other names who never appeared in the media until years later, when there was more interest to learn about who inspired who, or who invented what and so on...

         Please also bear in mind that, by the late seventies and early eighties, writing had collided with the music scene, while you also had the dancers and the MCs doing their thing. What had happened to the alphabet was also happening to these other disciplines; so here was a totally new mix that blew away anything else we were into, up to that point. And yet, when you look a little further, this blueprint actually provided a platform through which you could bring your own background through; so you somehow still managed to tap into that, in order to stand out, be original; and maybe bring something new.

         I met a few "experts" who were really clueless about the foundations and origins of Graffiti, that insisted to tell us a story they don't even acknowledge themselves. What do you think about all those people coming out of nowhere the last few years that are trying to become the new "ambassadors", appropriating the Graffiti culture?

It is the unintended consequence of them all being prominent or "up" at a certain time that attracted a new audience which, until then, had never really managed to connect with the lettering that was all around them, and had been for years. Figurative visuals were much easier to relate to, or to express an opinion about; especially if the imagery sampled known iconic photos, films, logos or graphic styles that we were already accustomed to.
         We are living in very complex times; with, on one side, mainstream media saturating us with information to a point where it becomes very difficult to make sense of anything, and, on the other, there is a whole new generation of actors in the media, or on the curating, collecting scene, who only latched onto this culture somewhere around 2003, and are either reinventing our collective history, or else dismissing it altogether, as if nothing of any cultural importance or relevance existed on the buildings, on the streets or on the trains before the time that they "discovered" what the likes of Banksy, Blu, Shepard Fairey, Os Gemeos, Invader, Zeus, Swoon or Kaws were doing.

         I have nothing against any of these artists. I know some of them, and I am very much impressed by the work-rate, the ideas, and the skill that they actually have; but the new-found enthusiasm for what was happening in the streets was asking questions about what, why and who the media had to respond to, pretty much across all platforms. The newer generation of "experts" tend to have filled this gap, turning what knowledge they had of the culture, and their
personal list of favorite artists into some kind of top ten of who's hot and who's not. What had happened up until then was only going to confuse matters, so it was not covered as much, since many assumed that Subway Art, and other subsequent publications, regardless of merit, had already filled that gap. Whether they actually knew about “Getting Up” by Craig Castleman, or “Writing From The Underground” by Phase 2 is anybody's guess; but simply "borrowing" information from existing niche websites such as Wooster Collective, or Brooklyn Street Art, and rearranging this information to suit their personal agenda has been the norm.

         Much has changed in the last ten years or so, with other enthusiasts coming in and actually taking a more in-depth view, but those first years of a free-for-all on who is entitled to write what has contributed to a Tower of Babel effect, where it has become that much harder to sort out actual facts and history, as opposed to his or her story. A lot of the active writers of today don't even bother with any of this, as they just run their own YouTube publicity themselves, but I have watched "us" get pigeon-holed, labeled, and categorized as much by lazy opportunistic publications from within the culture, as ignorant and biased journalism from outside since the early days of the culture in London or Paris. The pattern has not changed that much, it's just the sheer amount of disinformation out there that is harder to sort through...

         How do Graffiti artists react to this? Do they agree with them or despise them?

         Like I said, many of the newer generations actually do not really care about much of this, as they believe that this is a given state of affairs, and that they must simply run their own media platforms as well, in order to be seen. Besides that, they are still active out there, whereas many older writers are generally not as active as they were in their youth, though some die-hards are still being prolific. 1UP Crew in Berlin created their own DVD as well as a book. They know that, even if they have tags and quick pieces all over the city, as well as abroad; not a lot of these productions will actually survive very long, especially the trains, so a lot of the action is filmed. Unlike the previous generations, writers today grew up with all this technology around them, and it is just part of their set-up.

         It is generally harder for older writers and artists to operate in this way, as they started in what was basically an analogue era, whereby you actually met people, went to look for trains that were rumored to be running, and the skills, technique and style were passed down from master to apprentice, within given crews. The impetus was on how much your crew was up and how original, innovative and stylish you were. Styles were jealously guarded by crews, and any biting (copying) would provoke conflict. This competitiveness within strict parameters is what powered the evolution of this art form, and it's only when it started to export itself that the rules softened somewhat; as we in the UK back then had no examples of work to go from, and would learn by inspiring ourselves (if not blatantly biting) our favorite NYC train-writer.

