Ⓒopy me, Ⓒopy you, roger...
Interview by Marok
pics by Ben Colen, Lukas Gansterer & Alex Olson
Skate culture is being sucked up more and more by the world of fashion - everybody wants that scent of youth and counterculture - one man that transcends the boundaries between both worlds might be Alex Olson, pro skater and star of Supreme’s “Cherry” video, label owner of Bianca Chandôn and Call Me 917.
After reaching almost legendary status like his father Steve Olson, Alex is taking things further by building his world at his own pace. We had the chance to talk to the handsome devil himself, after almost 10 years (Lodown #54 was his debut, what a funny coincidence) on the occasion of the Copenhagen Open, an international skateboarding series that travels to different cities - this time in Berlin…
Hi Alex you're here for CPH, right?
I heard your father Steve Olsen lives in Berlin now?
No, that's a rumour - that's what someone told you? My dad lives in Berlin? That’s a good rumour… keep it going… no, he doesn’t. He lives in LA, he'd been living in Paris for the last few months.
You live in New York now. What was the transition like to move there?
Seamless. It was fine, I mean I’ve been going there since I was a kid so... it wasn't really that big of an issue. I’ve always wanted to move out there but various things stopped me, girlfriends or skateboard sponsors that thought it wasn't good to be out there.
You’re a real California native aren't you?
Yeah. Santa Monica born and raised.
I guess you were heavily influenced by your own dad and family, when it comes to skateboard culture?
Yeah, obviously a lot from him, but also a lot by just growing up in Southern California... seeing skateboard videos of the piss drunks and all that haha. Being around, seeing Mike Carroll and the Girl guys skating that courthouse influenced me a lot.
Sometimes kids tend to do the opposite of what their parents do… was there ever a counterstrike?
Right... but there wasn't, because it was so different back in the 80s when he did it to when I did it.
You were really part of that L.A. scene, skating for Girl as well…
It wasn't like that just happened it was more like step by step… I got flowed by Black Label and Toy Machine then Alien Workshop and then I finally got on Girl. I was trying to get on all of these other companies but I just wasn’t good enough.
Good enough for Girl though and how did you get started into this fashion circuit?
Through my dad and just going out to New York all the time and being around it. New York is like any other real small or big city where everyone knows everyone, I was into it and wanted to do it. I liked photography and also fashion photography and I was really inspired by that and wanted to shoot stuff like that.
Was that the inspiration for your label ”Bianca Chandon"?
It really was Bianca Jagger, Mick’s wife in the 70s and I think at the time I was like "I wanna make it a women's name", something that wasn't like an object, so that was how that kinda came about. Chandon is my middle name and so I just put it there because we couldn't get the rights to be just Bianca - and it sounds like a designer brand - it kinda organically grew that way.
It became a big hit here in Berlin too, all the it-girls are wearing that stuff. You’re obviously attracted to that era, the 70s.
I was attracted to the 80s as well when I was really young but I think for music and everything it was kinda like the last era of musicianship where the common audience was introduced to real music artists, before it became this big made-up, capitalistic pop selling machine.
In the beginning pop was also very innovative…
I mean, I would say the Beatles were pop… at some point, but the 70s just felt like people were that much more expressive and open-minded. You have Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock and Weather Report and all those guys. You have Black Sabbath coming out and Germany had Krautrock coming out, Kraftwerk or Can. Can might be a little more late 60s… but I feel like people were experimenting a lot more with their music… maybe because new instruments had kind of come into the mix, the synthesizers and stuff - so you had so many different things coming out at that time. I think that was really an interesting time creatively and you also had LSD and drugs that people were experimenting with… Funkadelic made their whole first album on acid in one day.
Now we have meth and purple drank.
Exactly, but really... collectively the whole thing was a creative shift. I just feel like there were a lot of pivotal moments within that decade - fashion was really interesting as well. It became this big thing, it became what it is now. St. Laurent was a big deal and so was Roy Halston the American designer, there were just all those big moments. I’m sure in the 80s and the 90s they had those big moments too but I feel like the 70s was the setting of what we are in now.
And, now you’re doing musical edits to embrace that feeling?
When I started Bianca I was always into djing. I’ve had turntables since I was 14, but didn’t know how to use them - I still don’t, haha. But it was Eric Duncan, who triggered me when I moved to New York, I would hang out with him and I said "teach me how to edit" and he’d be like "no" or "whatever”. I was just a little kid pulling on his shirt "please, please, please!” and then finally one day he said ”just come over" and he showed me how to do it. Then I made some edits and he was always like "no”, “no”, "no”, "no”, and after a while I started getting better and developed a kind of understanding. Don’t edit just to make an edit! - even though I still do that sometimes.
I made an edit and sent it to my friend Paul Takahashi and shrugged it off straight away and then we were out playing one night and he played it and I was like “I thought you didn’t like this?!” he said ”What? You made this? Nah, you can't make this!” and so I stopped sending him stuff because I thought, ok, these guys are just too heady.
Well obviously, I mean it’s your friends you’re like “Here check this out I made this - let me know - good or bad?” and they're just always like “bad”, “bad”, “bad”, and then they play it out in the club…
Eric hooked you up with Jolly Jams?
No. Jolly happened through Instagram, because one day I was making music and posted it on my Instagram and then Kaos hit me up - I can’t remember what he said - he kept talking to me and I looked deeper and was like "Oh, you do Jolly Jams?” and he’s like "Ey, I have edits - lets do some edits" and thats how it kinda organically grew, it happened probably through Eric I guess because he’s friends with - you know it’s the circle of trust or whatever you wanna call it - circle of friends.
