The No Comply Network is a London-based, UK-wide network of artistically creative skateboarders, founded by Birmingham-born skater Jason Caines. Every week, we'll be profiling a new No Comply member.
If you're both a skateboarder and a masochist, you might have sent footage of yourself skating to the @feedback_ts Instagram account and already know exactly what I'm about to say. If not, a brief explainer: @feedback_ts is an Instagram account run by a guy who savages clips of skateboarders in dry, cutting reviews he films on his phone. Here's a sample review, which comes after he calls a child doing a kickflip on a mini-ramp's flat bottom "momentous":
"I don't mean that this is, like, a gnarly kickflip […] Nor do I mean that this is the first kickflip you've ever done; you've obviously done this trick before. What I mean to say is that filming yourself doing a kickflip on the flat bottom of a plywood mini-ramp in a back yard: this is the moment you stopped being cool."
The man behind the satirical @feedback_ts persona is Ted Barrow, a 42-year-old art historian and skater who lives in New York. Ted has gathered a huge following with his commentary videos, in which he shoots people down, sure, but also tells a ton of fascinating stories and anecdotes that extend way beyond the world of skateboarding.
He is, of course, mostly joking in these reviews – but if he wasn't, he does at least have the skating chops to back his shit up. His SW back-tail is the sharpest tool in his box – his doesn't have "SwitchbackFeedback" in his bio for nothing – which is maybe best exemplified in a line in Flushing in his Lurkers 2 section.
I spoke to Ted about why skateboarding is not an art-form, Stewart Lee, and why you shouldn't listen to old dudes.
VICE: You've critiqued a load of skateboarding and honed an enjoyable style in the process – why did you decide to start Feedback, and how long have you been running the page?
Ted Barrow: The first statement doesn't have much to do with the question, but thanks, sycophant. I've been doing this for about 15 months, and it started as a joke among friends. Now, it's a joke that bores my friends, and whose nuanced humour is mostly lost on strangers.
What do you think about the implied relationship between skateboarding and creativity, and what's your creative process?
I think skateboarding can be "arty", but it's not art. Some skaters make art, but that's really a numbers game based on coincidence rather than some fundamental creativity of skateboarding itself. For every Neil Blender, there's a Cody Mac, and they all have a place in skateboarding.
To me, art serves many purposes outside of the act of making it, and one of the fundamental purposes of art is that it be symbolic, attached to a larger concept, be it about beauty, religion, power, etc. Skateboarding can be looked at in that way, and it is certainly one of the more playful and aesthetic forms of athletics, but the purpose of skateboarding is to skateboard, to roll and do the trick, not change anyone else's mind about what benches are for.
So, being that this is my philosophical position towards skateboarding – and art – I think that critiquing it is also meaningless. Don't get me wrong: it's fun to talk shit, but shit-talking is tertiary to the culture. It's part of it, but it's not the most important part. But hey: third place still gets a shit-coloured medal.
Are there any particular skate brands, or artists, musicians and filmmakers involved in that world, that inspire you?
Of course. Having grown up in the late-80s and early-90s as a skateboarder, the early World Industry ads, with a lot of text and street sequences – which ultimately evolved into the early issues of Big Brother – were crucial. Big Brother was smart, funny, cynical and truthful about the fucked-up lives of the skateboarders we all worshipped. And what was cool about Big Brother is that it was written by the same guys that were making the graphics, at the beginning, and who were inside that ever-tantalising world of the gnarliest company in skateboarding at the time. So, you were kind of getting these behind-the-curtain glimpses of substantial shit-talking in snippets through that magazine. I loved it. Gonz was once quoted in Big Brother saying, "Fuck you, fat boy, I'm not down with your scene," to Rick Kosick – and that, to me, was very, very heavy.
What, outside of skateboarding, has influenced your @feedback_ts persona?
The shit-talking component of my persona on Instagram is probably rooted in the type of skate media that I grew up with, listed above. I could probably trace some influence to John Hodgman and his podcast Judge John Hodgman, where people call on him to adjudicate their quite often obnoxious problems. Tom Scharpling, from The Best Show, is probably buried somewhere in there too. About nine months into doing this account, someone put me onto Stewart Lee. He plays an exaggerated version of himself on stage, with the sole purpose of riling people up. Sounds familiar. I'd say what I do is equally as brilliant, probably more so, since I'm doing it with skateboarding. Definitely, what I do is way better than what Stewart Lee has done.
Do you have any plans for the future that you want heads out there to know about?
I'd prefer that heads out there know that I am fully aware of how obnoxious what I do on Instagram looks, and that is precisely the point. I get accused of being a hater, when in fact I skate as much as I possibly can, which is a challenge at 42, and I fill up a lot of the spare time I have between skateboarding, a full-time job, freelance writing projects – about skateboarding – and finishing my dissertation – not about skateboarding – by thinking – about skateboarding – and hopefully posting, for free, original content – about skateboarding – on Instagram.
These videos don't take a lot of time for me to make – I probably spend three minutes at the very most on each of them – but they are fun for me to do. It doesn't seem like a waste of time, and I sneak in some very good analysis and universal points about being dedicated to a sport for the love of it all the time, which is, ultimately, what it's all about. I'm not here to piss people off. My point is that we should be attentive to details. Sarcasm, irony, satire: these are my strategies for getting people a little more involved. There is nothing cynical about my attitude towards skateboarding, and there is nothing but sincerity in my love for it.
My book will come out, my dissertation will be done, and I'll skate as much as possible in the future. I hope that arguing with inattentive idiots isn't a big part of that future.
Do you have any advice for younger kids who are learning to make skate edits and hone their skills and find their footing on a board?
Advice to kids? Don't listen to old dudes. Skateboards are toys, and what matters about the skateboard is that you can roll from childhood to adulthood on it, and meet some cool people and see some amazing things on the way. The less, as an older skateboarder, I can do to sway the experience of a younger kid just discovering skateboarding for themselves, the better. Old people like me care about history, and we have some dusty ideas about how things should be.
The reason we care about history is because we are history. We look at young kids and all we can see is what has come before, whereas the kids skating only imagine what is yet to come.
As Anthony Van Engelen said in an old Big Brother – history again – when posed the same question: "Steer clear of me." That's good advice.