Interview by Ben Powell / Swift Blazer backside flips for his brother Richard Swift’s lens
Skateboarding’s enthusiastic adoption of Instagram as its primary mode of Social media output has created various new avenues for creative celebration of our culture. Prime amongst those is the space offered to the skate geeks who are driven by an urge to preserve the fleeting past for the edification of those who grew up skating in the media-rich context of today.
For those people who take it upon themselves to archive pages from long dead magazines, or to breathe new life into otherwise forgotten and obscure VHS gems – Instagram is like a gift from heaven. From humble beginnings, these hobbyist archivists and remixers now play a vital role in perpetuating and disseminating skateboard history in a media landscape where the once central role of the officially sanctioned curator of culture no longer exists.
The names of accounts such as koolmoeleo, scienceversuslife, manolostapes and memoryscreen rightly carry as much weight as the titles of magazines for huge proportions of the skate populace. This is no bad thing; it’s merely the evolution of the eagerness of true skate devotees to share their obsessions and collections with a wider audience. Where once this happened thanks to VHS dubs of full-price skate videos physically distributed in the real world, it now takes place in bedrooms across the globe and is shared instantaneously, in perfect quality, via a Smartphone app. Isn’t technology magical?
Anyhow, with an eye on the above, we spoke to one of the UK’s most prolific Instagram archivists and remixers who most of you will have encountered on your phone screen, whether you know it or not.
Matt Swift AKA @swift_blazer has been pumping out Insta remixes of classic skate footage since 2015. Despite being a normal, unassuming skateboarder from the north of England with no connection whatsoever to the ‘skate industry’, his output is regularly shared by everyone from Transworld to Vague. With the prospect of yet more time spent cloistered indoors thanks to winter and that pesky pandemic that doesn’t know when to fuck off, we thought it timely to find out about what drives one of the people who creates a fair chunk of the content that we all enjoy on a daily basis. He even offered to do us an exclusive Slam team remix to sit alongside this interview. What a champ!
Can you give us a little background first please Matt – where are you from and what era did you begin skating?
I’m from a small village called Beighton; about 20 minutes drive from Sheffield city centre. I started skating around the end of 1999 when I got my first Christmas complete. It was the classic Hudson board from All Sports, which I’m sure, will be familiar to many other people my age. Just a generally terrible skateboard in every respect; complete with plastic wheels that didn’t roll.
Growing up near Sheffield presumably means that you’ve seen a fair bit of skate history go down first hand, right? Historically US tours have always stopped there and the city has always had a huge presence in UK skate media because of the scene there and people like Mark Baines and Neil Chester. Can you think of any particularly memorable moments that you’ve witnessed first hand growing up there?
The first demo I ever went to was Blueprint’s Belong Tour at Devonshire Green skatepark in Sheffield around 2001. I remember being blown away seeing skaters like Nick Jensen, Danny Brady and Tuukka who were all around the same age as me and absolutely killing it.
I was also at the Blueprint demo at Devonshire Green about a year later where Ben Grove backside flipped off the top step from his Sidewalk In Motion part. I got BGPs on that one. I’m standing with my friends on the grass under the trees. I was so stoked to see that clip when I bought the video. Things like that really mean a lot to you as a kid and still do as far as I’m concerned – being present at a piece of skateboard history and there being evidence of it is great.
Have you ever had a job or any involvement in the skateboard industry?
No I’ve never had a job in the industry. I always wanted to work at Sumo skate store when they were open though.
All the archiving and remixing you do is purely from a fan of skating’s point of view then? There’s no incentive for you to do this stuff other than the enjoyment of doing it?
Yes it’s just for the enjoyment of doing it. I love starting the process of making a new edit, finding certain clips I’ve had in mind to use, seeing footage that I haven’t seen before, working out which song would fit best and finding raw footage that will fit well with the other clips. The process is its own reward.
Have you dabbled with filming or skate photography yourself, or have you always just been a fan of skate media?