I must say I am still learning and I keep on doing. I just made some recent ones and I sent him a bunch: ”These are all the ones I made - take whatever if you wanna put them out, I don’t really care,” and he’s like, “Well done let’s make them all!”
A nice endeavor and it perfectly fits the vibe but regarding your skateboarding career, are you still on?
Yeah, I’m older now and don’t do contests, but this contest (CPH) was without pressure and relaxed so I came over to skate… but time is valuable for me - I don’t have any people working on my company, it’s just my friend Robin and me working on it and it gets challenging with only two people but now it’s kinda coming in where we found a couple people that can help out and I can send work off to them and make it a lot more chill.
Do you run the operation from New York?
New York and L.A. - all the stuff gets shipped out in L.A. Robin lives in L.A. managing the warehouse and I do the office in New York. That’s where it is at right now. It doesn’t have to be bigger necessarily but more people would be good so we can make better stuff.
What’s your relationship to cut-up things or sampling - just to get on the topic of this issue?
I liked the idea when I started to know about re-edits. It reminded me of Richard Prince, of taking something out of its natural intent and repurposing it or recycling it. I think sampling is only interesting when it makes a shift. Like Moody Man or Theo Parish when they extract something and make a completely different song using the structure of what that song was before.
And in general do you think that it’s like the epitome of our time to just...
… steal? Yeah, I am fully guilty of that - I don’t know it’s a weird one because I think that because we live in a digital era now where you don’t have people really making things and that’s why I think the 70s are so interesting because it was the last era before sampling started slowly coming in. It’s just interesting how we kind of completely find it ok that we are sampling everything now. If you look what Off-white or Vetements is - who sampled who first? Fashion now is like - uh, I’ve taken a Birkenstock but I made it a dress shoe with shoelaces!
Do you think that original creation is not possible anymore?
I think we are in a transition - it used to be analogue, then it became embracing the digital and technology and now we are in that weird grey zone, where we don’t know how to use technology to its full capacity because we compare it to what we knew before, so I think we are just the ones who can’t figure it out because we’re just too stubborn and we still compare everything to what was instead of moving forward, you know.... David Hockney only makes paintings on his iPad now and there are a lot of people embracing it which might be a smart thing because if you don’t adapt you die. Sampling is weird too, because you can't sample Paul's Boutique... because it’s just all samples and it’s amazing but you can never do that now so you need to find other ways to sample or cut and paste whatever you want. We all do it literally from command c to command v - it’s basically our life, cut and paste… that is an interesting question and I don’t have an intelligent answer for it - I wish I did. I don’t know why we're all doing it in some capacity but someone like Pablo Picasso said "the best artists steal" or "great artists borrow..." or something like "good artists borrow, great artists steal"... he might not have even said that.
To become good you have to copy first…
I agree but I think people don’t really realize. It’s a difficult one because there are those people that just copy without any reflection - maybe just change the color.… I don’t know, but I try not to get mad when people copy me now because I do the same, so it’s give and take.
What about the sampling of culture movements in order to market it. How do you see content that is available now in a second and drenched in a second. Subculture that is accessible immediately or does it have to grow in isolation to be something good?
Well, I think the majority is desperate for that and you see it happen from time to time when you see someone find something and they hold onto it and then people start to find out and it blows up. Look at that guy Rodriguez, that movie, you know what I’m talking about, that South African record that no one knew of... now you go into any coffee shop in New York and you fucking hear it everywhere… it’s cool that that happened but I think things can get exposed and killed… exposure can catch like a forest fire now… in skateboarding, a certain trick can blow up… you know the pinch?
The pinch? No..
It's called the pinch where kids do front crooked grinds but they hold it… just sit on it and just go forever or like a mile and then jump out. I think that is what Instagram is about in skateboarding. Kids looking on Instagram like that: Oh, whatever, he can do it, he can do it, he can do it… I need to learn how to do it and it just becomes this kind of obsession… in the end consumerism of culture or about being relevant. I think when you go on Instagram and look at girls, they are so fucked up in the head now... they are so competitive with each other... I think it’s also about being competitive as well as just trying to be relevant and everyone is just trying to have this “edge" or “I know this about something that you don’t.”
With every movement there is a counter movement... did you experience something like this already?
A lot of people are saying “Oh there's gonna be a counter movement in no smartphones" and I know kids that are already getting rid of their phones... or having a phone and don’t want Instagram - I don’t want any of this and I did it for a couple of months this winter and I swear I was so happy not having that stupid fucking thing! But it’s unfortunate because it has become so woven into our lives that we need it for work... it’s sad. It’s like a popularity contest now, it’s not about how much you can put out but how good it is, it’s not but it is, you know… I don't think it is gonna get better, I think there will be two types of people.
I am so bad at it too, Ikeep on being distracted, I would go to my hotel room on my screen and be like “Oh two hours just went by?”
I mean there was a girl that gave me her number and I lost it. She wrote it down on a piece of paper and gave it to me, I put it in my bag, I lost it and couldn't find it and I was trying to like look at the restaurant where she gave me the number and then looking at the geotags and then going like “Oh, ok, well she had tattoos" and like just going so crazy I was so bummed, I was so excited…
Well maybe she’ll find you…
I’m looking but uh yeah anyways.