         Print technology became more accessible in the early nineties, so Europe was suddenly awash with fanzines made by writers, or by others who were hanging on the scene. Not many of them were particularly any good, as they simply relied on people sending them photos, while they also jostled for position on who had access to NYC train archives; all of this leading to a distortion of what was actually going on, while making biting acceptable. If anybody actually broke new ground, and brought something different to the mix, it was perceived as just being a new style or trend which could be bitten by all and sundry. These publications did not reflect on what their actions would have for consequences five, ten, or fifteen years down the line. Only very few such as Underground Productions (now Dokument Förlag) from Sweden, Bomber from the Netherlands, Fatcap from Norway, or Backjumps and Overkill from Berlin actually ran meaningful interviews with relevant questions. The rest was just fodder for the also-rans...

         So you have to look at all these different generations of writers, and what media was present during their time, in order to understand the gap that now exists between all this accessible information there is today, and the realities on the ground going all the way back to the early seventies. Hopefully there will be more meaningful events, trying to bridge this huge gap, as we're still talking about a relatively young culture. That said, if the general consensus is based on dubious reference books such as "Beyond The Street", where the interviews have been doctored by one of the authors to make space for more photos, and some major actors such as Adrian Nabi from Berlin are completely overlooked, we'll have a mountain to climb, in order to get to hear more relevant voices.

         With regards to the early generations of New York City pioneers, many of them are in between their late forties to sixties now. There is a real need to get these voices and opinions heard and recorded, before they too disappear; as they were using pretty toxic paint, with little protection, and burnt the candle at both ends. There are not many events seeing their inclusion as something of importance, as there is a general trend towards what is catchy and attractive for today, and little space given to learning from the main source about where we all came from.

         What is the difference between Graffiti and what they call "street art"?

         I don't have a problem with "street art" as such, but I do have one with how those who published a lot of stuff about it have a kind of revisionist attitude as to what happened before; and how the relationship between youngsters and the cities that surround them is only perceived as a recent trend, as if we haven't had decades of tagging and piecing. The word "graffiti" is already loaded, what with many NYC pioneers saying that it was a label that was pinned on them either by journalists, or the likes of Hugo Martinez, founder of UGA in 1972, in an effort to give the writers the facilities to put some of their work on canvas, in order to preserve what was disappearing from the trains.

         For me, there is a continuous thread that goes back to the earliest days of New York City's writer scene, so anybody who is active today, and aware that they are inheritors of this culture, would be deemed closer to what you may choose to call "graffiti", no matter what they are actually producing on the street today. Things evolve, for sure.

         What irks me is those who jumped onto this bandwagon, as it seems like a "cool" thing to do, because they wanted to emulate Banksy or Shepard Fairey, and yet they are not really bothered to research any further back into how it all got there, preferring instead to just profit from the general free-for-all. Furthermore, the universality of lettering and the alphabet, which gave all youngsters a chance to express themselves, has been somewhat eclipsed by the figurative artists, and those who have access to computers and the internet, in order to research and download existing imagery; all of this a very long way from the time when anybody could steal some form of writing or painting tool, and go out there and exist. Besides the mural that he did for the launch and book-cover of “Art In The Streets”, the writing skills and the whole “Twist” alter-ego Barry McGee are not really picked up on and discussed, even when he has been up a lot in his time, and has inspired other writers internationally; especially with a cover he did for the fanzine “12oz Prophet”, back in the nineties. Similarly, the tagging, throw-ups and pieces of Os Gemeos seem to only be appreciated from those within the culture, and not recognized by the new fans they picked up along the way.

         What tends to go unnoticed is also this whole notion of recorded movement, when we look at tags and throw-ups in particular. We, as part of this community, do not feel any need to pause and intellectualize over what we see; the rhythm and flow and movement of whoever wrote something on the street is self-evident, and we can judge those writers and artists on these criteria, the same way we assess somebody's first steps onto the dance-floor, or else the first few bars of any given tune. There is all of this in the writing culture, and its overlaps with Hip Hop (another loaded term), with this general feel for what has the elements of soul, funk and flavor that I had spoken about earlier.

