Can there be anything more fun than zipping around on a BMX bike, hearing the gravel crunch under the wheels and creating amazing stunts as you fly through the air? Many would argue, no, which is why BMX (short for bicycle motor cross) quickly became a sensation in the 1970s. The origins are in the bicycle races American kids started having in the late 1970s inspired by the motorcycle races they wished to emulate. ‘BMX was born,’ says Jason Forde, a BMX expert, ‘and freestyle BMX came shortly after. Freestyle BMX has mutated into a variety of different forms, but during the late 1980s and early 1990s the Southbank Centre skate space became home of the UK ‘flatland’ BMX scene. This involves freestyle tricks undertaken on flat ground, without ramps. ‘It’s undercover and away from the elements,’ explains Jason talking about the Southbank Centre skate space. ‘Some of the best riders in the world have been there – even lived there. Legendary riders, multiple world champions. This vibe lives on and you can feel it when you ride there even to this day. It motivates you to push harder.’
Street Art Street art comes in many forms, perhaps the most famous being graffiti and large scale murals.
From BMX tricks to breakdancing, Southbank Centre has been linked to urban arts for generations. This month we celebrate them with a weekend of performances and workshops.
Now a staple in James Bond movies and TV adverts, parkour (or free running) began in the suburbs of Paris when kids began exploring ever more athletic and inventive ways of moving around their urban environment. ‘This eventually coalesced into what we now know as parkour, though it was a lengthy process and one that is still ongoing,’ explains Dan Edwardes, from Parkour Generations. Running up walls, leaping across gaps and undertaking daredevil summersaults are just some of breathtaking moves now familiar to this art form.
Street Dance From popping and locking to voguing, urban dance styles come in many forms and new varieties keep evolving. ‘Most of the street-dance styles came from clubs,’ explains Clara Bajado, a professional dancer and choreographer who uses the Royal Festival Hall cloakroom foyer to rehearse. ‘The clubs are where people meet each other, dance with each other, exchange ideas with each other.’ © Sam Peach
‘Southbank Centre was the first place that was used as a regular meeting spot for the fledgling UK community and the founders of Parkour Generations over ten years ago. The architecture, pedestrian areas and accessibility made it perfect for training movement. It’s also very central and therefore was relatively easy for all the practitioners to get to,’ explains Dan. 2
‘I usually train, rehearse, or jam at Southbank Centre. It is so difficult to find open spaces in London where artists can dance and practise. Our dance culture came from the street and clubs. [We say] thanks to dance schools, theatres and
other artistic places for helping the development of it, but unfortunately [in these forums] the essence and the freedom got lost. I think that’s why dancers need to have access to this kind of open space, to create freely and revive the social side of hip-hop.’ The Collective Solutions Dance Consort (CSDC) has been set up to solidify the relationship between Southbank Centre and the dancers who take advantage of the free spaces in the Royal Festival Hall cloakroom to rehearse, create and practise. Led by dancer-choreographer Sean Graham it consists of a diverse group of artists. You can catch these dancers rehearsing here most days of the week.
‘Tagging is the simplest type of graffiti, consisting of the writer’s signature in one colour made with spray paint, markers or pens,’ explains Daphne Polski, a gallerist who specialises in graffiti art. ‘The origin of tagging came from New York around 1970 to 1971. We don’t really know who started the first tagg, but we do know that “TAKI 183” made it popular.’ An evolving art form, graffiti has been considered for many years as an act of vandalism and linked to gangs, hip-hop
and street culture. ‘It only really earned an international recognition around 2000 with the artist Banksy, inspired by the work of the French artist Blek Le Rat,’ says Polski. ‘Banksy and his stencils have become the symbol of urban art by using witty political and social visual subjects.’ Murals have been used in many cities to help mend the aesthetic fabric of the city. This summer the Southbank Centre site explodes with imaginative and intriguing imagery thanks to a series of interventions by an array of local and international mural artists.
‘It actually evolved from surfing in America, during the late 1950s early 1960s,’ explains Winstan Whitter, a former skateboarder and now filmmaker-historian on the subject. ‘Surfers on the West Coast could find themselves waiting days or weeks for their waves. So someone had the idea of recreating the surfer aspects on the road. The first skateboards were very primitive. Then in 1972 Frank Nasworthy invented urethane skateboard wheels, and once they came in, it really took off. Not just the surfers but with everyone. Southbank was a place that the skateboarders found. It had all these natural ramps and undulations, so it became very popular. When skateboarding fell out of fashion, people still kept going to Southbank Centre because they knew other skateboarders would be there, so it became a hub where they would meet.’ There are three kinds of skateboarding you can see in the Southbank Centre skate space, explains Winstan. ‘Street skaters carve the banks, use the stairs and stuff. Slalom skaters weave around cones and other obstacles and freestyle skaters are like BMX freestylers. They stay on the flatland and do tricks.’
Hip-Hop ‘Hip-hop is a cultural phenomenon codified in New York during the 1970s. Its roots are in reggae, jazz and blues, fusing the experiences of people of African origin in the Americas,’ explains rapper, poet and journalist Akala (pictured). ‘The five elements of hip-hop are DJing, MCing, graffiti art, breakdancing and knowledge. The MC was originally a “master of ceremony”, but the meaning has now evolved to include rhythmic oral poetry informed by world views and cultural understandings of hip-hop. Rap is a form of commercial music that is a derivative of hip hop culture.’
Learn more about the history of hip hop at Akala’s Hip-Hop History Live on Friday 2 August (see page 4).
A New Skate Space
Southbank Centre has plans to refurbish and develop the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room. The project, known as the Festival Wing, will provide new spaces for children, young people, education and art. As part of this development we’re asking our skateboarders, BMXers and graffiti writers to move just over 100 yards along the river to a prominent place on our site, the same size as the existing space they use. As everyone knows, funding for the arts is very tight. Unless we can use Southbank Centre’s undercroft, which is now used for skateboarding, for cafés and restaurants, we can’t fund these new spaces. However our skateboarders say this is a loved, historic site that holds the memories of several generations. The discussion continues. 3