episode4: 10 foot
text: Peter O'Grady as known as Joy Orbison
photos: Toby Goodyear
edit (Japanese): Wataru Suetsugu
When I was growing up dance music and graffiti went hand in hand, I spent most my time at school scribbling in the back of text books while listening to mixtapes through the headphones hidden up my sleeve. 10foot is a graffiti writer who has been omnipresent throughout my life back then and now, in fact I struggle to get away from his pieces! From the Old Kent Road to Tokyo & upstate New York - this guy is fucking everywhere and I love it. There's a humour and familiarity to his work that I've always been really drawn to, it never feels like we’re being subjected to some entitled artist, more someone having fun and encouraging others to do the same.
We became friends a few years back through a mutual acquaintance and the other day I thought I'd take the liberty of asking a few questions. I personally am really fascinated by the mindset and process of the graffiti world; I often find myself living vicariously through it and there was a recent piece that particularly resonated with me that I was desperate to talk about.
JO: That piece at Vauxhall station, the tribute to Metalheadz Recordings and the late DJ Kemistry really seemed to capture people's attention. The links between Graff & music aren't always so clear these days so I think it really resonated with people like myself, what was the thought process behind that piece?
10 foot: Kemistry (and Storm, her DJing partner) mean a LOT. Un-anxious, unifying, elegant tunes made with hardware. They knew that no one gives flowers for being a subcultural centrist; they were onto something serenely brutal.
If you made a tribute to a classical composer, you’d make it from marble. A tribute to Kemistry should be chrome and black illegal graffiti because London graf and DnB are fruits from the exact same tree.
Roland samplers are Hammerite spraycans. Clanging mixes are station jumpdowns. Zonk and Cosa were the Skibba and Shabba of the train tracks and Shu2 (the best London writer ever) was the Doc Scott of the yard... transcendental, unpredictable, untouchable during exactly the same years. Both cultures fully ripened in 1997, then fermented, preserved and rotted in similar ways.
Sorry to go on but it’s relevant in so many ways. That era looked to the future, while our era looks to the past, feels like a big cultural wrong turn was taken and now we yearn to return to the fork in the roads. In 1997 the red pill took us to Tony Blair, increased amount of internet and major record labels. The blue pill offered eerie sounds, cracks and shines, mentasms and pirate radio.
90s graf and DnB has an unexpirable futurism, because it was never realised: it still looks and sounds like the future, despite being a quarter of a century in the past.
JO: The location seemed poignant too...
10 foot: Yeh maybe, sort of just did it because it’s a good plot where lots of people will see. But more than that, Vauxhall is at its own fork in the roads.
The area is a strangely communal corner of Zone 1; big estates that are rough-yet-hospitable, 1980s squatter remnants, and a lot of Portuguese. More recently it’s become Qatar-on-Thames: ten new
skyscrapers and a new USA embassy (with a goddamn moat).
The skyscrapers are clad in different colours, each redolent of Decathlon yoga mats; tangerine, turquoise, blancmange and manky mauve. Big hoardings tell you how “Diverse”, “Vibrant” and “Colourful” the area is, while seeking to turn it Flat White profitable.
Illegal graffiti is an affront to this shift (if anyone actually looks up from their phone). It’s considered a blight by any mainstream mindset, even arty liberals who have a Banksy print in their toilet will ask you ‘but where is the message’.
JO: Looking at pieces like that, half the fun is imagining how the fuck writers even do it. I find myself living vicariously through them when I see some of the more obscure locations. So much of it still really baffles me...
10 foot: Haha yeh. We keep most secrets quiet will just say that there’s a security patrol even when the station is closed. MI5 HQ looks directly over tracks, which are high off the ground, so there are very few getaways. Helicopter response time is less than 10 minutes.
You need a paramilitary approach to avoid prosecution as an active London writer in 2021. So here we are with a black tracksuit, black balaclava and black gloves, a burner phone and multiple getaway plans.
To reach the tracks you climb 30 foot. You then walk along them, skyscrapers rising either side, like a new build canyon. It’s a bit sticky cos people can look out at any time. You gota look 360•, while not tripping on the electrified rail. Millionaire Arabs and Chinese students aren’t generally the type to phone the police, still, we can be grateful (for once) that most of these flats are left empty.
There are forty trackworkers sat on the platform, with their luminous orange uniforms, sledgehammers and toolbags. Trackies fuck up a lot of missions, so when they all walk away, it seems the gods are smiling. It’s time to crack on with the dub.
It’s all misshapen as per. They say you should quit graffiti at about the age you get good at it. Guess we gotta be glad that, in London, you gotta look over your shoulder more than at the wall.
A lot of ducking and diving from security and it came off, just in time for sunrise.
JO: Wow, sort of like leaving a club (to continue the metaphor). How did you feel afterwards?
10 foot: Uplifted! Anybody who thinks like us knows that London can feel like a trawler net. Knows that the frantic fish are trying to comprehend the nylon that’s got them trapped. Knows that fat fish plug up the few gaps and big fish block your way, so when you find that opening, you have to dash... making a run for Kemistry’s vision etc.
JO: Beautiful words mate, thank you for your time. Speak soon x