Jon Lee Interview
September 04 2014
Jon Lee is to the London skate scene what Martin Hannett was to Joy Division. He's given the capital a strong image and one that they are more than happy to uphold. He has a vision and a passion that is unshakable and infectious. In a time where a lot of web content is bland and grey, Jon's flashing Green and Yellow. You might not agree with some of the things he has to say but he's more than earned the right to say them. So without further ado, SHUT UP JON!
Let's start with the usual stuff. How old are you and where are you from?
I'm 31 years young. Born & raised in the 734. Reading, England.
When did you get your first camera?
My First camera was a bribe by my mother. The story behind goes something like this; I always had a problem with authority, I never put full potential effort into my school work, so my predicted grades were below the pass mark. My English teacher actually said that there's more of a chance that the sun shall shine on a dogs arse than me passing my English language & literature exams. Anyhow, mother said she would purchase this sick Canon hi-8 camcorder, IF I passed 5 or more GCSE's. Needless to say, the sun shone on the dogs arse, and i got the hi-8 cam. Then created my first homies video, 'S.I.R' (Skating in Reading). Around 1995-1996, No, wait...1997.
Who were some of the people you were filming back then?
Lewis & Hadyn James, Adi Green, Mark Burles, Ben Sturgess, were the main crew. Then hooked up with the older lads, Joe Coyne, Ben Longworth, Paul Quinn, Adi Walker, Chris Rutherford and others.
Do you remember what it was that made you want to get behind the lens?
Yes. Hoax 2: Anarchy Across America. That was the total package. Bad ass skating, personality, stories, the skeleton on the cover, the stickers inside. Shit, It wasn't about being behind the lens it was the whole deal. I dreamt of creating a visual piece that I could share with my friends. Not just the skating, but the antics and the 'behind the scenes' footage. One of the first times I saw Joe Coyne was underneath this place called the Hexagon and some guy was selling launch ramps, doing demo's I think? Joe was a complete character. Him, Stuart Jones, Dwight and others were pulling mad mistys, yelling shit, wearing Senate and generally sporting the consensus of ''Angry Youth'. I fell for that and knew I had to somehow get a cam. It went from there.
Do you think some of that character, attitude and behind the scenes antics is missing from major videos now?
Yes and no. It seems as though the mainstream videos/edits lack character in a huge way. The underground dogs hold it down. There are a small number of editors that bring out that bad ass vibe. Carter Le Blanc, Q-Lamb, Kronenberg, Popham and those guys, DRC to name my favourites. All of which have this raw style, non pretentious and you can tell they just fucking love to have a good time. Everything that happens with your boys is skating and to me that is what needs to be exposed. Tricks can be whatever but anyone whether you roll or not can relate to lifestyle antics. The one dood that held it down incredibly was Negrete! Fucking sad what happened. Rest easy bladevideogod.
Let's have a quick run down of your all time favourites as far as blade videos go.
Baking Cookies, Hoax 2, Wasteland, Film of the Year, VG5, Everything’s Fucked, right now.. I have a cycle. Favourite choices change constantly. What're yours??
Uncommon ground was the first one I had and to this day still the one that had the biggest impact on me. It's like your first bit of the ol' in out, not going to be the best but it's going to be a game changer none the less.
The NYC scene was the fucking baddest back in the day. Not to say it isn't now but they seemed to be far more exposed back then. Joe Dedentro's section rocks!
Went to soul that steep rail in Times Square in honour of him last time I was there but bottled it, steel heel job for sure! There were some really good NYC videos; High Density got a lot of replay from me and then any Sam Grimm footage that I could find in my early internet days.
Ahhhh Sam Grimm. The edit where he's rocking the Arlo 98's, slaughtering NYC. I think it was a be-mag edit? Shout out to Tom Portas & the lads. I peek Summer in the City in your VHS collection! Do the latest release videos have the same effect on the youngsters, like the OG videos had on us years back? That, I’d love to know... are they going to bang on about Valo 5 in years to come. Like we bang on about Hoax 5, 3, 2, or 1?
