There's a grown man in Hoboken, New Jersey who rides around all year wearing a Batman costume on a bicycle adorned with Batman flags and streamers. He swerves through the streets, honking a horn and looking for the Joker, all the while screaming, "Happy New Year!" at the wrong time of the year. He doesn't do it for fame or money, he won't charge you for a photograph with him; he simply does it because he likes to pretend to be Batman. Like a child and the sound of an ice cream truck, when I hear his honking coming down Hudson Street, long before I see him, I feel giddy. When I finally lay my eyes upon his cape and cowl and he waves at me I am overwhelmed with a sense of hope and optimism that the world has not yet vanquished all the colorful characters into hiding, that there are still those who march to the beat of their own drum amongst us to inspire our children to be something different, something special.
But there aren't enough Batmans out there for my liking and so I tend not to concern myself with the happenings of the outside world and instead insulate myself within the skateboarding community. And while there are many rebellious factions of skateboarders out there, as its popularity has grown it has become increasingly infiltrated by opportunistic outsider athletic brands that want to turn a lifestyle once fueled by drugs, booze, and rebellion into the next drug-tested, uniform-wearing Olympic sport.
All skateboarding can do at this point is batten down the hatches and prepare itself for The Great Kook Epidemic of 2016, while championing those who truly do not give a fuck. For example, take Vancouver B.C.'s Barrier Kult. The "BA. KU." is a collective of like-minded professional and amateur Canadian skaters who were displeased with the direction skating was headed and decided in 2003 to don ski masks, create Black Metal-inspired identities, and dedicate their existence to skating only one obstacle: the Jersey Barrier. For more than a decade I've been keeping tabs on the Kult, getting as excited by their "evil" web videos as I do when I see Batman on his bicycle.
I've always wanted to interview them, but there's an age-old Big Brother rule that forbids interviewing people with whom you are too obsessed to keep a professional journalistic distance (as a result, I've refused three Ghostface interviews in my life). But after speaking with Anthony Tafuro about his new book, BA. KU. Kult Skating/Dark Rituals,I decided I'd break the rule just this once. Luckily Barrier Kult founding member, Depth Leviathan Dweller, only does email interviews so I was able to avoid fanning out too hard.
VICE: What is the story with these Canadians running around hiding their faces in ski masks, skating on Jersey Barriers? Are they embarrassed to be Canadian?
Anthony Tafuro: When they first agreed to let me shoot them they set some ground rules of no tropes of fire, no women tropes. They wanted everything to be about skateboarding and the barrier. I wanted to focus on why they were only skateboarding this one surface, the Jersey Barrier, and not stairs or bowls or ramps. A lot of people judge this team on that, because you're restricting what you can do by only skating one surface, but to them it's very ritualistic. It allows them to challenge themselves. They were all very much involved in the vert skate world, specifically Deer Man, but they have a lot of young guys on the team now so they are contemporary. They're not just this old-school skate crew that does old-school tricks on old-school skateboards. They did explain to me that they aren't into the whole street skating scene but there they are skating a barrier, a street object, but they're skating it like a ramp.
Would one get kicked out of the Kult if they skated ledges or stairs?
They all do skate as professional skaters but when they skate as Barrier Kult they put on the masks, they go as their fictional names and that's it; they're Barrier Kult.
Were you permitted to see them without the masks on?
Yeah, of course.
Would they have killed you if you included a photo of them without the masks on?
No, never. It's just not important to show them without the masks. They explained to me the only reason they put on the masks was that they wanted to have this anonymous identity. They would scratch out their faces in each frame of the footage, but it was a lot of editing work and that's why they started wearing masks.
There are lots of pentagrams and Satanic imagery going on in the photos.
In their videos, too. When I first watched their video reel I noticed they had all these old movie clips of some of my favorite ritual scenes. That's what made me realize this is so much more than just skateboarding.
[The Barrier Kult has written in all caps since 2003 for ritualistic reasons. We apologize if you feel like you're being yelled at by Depth Leviathan Dweller. - Ed.]
VICE: What's the origin of the Kult and the ski mask?
