To coincide with the beginning of work to open up the full space at Southbank, The Arts and Humanities Research Council have commissioned and released ‘You Can Make History’.
Edited and shot by skateboarder, film maker and one-time member of Dirty Sanchez, Dan Joyce, the film takes up the current situation at Southbank and incorporates voices representing every stakeholder involved in the process of protecting and reclaiming the Undercroft for all.
Obviously, this is by no means the first film to address Southbank’s multi-layered meaning as a space, nor to discuss the role that the Undercroft has played in global skateboard culture, but it is probably the first time that the multitude of voices invested in the process have been put together in one place.
We caught up with Dan Joyce to discuss the process so as to give you all a little context to the film below.
If you missed our previous interview with LLSB detailing the work to open up the Southbank’s available space – you can catch that here: LLSB interview
Big thanks to Dan for his time and for providing a selection of his photography to illustrate this piece.
Can you give us the back story to this video project firstly please Dan? How did it come about?
I was contacted by the academics a few years ago about making a film covering the LLSB story. I said straight away that Winstan Whitter had already made a film and had a lot of archive footage and that he would be better person than I to tell the story.
Long story short: they made another film together, and then Henry Edwards Wood made another follow up film with them. I made the third one, which is the one we’re discussing here ‘You Can Make History’.
This felt like the first time that a Southbank documentary piece really engaged with all the stakeholders in every capacity, with everybody from those involved in the original design and construction of the space, original LSD heads, Southbank staff; right through to current LLSB heads speaking from their own perspectives: how did you go about getting this access?
Basically due to a lot of work being put in by the LLSB team and the academics that had worked alongside them.
They had been trying to interview Dennis Crompton for years but he was a very hard person to tie down. The previous films had only really been told from the skater’s point of view, whereas I wanted this to reveal all aspects of the story.
At this point that was a much easier thing to do, because so much time had passed, Pushing Boarders had happened and skateboarding in general had become a much bigger and more recognised thing both academically, and in a wider cultural sense.
The Southbank meet ups had got everyone together and people had started engaging with each other and telling all these old stories. It became clear that there were multiple layers of age groups and users all open to talk about their experiences. Older skaters were now introducing their children to Southbank and the like. It was just the right time to make a film like this one really.
It’s amazing to see the way that the official voices of the Southbank Centre have fully embraced its life as a skateboard spot now, after so many decades of perceived animosity between the two groups.
Dennis Crompton in particular really seemed to love the fact that the space had been adopted and reinvigorated by skateboarding. He must’ve been an interesting person to speak to…
I think Dennis Crompton and Mike McCart both thought that skateboarding was a fad at first and that it would die off. I don’t think they realised the depth of the culture surrounding it, or that it was a lifestyle, and that once you became a skater, you are in for life. He had so many good stories. I have all the full interviews. I will be giving all of the complete interviews to LLSB and they will be archived. These may be released as podcasts in the future.
How did you go about accessing all the archive skate footage of SB?
Through having the table and the meet ups, the SB community started to grow and they started sharing memories and footage. The Facebook group was a great resource for finding old footage. Winstan and Henry both donated a lot of footage. Thanks so much.
There’s also a fair bit of your own skate footage in there too, right? What stuff did you film personally?
I shot the first LLSB event, when they first organised themselves and painted everything white. I followed Chewy around for a while and got some great footage. I had totally forgotten that I’d even shot this until it came to making this film. I also realised I had footage of Dylan Rieder from when he was there at the HUF demo. It felt really fitting that I used it for this. I also shot Urbside being built, so I used some of this footage too.
What’s your own history with Southbank itself? What’s your earliest memory of visiting SB?
My dad used to be a youth worker in Camden when I was growing up. He was part of the first team that organised Cantalowes skatepark. He used to take me to Cantalowes and Southbank when I was a kid.
I then went to university in London in the 90’s, I got a grant, bought a video camera and used to go down to the Southbank and film skateboarding instead of going to Uni. That camera was stolen from my flat and I ended up moving to Leeds after that.
Did you get a chance to skate it in its original state?