I loved Summer in the City, got the details from unity and had to get my old man to write Tom Portas a cheque and send it to him to get that video. Fucking mental when you think about it now.
Haha the lengths to get a home turf video! I had chump change sent wrapped up in the post for a few copies of Sidetracked! That was bloody funny! Leon and I individually taped each copy of that. Nights of hard work. Someone got the bonus copy with porn afterwards.
Do you think we're within our right to say kids these days don't know how easy they've got it with regard to access to media or do you think if you were a kid right now you'd be slightly envious of the content we were going to such extremes to get our hands on back then?
Skate videos/content can be obtained online too easy and for free. It's disposable and the level of skating is obscene. It has completely devalued the skate video and brought a whole host of over opinionated idiots to the table (rollernews, be-mag, etc). Anyone and everyone can be the next big thing. Pro ratings are therefore devalued. Hence the lack of distinguishment between pro and am. The community within the internet/facebook is massive. Everyone knows someone or a hook-up to get skate gear free or cheap. The industry is suffering. If you can call it an industry? Blah. Back to my point. Yes, they have it far too easy. The internet has fucked shit up. I wouldn't be envious, cause my tastes haven’t changed and it's rare I find something I enjoy to watch online. Sizemore edits are eye candy! Relating to a question earlier. I loved the chase of calling a skate shop. Travelling there by any means. Purchasing and getting home asap. Put that tape on and not realise there is a world revolving for the next few days.
So to wrap this part of the discussion up do you think there's a way that feeling will have It's revival through the Internet somehow, maybe paid downloads or a completely new approach we haven't discovered yet. Could it be possible to go back to those golden days of anticipation but through the glowing screen?
I simply can't answer that. Bladings in its 20's now and there are minimal hard copies of videos coming out, it's all online. New schoolers who've been about for 5 years or less more than likely wouldn't have had the experience with the process of buying a video from a skate shop with or without the internet. I don't think there’s a way of making it special unless we go back to hard copies only. Which would be good. Companies should organise better. Put years into a video. Every trick epic. Not rushed. Maybe then??
Ok so for arguments sake if there was a company like Mindgame about now with the sort of budget and people they were working with back then do you think kids would still bitch about having to pay for the digital download of their new video if they had spent the same time on it as Brain Fear Gone? I definitely don't remember any of my mates complaining that they had to pay £20 for a VHS if they wanted to watch the new Latimer part.
Ahhh man. I think 20 is steep! Even for something as epic as BFG online. The hard copy video itself. The cover. It was there. You could hold it and put it in with the collection. You could have called it a hobby. To collect the sk8vidz. They had an actual value and yeah kids would bitch about paying. We act like bitching is something new. Wrong. We hear about it more from open social media platforms, like rollernews. It's terrible. I love a good bitch but can justify myself. £20 is steep for any online video.
There must be kids ten years younger than us that have never had hard copies of their favourite skate videos, films and music though so that feeling of having something tangible to hold and collect will of never been a part of their experience. Their collection is arguably just as important to them but as an iTunes library instead. So full length digital download skate videos for a tenner? Average price of a film on iTunes.
I'm not open minded enough to answer that. I'm used to owning the full collection of A Nightmare on Elm Street on vhs. I like my covers, with artwork, possibly a booklet. I admire vinyl. Call me old fashioned haha. I want to hold the stupid thing. I don't feel the same way about anything in my iTunes! That's almost like comparing your beloved Tape/Vinyl/DVD collection to Netflix/iTunes/Spotify..yawn. The online video would have to have the right hype/skaters/filmer(s)/editor(s) to make it worth the money!
Is that same sense of nostalgia the reason you still choose to film with a VX1000?
