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Talking about Graffiti & Skateboarding with the 1UP crew

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If you skateboard, you don’t exclusively hang out with skaters. Somehow, you always meet all kinds of creative people. I doesn’t matter if you live in a big city or a small village, someone from the crew probably makes music, studies at the art university, takes photographs, makes films, builds beats, raps or paints graffiti. You know each other, you hang out together, you do things together. That’s why spray-painted skate parks are a completely normal sight, just like skaters who have a marker with them for tagging. The 1UP crew from Berlin Kreuzberg is not what you would call quite normal. Spectacular Wholetrains, huge painted walls worldwide and the first coral reef graffiti – these are just a few of the reasons that make One United Power outstanding and one of the most famous graffiti crews with more than a million Instagram followers. At last year's CPH Open they were also represented with their own ramps and just recently, they skated with Mark Gonzales in Miami. Time to find out more about 1UP's relationship with skateboarding.

How did it come about that you got more active in skating? And how did that connection with CPH Open happen?

Moe [Name changed]: The connection between graffiti and skateboarding has more or less always existed. It’s based on the fact that subcultures are always somehow networking and happening in the same alternative and informal spaces that you somehow hang out together in the streets. The coming together, creating a space, complementing each other, inspiring one another and then creating something cool together is the same in skating and graffiti. And if that works in the individual spheres, why not mix them together?

Sammy [Name changed]: We’ve known the Copenhagen guys since the times with Willow when he was still on Alis. We’ve also been to Copenhagen a lot, also to skate, and we’ve been to CPH Open for the last few years and have always contributed something small. We painted a piece somewhere for the boys or appeared in the aftermovies. It’s always been a very good relationship. In Berlin there is also a huge bubble with Rocco [Patrick Rogalski], Kaio [Kai Hillebrand], Denny Pham and others who are good friends of ours. We did a Flip board with Denny a few years ago and released a clip together. Before that there were collabs with Lousy Livin, who are also good friends. But the first big thing for us was the Flip collab, where we wanted to show that some of us are skateboarding, too. And then it just went on and on. Last year in Copenhagen we designed some skate ramps and painted a few Polaroid cameras for the pros at CPH Open. This then led to our Miami project, where we wanted to do a community project and invited different people from different circles.

You’ve already mentioned a few names and everyone probably knows skaters who do graffiti, but how big is the proportion of sprayers that skate? And how many skaters are there at 1UP?

M: I’d say maybe 5% of the skate scene are really active sprayers. There are a few professionals who are still really actively spraying.

S: I also think the overlaps aren’t so much with the people who actively do both, but with the people who hang out together and do their thing in the streets. You don’t have to do both, but there is a mutual respect.

M: In Copenhagen it’s so fun every year because a lot of the skate kids know us. When we’re hanging out at the skate park, doing tags, a bunch of kids suddenly come running up to get their shirts tagged. It’s just like in skating. There’s Koston on the corner and everyone is hyped. And on the question of skaters with a graffiti background or people who tag or can tag or at least know how graffiti letters work – there are a lot of them. I can think of a few right away. And graffiti is also merging with design, as you can see with people like Muska or Gonz. When Muska was in Berlin, we were together partying in Cookies club and we went out in the street at night. Skaters and sprayers simply understand each other very well.

"When Muska was in Berlin, we were together partying in Cookies club and we went out in the street at night. Skaters and sprayers simply understand each other."

Wasn’t the connection between skating and graffiti even closer in the past? Especially in terms of board graphics. How do you see that?

M: I think that the classic graffiti has become a bit boring on a board. Because you’ve just seen it too often and it became too mainstream in recent years. But you see so many people tagging their griptape and actually sitting down and painting on it for an hour or selling spray-painted grip. It’s still very much there. And skate parks are always full of graffiti. There's something new every week in Berlin.

Is it cool to spray paint in a skate park or is it considered lame?

S: Well, you don’t necessarily get street credibility from it, but of course you’re just visible and you have a semi-legal place where you can practice or hang out with your friends at night and have a bit of fun and then tricks happen on the piece you did during the day. That’s pretty cool. We also like to spray at Dogshit Spot and the next day we film a trick there with flying Hirschi [Roland Hirsch] for example.

M: Maybe it’s a bit like doing a trick in the skatepark, which can also be cool, but it’s just not the same as in the street, not as real. But I also wanted to add one more thing about Copenhagen. What struck me was how positively people responded to us, including different generations. There were younger kids who wanted feedback on their styles and then a few weeks later in Miami we were at the Atiba show and there was Koston, who also recognized us from Copenhagen.

Because you mentioned style. It plays a big role in both skating and graffiti. What are the similarities and differences?

S: Similar to skating, there’s tons of styles. That’s also the beauty in graffiti, that everything is actually allowed. Of course there are a lot of haters, even more so than in skating. Skating is definitely more of a community and further along in terms of respect. But nevertheless, every style has its place in graffiti.

There are plenty of haters in skating, but I heard crazier stories from graffiti. Especially when a graffiti gets crossed, the answer is not just some shittalking but shit is getting real.

M: Graffiti is definitely a tougher world. It’s all in an illegal environment. It also tends to be a world where some people have a somewhat tougher background. And you can’t show your face either. When you skate, you just go out, like, “look, that's me, I'm my own brand and I market myself with my lifestyle and personality.”

The police penalties are also way different. You might get a ticket for skating, at least in the States, but that’s it. No severe penalties at least.

