A little over a year ago, I interviewed Droid 907 for the release of his first SOS zine, Sex or Suicide. This summer, through Carnage, he is sharing his past year of adventures riding through the United States. As with the previous volume, Sick of Society exists on the fringes of the mainstream where Droid 907 finds comfort from a society he abhors. As much as the title gives a negative connotation, the pages of the zine are instead filled with intimate portraits of those the writer cares for, including friends both here and departed. Using typewriter gifted by Amanda Wong, the author redacts locations, crosses out spelling errors while leaving in others, adding characterization to himself while continuing his narration. His continued fascination with analog technologies can be seen not only in the text, but through the production of the zine itself. Unlike the Internet, print production contains a finite means of dissemination (albeit large editions of 400). Within the hand silkscreened pages and closed-edition volumes, Droid completely placed himself on the fringes of society in which he exists and documents. Fittingly, when sent interview questions, the Sick of Society author returned with pages fresh from his typewriter rather than a Word Document.
Rhiannon: So, the last typewriter for S.O.S. was found by the train tracks. What did you write Sick of Society on?
R: With equally a pessimistic title as the first zine, what makes you Sick of Society?
Just got this post in from the LTD ROADCREW 2014. With photos by AVOID pi, words by FISHO ngc and a video by DROID 907, it tells a freight hopping story or two. That’s all I know. – RJ
Dropped off in Spartanburg early morning. Boobed around the small yard office and found a spot under a rail bridge at the north throat of the yard. Waiting games. Weed smiles and a little nervousness. SUNDAY NO BEER.
Me and Avoid are exploring a small tunnel beneath the tracks, beautiful light and a birds nest, cool water no shoes…
A scream from above, the train, the train is coming.
Big scramble up hill
No time for socks
Spartanburg to Erwin first
Pull everything together, It’s all here
one at a time we grab the moving ladders and jump.
No cover, exposed ride, catch on the fly with a highway audience
We are rolling, first siding very soon regroup and take a grainer porch together.
Beautiful day the sun is shining
Our porch shakes violently and we laugh.
Marion is halfway & beautiful nowhere is loud.
At a siding in the middle of a mountain
A worker is walking down the track, stash gear leave porch, hide behind wheels.
He pulls a switch and walks back. Some routine. Hide again.
Sunset Pretty, plenty of documentation
Keep it moving, many tunnels and bridges and curves.
The clinchfield loops.
Put a coat and sleep if you can. The train is not shaking so much anymore, before the violent jolt was overwhelming, physical washing machine, a mans rollercoaster.
This is my vacation, my release.
Enough bad memories
We pull into the Erwin yard late night.
We hop off the ride and hop cuplers to the wrong side of the yard, work trucks and a river
Go back, cross over more trains and tracks and up a hill.
Find a good flat place to sleep. Goodnight with hits from the apple pipe
Take socks off, sleeping bag warm goodnight finally
Awake with sun, feeling good smelling like train dust.
Granola bars and we are walking, town is small. local eyes but no crucifixion or which hunt.
get a hot meal at elms, its a hikers town, good. We assume the trail head identity, remove all train paraphernalia.
ERNIE i mean ERWIN
Head to north throat of yard again and lurk.
Gas stations, fast food, and construction.
We find the cut, a lean two structure, an old roof not resting on thick trees.
Clean it up, stack a wood pile, clear the brush and sprawl out a bit.
Talk all day with beer, examine the yard from afar.
Apple pipe. We take turns leaving, going to the store buying more beer or French fries and a pancake.
Lounging around the comfortable jungle we are caught far from guard,
A northbound is pulling out of the yard on a set of tracks we weren’t expecting.
Scramble again… We miss the ride look at it chug away.
Close enough to do it but missed. Just missed
More beer and a walk to the cemetery
There is always a train sounding in our heads.
Lost time downing cold ones until it happens again.
Goodbye Erwin and rain is coming
Another northbound is pulling out of the yard. We are drunk and ready.
Right after the engine passes us we are on the tracks, hungry for a ladder.
I hardly remember as some strange force took hold of me and I was suddenly climbing into a gondola full of scrap metal as it began to storm. Confused smiling I look back at the empty tracks and hear screaming.
Avoid and I are on the phone where is Droid?
I see him he is also on a metal death ride and coming for me. Walking along the metal scraps crossing from one car to the next.
He comes and gets me and we move back over the metal piles while the train is howling out of town.
We get to a dirty face small grainer porch and head bang for madness rain and life
Find one more beer and split it.
Wet night ride. Cold & the first siding we leave our porch & move down the string to A’s car.