         Another factor that should not be overlooked is how tags, throw-ups and pieces spread across the cities, along the transport networks, on the streets themselves, then up the sides of buildings and onto the rooftops, wherever somebody could physically gain access with rudimentary tools if necessary. The advent of big murals done with the help of cherry-pickers, authorization from city officials and so on have completely changed the landscape, as well as the notions of how art is to be used around us, with the choice of which artists to pick for which projects becoming as critical factor. Whereas the art form would usually present itself in a horizontal narrative that the public had direct access to, and could actually walk by, we now have huge murals that impress by their size alone, as if that is what's supposed to be the most important. Again, focus is shifting, and we should take a careful look at what we may be losing, especially by the choices of artists made with regards to big murals. One of the few who actually excels in this, being able to paint big, yet keep proximity and relevance with the general public would be Blu, whose social commentary is always refreshing and challenging, in my eyes...

         You have always been a person that cares about the environment, what are your views on global warming?

         I have two young daughters, and I worry about what kind of world we are leaving to their generation, and those who will come after them. I am no climate protester, going out there on the streets at any given opportunity in order to vent my anger at the short-sightedness of our governments on how we are going to tackle these major issues; but I try in my everyday life to do what I can with regards to how much we buy and throw away as a family, how economical we are with utilities such as water and electricity.

         I separate all the domestic waste into all the relevant color-coded bins, but then I worry about what actually happens when the different trucks have taken that all away; how much of it is actually recycled, or ends up in landfill, or is shipped abroad to be processed somewhere else... or maybe even dumped at sea; who knows?

         I wish that we could do away with as much plastic as possible, and resort to cellulose-based packaging, and I wish that all batteries had a deposit on them, higher or lower depending on how toxic they are; so that I don't have to pick them up off the pavement or from the gutter, when I walk around the city.

         I wish that I didn't have a heavy feeling on my heart every time my foot presses on the pedal of the general waste bin at home, as I guess that most of that lot goes to landfill, or else will supposedly be burnt in order to cater to our ever-growing energy needs, what with every new appliance that we are buying for our homes, because we apparently need them, while the e-waste mountains, along with white goods mountains keep on growing. I guess that capitalism brought the logic of profit to the fore, and many brands will keep on building things that all have their built-in obsolescence, as we must keep updating and renewing apparently; the last item we were sold as being the very best yet being, in fact, not as good as the new version.

         It's strange that, even when you go to the organic stores, you look at the provenance of some of the produce, and wonder about the carbon footprint they have left on their long road from the producer to the shelf in front of you. Then again, you wonder about the amount of meat you eat, because they promised us in the eighties that we could have beef every day of the week if we wanted, and that it was cheap, forgetting to mention what all the hidden costs are, on our health and our environment. I am a meat eater, but I have no problem eating every other part of an animal, in the way we used to do more often, back in the days; but apparently tripe, kidneys, tongue, tail and feet are too disgusting to consider for many of us.

         I don't drive a car, don't have a driver's license, but I have to fly when my destination is either too far away, or I will only be spending a limited amount of time there. I usually prefer to take the train across Europe, as I don't like the feeling of being teleported from home, to where I should be working. I much prefer the transition of some hours sitting on a train, watching the landscape and the architecture of the different cities roll by; slowly leaving home behind me, and maybe using the time to do some sketching or some reading.

         The new trade deals being talked about, such as the TTP or TTIP, will further erode what rights we have to defend ourselves against those financial interests who only seek profit as the sole end goal, so maybe we should be expecting worse to come. What's scary though is the irrevocability of these deals, making these one way affairs with no way back; other than those who have lobbied so hard for these trade laws to seek the kind of compensation that would bleed our economies dry.

         I try to keep myself informed on issues dealing with the production of energy, whether it is the phasing out of coal, the costly prolongation of nuclear power, the instability caused by the drop in the price of oil, the fallacy of bio-fuels (and the havoc their cultivation wreaks on the environment), or the lack of will to really invest in renewable forms of energy; whether it is the optimization of what is already existing, or the financing of further research and development in avenues that may not have been explored yet. It's a shame that our education system is subject to the advances made in technology, and that, at a higher level, the directions taken by many courses are becoming more like a preparation and conditioning of tomorrow's workers, as opposed to tomorrow's thinkers, with sponsorship from certain corporations waiting in the wings, if not already an active factor of the curriculum.

