"Just like everyone
over 30, I was exposed to writing through the early 80's 'hip hop as a
total package' explosion. Unlike today, the graffiti, the music, the b-boying
and popping was all inseparable.
I saw all the same stuff everyone else saw, Buffalo Gals, Rock Steady, all
of that. I started breaking in year 6 in 1983 and just like everyone else
had my little go at trying to be Ramo from Beat Street. Though I really
loved all the stuff that was going on at the time, I was mainly into the
breaking and didn't actually try to write properly until 86-87. At that
time the breaking was getting old and you spent more time fighting long
haired heavy metal cunts than battling. The serious b-boys had started
switching to writing and I was definitely paying attention.
One of Canberra's pioneer hip hop crews, FBA, had done a lot of shit
around my area. A kid I hated from my school had an older brother in the
crew and one day in the principles office he started boasting to me about
what a mad 'bombing' hero he was and all about his 'mentor' 'racking'
paint and the 'piece' they had just done. That night I went and destroyed
their piece on the side of the school and all the FBA tags in the area
with my old breaking name; SETH. That's when I decided graffiti was fun.
Turned out the idiot wasn't even in FBA and his 'career' ended about 5
minutes later. After that I learned a few things in 87 from two Maori boys
in Kogarah, MACH and MACE but I didn't really go for it until 1988.
were three major crews writing up until that time. ROF (RENEGADES OF FUNK)
came from Kambah in the south and was made up of some of Canberra's earliest
hip hop kids, where RISK was a prominent breaker for many years. CBS
(CHILDREN BATTLING SOCIETY) in the north, which were a younger crew also
made up largely of breakers who had moved on, and another group of Greek
kids in the Woden area, DDK (DA DEVIOUS KINGZ).
At various times and in various areas of the city between 87 and 88, each of
the crews put in their work. I wasn't particularly impressed by much of it
apart from DEVIL ROF, the characters of the bloke who was to go on to write
BROKE, plus the amount of damage done by two writers in particular who were
up all over the place and were the first to really go hardcore; POWER, who
went on to be known as TIMER and SHUCKS, and a bum of a kid who changed his
tag about 200 times but was then writing SHOMER and had started a crew
previously ran into POWER at the tail end of the breaking era and SHOMER
when he was still writing ROF. At this stage I was still largely unknown and
doing my thing in the Tuggeranong/Weston Creek area (consisting of going
over everybody), writing both SETH and BUST with my drinking partner SHERK.
Long story short, I ended up bombing with them and another kid QUOTE, who
used to write CBS alongside PHOENIX, and the Hype twins.
short period in SWM I realised it wasn't what I was looking for (most of
Canberra's graffiti was done in storm water drains), though I did learn that
most writers were give ups and dogs. I ended up getting around with QUOTE
and a writer from FCP; FRAUD, who went on to become BENT and KRAM. These two
were both younger than me but both had better hand styles and letters, and
were far more progressive than any other writers in town. KRAM had a style
more on the level with what was going on in Melbourne at the time and
together we formed VIP crew, dropping our other crews. The rest of Canberra
was pretty monged with the styles and it wasn't until the Sydney invasion
that we managed to catch up a little.
and 89 writers from PIC, 501 Boys, later DMA, KOA such as; METRO, DMOTE,
TAVEN, DUE, MCEE etc, came through Canberra on searching missions. During
this period I did a few things with METRO, who was at that time writing 501
and DMA. Him and his brother MAYHEM formed the crew KOA (KISS OUR ARSE) in
late 88. The crew was born out of the WEST RYDE BOYS and wasn't strictly a
graffiti crew, more like a brotherhood, which it still is to this day.
Original members included KERS and TAVEN.
with the pissy scene in Canberra and wanting to do some 'real' graffiti, the
kind that involved a rail system, me and QUOTE landed in West Ryde with a
large amount of paint. METRO and his family took good care of me from day
one, and it was from the time I started writing KOA crew that I really
started to understand grafitti. Apart from characters, I erased everything I
thought I knew and started from scratch. METRO was way ahead of the pack
with his styles and I couldn't have asked for a better coach.
you explain what it was that METRO was doing to make him "ahead of the
Well by the time I started writing with him he had already done many years
of hard work in Sydney. His brother and him were in some of Sydney's early
influential crews such as ONE STEP BEYOND and LSD, and had been writing
non-stop since they got here from N.Z. METRO was partnered with DMOTE for a
long time and him, DMOTE, HARO and MAYHEM eventually became part of DMA crew
Melbourne. Without trying to be biased I think its safe to say that these
blokes were very advanced and innovative in Sydney and that's the reason
they ended up connecting with DMA, who in my opinion are/were the all time
best graffiti crew in Australia.
METRO, DMOTE and HARO you had three distinctive styles. DMOTE has always had
the traditional New York graffiti effect, HARO has always had the freaky
styles and METRO is somewhere in between with his own graphic twist. As far
as being ahead of the pack, well after they went their separate ways,
METRO'S influences changed. We drew on different shit for inspiration and
originality has always been of the highest concern. The graffiti has always
reflected the lifestyle, not the other way around.