Yeah I skated the original lay out, (well not the original 70’s/80’s layout but the one before the hoardings went up), a lot. I filmed Carl Shipman frontside flipping the high bar, then I shot Neil Urwin switch frontside flipping the cut down bar. I also frontside 180 ollied a picnic table out of the little banks. I have spent a lot of time in the Undercroft going back a couple of decades.
Listening to Chris Allen talk about the Undercroft from the perspective of its function was fascinating, (as in the banks exist to provide access to the different levels incorporated into the original design). How did filming these interviews change your own perception of what Southbank is?
It was a dream come true really, the first day of interviews we went behind the wall and got to see all the old bits, it was amazing.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing again, I had so many good memories flood back. I was also sent all the original plans, I felt very honoured to be asked to do this, it also made so much sense as I had come around full circle from my days at Uni in the early 90’s.
It definitely seems as though the Undercroft space in particular was deliberately created to be ‘interesting’ in so far as its purpose was loosely defined but yet it was still made to look visual appealing, at least in a topographical sense as Chris Allen says. It’s tempting to see it as designed ‘for skateboarding before skateboarding’ to an extent isn’t it?
Definitely, at least looked at from today’s perspective and taking in mind Dennis and co’s belief in the importance of making space interesting.
The group of architects who comprised the Archigram group were very revolutionary and wanted to implement some very radical thinking into their designs.
I asked Dennis about some of this; hopefully I will be able to share the full interviews at some point.
How did you link up with Jim Slater, (one of the original London Skates Dominate AKA ‘LSD’ crew who are credited with discovering the Southbank)? Listening to him talk about the first time that skateboarders skated at SB was amazing – were there plenty of LSD tales that you heard from him that didn’t make it into the film?
Jim Slater was the first interview we shot and it really set the mood of the whole film. He was such a key figure and we owe a lot to him and his crew. It turns out he lives really close to where I live too.
He talked about lots of the nonsense they used to get up to back in the 70’s, way too much to make it into this piece. I plan to do some more filming with him this summer and I’d like to make a mini doc’ with him. I’d love to film some slalom too – I’ve built an RC Hovercraft to film this with.
The current R.a.D book project really feeds into this too, as so much iconic imagery related to the older incarnation of Southbank the spot are tied into TLB, Wig, Dobie, etc. I’m assuming Dan was more than happy to open up the R.a.D archives for this project right?
Whilst we were filming this, the R.a.D kickstarter was in full swing, I wanted them to reach their goal and I thought they were a key part of this story. Dan was really helpful and showed us so many good photos.
I’d love to sit down with him again and go though what he has. There’s just so much work involved involving in the archiving process, I don’t think people realise just how much stuff he’s working through on his own. Maybe we should plan a big scan weekend? Everyone could turn up with a scanner and scan away…
The idea of skateboarding being accepted as a true part of the heritage of the city really comes through in this film Dan – was that the intention, in terms of your story-telling aims? It’s definitely much more than just a celebration of skateboarding, right?
I think this is mainly due to the passing of time and the effect that has on people’s perceptions as regards the cultural depth and value of Southbank as a place. When you can look back over five decades of skate culture, you start to realise the importance of what has happened there.
As we went through the R.a.D archive we realised that certain photos that wouldn’t have been printed due to not being technically good enough at the time they were shot were now usable as they told a different story and were just as important as the ones that were printed. The fact that other sports that were initially perceived as fads have come and gone over the same time frame, whilst skateboarding has grown and evolved, so much really allows everyone to realise how important this story is.
Listening to people connected to the institution revel in the heritage aspect of SB’s status as an iconic skate spot is pretty bonkers really, particularly to skaters of our age…
I think that half of the space being closed off for so long has helped make this place even more mysterious. There is a whole generation who had no idea it used to be bigger. They only know Southbank as it is now so it must be even weirder and even more exciting to them.
We must speak up about this thing we have, it really does have the power to change the world
I think the response and the overwhelming support given to the idea of reclaiming the lost space has shown the institution the multiple layers of its users across all age groups, and it made them realise how skateboarding is directly connected to so much of the creative industries. Skateboarders found a way to tell non-skaters how much this thing that previously we’ve never had to explain to people, means to us. This is a good thing, we must speak up about this thing we have, it really does have the power to change the world.