DEPTH LEVIATHAN DWELLER: BA. KU. WAS STARTED BY MYSELF, DEER MAN OF DARK WOODS, AND ANOTHER BC INTERIOR MEMBER, VLAD MOUNTAIN IMPALER. FOR US, THE HIGHWAY BARRIER WAS ALWAYS A GO-TO SPOT FOR TIGHT TRANSITION SESSIONS, TRYING TO LAND RAMP TRICKS ON THE LIPS OF VARIOUS BARRIERS. THE VIOLENCE OF THE SHALLOW END OF POOLS ARE APEX, BUT HARDER TO COME BY IN BC AND HIGHWAY BARRIERS ARE EVERYWHERE. WHEN WE MOVED TO VANCOUVER 15 YEARS AGO, WE CONTINUED OUR BARRIER ASSAULTS, BUT IT BECAME A STAPLE OF OUR 'SKATEBOARDING'—THE BARRIER BECOMING AN ALTAR THAT SIGNIFIES VIOLENT TIGHT TRANSITIONS, THE MOVEMENTS AND THE 'SKATEBOARD CULTURE' DECONSTRUCTED, OCCULT PRACTICES UTILIZED—ELITE BLACK WAR METAL STUDIED AND PARALLELED TO OUR 'SKATEBOARDING' TO KEEP THE MILITANCE AND DIRECTION IN THE MEMBERS PURE. THE BARRIER KULT'S FIRST ZINES APPEARED IN 2003. IF YOU LOOK CLOSELY, THE FACES ARE BLACKED OUT, HOODS AND BANDANAS ARE WORN. THE BALACLAVA CAME DIRECTLY AFTER THE FIRST ZINE AS IT GUARANTEED, MADE EASIER THE DISGUISE. BLACK GLOVES WERE ALSO WORN IN EARLY PRACTICES BY THOSE INVOLVED.
Skateboarding is larger than ever and a lot of younger kids are attracted to it for that jockish aspect that is motivated by fame and money. So I truly love that you guys are doing your own thing completely anonymously without hope for accolades. What is your take on the current state of skating and the infiltration of the jock-mentality?
THE ANONYMOUS ASPECT OF THE BARRIER KULT FURTHER EXEMPLIFIES THE CHARACTERISTICS THAT WE SEE MISSING FROM 'CONTEMPORARY' SKATEBOARDING. WE LIKE TO EXEMPLIFY THE TOTEMIC / FETISHISTIC ASPECTS OF SKATEBOARDING, THE APPRECIATION OF THE CULTEST OF MOVEMENTS THAT WERE GLORIFIED IN THE 80s FOR US BY ARTICLES LIKE NEIL BLENDER'S 'AGGRO ZONE' AND GSD'S 'STREET SHEET.' SIMPLE, YET POWERFUL SPOTS CHOSEN [EG. GEMCO BANK], ACCESSIBLE YET APEX MOVEMENTS CHOSEN [SLAPPY, SLASH, TAILBLOCK, 50/50 STALL, BONELESS ONE, LAP-OVER GRIND]. WE SEE TRUE 'REBELLION' AND 'SKATEBOARD CULTURE' AS APPRECIATION OF THE MILITANT CULT MOVEMENTS MADE WORSHIPPED. THE BARRIER KULT HAS A PLACE FOR 'PROGRESSION' WITH THE 'TRICKS' LANDED BY MEMBERS DEER MAN OF DARK WOODS AND BEAST OF GEVAUDAN, BUT WE INTERPRET THOSE AS SIMPLY METHODS FOR BA. KU. PLAGUE SPREADING.