         Again, I could go on until the cows come home, but yes, we do have serious issues that must be dealt with now, that should have been dealt with before, but there's such a tremendous lack of political will on one side, and the willful distraction and manipulation of the public by those media outlets owned by the same entities controlling environmental policy...

         I also know you as somebody concerned by international human rights. It seems like a lot of right wing parties are cropping up, how come?

         There are a multitude of factors that drive a section of any given population to the right, then the extreme right, with economic hardship, social exclusion, and a sense that migrants or other scapegoats of the moment may be either the cause of it, or are benefiting from integration policy which are seen to be favorable to them. As our society becomes more and more individualistic, and the notion that you have to look after your own first becomes prevalent, those who rely on the sources of information they've always been loyal to will only continue to become more and more entrenched in their beliefs. The divide and rule system works just as well in the developed First World countries, as it has done in the colonies, polarizing opinion, and making any nuance in the debate pretty much invisible. People tend to gobble up news every day, on the fly, in bite-size chunks, and they rarely find the time, energy, or the brain-space to read more challenging articles on the causes of the conflicts of today, and the multiple historical or geopolitical factors that may be exacerbating any given crisis. I would guess that it is the intention of certain large media corporations to keep it this way, as an educated population would mean them having to spend more resources on better journalists or propaganda-specialists.

         Our capitalist consumer-driven society depends on the exploitation of other people, whether they are workers in the garment industry supplying the likes of Primark and so on, or the exploitation of mineral wealth (such as in zones of conflict such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. In order for these systems to function, the right people need to get paid off, along with the politicians or militia groups facilitating the trade. This, of course, is not something that is written on your receipt, while you pay for your cell phone, computer, clothing and so on; but a part of the money we spend goes to supporting and perpetuating injustice in many places in the world. This is a well-known fact, to the point that most people would just shrug their shoulders, and say that it's just the way it is, and we can do nothing about it. I guess that, somewhere along the line, our sense of empathy checked out and left. People feel like they're working hard enough, and that what is in the shops is expensive enough, so any possibility for cheaper products and services is seen as a good thing.

         I was reading an interesting article the other day about the amount of military coups that the French government, to pick just one of the European colonial powers of old, had staged in the African territories they used to hold, since the advent of independence; starting from Sylvanus Olympio in Togo in 1963 onwards. Lumumba had already been assassinated two years earlier after having won independence from Belgium. The article stated that, among the 67 coups that have occurred in 26 countries of the African continent these last fifty years, 16 of these countries are former French colonies; and the coups have basically taken place when any given leader wishes to step out of line with what was expected of them from the French government. On top of this, around 14 of these countries are obliged to place 85% of their financial reserves under the control of la Banque de France, a system that is still in place, even if the European Union ruled against it; as France has never learned to wean itself off of its ex-colonies.

         This system can only function when you have the right puppets in place, living in relative opulence while their subjects suffer poverty, injustice, and a lack of any perspective for a better life. Why many here in Europe refuse to understand the correlation between these forms of neo-colonialism, and the amount of economic migrants and refugees leaving or fleeing their countries of origin and dying to reach "our shores" is beyond me. The equation is, however, quite simple, if we were to express it in tabloid-speak. If Europe hadn't enriched itself off of these colonies, whether through history as physical colonial powers, or today by supporting despotic heads of state, while controlling the prices of these countries' resources on the world market; these countries may actually develop the capacity to lift themselves out of poverty, prosper, and contribute to the world economy; as opposed to being perceived as a burden, free-loaders, parasites and so on. There is amazing entrepreneurship happening across the African continent, with the advent of new technologies alone, and how they have enabled innovation in countries that had no terrestrial communication infrastructures. That field is not a be-all and end-all, but it shows how different cultures can make technology that is underused in our developed "West" work for them in moving their countries forwards in leaps and bounds. Sure, there are a whole load of other issues to deal with, such as land-grabs by the likes of Monsanto and the patenting of agriculture; but the more people can access information, the more innovative they will be in developing solutions for themselves. The less they can be lied to as well, in the blatant form that has been the case since decolonization.

         There's all this talk of Europe not having the means to provide for all these people, and any talk of reparation is immediately dismissed, as this is apparently a baseless argument, we are told. The fact is that Europe pretty much “spunked” up all the riches it had stolen from its colonies during the madness of the First World War; each country being too high off of their wealth (part pillaged from the colonies, and part through the exploitation of their own populations, especially the poor, during the industrial revolution), and itching to have another go at each other since the previous bloodletting of around 1870. Citizens of the colonies fought for European powers during two world wars, then came to help in the rebuilding after World War Two; and yet they will always be perceived as somewhat less equal to Europeans, and somehow out of place.