My brother Richard and I would get inspired watching skate videos and film each other using a shitty camera that my brother got for Christmas. Our go-to spots to skate were our old primary school and Crystal Peaks (the local shopping centre). There was a good double set there that popped up in a lot of skate videos at the time.
We also used to rent out a small warehouse in Aston for a couple of years with a few friends. I think there was footage of it in an issue of UKVM with Ben Grove skating it and a photo of Cates on a death tour in Document. We had quite a lot of footage skating there but I lost it all when my computer crashed.
Dan Cates suspended on coping in Aston. Photo: Sam Ashley
When did you start your @swift_blazer account? I tried scrolling backwards but there’s so much on there that it felt like I’d never get to the beginning…
I started the account in 2015 as a personal thing with not much intention beyond that. After a few months of following accounts like @koolmoeleo and @scienceversuslife I was inspired to start posting photos from magazines in my collection.
When I first started doing it I would take a picture of the photo from a magazine using my phone. I had no idea what I was doing really, such a basic approach when I look back.
I remember posting a photo of Vaughan Baker at St Paul’s and Martin from Slugger commented something along the lines of “You should get a scanner mate”. Fair point. Around the same time I found my old scanner and realised how much better it looked to see the photos in decent quality. I guess that would be when I started approaching the idea of using Instagram as an archiving platform a bit more seriously.
You started off prior to there being a video upload option, right? I’m sure I remember you @crelinsworld, @scienceversuslife and @yug4924 being some of the earliest people posting archive UK skate photos on Insta – am I right?
I think the 15-second video option was already there when I first started using Insta but yeah, the people you’ve mentioned were the first accounts I remember specifically posting archive UK photos. I’m a huge fan of @scienceversuslife – he always posts the best content.
Did you have an idea of what you wanted to post in the early days from an archiving perspective? Or did you just start out doing it for fun?
In the early days I would just grab a random pile of magazines and flip through and find a few photos to post without much forethought. Now when I post a photo from an old Sidewalk for example I will use the hashtag #sidewalk123 to archive photos from that issue for reference and so other people can find it later. I try to consciously create a footprint for what I’m posting now so that it doesn’t just get lost amongst the flood of stuff posted to Instagram.
I try to consciously create a footprint for what I’m posting now so that it doesn’t just get lost amongst the flood of stuff posted to Instagram
I also started a tribute account to Aesthetics Skateboards in December 2016. I was posting a lot of old Aesthetics adverts on my other account and eventually decided that I should just start a separate account for that content. I saw scienceversuslife was doing something similar with a Menace tribute page so as usual I followed his lead. That account is still active for other Aesthetics fans – you can see it at @aestheticsskate. When I first started that one I had old team riders like Rob Welsh, Joey Pepper and Clyde Singleton commenting that they were stoked on the account. That kind of thing is reward enough for a skate geek like me.
Matt hippy jumping high street furniture in the Lost & Found Era. Photo: Richard Swift
What was the very first thing you posted on your main account?
The first skate photo I posted was a photo of Brad Staba switch flipping a 4 block from a Royal trucks advert but the caption of the photo said ‘Mikey Taylor Frontside Nosegrind’ (laughing). As I said already, I wasn’t exactly professional about it in the beginning.
What was the first post that got an amount of likes or views where you were stoked and felt as though it might become something you did regularly?
I think it was some of Sammy Baptista’s part from Shorty’s ‘Guilty’. I remember being so stoked that 312 people liked it at the time (laughing). That probably seems stupid looked at from today’s perspective where skating on Instagram is massive but back then I was just some random guy posting videos that I liked and weren’t really accessible anywhere else. I was really hyped on that.
What about the first video you posted? Back in the 15 second only era…
I only really posted a couple of videos during the 15-second era: one was a line of JB Gillet from his Lordz part and the other was a Scott Palmer line from Lost & Found. I had a shitty windows phone at the time that would take ages to upload a video. I made sure to get a better phone when Instagram updated the video length to 1-minute.