Nah. To be honest the reason I recently bought a hi-8 was for nostalgic purposes. I had a HD cam a while back and it makes everything look far more 'perfect' than it actually is. Which is fine if that's your image. The person that I am and the scene I grew with were grimy. VX brings that raw grimy vibe out. It makes the spots look as shit as they are. It reflects upon the personality and culture within the streets of London. HD just doesn't justify anything that London is. I saw a comment online generalising VX users as biters. I almost agree, bar a few. And I would never associate myself as a biter. I just do my own thing to rep my lads. I'm no Nemiroski, Gillett, skateboarder type and wouldn't want to be. You can tell by how I edit. I use the VX to maximise the rawness of the grain, colours, sound and nothing more. Nice bit of gear!
Let's have a quick run down of your favourite camera setups and editing software.
Sony VX1000 for the right picture and sound quality but functionality wise the VX2000. Both for fisheye setup with standard Century MK1 lens. Long lens wise the digital 8 TRV510 is a whole bundle of fun! If we're talking HD, Leon has the illest set up I know of and have used. I think its a Canon XF100 with the OG Century MK1 screw fisheye (gold dust). It's quality and intensely wide! As for editing haha, I'm using some basic Sony Vaio with some crazy old version of Premiere, After Effects and Photoshop. I'm the least technical person and not that bothered about having the latest up to date gear as long as the end result is being enjoyed by the viewers.
Did you do any type of video course at college/university or are you self taught?
Haha no way. I'm probably the most amateur, self taught thoroughbred. It's always been for fun, I'm not that kind of person to turn my passion into a career. I have my heart deeply rooted in blading and filming and have a careless attitude to anyone who may thinks otherwise. Minimalistic editing is key, let the skating and music be the kick. I don't expect anyone to dig my edits, nor am I out to impress anyone. My friends are the fucking best, so as long as I can represent them to a standard that they are happy with then I am too. Just stumbled upon Anthony Trueheart on Vimeo. Check his channel. It's great!
How many of the new edits do you watch online each week roughly?
It depends on how busy I am. I normally binge watch skate edits. I'll seek online daily but bookmark edits for later, then blast them out in a day and get a massive high from it. I'll make time if I see an edit filmed on a VX or from someone that I dig.
You're quite vocal online about the stuff you do and don't like, do you consider it all constructive criticism?
No. I consider it point blank ruthlessness. It's what I was brought up with. I have full faith in what I believe and especially who and what I'm filming. It's always been the London way, it's a tough scene to break into. I feel that there are too many stray skaters who get absorbed into the clique of 'what's cool'. It's that time that local crews started taking control. Rep their boys. Learn what cam suits their scene the best. Bring your mates to the table and show what you do. Normally I'm very positive about what I comment on but I don’t give two fucks about saying shit if someone/something pisses me off.
Did you like the battle my crew videos then? You think a bit of rivalry is healthy?
Its not healthy. I don't agree with battle my crew. I don't agree with competition. I agree with edits repping your mates, scene, and character.
I forgot to ask for a full list of the videos you've made. Right back to home town deck to deck bangers if there are any?
S.I.R - Skating In Reading, Sidetracked, Capital Rollas, Egg. There was another one that I made with Leon and Stephen Manderson (aka Professor Green) before Sidetracked. It was literally amazing. Had the illest James Moule section. We had some crazy times getting that video done. Unfortunately the only other people that got to see it were the ones at the premier. Stephens computer died that night and we lost everything.
Did Professor Green skate?
Yeah he skated. Was sick too. I think he had a few health issues though and was succeeding more and more in the freestyle battle scene.
What was the website called back then with all the QuickTime embeds, I remember watching loads of Mike Welland and Russ Alford footage on there?
Haha that was on some geocities website back in the day. SS1 and Dave Proctors Microcosm site all had hi-8 clips uploaded and real short edits. I met Manderson and Welland through sequence mag message board and we all hooked up over time, I think Sim (Warren) too? We'd all exchange footage and edits. The beginning of the end of skate videos I guess. I wonder if any of the websites still exist with the footage??
Do you remember any of the web addresses? Would be amazing if they were. Was it Capital Rollas that had the fucking ridiculous tru kind at St. Paul's?
I don't remember the website name, maybe ask Sim or Welland? Haha Hadyns tru kind is famous. That's in the intro to Capital Rollas. Bould filmed that so good! The yells of cheer after are amazing. Such a complete clip!