         What makes all of this like some kind of tragic-comedy though, is the fact that all sides are still living out the divide-and-rule system imposed upon them, while the decision-makers in our society profit from it all as best they can. The poor have always been exploited in Europe throughout its long history, but by making out the subjects from the colonies to be less than human, downtrodden of Europe they could comfort themselves in the thought of, "At least we're not as bad as those savages", while they themselves toiled in the shipyards, the factories, the fields, the coal-mines, and so on. This still works today, if you care to read the "Comments" sections after on-line newspaper articles on issues such as immigration. It's all a diversion to make a sizeable proportion of any nation who feels as if they're getting a rough deal, to see the foreigner as being either a cause of his or her ills, or at exacerbating it by being a burden on what resources that were already having to be shared. They fail to see or refuse to accept the evidence regarding who are really benefiting from this situation, as they still have some form of blind trust in the myths that they have been fed in school, the scapegoating in the newspapers that they choose to read, or the politicians that they have decided to follow.

         You have racism coming from all sides though, with some people using the fact that they have been discriminated against as a reason to retaliate in whichever way they can. It doesn't solve anything, but for some twisted reason it makes sense to them, and they fail to see just how close they actually are to the people they may have accused of racism themselves. As social beings we tend to be attracted to people like ourselves, where we feel as if there is more community, where we are better understood, and where we are safer; but there are also economic factors which mean that certain people from a particular cultural background will end up living in proximity to one another, where housing may be more affordable, where there are already some shops and services catering to their specific needs, or where access to the workplace is most practical. That said, any kind of community, whether rich or poor, irrespective of cultural background, is something that I am not really comfortable with, when I don't see bridges reaching out to those who are not part of this community. It becomes some form of ghetto when not only what is positive from any given culture comes to the fore. The thought occurred to me, years ago, that when we move to one country from another, we must choose carefully the elements of our culture that we take along with our luggage. There are positives and negatives in all cultures, so maybe we shouldn't take the ballast of negative along with us, when we move to somewhere new, and are supposed to make a fresh start. There is a great need for frank and open cross-community debate, regarding these issues, but there are few government-sponsored initiatives that are put into place to allow this to happen.

         I remember hearing so much about "Politique d'Intégration", when I used to live in Paris, big words being thrown around by Mitterand's government, in their second term at the end of the eighties; but there are nowhere near enough resources to put into this. You find yourself doing projects with youth clubs on housing estates, such as La Grande Borne in Grigny, but then you notice that the youth club itself is not equipped to actually integrate most of the local youth coming from a migrant background. As much heart and dedication that those running these structures may have, they are simply overwhelmed by the different obligations that they have to answer to. These front line workers are more involved in damage-limitation than anything constructive in the long term, because their function in an ever-changing social, cultural and economic environment is not seen as a high priority issue by the authorities. The austerity measures put into place by many governments across Europe have led to more cuts in these essential services, so the divide between different communities is not being dealt with, and each side becomes entrenched in their notions of safety in numbers.

         Again, we could go on for ages about other aspects and aggravating factors leading to some people siding with more extreme views and so on, from all sides, but I just wanted to touch on some of these, in order to widen the debate...

         Mode, why don't you get a smart phone after all this time?

         I don't drive, and I don't ride bikes, so I use public transport to get around. These days, I find it quite shocking to see how many faces are riveted to their small screens, for whatever reason they may have, credible or not. Meanwhile, the world is going by them, along with contact with other human beings, beautiful little moments of interaction, or the sun or rain casting their surroundings in a different light; just life going by really. I find it incredible that we can sometimes be so fixed on something virtual that is happening elsewhere, through a relatively tiny screen; while missing out on what's happening right here and now.

         Smart-phones have not been around that long, but have already had a profound change on how we communicate with each other as human beings, how much of our own brain and senses we actually use (instead of relying on Google for quick answers or for maps), and how much of our lives we have chosen to "hub" into them. Some people may see this as progress, but I feel that one part of us is becoming more passive, as we rely too much on technology to do things for us. The other worrying factor is that people are getting into the habit of taking their cues from these small screens, as if they would begin to allow them to dictate their day. Given that there are all these back-door surveillance issues that we are now trying to get used to, instead of seeing them as the breach of our privacy that they are, I wonder how these ubiquitous gadgets will evolve over the next few years.