WHEN STRIPPED DOWN, ESSENTIALLY SKATEBOARDING IS AN ACTIVITY, 'A FORM OF GAME' THAT ALMOST ACCIDENTALLY TRANSLATED INTO A PUNK ETHIC IN THE EARLY 80S. YES, THE CRIMINALITY OF SKATEBOARDING—FENCE HOPPING, DESTROYING 'PROPERTY,' AGGRESSIVE MOVES, ETC. MAKES IT TRANSLATE INTO SOMETHING MORE HARDCORE / AGGRO—HENCE THE INEVITABILITY OF PUNK CULTURE, BUT WE SEE THE 1990s+ CONTEMPORARY 'FREESTYLE TRICKERY' TRANSLATED TO THE STREET ADDING A COMPLEXITY TO THE ACTIONS THAT HERALD THE CONSEQUENCE OF JOCK CULTURE. WE SEE NO COINCIDENCE THAT COMPLEX TRICKS LEAD TO JOCK MENTALITY, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY CAN BE STRUCTURED AND LANDED IN FRONT OF A CROWD OR ON A TELEVISION.
THE ANONYMITY ADDS TO THE STRUCTURE OF THE BARRIER KULT AND ITS DISDAIN FOR SKATEBOARDING'S OBSESSION WITH SUPPOSED CREATIVITY AND CHARACTER. JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN LAND A 'HARD TRICK' ON A SKATEBOARD DOESN'T MEAN THAT YOU ARE A CREATIVE BEING, OR A PERSON THAT I SHOULD LISTEN TO TO HEAR POTENTIALLY MISDIRECTED AND UNEDUCATED VIEWS ON DIFFERENT SUBJECTS. THERE IS NOTHING MORE POISONOUS THAN SKATEBOARD PROS THAT USE THE PUBLIC APPRECIATION OF THEIR 'SKATEBOARD TRICKERY' TO PUSH SOMETHING LIKE RELIGION, FASHION, OR TRICK TRENDS ON OTHER SKATEBOARDERS.
I'm from New Jersey, home of the Jersey Barrier. I'm curious why you've chosen the barrier as your main canvas? Don't you feel limited by only skating one thing?
THE JERSEY BARRIER ACTS AS AN ACCESSIBLE ALTAR TO TIGHT TRANSITION SKATEBOARDING. BEING ABLE TO NEGOTIATE AND KNIFE [SKATEBOARD] THE VIOLENT TRANSITION OF A JERSEY / K-RAIL / RITUAL BARRIER RE-ENACTS THE CULT AND APEX FEELING OF SKATEBOARDING THE SHALLOW END OF A POOL OR SOME OBSCURE TRANSITIONS FOUND AT AN ABANDONED WATERSLIDE PARK. THE ELLIPTICAL TRANSITION OF THE HIGHWAY BARRIER ALSO HERALDS BACK TO THE TIME OF EARLY 80s HALF- AND QUARTER-PIPES AND THE VERT CULTURE THAT REVOLVED AROUND DUPLICATING TIGHT POOL TRANSITIONS INTO BACKYARD RAMPS.
THE CONTROL AND RITUAL OF THE OCCULT AND ELITE BLACK WAR METAL KEEPS THE BARRIER KULT MILITANT IN ITS DEDICATION TO THE RITUAL BARRIER.
How did the book come about and why let an outsider from Long Island into your fold?
WE WERE CONTACTED BY ANTHONY AND AFTER LOOKING AT HIS WORK AND HEARING HIS PLAN, WE DECIDED TO LET HIM PHOTOGRAPH US. HE WAS INCREDIBLY PROFESSIONAL; RENTING HIS OWN CAR, HIS OWN HOTEL ROOM, ETC. SO IT MADE IT EASY FOR US TO GO ON WITH OUR DAILY SCHEDULES WHILE WE ALSO WORKED OUT WHERE AND WHEN TO SHOOT. IN THE TWO SEPARATE OCCASIONS HE WAS IN VANCOUVER, IT WAS THE OFF SEASON, SO THE SKIES WERE GREY AND MOST OF THE SPOTS WERE WET ADDING TO THE REALITY AND DYNAMISM OF THE SHOOTS. ANTHONY HAD A KEEN UNDERSTANDING OF OUR PRACTICES AND DIRECTION, AND HIS COLLEAGUE THAT CAME WITH HIM TO HELP ON THE FIRST SHOOT HAD A DEEP UNDERSTANDING OF NEW YORK SKATEBOARDING AND THE SKAVENGER / ANIMAL BMX WORLD THAT COMPARATIVELY WORSHIPS RIDING CELLAR DOORS WHICH IS A CULTURE OF ITS OWN. BOTH OF THEM HAVE A KEEN INTEREST IN PROPER RITUAL BLACK WAR METAL AS WELL, WHICH ALSO HELPED DEEPLY WITH THE AESTHETIC AND DIRECTION. VANCOUVER IS HOME TO TWO OF THE MOST WORSHIPPED AND CULT OF BLACK WAR METAL BANDS—BLASPHEMY AND CONQUEROR—WHICH ANTHONY ALSO APPRECIATED AND LET SEEP INTO THE HISTORY OF THE BA. KU. VIA THE PHOTOS OF THE VESTS, JACKETS, LPS, ETC.
