How a Teen Obsession with Skate Videos Shaped My Music Taste
Immagine: Sam Lammar via Vimeo


This story is over 5 years old.


How a Teen Obsession with Skate Videos Shaped My Music Taste

It's been a long time since I felt the urge to watch a bunch of dudes slide down rails on planks of wood, but when I was 13, it was everything.
Daisy Jones
London, GB

Skate videos are weird because they resemble no other medium on earth. They are the length of a film, but with no linear or discernable plot. They are full of people, but everyone has their own solo parts. They showcase a physical sport, but one which is not essentially competitive by nature. They are bound up with masculinity, but also not really, because expression and aesthetics are at their epicentre. And, underpinning it all, from beginning to end, is music.


I spent my very early teenage years in north London, in an area surrounded by grey tower blocks, big hills and concrete ledges. I don't recall much about this time in my life because my long-term memory is pretty shit, but I do remember spending hours after school living off £1 KFC popcorn chicken boxes and rattling around the local town hall on a skateboard with my friends until we either got kicked out or the sun went down. Looking back, I think there are these sweet, sparkling few months – right before you slip over the cusp of adulthood, right before you become self-conscious of your body, right before you get preoccupied with sex and getting wasted and thinking about money – when you can experience some of the freest moments of your life. I often romanticise these as mine. But anyway: skate videos.

After coming home from these outdoor excursions, me and whoever I was mates with would bundle across someone's bunk bed, our scabbed knees in a row, and watch another grainy VHS skate video that had been flogged from one of the now defunct skate shops that scattered the city. Early 2000s films like Flip's Sorry, Girl's Yeah Right!, Osiris' Subject to Change, Toy Machine's Good and Evil, Alien Workshop's Photosynthesis and Almost: Round 3 were played and replayed in that way you only have time for when you're bored and 13. These fish eye-lensed montages of wheels hitting flat concrete, bodies slamming into stairs and people hurtling through the air to their own personal song had an almost ASMR-like quality that appealed to me at the time. And, much like video games or homemade mix CDs did for some people, they also introduced me to a bunch of tracks and bands I'd never heard before, shaping a taste that would linger way past the point of my bored teenagedom.


Skate videos have been open to every single genre of music since their inception – rarely following solid trends – which makes it hard to speak about them in an overarching "one size fits all" way (Plan B's Live After Death opening with the sound of Robbie Williams is enough to shoot down that notion). Instead, the songs included are very specific to that edit, like choosing to splodge a beautiful colour onto a collage just because it looks good. Take Jerry Hsu and Louie Barletta's part in Subject to Change (above), for instance. Filmed on the sun-soaked streets of Barcelona, with both guys bouncing off the architecture like two Panda pop-pumped kids, the inclusion of New Order's "Age of Consent" makes the whole thing shimmer with optimism from beginning to end; imbuing the clip with a kind of hazy-eyed nostalgia before it's even had a chance to fade into the past.

Choosing that song specifically to soundtrack a sport so associated with summer months and being young and carefree makes perfect sense because it's a sprawling, sparkling but also kind of sad track (perhaps the same reason Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was paired with Marc Johnson's part in Girl's Yeah Right!, which coincidentally includes some of the same spots). I'd never listened to New Order before watching Subject to Change, but it was this video that launched me toward hungrily clicking through their back catalogue on Limewire afterwards – and it wasn't the only time other skate videos would lead me to do the same thing.


Because skate sections are so tailored to a person's unique taste and style, they're also spaces to showcase artists that viewers might not have heard of. I would never have discovered the brilliant and chaotic bleakness of the band Spell, for instance, if not for Ed Templeton's effortless part in Toy Machine's Good and Evil. I wouldn't have listened to Air offshoot band Mellow without for Heath Kirchart's dream-like sequence in Emerica's This is Skateboarding. And I truly doubt I'd have ever gotten into 80s psych-pop band The Church if I hadn't become so completely obsessed with Matt Bennett's part in Toy Machine's Suffer the Joy (below), in which every single movement he makes with his body feels perfectly in synch with the melodic, bittersweet jangles of "The Reptile". Skate videos aren't soundtracked like regular films; the songs don't fade into the background – they are just as central as what's on the screen; the sound and skating becoming weirdly intertwined in a way that has more in common with a music video than anything else.

Sometimes, you just need to hear a song once before you get immediately hooked, rinsing it repeatedly until the melody suddenly starts to sound flat and dead and boring (do you ever get that?). Other times, the song sneaks up on you through force of familiarity. You'll hear something over and over again, without really knowing you're absorbing it, and gradually every nook and cranny of that track becomes lodged into your brain like the streets you grew up on, or the route home from work. Skate videos shaped my music taste in that latter way. A lot of the time they weren't songs I would have necessarily loved straight away, but when you become familiar with something you can end up gravitating towards it, and then it becomes just another brick layered over all the others that built your palette.

I have no idea what skate videos are like these days. More than a decade has passed, and it's been a long time since I've felt the urge to watch a bunch of dudes clatter through the streets and slide down rails on planks of wood. That's not to say I don't occasionally scroll through YouTube and watch them during those strange twilight hours in which I can't get to sleep. I'd totally forgotten about the sugary sweetness of Saint Etienne's "Only Your Love Can Break My Heart" until I came across it as the soundtrack to Johnny Wilson's part in this 2015 Nike SB clip, for instance. As far as I know, as long as skateboarding is still a thing, the old art of skate videos will persist, and so will their soundtracks. And without them, my music library would have looked a whole lot emptier.

You can follow Daisy on Twitter.