         On a more environmental issue, we also have to ask ourselves how much do we actually need, if we are not using them as a work-tool; the way many people I know use them. I remember hearing this line about us only using so much of our brain-capacity, so multiply that by how little most people know of the capacity of their smart-phones, then the irresistible need to have to upgrade, when a new one comes out; and what consequences this is having on the e-waste that we generate. Coming back to something I said earlier, some of the materials needed for these phones happen to come from conflict-zones; so our urge to want to keep up is also feeding the injustices around that.

         Until this day, I still carry a Nokia C5, and I look on-line to see where I can get another one, just in case. I tend to store text messages which are work-related, so, with the amount of information that we are having to deal with these days, old classic mobile phones get filled up quite quickly; even after you've put a 16Gb micro-SD card into them to store music for the painting studio. Nokia built some pretty solid phones, and have that Symbian OS interface that I found very intuitive, user-friendly. I am familiar with the keypad, to a point where I barely have to look at it, while writing out text messages, and it is just less intrusive in my life. When I'm at the studio painting, I especially don't want the distraction of incoming e-mails; and should there be a real need to get in touch, people can always call.

            Since 1984, you have been known as the one that immortalized and archived a lot of periods, as I've always known you with a camera, or even two when you could afford it. Do you plan on doing something with your archives?

         I instinctively started to take photos of the Covent Garden scene from the summer of 1984 onwards, getting myself a Canon Sureshot in the summer of '85, and documenting the incredible culture that was bubbling around me. I have always thought that what we were living was something that had completely broken away from what had existed before; and because we were just living this amongst ourselves, and too busy expressing ourselves, there was not much time to step back and get things into any kind of perspective. Moreover, there would not be any documentation of how we were actually living this culture.

         There were very few people out there taking any photos back then, less still within our small community; stretching from Covent Garden to Leicester Square at night, Kingsway and Trafalgar Square for daytime busking to the subway at Charing Cross station, where dancers practiced, facing the opaque glass front of the Tappit Hen. Spats on Saturday lunchtimes on Oxford Street, along with London Graphic Center and Flip Hollywood on Long Acre, to McDonalds on The Strand, then all the small record stores around Soho were all the locations that marked out our playground.

         Doing the set-decoration with Scribla for the Lenny Henry Show, in the spring of '85, had provided me with my first big payout. It's this money that financed my solo-trips to Paris, and the film and developing for the photos I took. So that got me started with documenting life around me in general, from the incredible to the mundane, wherever I went across Europe. I don't really check out photography that much, though black and white war-photography was something that interested me many years ago; especially the work of Don McCullin and later James Nachtwey; but many don't have much time for war photography these days, or any meaningful and poignant images showing the injustices of the world. We have learnt to simply switch over...

         I am not a photographer, far from it, and never had the patience to actually learn about photography. I remember first seeing somebody who had similar motivations as I, though she was an actual photographer called Hiromix; simply documenting life around her, with loads of self-portraits and so on... though I take less self-portraits and don't usually publish them much. I just keep a photo-diary of life around me, and document the culture that I have been part of all these years, as well as all these parties that we went to, trying to immortalize some of the most enjoyable moments of our lives. People looked at the camera completely differently back then, as they did not even know when or if they would ever even see the photos. For those who knew me, and had seen me on the scene, there was just an element of trust there, and that's all that was needed; so I just carried on. I used to be more spontaneous back then, and would not even ask for people's permission, if they were strangers; but people also did not feel so precious about their own self-image back then. Nowadays I take a lot less shots, as we are saturated with everybody else's photos of one particular situation or event. Judging by my archive, I guess that I may have taken around 40,000 shots between January of 1995, and when I got my first digital camera in April or May of 2004. I don't know how many shots I took before then, but I was also burgled on Christmas in 1988, by somebody I considered a friend, while I was at my parents' place in London. Much of my Covent Garden and Paris scene archives disappeared in that burglary, and the garages that this guy used to have as storage space must have long been emptied by now.

