This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long a time, and I’m super excited to finally share it with the rest of the internet universe.
Hip-Hop Life & Times is a hip-hop site (no way, really?), which means we cover the whole culture and genre. Yes of course there’s always going to be more articles about rappers, that’s just the nature of the current state of the scene-but we’ll always be site that remembers ALL elements: MCings, DJing, graffiti, Breaking, knowledge and beatboxing. With that in mind I was lucky enough to sit down with CEO and owner/editor of the very successful graffiti-based website www.thelondonvandal.com, Keegan Webb. Keegan is a really nice dude, and I really enjoyed talking to him, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading the interview.
1) Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m Keegan, and I run The London Vandal, which is an online graffiti and urban sub-culture magazine. We have existed since 2009, and have been getting ever more popular since day one. Now we run a graffiti supplies webstore too.
2) How did it all come about?
I’ve been obsessed by graffiti for years and years, but I got into painting it myself in my mid to late teens, and have been addicted ever since. Eventually, I started a website posting photos of my work, but realised I enjoyed posting other peoples (far better) work more. So I made the site about other peoples work. Then I started posting things that weren’t really graffiti, but were related, like hip-hop and graphic design. Then it expanded to include street wear, events, film, photography and the rest of it. Two versions of the site later, and a team of dedicated vandals later, and we ended up with one of the UK’s most popular graff sites.
3) Was it initially just on your own?
To start, it was just me. But then Ray got involved. He is a technical genius and got the site in ship-shape from a technology perspective. He has great ideas for content too. We work well together.
4) What got you in graff? Were you brought up in a creative family; were you really interested in visual art?
I’m not sure how I got into graffiti really. I didn’t know any other kids who were into it, and my family isn’t particularly creative. I used to draw a lot as a kid, but preferred comics and manga. I reckon growing up in Hackney in East London and then moving to Wood Green in Noth London probably played a part. My family never had a car, so I rode public transport a lot. I was seeing a lot of graffiti because of that. I guess I just thought it was incredible that someone had gone and done *that*, and combined with my love for hip-hop culture and rap music, it was a matter of time before I started dabbling.
5) What did you start out doing, style wise?
I started with the classic London chrome dubs style. I loved it’s aggression and history. Then I tried to move towards wildstyle because I thought it was more technically impressive. Turned out I sucked at that. Eventually I moved to a more graphic style. I don’t paint a huge amount compared to some of the people out there. I find it hard to get excited about my own stuff. I’d much rather look at other people’s graff.
6) Favourite style as a writer and/or fan?
Oh man, it’s so, so hard. The hardcore London styles still get me going when I spot a nice trackside of whatever. But I’m really into what some people are calling graffuturism at the moment. Artists like Roids, Wais, Sat One, Augustine Kofie. I’m also loving Horfe from France, Cassette Colour 90 from Russia and Lush from Australia – as well as all those other cartoony guys. Talking of cartoony guys, gotta mention Malarky. He is on fire at the moment. So yeah, I have pretty varied taste in terms of style. I don’t know exactly how to describe graffuturism. There is a site by that name that posts some cool stuff, but the terms exists outside of them. Basically, it’s a super-futuristic style of graffiti that goes beyond letterforms, or even wildstyle letter forms and become almost abstract works of design. Roid/Steroid is one of the UK’s best examples of graffutirism on the street.
7) How would you rate the current state of graffiti and the culture of it in the UK and/or the rest of the world?
There are hundreds and hundreds of incredible artists in the UK. Even after years of study, I discover new ones on the regs. And the attitude towards graffiti from the younger generation and liberals is incredibly positive.
There is a vocal minority who don’t understand graff and have a negative attitude towards it. They cause us all kinds of problems with heavy-handed policing, closing down of “legal” walls, and zero-tolerance policies. But we survive 🙂 Graffiti and street-art don’t require permission, so they can’t stop us just by telling us no. The culture is strong here, and there is a great, friendly scene no matter what anyone tells you!
As for the rest of the world, I think it varies. Some countries in the least economically developed nations, and in the East and Middle East are only starting to develop their own graffiti and street-art scenes now. Time will tell how the authorities will react. Other countries, particularly South America have really positive attitudes towards graffiti that have fostered a really strong and open scene. Then you have countries like the US and lot’s of European countries where graffiti if considered a social-ill and is heavily punished. I think the UK does fall into that category, but things are changing because young people love it so much.
8) Leading on, how would you say the attitude to graffiti has changed in the last 15 years or so? From the general public.
Graffiti has mass appeal and is going from strength to strength in terms of popularity. I can’t remember the last time I met someone who said they don’t like graffiti. Some say that they only like “good” graffiti, but I think those people are just covering their asses – they don’t want to look like they are condoning vandalism. But they are, because they like some of it. The stigma is washing off, and people are starting to look past the law and are deciding for themselves. And they love this shit.
9) But talking of other writers and artists, I know you have already but who would you say inspires and impresses you right now. Whether it’s within the graffit scene past or present, or in the general art world?
In terms of street atuff, the first writers I ever thought were amazing were ATG and DDS crew. ATG are so incredibly successful now, and DDS still represent in a big way. I’m still in awe of Tox, and have loads of love for 10Foot. OPD crew are incredible too. I also have mad respect for people like Twesh, Soleo, Towns, Vibes. The list of people who’s stuff is dope is just too long. I really don’t know where to start. I’m like sponge when it comes to graff. I just soak it all up.
10) Being that graffiti is still a major part of hip-hop and one of the founding 5 elements, how would you say people within hip-hop that don’t graff treat it?
Hip-hop culture and graff have a very special relationship, what with graff being one of the elements and all. I think that hip-hop heads have a special understanding of graffiti that you don’t always get elsewhere, because the two have so often come packaged together. I think that is changing now though. I feel like rap music and graffiti are starting to part ways now that graffiti has found it’s feet in mainstream culture. Once upon a time you would find all of the graff writers hanging out at a rap show, or drum n bass if you were in the UK. Now you might meet a writer at an electro rave or a metal gig. It’s becoming more diverse.
I think it’s a great thing. Graffiti needs to be bigger than hip-hop. It’s annoying when people who don’t know the first thing about graff come up to you and start telling you about their views on Banksy or Shephard Fairey etc, and it’s annoying when marketing firms try to use graffiti in their adverts and get it totally wrong. I don’t feel a need for graffiti to be totally clandestine either. There is a balance I think. When you are chatting to someone at a party, and they tell you they like graff by Temp32 or Lone or whoever, that has to be a good thing.
11) What are you hopes for the future for The London Vandal?
We’ve started selling clothing and graffiti supplies and that is doing really well. We think we can quite realistically become the UK’s biggest supplier of graffiti supplies online. The clothing is doing really well and we are planning on getting loads more designs out over the next year. That’s certainly a key goal of ours.
We’re also trying to get more talented and passionate people involved in the online magazine. Aside from that, we have a whole load of projects coming up in 2013. We want to run a few shows, and put out a zine.