Regroup and ride nighttime rough sleep with amazing morning fog
Kentucky country ride next to the river and small old towns
Train CC’s in Shelbiana, We are assed out
Get off and walk around the yard, hazy morning feelings.
Find an abandoned building, warm inside
Its 7 miles to the nearest town
We start walking and the rain comes again, harder
Get picked up by a college kid in pickup halfway
He drops us off at a Mexican restaurant
Get drunk before we start our residency program in Pikeville Kentucky
Confusion about a whiskey town brought us here.
Phone home for the cavalry
Execute a strange piece of roller graffiti with sourced materials
Its not over, its never over
Droid has been described eloquently as, “giving punk meaning again.” In the ultimate dream partnership, in my humble opinion, Droid 907 directed, edited, and wrote the video for Japanther‘s new single “Do It (Don’t Try).” The video follows as he writes out the song’s lyrics in his signature style. He then surreptitiously places the stickers around Bushwick while the band belts out “Do Do Do Do Why Fight It?” The juxtaposition of lyrics with illegal art underscore the song’s do or die attitude, one that Droid faithfully lives by.
It is also important to note that the video ends with a shot of a “Droid = Afrika” sticker. This piece pays homage to one of the crew’s deceased friends, writer Afrika.
It’s been quite a year for whistleblowers. In the last six months or so, the information that Edward Snowden leaked has changed the world, but Snowden is still hiding in Russia, hoping that some country will grant him permanent asylum and a way to get there. Meanwhile, Chelsea Manning, the whistleblower behind what became the Collateral Murder video and so many other documents released through Wikileaks, was sentenced in August to serve 35 years in a military prison. And just a few days ago, the email of a US government whistleblower was hacked and documents essential to his case were deleted. With the US government taking such a harsh stance against whistleblowers, it is even more essential that we, the people, stand up to support them. With that in mind, I’ve started Whistleblower Art, a tumblr archive of art and design celebrating whistleblowers. Last July, I collected all the Snowden-related street art I could find for a post. Whistleblower Art expands on that post to include all whistleblowers (most notably Manning at this point) and art and design beyond just street art.
For Vandalog though, I’ve put together this update on my Snowden post: Pretty much all the street art, graffiti and murals I could find in support of whistleblowers.
Stikman and Droid: On the Importance of Illegality in Their Work, an introduction by ekg
a few weeks ago, i was asked by RJ to do an interview with Stikman, which would be published on Vandalog during the month of august, 2013. first and foremost, i was thrilled to be interviewing Stikman, a long-time friend, and longer-time Street Art hero of mine. of secondary interest, over the past year, i’ve been working on an epic essay called Anti-Legal Art: On the Importance of Illegal Aesthetic Manifestations in the Twenty-First Century, so i thought this might be a good opportunity to collect some first-hand data on that topic from one of the lifetime-dedicated, constantly up and consistently innovative street artists today. no matter what else is going on, he is always up with new series and new materials, which has cemented in my mind his dedication to the medium, embodied in his consistent efforts for the past twenty plus years to disseminate his sign, spread the word, and challenge the law.
with a weird subtle quiet alien language, Stikman has been leaving a cosmic trail of lo-res multimedia crumbs throughout the urban semiotosphere for us to discover and decipher. his main icon is an alien form rendered with primitive materials in an infinity of mutations and environments. in a sense, Stikman operates much like a tagger in terms of his obsession with constantly being up, the wide dissemination of his mark, and the large quantity of his small-to-tiny pieces. but instead of markers and spray paint, Stikman utilizes alternative materials to disseminate his character, such as wood, metal, glass, and other sculptural elements recovered from the trash, as well as wheat pastes, printed and hand-made stickers, computer-manipulated mutations in all mediums, photographic and illustration fictional environments, and other interesting series as well. unlike a graffiti writer, Stikman does not utilize letterforms, but his primitive alien could be defined as a “character,” which quickly became an important element in the writer’s palette during the seventies as the movement grew in size and diversity of talents.
more often than not Stikman chooses small humble spots for his offspring: the alcove of a steel girder; floating almost unnoticeable in the middle of a peeling sticker mess; forgotten rusty metal boxes; underneath staircases in the dark; inside a missing-brick nook; yet all right under our noses in highly congested urban display hubs. sometimes as large as life, but more often as an invasion of miniatures, totemic and other worldly, charismatic and resonant, significant. does the primitive expression of a futuristic character inspire paradoxical feelings of nostalgia for a simpler earth bound time but at the same time create a yearning for an alien saviour to save us from ourselves? or does it emote a sensation of elation as in the moments of a visionary scientific discovery through alien contact? or is it simply a sign that encapsulates a relief that the alien isn’t a member of the slimy bloodthirsty hordes like a majority of our movies promote as the dominant dystopic mythology? whatever theoretical narrative can be applied to our attraction to these graphic alien insurgents, they have landed, been building underground support, attracting a large vocal segment of our population that is excited about it.