Which Insta feeds got you hyped on the whole thing in the beginning and what was it about them that you liked?
I really like what @deadhippie does with the Skate Nerd Star Map posts. Seeing a photo or footage of a spot that I only saw in videos/magazines and what it looks like now is really interesting. I’m always intrigued to see if the spots are still skateable or have been demolished or skate stopped.
He doesn’t really post much anymore but @the_skatenerd would post clips of skaters who have done the same trick at the same spot in videos and would ask who did it best. He was doing that really early on in the evolution of Instagram as a tool for skate media – I always enjoyed that approach.
At what point did you start to make your own content out of archive video and was that a conscious decision to try and develop what you did with your account?
I was watching a lot of Drake Jones footage and saw that he had a few clips skating at Embarcadero. That, along with seeing the amazing remix edits that @manolostapes and @memoryscreen had done, inspired me to do it myself and make a 1-minute edit of Drake at EMB to a Wu Tang song. I was stoked to see that Drake Jones liked it and messaged me saying he appreciated that I’d made the edit. That was the first remix I ever made and the feedback made me want to make more of them.
I was stoked to see that Drake Jones liked it and messaged me saying he appreciated that I’d made the edit. That was the first remix I ever made and the feedback made me want to make more of them
Your remixes include plenty of obscure footage so I’m assuming you’re somebody who obsessively bought skate media of all kinds as a younger kid – is that right?
(Laughing), yeah I always spent every bit of cash I had on skate videos. The first videos I had were given to me by a friend of my brother: Element Third Eye View and Toy Machine Jump off a Building. The first UK video I bought was Heroin Skateboards second video Everything’s Going to be Alright for a fiver from The House Skatepark. I was stoked to see Arthur Tubb’s part with some footage filmed in Sheffield and hearing Tom Waits for the first time in Fos’ part.
What would you say the peak year (pre everything-for-free on the Internet) for skate media was? Why that year?
I would say 2003 because there were so many good UK magazines and videos as well as everything from the US. Landscape’s Portraits and Sidewalk In Motion for me at that point were two of my favourite UK videos and they both had amazing skating and soundtracks.
You’re obviously somebody who pays extremely close attention to skate media so can you give us a few of your favourite skate videos and give us reasons why please?
Third Eye View and Jump off a Building because they were the first videos I watched Tim O’Connor’s part is so good with the mini ramp footage and the song they used. Yeah Right is another favourite. Such an incredible video for the time when most skate videos were 20-30 minutes long -to see an hour of amazing skating and skits was so sick.
Do you have a massive VHS/DVD collection to rip all your stuff from? Or do you use YouTube?
When I first started posting videos on Instagram I was using YouTube to find the best quality clips to post. I finally got some software to rip DVDs from my own collection and also videos that I find on the Slap Pals forum.
Are there any particular influences on your remixing style? It’s pretty much something almost designed for the Insta format isn’t it?
Manolo is the OG and Memoryscreen as well, they are probably the two biggest influences I’ve had on making the edits.
How many remixes have you done since the Drake Jones one?
I’ve lost count of how many I’ve done since then but at a rough guess including full edits and ones that are 1 minute or less I would say more than a hundred. You can see them all on my YouTube channel if you’re interested.
Which ones have the most views (on Insta or YouTube) and why do you think that is?
The Lucas Puig 20 year edit I released on my YouTube channel a couple of months ago is the most viewed edit that I’ve released, I think that was because skate mags like Vague, Free, Grey, Transworld and a few others shared it on their websites/blogs. That obviously helped to get it more views and it’s Lucas Puig so every bit of footage he puts out is amazing.
Your account has grown exponentially over the last few years on account of you pumping out so much sick stuff regularly. How do you find time to do this?
Thank you. Well, I’m currently not working so I have a lot of free time to make the edits and skate.