S: And there’s also the commercial aspect. In skateboarding, it’s completely normal for you to be seen on the cover with a Red Bull hat. That’s completely frowned upon in graffiti. You have to be very careful that it all makes sense and is cool. That’s a huge difference, of course, because as a skater you can just earn your money as normal, you can sell yourself, you can use yourself as an advertising platform. And in graffiti it’s exactly the opposite and it often clashes somehow. There are graffiti artists who would never sell a painting, even if someone offered them €10,000 for it.

It’s a bit of a dichotomy that you basically only do graffiti for yourself, but at the same time you want everyone to know your name and the name of your crew.

S: Exactly. It’s really mostly about fame. That your name is seen as much as possible and the style and the artistic realization of yourself come second. Similar to skating again, you sit there for thousands of hours practicing styles and techniques to paint your picture on the wall somewhere as quickly as possible or as big as possible or as fine as possible. That’s actually classic graffiti: fame, style & message.

"There are a lot of haters, even more so than in skating. Skating is definitely more of a community and further along in terms of respect."

Can you somehow translate styles between the scenes? Because when I look at your actions, I would say that in terms of skating, what you do is big handrails.

M: There are some writers who don’t have a message, they just want to bomb. But there are also a lot of people these days who stand up for something. A girls’ crew or crews with political issues or, like us, we try to be role models and say that you can only do it together. One United Power. Be open, no matter where you from or what skin color you have.

S: Be there for each other! I think you can also see that in the collabs or things we’ve done.

M: And yes, in terms of our style, there are of course different interests in the crew. There are people who just want to paint wholecars in three minutes on the platform. And then there are others who just painting for hours the perfect piece and others who are politically active and work with Seawatch etc. It’s relatively diverse, but we’ve all found a common denominator and this has always been carried forward. That was always important to us when someone new joined the crew. Back in the days we weren’t known for style, but rather for the fat pieces or actions, as you said. Nowadays, however, it has developed in all directions. Of course, it’s a collective effort! We sit down, plan everything extremely well and everyone knows exactly what to do. And then we pull off such actions in the shortest possible time, with up to 30 people, sometimes with drones and getaway cars.

S: It all became more diversified in recent years anyway. Skaters also can no longer be classified as only mosh or only tech, like back in the days.

As far as your actions are concerned, you put a lot of effort into it. Could skaters learn something from that to be able to skate more spots?

M: Lockpicking comes to mind off the top of my head. Many graffiti artists are pretty good at it. Otherwise, I think it’s pretty similar. As a skater, you roam through every backyard and see if there’s anything there. Maybe drone technology will get even better and at some point you’ll be able to be dropped onto rooftops by a drone.

In skating, first try rarely works. With your actions, it has to work first try. How do you get the focus so that you get it done?

M: Really good planning and experience. You have printed out sketches of the trains in the right scale and then divide it up very precisely. Everyone knows exactly what to do. You have one minute, everyone has their position, everyone has their cans, everyone knows exactly where to draw which line and then it works perfectly in the best case. It's like painting by numbers, but under extreme stress conditions.

What seems similar to me between skating and graffiti is that it has to be documented, otherwise it didn’t happen. So filmmakers and photographers are often involved, right?

M: Yes, especially with the important things, it has to be filmed and shot from all angles, because otherwise the train just goes back to the depot and you never see it again. We just had a great project with the Museum of Graffiti and Polaroid in Miami, it was such a good fit, especially because it’s analog. We love the hunt for the perfect clip & picture.

S: It worked out super well, although everything is linked to random factors, just like in skating. There can always be a pebble lying around or you can get busted.

M: A great experience for everyone. For Mark [Gonzales], Boo [Johnson], Martha Cooper, Futura… Some of them knew each other from New York and we also wanted a community project where you just hang out together for a week, like on a skate trip. And then this project had different stages. Shooting the photos, then blowing them up big, painting on them live in front of an audience in the gallery, printing them again with a local screen printer and then signing the screen prints in another live session. It was like a skate jam.

S: Stillz – the photographer from Bad Bunny and so on – also comes from skating and was a great complement to Martha. Skating somehow brought us together again. And during the campaign, we also hung out with each other. That didn’t necessarily directly result in an artwork, but somehow, we inspired each other between the lines.

"We once had the idea, when Patrick Rogalski took a photo, that we would go there beforehand to paint."

It’s the same with skating, you can theoretically do it alone, but when you get together or when you're in a van with people, it’s a completely different kind of energy.

S: Yes, people hype you up or come up with ideas to do a trick you would never have thought of on your own. It’s just nice to be inspired like that.

M: And of course it was even more extreme with us, because people were also painting at night all the time. They roped themselves down from the biggest skyscrapers and painted these huge things. Sometimes we went to bed earlier at night because we had to get back to work the next morning. But the others were out almost every night and painted insane stuff.

Occasionally graffiti also appears in the background of skate videos or photos. Are you happy about that?

M: Yes, of course it’s the best case scenario. You might also try to paint somewhere especially because of that, sometimes even planned. For example, we once had the idea, when Patrick Rogalski took a photo, that we would go there beforehand to paint. With Koston, there once was a Limited cover with a 1UP piece on it, but just by chance. If you’re visible somewhere, it’s cool and of course even cooler if it’s a cool environment. But it’s not planned that way. It’s similar to the skatepark issue. You don’t constantly try to sneak in somewhere with your art. If it fits and you like the people, you do it.

What are the plans for the future? Will there perhaps be boards from you at some point?

M: Let’s see where the journey takes us. But I think we’ll continue on a small scale for now and maybe collaborate here and there. We might do something with Stefan Marx soon. He’s a good friend of ours.

Maybe you can also make a few boards for Radio.

S: Radio definitely is a great brand. We did two designs for them 18 years ago. That was probably even one of the first things we did in skating.

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