in my recent paris travelogue, i wrote that i feel like Johnny Appleseed as i disseminate marks. this concept of a writer or street artist sprinkling tags or stickers around a city like the iconic Johnny Appleseed flinging his seeds from his sack in an anarchistic, unsanctioned trail behind him across the rural landscape, first occurred to me during a conversation about Stikman’s series of municipal street adhesives. he literally walks around dropping those thick adhesive aliens onto the asphalt in crossing walks and parking spots as if it was a fertile bed of dirt in which his alien flowers will pollinate, mutate and grow, due to the constant motion and weight of traffic passing over them. like a twenty-first century Johnny Appleseed, Stikman releases his beings into cultural consciousness on the anarchistic and rebellious broadcast channel of Street Art; and yet still transmits a quiet message of poetic transgression, positive cultural mutation, and personal vision, a calm voice of beauty and reason in the aetherial semiotosphere, a contrasting environment of hyper texts and semiotic wars, missives and missiles, data patterns and pigment irruption, agents of the matrix and guerrilla aesthetic actions.
in the past couple years, i have also been in contact with Droid 907, a graffiti writer who continues to blow me away as he expands his repertoire, exploring a wide-range of hardcore graffiti tools; collaborating constantly with other artists and crews on missions, painting larger and larger outdoor pieces while developing unique roller letterforms, as either clean-and-bright two-tone pieces, or wacky and crude expressionistic letterforms; expanding his already-wide geographic perimeter through a network of bike maniacs, van nomads and freight hoppers, poetry in motion, all dedicated to an off-the-grid DIY lifestyle making music and art, publishing zines and encrypted web pages, curating shows and running galleries, while also managing exposure on the internet through a network of friends, fans, and a sympathetic media community.
in the previously mentioned paris travelogue, i was snarky at one point about the overuse and meaninglessness of the term “Punk” forty years after it’s inception; but here i am just a week later reading statements by and looking at photos of Droid’s work, which have, in total for me (including other interactions with him over the past three years), imbued the term once again with its original anti-status quo meaning, a symbolic power derived from IRL transgressive action, off-the-grid DIY work ethic and alternative lifestyle, and blunt radical political statements. to sum up: Droid gives Punk meaning again. this may even be a sign of something else brewing, the crest of some building resonance, the immediate unseen and unrecognized now pregnant with singularity and tumescence, rearing itself up from a minority to a majority, no longer a whisper but a shout. from a third-person vantage point, reading the accruing signs, Droid’s memoires and photo essays, as well as his friend’s zines and other media, such as Avoid’s Vagrant Space website and the novel Train To Pokipse by Rami Shamir, are a bold collective attempt at creating a transom-window visionary-view statement about the growing youth underground in America that in another ten years, as the chasm between rich and poor continues to grow unacceptably wider and future opportunities are proactively hoarded by the one percent, may well become the angry fist of a job-less, cash-less, CPU-less, homeless, transient mass culture with no where to go but off-the-grid onto unregulated topology, creating a new kind of culture that will not be based in anaesthetization in front of a computer screen or by an American Dream that is unattainable for 99% of the population.
so, having Droid on my mind while i was thinking about what to ask Stikman, i was struck by how differently these two artists express themselves with their work on the street, and wondered how two such distinct personalities ended up choosing the same illegal alternative channel to broadcast their message. Graffiti and Street Art can be defined abstractly as a channel, a broadcast media, an alternative wavelength that also imbues the signs transmitted through it with an aura of rebellion under a Halo of Illegality. therefore, since the Medium is the Mess, this particular media manifests an inherently anti-status quo, anarchistic and revolutionary signal and sign. this added layer of outlaw semiotic definition is embedded in the remnants of the art on the street and in the photographs of the art on the internet by the indications of the transgressive action that took place in the placement of the symbols illegally on an unsanctioned display surface. this is the heart of art placed on the streets, the human pulse of the populace, the urge to take back our surveillance reality, re-manifest ourselves through coordinates of insurrection, and visual civil disobedience.