         My plan has always been to make books about how we lived, before the advent of digital photography, so the spread of my documentation would probably have to be separated into specific genres. What I would like to first get out there is a collection of photos about how we socialized, in parties, in the clubs, or outdoors hanging out. Theoretically, that would prevent some people attacking me for breach of privacy, as I have also made a few enemies in my time, most of them being ex-friends with whom I fell out at some point.

         How do you see things developing in the next couple of years?

         It's difficult to predict what the world will bring up for new challenges, within the next couple of years. Will somebody fix Fukushima, or that huge methane-leak in California? Will governments realize that fracking will have more devastating environmental consequences on our already strained Earth? Will the growing number of conflicts around the world start to subside? Will the asymmetric warfare under the form of terrorism spread any further? Will Bernie Sanders actually get elected as the next president of the United States? Will Jeremy Corbyn manage to work out credible and viable policies as an alternative to where Cameron's lot have taken Britain. Will the TPP and TTIP take over our lives? There are simply loads of issues out there which can derail any plans that we may ourselves have made, with regards to work, career, or the pursue of our passion.

         On a more personal and cultural level, I would like to carry on my research into the parallels and overlaps between music, dancing, and painting, the main three forms of expression that "Hip Hop" had fused together; seeking to push my particular field towards a form of abstraction that would exude the other two. This is, of course, not the only area that I am interested in, but what I said above about the movement recorded in tags and throw-ups, the rhythm of a dancer on the floor, and how we react to the first few bars of any instrumental that we hear has always fascinated me.

         As a further extension of this, I wish to carry on exploring these compositions of bodies dancing, each in their own way, crowded together in a given space, and yet in some form of harmony; where even with our eyes closed, we are aware of the space occupied by each other, and do not bump against each other or tread on each others' feet. Where some people have given up going to places of worship, and are even now deserting the clubs, we as human beings have always had manifestations of communion together, transcending the everyday and the material, in some search of a form of spirituality. Taking mind-bending drugs and getting off my face is not really my idea of a way to get there, but rather to bathe together in music that will uplift us, inspire us, heal us, and empower us. Venues are not getting their licenses renewed, or are being pressured out of neighborhoods, as the gentrification sweeps on, and what meeting points we have to exchange are steadily disappearing. For many, music became just an accessory to their evenings out, and was not considered as being the main reason why you choose to go to such and such a place, a bit like how you would choose a restaurant. I think the two are good ways of looking at what people deem as being important in their existence. Of course everybody is free to listen to what they want to, but then again, since technology gave many more people access to the capacity of producing music, we have also been flooded by so much mediocrity, that it's hard to find the quality. I thankfully have a network of very diverse friends, whose information leads me to what works for me personally.

         I prefer to go out with all of my problems in my head, hungry for the musical food that will help me regenerate, and energize me for the next challenges ahead; as life has become a struggle in itself. The same way I would look for advice on places to eat, where the kitchen respects the plants and the animals that will eventually end up on our plates, and elevates them to something equally as nourishing for the senses. I look for the Dj's who will provide me with the musical therapy that will take away the aches and pain, and inspire me to keep on going, while also providing the space where I can meet and share with people I may have never met before. I don't go out with a long list of expectations and a feeling of what the evening "owes" me as entertainment. I go out to contribute and to give, because we should be thankful that we can hear good music, music we may not have at home, and have a space in which we can express ourselves to this music, louder than we could ever hear it at home...

         What does "escape" means to you?
         Escape, to me, means that I have been able to finish some jobs I had committed myself to, fixed all the administrative headaches of the moment, made a plan for how to deal with the rest, make sure I have a little safety net of funds in the bank, have the next few months of work also planned out; then go off somewhere with the family, where it's warm enough to be by the sea, and put all the other bullshit to the side for two weeks or so, and just enjoy some time together...

         Our children do not need any luxuries of any kind, and are happy as long as there's a comfortable bed, bathroom and shower, and no creepy-crawlies. My wife and I do all we can for their future, which also means our collective future, and for our children to eventually be able to look back on a happy childhood. The brief moments that we can all get away together are the only tangible notions of escape that we can actually make happen. Other than that, I don't really see myself escaping all the things I have to do, domestically, socially, or existentially; apart from jumping in front of a train or something. Like I said, the children's happiness is our happiness; so that alone is worth living for, before we go off to battle this that and the other in this rather unjust world. That is life today...