Interview: Panik ATG from StrictlyLondonBound
In this interview, Panik, of the London based crew ATG outlines some graffiti philosophy and gives some insight into the London graffiti scene. I was particularly interested in hearing about Panik’s arrest in New York and how different the police were here, as opposed to the U.K. You can check out Panik’s interview below, or check out 12ozProphet’s previous coverage here.
What was your earliest memory of graffiti growing up..who were the names you saw around your area?
My first memories of graffiti were looking at pieces at the old Camden pitch aged 9 while playing for Castlehaven football club, but I forgot about graffiti after that I think. I took notice of it a few years later when I started secondary school. The school and the whole of Tufnell park was pretty covered in it at that time (late 90’s). The fist names I noticed were ‘Hack’ which was what Louis Slippas from Task Force wrote when he was a youngster.Das,Rose and RK crew were up and about the area. Sub,Chop,Figs,Bosh were the local Dubstars. I saw everywhere along with people like Dune,Spanc,Coe,Akt…Vamp,Acne when skating south bank. There were so many people doing it back then. Nothing was getting buffed really at that time so there was loads of names to get lost in. Was a good time to be a kid getting into graffiti I think.
How did ATG come about?
ATG came out of a scene in North-West London at the turn of the Millenium which was basically based around buying, selling,consuming drugs and spoiling girls house partys…general, wholesome kiddy stuff. Everyone who was knocking about then know’s what i’m talking about. There was just loads of heads at that time from different schools that they didnt attend all connecting,and joining up the dots. I guess it was like the birth of our generation of excessive Northsiders. There was a house in Belsize Park where a boy called Paul straffdean lived with his parents. He turned his bedroom into an open drug market and you would never know who u would bump into there. His parents hated it but seemed completely helpless as of what to do with their Crazy son. A few years later he developed Schizophrenia, got sectioned and the rest is history. Hang tight Paul!….Anyway this was when ATG came up. I guess we were getting restless with just hanging around smoking weed and thought why dont we paint graffiti and smoke weed at the same time. From the get-go we were looking to get really busy, there was a vibe in the air that we were about to make something happen.
We fully believed our own hype!…”yeah ATG init bruv…yeah were sick! Antagonizers! Trust me were gonna smash it!” Hahaha good times.
Do you think it’s important to have a tight crew with all people knowing each other and being down from day?
I think a tight crew is essential. I’m sure looser crews can also work in ways but in my opinion your crew needs to be your family who have your back through everything. That was our whole approach. We could’ve tried to get down with some existing crews and ride off their fame but it seemed like a much better idea to start our own thing and create our own fame. For a long time it was basically impossible to get in ATG. You just couldn’t get in full stop. Sorry shop closed.
You have painted some of London’s best rooftop spots…you must of seen some sights up high? Have you ever caught a couple at it? or been involved in any chases as it can’t be easy getting down when you are that high up!
Lots of mad, sketchy stuff happens painting roofs..definitely seen people fucking, had knives waved at me, fallen off drainpipes, Police surrounding buildings, helicopters all of that is kind of standard if you’re always out bombing in London though….funny one was when I was painting a roof in Old street in 03. Half way through a lady came out of a door on the roof and was like “excuse me what are u doing?”…I replied “uuuuhhh painting on your roof?” she said “well could you stop please?”…I replied “well the thing is it was really hard climbing up here and i’m just about to finish so you might aswell let me finish otherwise it’s just gonna be a big silver blob”…She was like “Absolutely not! get down now or i’ll call the police” I told her I wasnt looking forward to climbing down and she said “well come through my house then and out the front door”…I took up her offer and was swiftly lead through her house and ejected out on to the street, back to square one. I climbed up the next week and outlined it.
You boys were involved in one of the biggest crew battles against GSD…do you think you stood firm and gave as good as you got?