He has painted some crazy shit over the years. There's fucking everything
going on in his pieces, very complex but always with direction and funk. On
top of that, he bombed hard and has always had fresh tags and throw ups.
MAYHEM has always been a mad tagger too. In my opinion METRO is probably one
of the most underrated writers in Australia. People don't even know that
this man was put in the Zulu Nation by the godfather of writing PHASE 2 as
far back as 1988. Now that's something!
Why is bombing and painting trains important?
Well I'm not even
gonna sit here and talk about being some mad train bomber. I'm not. I think
that painting trains is vital to the art because that's where it was born
and that's where the spirit of the whole thing comes from. I have big
respect for the people that put in the hard work and do the
As for bombing I love it too. The first thing I fell in love with about
doing graffiti up in Sydney was travelling the loop and wasting trains with
the boys. For me that's what it was all about. I mean I came from down here
where we have no rail system and it's mainly about the walls. Our city is a
car city and all the bombing and pieces are done along the main roads.
That's our 'line' so to speak. People that live here and really wanted to go
and paint the trains moved out and did their thing in Sydney and Melbourne.
Myself, I always tried
to be realistic about it. As much as it tries to be, Canberra isn't Sydney
and so even though I spent many years painting in Sydney or Overseas, I
always had to come back and
live/work/teach/paint here, and its about walls down here?.. I play a
totally different game in a totally different division. The way I see it, I
was never going to do the things the masters did in New York in the 70's and
80's so I never even tried. I'm in it for a totally different reason. For me
it's all about the KOA/WD/KOOLISM family, I don't give a fuck about the
scene and its rules and customs, we always made our own rules and have never
been accepted by the masses.
In a way it's a bit
warped because I've got it too easy down here in my own world. I don't even
need to do illegals at night, I just paint wherever I want in broad
daylight. Too lazy to even run around in the dark and there's no point when
I can get away with it right in front of the cops.
It's a totally different matter painting elsewhere. Which is the main reason
I went to Sydney in the first place, you actually had to think and wait and
run and escape and climb and fight and break and steal and lie and cheat and
fight some more to do this art. I loved it!
What has graffiti taught you?
Taught me how to be a
cunt! That's the truth mate. I mean I was always an artist before I ever
picked up a can, so it didn't teach me that. I was a good kid until I
started doing graffiti. Graffiti basically turned me into an animal and made
me have no regard for anyone or anything except myself and my crew. It
taught me to be cruel to people who probably didn't deserve it and to stomp
all over anything in my path to get what I want. But I wouldn't give any of
that back because it gave me the freedom to do whatever and go anywhere on
the face of the earth without fear. It also gave me some true brothers for
life and is an unlimited source of expression for me that no one can ever
control. I have a love hate relationship with graffiti.
Do any artists
outside of graffiti inspire you?
Oath! My inspiration
comes almost entirely from outside of graffiti. If I was to be inspired only
by graffiti I would have quit years ago. I find most graffiti really boring
and repetitive, particularly my own stuff! Before I go on about the
non-graffiti inspirations though, I must admit there are some writers that
really impress me with their style: REAS ONE, SKEME, DOZE, DONDI, BIO, BRIM,
NICER, T-KID, KNOW, CAVS and DOC.
DRAX KOA/WD/PFB. Big
brother Drax, London graffiti don took me under his wing and showed me the
ropes of the big bad world 13 years ago and enlisted me in the WORLD
I'm inspired by my
departed brothers; NIPSTA- KOA/WD a dedicated bombing king who died in
action, doing what he loved. ROOM ONE- KOA/WD/PFB (AKA:
BRYAN/ERIC/SPLAT/SCREWS 2), was much loved and very active in the west for
many years. SCOTT BAIN, though not an artist, a musical don and king of
comedy who died tragically in 2000.
As far as visual
'artists', I like Chinese painting, traditional tattooing of Polynesia and
Asia, and comic artists such as Steve Bisley, my bro Nang Ho, and most of
all, old Warner Bros cartoons.
Music is what really
inspires me, always has. I'm well into my music, more so than my graffiti.
Of course it goes without saying that KOOLISM provides the soundtrack for
the KOA crew. Their music is the voice of our family and we are all very
much involved in each others work. KOA/KOOLISM, one and the same.
So what is KOOLISM about?
KOOLISM is a
pioneering Australian hip hop movement. Their sound crosses a lot of
barriers ranging from electro hip hop, Miami bass, reggae, jungle and
breaks, soul and funk mixed with the rhythms of Polynesia. Above all and
despite the various flavours, KOOLISM is hip hop in the
traditional sense of the word, the way the pioneers intended it;
unrestricted funk and originality.
Is there any story
as to how you guys hooked up?