I see all kinds of people reposting your remixes these days – can you give us a few highlights in terms of people who you’ve remixed who’ve then gone on to be stoked and repost them?
A few that I can think of are Drake Jones, Sammy Baptista, The Nine Club, Mark Appleyard, Neen Williams and most recently, Chocolate Skateboards reposted an edit I did of Chris Roberts at the courthouse.
Have you ended up in DM conversations with any of your childhood favourites as a result of this?
Donny Barley is one that I can think of; he’s the nicest dude. Whenever I post footage of him on my Insta story he always asks if I’m good, if I’ve been skating and just generally being really friendly.
I had been posting a few clips and photos of Anthony Mosley and he commented that he was stoked that I kept finding old footage of him. He sent me a DM a few days later asking me to run his account for a few months and post as much of his old clips and photos. He sent me a couple boards for doing it and then a few months later he deleted all his posts, (laughing).
One of the downsides of Instagram is that the constant ripping/reposting often neglects to acknowledge the people who actually went out and filmed – you’re pretty militant about that aspect I notice – always keen to give credit where it’s due. Is that something in your head when you’re doing this?
I always try to give credit if I know who the filmer is and if I’m unsure I know people like Kirk Dianda from 411/On Video will let me know.
What’s your process for putting together a remix video?
I usually re-watch parts of the skater I’ve chosen to do the edit of and pick out certain footage to use. I try to use a varied mix of footage from their parts.
Do you have a bank of skate sounds on file?
I’ve got a folder on my computer with all the raw footage that I’ve found so I can refer to skate sounds at a certain spot to line up with the footage. It can be annoying sometimes when you think everything is lined up perfect and you play it back and it doesn’t sound right with the footage. That’s the point where you really need to be a committed nerd to keep going.
There’s a lot of talk about how the Internet and Instagram in particular has removed the cultural value of skate video footage but accounts like yours kind of prove the opposite I think. What’s your own perspective on the current situation as regards skate media more generally?
It is different to the era I grew up in for sure. Back then you would see a photo in a magazine and then have to wait 6 months to a year to see the footage. These days, photos and videos get released a lot quicker because everyone is connected and there’s less incentive to sit on clips. I don’t really look at it as being a good or a bad thing – it just is. 2020 is hugely different from 2010 in terms of skate media and in another decade it will probably be massively different from how things are now. One good thing about what Instagram lets you do is that you can remind people of older and more obscure videos and they can then go and rediscover them. Overall, I don’t really see many downsides to it.
One good thing about what Instagram lets you do is that you can remind people of older and more obscure videos and they can then go and rediscover them
If you had to explain to someone outside of skateboarding why you spend your free time doing this stuff – what reasons would you give?
I just like to do it for my own enjoyment; it’s an excuse to re-watch old videos or read magazines that I haven’t seen for a few years. That’s my main motivation if I’m honest. Also doing this has inspired me to use eBay to search out videos and magazines that I haven’t got or seen before. It’s all part of the collector mentality.
You’re a devotee of UK skate video history and a lot of your videos focus on reminding people about how talented certain skaters are/were who might not to be super well known outside a particular generation (the recent Matt ‘Stalker’ Keal video being a prime example). Do you see what you do as kind of fulfilling this archivist function?
Yes, I try to post as much footage of UK skaters as I can so that the younger generation and skaters from Europe, US etc get to see what was going on in the pre-Internet era. So much amazing content came out of the UK that hasn’t ever been accessible to a wider global audience. I like to think that in my own little way I’m giving people who are interested a chance to see some of it.
So much amazing content came out of the UK that hasn’t ever been accessible to a wider global audience. I like to think that in my own little way I’m giving people who are interested a chance to see some of it
Remixes allow a curated insight into skate video history for younger people who weren’t around during the VHS/DVD era and probably don’t have access to the information to find the more obscure releases. Do you approach your remixes with that in mind?