the Illegality of graffiti and street art is a crucial formal aesthetic category at the root of the movement’s cultural power, strategic operations, aesthetic forms and choice of materials. the choices an artist makes from this selection of options defines their personal vocabulary with which they symbolically define themselves and express their message. etch tags or wheat paste? spray paint or rollers? fame spots or cutty hideaways? freights or walls? quantity or detail? stickers or extinguishers? construction sites or high end retail? some materials are contentious, but can be offset by other elements in play. each makes a statement about the artist, their temperament, their strengths and their intentions. so why and how do artists as different as Stikman and Droid express themselves on the same illegal broadcast channel?
i sent Stikman and Droid the same twenty questions, each consisting of three-to-four more increasingly specific sub-questions on a similar theme; so in essence i sent them about sixty questions total. as i was crafting them, i did not really think about how much i was asking of them, so i want to emphasize that i appreciate their time and effort. it meant a lot to me that they wrote so much detailed, thoughtful and inspiring text. as well as RJ for the suggestion to combine the answers underneath each question. i’m sure it took a lot of time to format, and was well appreciated. thank you.
i’d also like to mention that both Stikman and Droid expressed mutual admiration for each other’s work when i first raised the idea to them. if forced to make this kind of comparison, each of them fall onto opposite ends of the Graffiti and Street Art spectrum, but, at the same time, because of their unique aesthetic paths, they are also outsiders within their designated categories. so mutual awareness makes sense: in the presence of Art, categories collapse and unique minds recognize each other. for instance, when it comes to street operations, Stikman is basically a solo agent on the streets and a ghost on the internet with no self-directed presence except through fan photography and gallery representation; where as droid is constantly painting with different partners, as well as utilizing methods to stay off the grid that involve multiple subcultural supports and many layers of socially-engineered encryption when utilizing the internet. for Stikman, who is celebrated more often in Street Art contexts, he is still a complete enigma in that subculture, because of his refusal to show his face in public or do legal walls, even during his own solo shows; similarly, Droid could be considered a Graffiti outsider from a traditionalist’s viewpoint because of his dedication to the raw power of rollers, an underground comix aerosol aesthetic, and a strong political voice in a movement that usually counts on the aesthetic transgressions to speak for themselves.
important to note is that any truly singular voices, such as Stikman’s or Droid’s, frequently are quarantined in a marginalized cultural space until enough mass-market interest makes it economically feasible for the mass media to broadcast it; but on the other hand, this gives culture-at-large some time to assimilate difficult artist’s visions from the ground up. ironically, this is usually due to a significant portion of the mass population already being altered by, or at least familiar with the artist’s message through the artist’s personal subcultural osmotic-homeopathic resonance which eventually vibrates up to the mass cultural level. an attempt at a flow chart illustrating such relationships between artist’s fame and cultural demand would be fascinating: it is impossible to hold back a resonant aesthetic form when it speaks using the pertinent vocabulary of an era. due to their own particular aesthetic voices, or simply because of their utilization of and dedication to the Graffiti and Street Art broadcast mediums, Stikman and Droid may be recognized as artists historically at ground zero, relevant to cultural discourse, symbolic expressions of a time period, ideal examples of new technologies manifesting aesthetic forms, visual metaphors that summarize the feelings of the majority of the populace, but above and beyond all that: i see Stikman and Droid at their cores as enduring flames in a flat-lining world.
egk: when and where did you first get up?
Stikman: When I was 15, I wrote my name in black paint with a paintbrush all over town like everyone else I grew up with. It was in an older inner ring suburb of a large city in the Northeast US.
Droid 907: the first writer i got up with was DESIGN NFO from brooklyn in the mid 90’s. i was broke and new to the city. the subway was still free and one could venture all over town with no money. he put me down on $35 ounce weed spots in harlem, basically showing me how to make a buck and keep my head above water. he’d write his name whenever he felt like it, regardless of who was around, and pass the marker or can to me and expect me to do the same. it was a different time in new york city for sure. i wrote a different name then and met a number of city kids who all wrote tags. i kept scrawling and scribbling for a few years, as more of an aimless act than one with a mission or purpose. it was more like graffiti found me and it took me awhile to understand it. it wasn’t until 2003 that i did my first roller with FIYAH EMP that i got deeper into the organism.
When I originally approached Droid 907 about his latest zine, Sex or Suicide (Either Way You’re Fucked), it was described as simultaneously the most honest book about graffiti and a collection of lies. This inability to distinguish which stories are strange enough to be true or perhaps so outlandish that they must be fabricated heightens the experience. From tomes written on a buffed square of an abandoned facade to gritty, type-written pages, Droid explores the limits of his medium, in both graffiti and storytelling. Through these pages, the often enigmatic but ever present force of New York graffiti slowly peels back the layers behind his “Droid” persona, or perhaps adds more if the stories are in fact fabricated. With 40 pages of travels, redacted locations, and a cover silkscreened by Bushwick Print Lab, S.o.S. is Droid’s most visceral text to date.