THE FINAL EXECUTION OF THE BOOK IS EXCELLENT; LIKE A VIRTUAL BLACK & WHITE JOURNEY THROUGH OUR PRACTICES, BELIEFS AND DIRECTION.
Over time I've watched the Kult grow beyond your Canadian borders. How does one become a mask-carrying member?
NON-CANADIAN MEMBERS INCLUDE CRUSADE TEMPLAR HORSE SKELETON IN SAN FRANCISCO AND LUTHER, MOSS-COVERED WITCHMAKER CANDLEMAS IN SAN DIEGO. BOTH MEMBERS WERE MET VIA COMMON ALLIES. CTHS VIA THE VANCOUVER JAK'S, LMWC VIA OUR CONNECTION WITH GULLWING TRUCKS [THE GULLWING SUPER PRO III].
How many members of the Kult are there at this point? What's the initiation process once accepted into the Kult?
THERE ARE 12 TITLED MEMBERS. NO 'OFFICIAL' INITIATION, JUST MILITANT DEDICATION, PLAGUE SPREADING. ONE FUTURE MEMBER FROM JAPAN IS STILL GAINING HIS 'TITLE' VIA REPEATED AND DOCUMENTED TAILBLOCK RITUALS.
Do you buy the masks in bulk?
MANY OF OUR MASKS WE HAVE WORN SINCE 2003. I KNOW THAT FOR A FACT, MYSELF, DMODW, AND MUSKELLUNGE OF DARK ISLAND HAVE BEEN WEARING THE SAME UNWASHED MASKS SINCE THE BIRTH OF THE BA. KU.
Recently Huf made all over print weed ski masks. What is your take on anyone else using ski masks? Do you feel that's kind of your thing and others should just leave the masks alone?
AGAIN, THE BALACLAVAS FOR US WERE AT FIRST USED TO MAKE THE PURPOSES OF ANONYMITY MORE STRAIGHTFORWARD WHEN FILMING AND PHOTOGRAPHING. EVENTUALLY THE MASKS TOOK ON A LIFE OF THEIR OWN, ACTING AS A SYMBOL, EVEN AN AESTHETIC FOR THE BA. KU. OF COURSE, THE WEARING OF BALACLAVAS IN SKATEBOARDING IS NOTHING NEW [EG. SKULL SKATES HAD PHOTO SHOOTS IN THE 90s WITH ASSOCIATES ALL WEARING THE MASKS]. SO WE UNDERSTAND THAT OTHER SKATEBOARD COMPANIES HAVE THEIR OWN AGENDA IN WEARING AND MAKING THE BALACLAVAS. WE ONLY HAVE TROUBLE WITH FANATICAL GROUPS MAKING THEIR OWN BA. KU. 'TRIBUTE' CLOTHING FOR RE-SALE, ETC BUT USUALLY WE CONTACT THEM AND PROPER TRADES ARE MADE.
Do you guys eat with the masks on?
I ONCE WATCHED DMODW DRINK FROM A RIVER WITH HIS MASK ON IN NAGANO, JAPAN DURING A SKULL SKATES / BARRIER KULT TOUR.
What's next for the Kult?
FURTHER PROJECTS WITH GULLWING TRUCKS, MORE DECKS WITH SKULL SKATES. RUNNING THE BA. KU. CLOTHING COMPANY, WORKINGS WITH HEROIN SKATEBOARDS, FILMING FOR THE BARRIER KULT HORDE VIDEO TWO.
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