Yeah, in about 1991 I
ran up on Hau with a baseball bat thinking he was this Tongan I was having
dramas with from Sydney. Big Hau handled himself with style and balls and he
got my respect from that moment on. Canberra is a small town and I've had a
lot of dealings with the Tongan community over the years, so I was hearing a
lot about this up and coming rap star. Anyway, I am a negative cunt and had
always vomited every time I heard Aussie hip hop, so I expected his stuff to
be no exception. I had already seen DANIELSAN (then RAMPAGE) and wasn't real
impressed, so when I found out them two had hooked up I was expecting a
I went to a show and
finally saw HAU and his cousin SIONE performing alongside DANIELSAN and I
was in shock at their talent. I mean I went there expecting to hear fake
American accents and shit cutting, but came away eating my words. It was the
first time I ever conceded that it could be done properly in this country.
Hau's cousin SIONE was one of the greatest rappers to touch a mike in
Australia, you can hear him on their first release as TRIBE LEDDA-L (these
front door keys).
After that I was
formally introduced to the boys through KRAM and I ended up being the first
person to interview them in the print media and review their work. I knew
from day one they were going straight to the top and they've never stopped
working hard since. The first two KOOLISM releases were recorded in a
bedroom at my house but I still haven't seen a cent. Over the last ten years
we have become true brothers and gone through it all together; life, death,
success and failure and the boys have made the KOA crew proud.
I read somewhere that the name Canberra (or Kanberra) is an Aboriginal
word for a meeting place. Would you agree that Canberra is also a meeting
place of two different graffiti styles, namely Sydney and Melbourne?
First up, maximum
respect to the Koori nation! This meeting place concept borrowed/stolen from
the brothers is the exact reason they chose this spot as the Capital and its
effects are still felt in things such as the melting of northern and
southern styles of graffiti.
In the beginning
writers here had only what they saw in the earliest clips and in printed
media to draw on. Their style was experimental and not really at all based
on what was going on in the rest of the country. In 88, Sydney being only
three hours away was definitely the place to look for in style.
PIC, MTV, RCF, TDF, TFP, IBS and other crews were being emulated by a few of
the prominent writers. The old school writers here were influenced at that
stage by the London graffiti scene more than anywhere else and used their
paints for the same effect. Guys like KRAM were coming out with something of
a Melbourne style while I was totally on my own with some strange thing that
was neither Sydney nor Melbourne. By the time I did take any influences it
was via Sydney writers who wrote with a Melbourne influenced style!
Then you had next
generation writers like SHUTER-KOA, in my opinion the best writer to come
out of Canberra, TRON, and SLIM/RUDES-KOA who came up on my work and were
doing something just as unconventional but with influences from both north
and south. To be honest TRON may have got his style from aliens or Jimi
Hendrix, there is no comparison.
Then there are boys
like RUBEN, AIRE, DEKS, DEFT, DROWSE and PHATS who were born totally into
this new Canberra style and until much later knew nothing else. To balance
this out there are blokes like RVETS (one of Canberra's all-time most active
writers) and SLY crew who have bombed hard here for many years but have
always maintained a strong NSW flavour. There has definitely always been a
mixing of styles here, the freedom of the Melbourne styles with the
traditions and simplicity of Sydney.
Things have definitely
changed over the last few years since DISK injected his whole crew with the
current Sydney style. This may have put an end to the development of a true
'Canberra style'. Due to the amount of exchange between these crews and the
Sydney scene, Canberra can no longer claim total independence. Writers such
as SKOS and DIEM have a very Sydney feel and a lot of influence on the local
scene. Who knows where it's all going from here?
You made a mention
about the scene and how it has its rules. Is breaking those rules
innovative? Is this where we need to be heading?
Rules are necessary to
keep societies and cultures intact but not all of them are worth following.
For a start, graffiti writing, dancing and music are all a part of hip hop
culture. Hip hop has its defining principles that set it apart as a culture.
It was defined by our forefathers (people such as Bambaata, Kool Herc, Phase
2 and the Zulu Nation) and has always emphasized freedom of expression and
individual creativity above all. It's never, ever, been about conforming to
narrow stereotypes and following trends. Its biggest stars have always been
the ones that go outside the norm and do their own thing; Ken Swift, Crazy
Legs, Flash, Prince Paul, KRS ONE, Dondi and so on.
You don't need to
break to Apache in ski-goggles, an adidas tracksuit and puma suedes to be a
B-Boy. You can do the same shit in a Valentino suit to a Bounty Killer
track. Same thing with graffiti. You can bomb your football team or your pet
rodent's name or paint a character of a crippled mongoose making love to a
toaster and still be hip hop.
I think as long as you
try not to bite and don't use stencils, respect the hierarchy of tags to
throw-ups to pieces and the consequences of going over people, the rest is
entirely up to you. The rules that are made for breaking are the ones that
are dictated by trends and fashion.
As far as where we
should be headed, well that's not for me to decide but I'd like to see more
innovation in the whole Australian hip hop scene.