Hahaha…..that shit was just entertainment. To be honest I feel like they let themselves down with all of that. Before that beef they kind of played in their own league…but when they decided to have a frustrated jab at us they kind of demoted themselves by revealing all of their pent up hater shit. Plus they got loads of their shit dogged as well, it was an all round pointless excercise but we obviously weren’t gonna back down from something they started…The thing is people can hate but at the end of the day we are one of the most London rooted crews out there, we were all born and raised in the middle of the city, so naturally we know everyone and are used to seeing spots come and go cos we live amongst everything. You cant drive up to the city from the sticks and expect to damage our name…all those hard hours of dogging they put in did nothing to slow us down. All it did is create hype for us and re-affirm the fact that were not going anywhere. Generally i don’t like to get into graffiti politics about whats real/whats not and all that shit. My approach to graffiti is either go out and do it and get on with things or just don’t talk about it. I mean if you are 16 years old, obsessed with graff and that’s all you can talk about then fair enough, each to their own. On the other hand though if you are a grown man and all you do is obsess over graff to the point where you try and turn yourself into the graffiti police who’s here to tell everyone whats ‘real’…spending your time slagging off other writers and constantly trying to exert your ‘purist graffiti ethics’ then you are the graffiti equivalent of Hitler and you need to do one basically. Graffiti is a very fun past time don’t get me wrong but it means different things to different people and it’s been around forever. If you cant understand that then you’re not a very open minded individual. I’m not saying go and find yourself in India but just remember there is way more to life than the politics involving the microcosm of graffiti. I have no problem with people trying to beef us cos’ every time they’re getting their knickers in a twist about us, we are more than likely hanging out with beautiful girls and doing something much funner than they are so it becomes really easy to put things into perspective. The writers who go on about “artfag this” and “artfag that” all day and try and constantly preach about whats real, always think that what they are saying is of extreme importance, and in their over-inflated ego’s think they are some kind of graffiti saviour but really they are coming across proper petty and like they take themselves too seriously. They often think they are some kind of graffiti supermen with powers that these soft artfags cant comprehend but it is all such dumb petty buisness. I mean i bombed hard for years there’s no saying i didn’t and i reckon i could give any so called ‘real hardcore bomber’ a run for their money if i wanted to switch it on, but also i like to paint a canvas, sure i love getting the brushes out and painting a pretty picture and i will happily put that shit up in a gallery and then stand in front of it drinking fucking cocktails cos’ thats what i want to do….being real to yourself is the only thing you need to worry about. If you’re someone who wants to paint a little stencil of a ladybird on the wall and then try and sell that ladybird on a canvas then be my fucking guest!.. I don’t hate you. Why would i bother trying to tell ladybird man he’s not real? Isn’t that the biggest waste of time ever? It’s like screaming at a Bruno Mars fan about how shit his music is…makes no sense at all just go home and listen to something good and be secure in the knowledge that you are maybe more clued up. See my point? Besides if you’re a safe lady bird stencilling guy then whatever, we can be friends as long as you don’t tell me how much of a badman you are for doing that ladybird…same ways i dont want to hear how bad you think you are cos you’ve gone all city with throwup’s or paint bare trains cos’ it’s all just stuff. No style or approach to graffiti will ever determine someones manhood because personality runs deeper than what or how you paint on a wall. My point is fuck all the hype! Real will always know real. Just do graffiti…..hopefully loads of it, but dont go getting all bloody emotional about it. Never that. You’ll be dead soon anyway so go and have sex or read a book I don’t know do something just definitely don’t cry and moan over graffiti politics that’s all lame.
What do you think of the London scene in the last few years? …..Who do you rate out there, style or bombing wise?
The London scene over the last few years has been up and down. Because of the constant buffing and heavy sentences London never really stays bombed anymore, people pop up do their thing, make an impact and then fade out as a result of buffing or police. Even though the scene was more alive in the first half of the last decade there have been some really solid writers emerge since then. I always rate the people that never completely go away cos’ they are the ones that maintain the scene’s identity and are the backbone, keeping things alive….People like DDS, TPG, NEAS, VAMP, NEKA and TOX. The writers who i feel have mad an impact in recent years are 10 FOOT, CUT, SAVE, MONKEY + PEG BC, ARXS and TYPE. Also people like GROSE, TEMP 32, ZERX, TEKO and ADD definitely helped to keep things bombed. I still think there is room for a new crew to come through and switch things up properly though. It would be very entertaining to watch the city get fully taken apart in style by some new heads and i think it would get a lot of people out of retirement.
You have painted abroad alot…how does that fair with painting on home soil? Any good tales?