Absolutely, I always like to add some of the classic footage a certain skater is known for into the edits I’m making. Say for instance Koston’s noseblunt at Hubba Hideout but then I like to mix that stuff up by also adding footage from his 101 days that some younger people might not have seen.
So much pre-Internet skate video history is so patchily available on the web so that if you weren’t skating at the time, you’d have a hard time working out which defunct companies certain pros had ridden for in the past. I try to fill in the gaps where I can.
Can you give us your top 10 skate videos that everybody should be aware of and a brief explanation as to why you’ve picked each one?
My top 5 favourite UK skate videos are:
Blueprint – Lost & Found – to me it is the best UK video ever made. At the time it was released to me it was on the same level as Girl’s Yeah Right.
Landscape – Portraits – even though it was only 20-25 minutes long, it had everything you wanted in a video; amazing skating and soundtrack with Chris Massey’s brilliant filming.
Sidewalk – In Motion – it has a good mix of a lot of UK skaters and a few international skaters. That was also the first full part I had seen of Ben Grove. Seeing him skating in Sheffield and the photos he was getting in Sidewalk and Document at that point, I knew he would have an amazing part. I didn’t expect the ollie over the rail into the bank for his last trick though, that blew my mind then and still does now.
Sumo – Through the eyes of Ruby – probably the first proper Sheffield scene video by Neil Chester with parts from Joel Curtis, Mark Baines, Louis Slater, Scott Palmer and various others. I like to re-watch it now to see how the city of Sheffield has changed over the years and how many original spots like the Crucible and City Hall are either gone or totally different.
Heroin Skateboards – Everything’s Going to be Alright – this was the first UK video I watched and will always be a favourite. This video had a good mix of skating and music. [Chris] Pulman skating to The Stooges, Fos skating to Tom Waits – what more could you ask for?
My top 5 favourite international videos are:
Girl – Yeah Right – amazing video that everyone should watch if you haven’t seen it. So many good sections: Keenan [Milton] tribute; P-Rods part; the Owen Wilson skit; Mike Carroll and Gino [Iannucci]’s part. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Koston’s last trick.
Word Industries – 20 Shot Sequence – I like watching the Blind section with Ronnie Creager switch hard flipping a double set in the rain plus Keenan [Milton] and Lavar McBride’s parts.
Cliché – Bon Appetit – JJ Rousseau and Jan Kliewer’s shared part is so good skating to a Nina Simone song. The Cale Nuske part and Lucas Puig’s first full part – this is still a totally amazing watch 16 years later.
Baker Skateboards Baker 3 – Antwuan Dixon’s part is in the top 5 all-time favourite video parts for me. He makes everything look effortless and the nollie heel at Carlsbad is so sick still. A great video.
éS – Menikmati – Another video I remember buying from Sumo that I had on repeat for months, every part is so good. This established Fred ‘French Fred’ Mortagne as one of the most exciting filmers/editors in the game too.
Honourable mentions too: The DC video, Photosynthesis, Habitat Mosaic, Waiting for the World, Static 2 and Modus Operandi.
Do people outside of your friendship circle know that you’re @swift_blazer? Have you ever had that weird ‘no way, you’re such and such off Instagram’ experience?
(Laughing), yes I have. I was at the House skatepark a couple of years ago and someone had heard from somewhere that I was ‘swift_blazer’. He came up to me and said he was stoked on my account and the clips I post from the 2000’s because that was when he first started skating. That was an odd experience but nice to get real life feedback for once.
Anything else that you’d like to say?
I just want to say thank you to Vague Skate Mag for sharing edits I’ve made on their website, Slugger Skate Store and The House Skatepark. Thanks again mate for doing the interview.
We thought it apt to end the interview with the @swift_blazer‘s amazing tribute to Keith Hufnagel which is the best 11 minutes of screen time you will spend today remembering an epic human. Many thanks to Matt for spending time on this interview for us, making us a Slam remix and preserving and refreshing the culture and our history on a regular basis.