It also seems as if skateboarding has reached a point now where it’s value to wider culture, and to non-skaters is undeniable – do you think that’s happened partly because of what LLSB has achieved, or maybe just as part of the process of skateboarding growing up from what was relatively a very ‘new phenomenon’ until recently?
I think its just time again. There are now multiple generations all skating together. There are now more female skaters than ever. Skateboarding has become a lot more inclusive. It’s a coming of age process that has really cemented skateboarding culture’s position into society in general I think and made it an impossible thing to ignore.
There genuinely doesn’t feel to be any animosity towards the skaters any more either. When the likes of Mike McCart talk about moving away from conflict towards embracing collaboration – it does sound as if they wholeheartedly mean it. Was that the impression you got?
Absolutely, that is definitely the impression I got from making this film.
I just think Mike McCart and all the people involved in Southbank the institution genuinely understand who we are now. I don’t think they realised that we all still skated and were all still regular users of the space. I think the threat of closure brought older skaters out of the woodwork again too, which in turn added even more weight to the arguments of LLSB.
The things that Paul Richards says about how the dust settling and everyone working together benefits every stakeholder with a connection to the Southbank Centre really rings true doesn’t it? Especially when you factor in the plans for the Education Centre to sit alongside what LLSB have achieved. Community really does seem to have won through here…
I just hope that skaters will be included in the programming of the youth centre, I would love to share story telling skills, and be involved in doing workshops about film making or zine making.
It’s interesting to hear Southbank staff talk about how the academic conceptualization of skateboarding and its relationship to SB really helped the institution understand what the aims of LLSB. Do you see that as part of skateboarding’s growing up process that we touched on earlier? In so far as if academia can see value in it, then it becomes more tangible to an institution like SB?
I think we have all grown up really; skaters have matured and the culture has matured with them. We are starting to care more about how we represent ourselves and how what we do can benefit others.
Skaters have matured and the culture has matured with them. We are starting to care more about how we represent ourselves and how what we do can benefit others
DIY spots are popping up all over the country and their value to the communities that they touch can be seen and appreciated by a wider audience than that purely inside skateboarding. As we’ve discussed already – it definitely is a part of skateboarding’s coming of age process I think.
Another thing that really stood out to me was the comment about the Southbank Centre putting ‘skating in the sports box, rather than the culture box’ – in a lot of ways that seems to be the major shift here really. And potentially, the main lesson that other projects like LLSB can share in, would you agree?
That’s one of the main things that struck me too. I believe that switch in attitude was triggered by the sheer force of so many different generations and groups of skaters coming forwards to stand up for skateboarding and to explain how multifarious its culture is. Institutionally, this process allowed the Southbank Centre to comprehend how multi-layered skateboarding is and how connected we are to the arts. I think they just believed it was a fad and that you gave up when you grew up previously.
The way it’s put together really reflects what Paul Richards says about the multitude of voices all coming together. Did that idea inform the editing process?
I wanted to show all the different age groups that are still active users. I used loads of different cameras to help show this. I wasn’t bothered by resolution. Editing-wise it was crucial to incorporate as many different voices into the film as possible to reflect the situation as it is.
How long have you been working on this and what were some of the hardest aspects of making the film?
I started shooting last June and I finished it at Christmas. Internal politics were a bit of a problem at times but I tried to not get involved.
How was it received at the premiere?
It was amazing, a lot of old heads turned up, it was great to see everyone. From the reaction in the cinema it seemed to have been very well received.
You’re a filmmaker by trade these days, right? What other stuff have you been working on recently?
I have been working very closely with Huck Magazine recently. Also have a few things planned with Blast Skates. I’m planning another documentary piece at the moment. I’m always involved in something or other.
Let’s end on an obvious one – if I were to ask you what the most memorable thing ever done on a skateboard at Southbank was – what would you say and why?
Carl Shipman frontside flip over the bar after the Plan B premiere. I will never forget that day. When the new space opens, I want Carl to come down and do it again.
Interview by Ben Powell