London will always be the most important place to me in all senses as it holds a thousand stories in my mind but these days i much prefer painting abroad. Standing on rooftops in London is where i am at home and where i am reminded of the whole feeling that used to drive me but really I would much prefer to paint an old barn in the middle of a far away forest with no-one around cos’ it would be a completely new location, different atmosphere and unique photo. I always need to feel like i’m moving forward with things so in that sense painting roofs and tracks in London doesn’t really excite me as much anymore.
I heard through the grapevine that you had a bit of agro in NY…what happened?
Yeah unfortunately i’ve had trouble in NYC a couple of times. The first time it made a good story but the second time it was like what the fuck am I doing back here? I won’t bore you with the arrest details cos’ at the end of the day it’s not that interesting….getting nicked is when you flop so I don’t want to get stuck into my flop stories really. It seems to be quite easy to get gripped in NYC and when you do they don’t fuck around at all.
When you get caught bombing there dont be suprised if you get slapped up and left in a filthy cell with 20 other off key heads for days on end with nothing but a toilet in one corner and a phone in the other. They will offer you some food once every 10 hours which consists off some stale bread with a blob of ‘peanut butter’ in the middle which are made by inmates up at Rykers Island and you will also get a carton of long life milk. Basically inedible stuff. The first time i got gripped out there I honestly wanted to hug a met officer when I got home. People go on like the police are cunts here but really and truly they all treat you with a basic level of respect, compared to the states anyway. As soon as you have broken the law out there you are nothing to them and you are completely under their control until they decide what to do with you. If you ask them when you will see a judge they will probably tell you to shut the fuck up. The last time I got in trouble out their the vandal squad came and dragged me out of my cell to interrogate me which was an eye opener. They both basically looked like graffiti writers, they were rocking air max, had loads of tattoo’s and backwards caps. They told me not to bullshit with them cos’ there is nothing about ‘bombing’ that they don’t understand.
They assured me that they ‘know the game inside and out’…..quite different to dealing with pc plod over here. Aside from the whole longness of the situation it was also quite an insight into how the system works out there. Both times I was one of the very few white guys in the cells, everyone else was either black and Latino and most of them talk about constantly being harassed or setup by the police. You are quickly reminded that America has a fucked up, unforgiving system rooted in racial prejudice. I’m definitely not looking to do anymore field research into that side of the country though.
Any last words, shouts or advise to all the young cats coming through in the scene.
My advice to younger’s coming into this game is don’t be afraid to express yourself through graffiti however you like. There are no rules. Be clever, don’t keep anything to do with your tag in your house and likewise don’t email or txt anything to do with graffiti or your tag either. Try and switch things up a bit, don’t just copy exactly whats in front of you and stay open to new things within grafitti. Graffiti is a journey that can take you in many directions, it can make you and break you. I would say even when you are in the thick of it you should always try and surround yourself with positive people doing other things. All graffiti writers ‘retire’ from doing it with mad amounts of stories and experiences that have changed them forever, that is part of graffiti if you are heavily involved in it. Always try and make sure you end up in a good position in life though.
It is possible you will know someone who dies doing it and is more than likely you will know lots of people who go to prison for it but always stay focused on the positive side of graff as well. If you neglect the creative and sociable aspect of graffiti then you can end up pretty down and out after the party dies down. You want to be the guy that’s left the party at 5am to go home and have sex with a beautiful girl not the last one up at mid-day gurning his stupid face off, trying to tell a stranger why his mum and auntie don’t talk anymore. Embrace the positives and the whole world is there for the taking. Dwell in the negatives and you will end up in a negative place, although of course it is not always that straight forward. Graffiti can teach you valuable skills for life in ways you may not see at first but it is all about keeping your head above water to realise these things. It has connected me to people all over the world, taught me skills and given me a career in art but most importantly showed me that I am in control of my own destiny and that if I really want something I can make it happen. Going from an unknown toy to having fame is a great lesson in controlling your own future. You’ll hear a lot of talk about what is real and what is not but the only thing that will ever be real is being real to yourself. Following ‘graffiti rules’ is ironic and makes no sense cos’ graffiti is about breaking the rules and expressing yourself so always keep that in mind
Panik ATG – 2012
Photos: Pure Evil Gallery, delete08, mr. eightyse7en and Mikeion