Following a few month span in the artist’s nomadic lifestyle, readers are placed in media res, with no prior knowledge of the author’s relationships with those he encounters. You are suddenly left on the side of the tracks with no contextualization, in an anarchistic manner that mirror’s the text’s aesthetics. To help illuminate the backstories of a few of these individuals, as well as his own artistic practice in creating Sex or Suicide, Vandalog conducted a brief interview with Droid.
Walking around in the abandoned areas of Baltimore gave me a peace of mind that the NYPD would never allow in New York. However, engaging life-long citizens of Baltimore about the graffiti surrounding them in the streets came with its own merits. The blending of New York and Baltimore-based artists that I saw in the the city’s innards was mirrored in its streets. With the, then recent, invasion of international artists for Open Walls Baltimore, the city had become a hub for any east coast street artist to visit. As long as you had friends in the area or on the roster, chances are you ended up there. Continue reading “Illegal Baltimore part three: The city’s streets”
Opening to the public this weekend, the New York Art Book Fair brings together the academic art history books with the grittiness of zines. This year, several graffiti zines have teamed up to display their wares at the Pantheon Books table. With zines from Baltimore’s NGC crew, 907, and Subway Art Blog, this weekend will be one that you need to fit into your tightly wound schedules (don’t forget it’s also Dumbo Arts Festival). Vandalog was lucky enough to be able to preview these zines before the public and the results were astounding. In the week since I have received these zines I have found myself flipping through them over and over, rereading passages and revisiting my favorite layouts.
The sick rollers and pieces seen in my recent Vandalog posts are echoed within the pages of NGC’s zine. A few of the spots I was lucky enough to see are document within their zine as well as several that remain unseen. An excellent pairing of inside jokes and montaged pages of tags and personal photographs, NGC gives you a taste of what it is like to be writers in Baltimore. Like Natty Bo, it’s cheap, awesome, and sure to show you a good time.
Being only familiar with the street work of 907, I didn’t know what to expect when opening the pages of their zine. The cover is decked with tags by some of the top writers on the East Coast, giving a hint that you are probably in for a read that is going to rock your brain. Droid and R2 have brought some of their favorite cudi spots together with some premium interviews. Between the eye catching pictures and a particularly moving narrative about loss, Droid and R2 have pieced the perfect pairing of opposites for this release.
In addition to his release with R2, Droid and Avoid will be showing their zine from last year, which features stories from their adventures riding freights across the country. In the urban jungle where pretty much everything gets you arrested, their tales of run-ins and writing trains is enough to make any New Yorker want to eject themselves from the city for a taste of the fun.
Last, but not least, Subway Art Blog has teamed up with the graffiti writer-based zines to prove to New York that, yes, there is in fact still art in the subways. Now in it’s second issue, Jowy Romano has focused this production on etches and scratchitti. By bringing together graffiti writers as well as enthusiasts, the New York zine table provides short reads for visitors of all tastes.
To pick up copies of these zines visit table A12 (Pantheon Projects). The New York Art Book Fair will be open to the public this weekend from:
Friday, September 28, 12–7 pm
Saturday, September 29, 11 am–9 pm
Sunday, September 30, 11 am–7 pm
Due to the layout of Baltimore, the city makes the perfect playground for rollers. Built of bridges and tunnels, most of the graffiti spots contain elaborate pieces at eye level with equally as astounding rollers above them. The combination of these tunnels and the large amount of abandoned factories in the area makes for perfect spot to do elaborate, typographical rollers.
Even more astounding to me than the work itself was the number of familiar names I came across in, essentially, middle-of-nowhere Baltimore. People like Reverend, Nugz, Overunder, and Cash4, who had become my household names in New York had found themselves equally as prolific in this city. Through partnering up with local artists such as MTN NGC and Avoid, these New York artists seamlessly blended into the Baltimore scene, creating some interesting visual combinations in these spaces.
“Delicious Droid 907” T shirts available at www.articlemethod.com.the shirt will might not make it there by christmas, but its worth a try…. and they are going fast.
And there are still some copies of the WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE , the zine that documents a west coast train hopping adventure at www.undergroundeditions.com. Not quite gifts you would pick up for the parents but its probably right up your brother’s alley so what’re you waiting for.