I've been lucky enough to see the new video in it's various stages of completion and it's nearly at the finish line as I write this. How long in total have you been filming?
I couldn't tell you precisely. It started off as a leftover footage edit when I had to part ways with the VX's but then got cheeky and bought the digi 8 cam with century on the low low. That was about 2 months ago? Since then everyone’s been up for going out and having fun with that cam. Was even privileged enough to get Neil & Umberto clips! It's been a bit tough trying to get clips of everyone I roll with in London as we're all spread out and everyone wants to skate a different obstacle in a different part of town. It turned from a five minute leftovers edit to a full 20 minute online video. I just hope the lads are happy with it!
What advice would you give to people that have just started filming, any technique to getting the most out of the people you're pointing the camera at?
Haha I'm no pro. At least three quarters of what I have filmed was done drunk. So firstly, film sober with a clear mind and a view for how its going to look. Always try to film face on or sideways. Fisheye should be up close and personal. Long lens, shoot smart. Other than that, study your videos. See what you thinks best and give it a shot. If I can film and create stuff then anyone can. I still need to take my own advice. As for the people you're filming, find what motivates them. Whether that be bully tactics, hugs and affection or making them realise they’re slacking. Each skater has their own personal juice. It’s the filmers job to find what motivates the skater and take advantage of it to better the outcome of what’s being filmed. You have to motivate whoever you’re filming to get the most out of them by any means haha. Benefits everyone. The skater. The filmer. The viewer.
How are you finding filming lines with Bower now he's on 76mm wheels?
Hard. I was at stand still with the lines where he starts by gapping at the start. I was also half cut haha. He is doing real good on them though! I'm trying to do him justice! He's my favourite skater and a great inspiration. I want to represent him to a great standard and want him to get what he deserves. He holds all aspects of a true street skater. I didn't have faith in powerblade frames with the first gen as they were practically advertising that you could grind on them by being Eisler. That shit was a joke. Now they released the level 2 & 3's, it's realistic. I reckon it'll be one of many keys to bring aggressive blading mainstream once more, whether that's good or bad, I’ll wait and see. Bowers killing it in them. Backslide on castlefields is no joke on regs.
Yeah that backslide was fucked up, he's done two of my favourite backslides of all time in under a year! Who else is shining in the streets of London at the moment?
Sam Crofts. He is on some deathwish/Feinberg influence. The younger generation are now coming through. Paddy Egan (Joeys brother) is murking, Keenan and Tesharn. Theres three generations of skaters. The OG's, like Blake, Leon etc. The current. Bower, Crofty, Joe Harvey etc and the new, mentioned above. Theres a few different crews in London. Although we know each other, we don’t always roll together. Sunny Hodge is a killer, worth checking his edit on youtube, top bloke. Jack swindles holds it down for the new generation and definitely trying to get a street deal done with him soon. Whoever films and edits a section for a skater creates an identity for the viewing world. I hope to be a part of creating a true street image for the future. Not some DSLR commercial crap.
Have you ever tried to film with a DSLR?
Yeah. DSLR is what it is. It's just not for me, I had a DSLR and I filmed a few tricks of bower at the emirates ledges for &ventures 3. Quickly sold it. Nothing more to be said. I know you’re a cheeky fan of filming. What do you think about what to use? I'm intrigued?
Pretty much same as you, it has it's place if you know how to use it. I've personally never got on with them for filming skating but I have seen ski videos shot on DSLR that are all the better for it, they have production teams though, sound guy the lot. I'll always have a soft spot for the VHS cam I sent you, I really liked the look of anything we've pointed that thing at. The set-up we used in Bournemouth is the happiest I've been shooting HD so far, couple of handycams with external mics; they shoot interlaced which I think is why I like them. Looks more like video instead of film. Shake, shutter roll and terrible audio are my main problem with DSLR footage. If you don't know how to fix those don't use them. Some people that own 5D's might as well film on their phone.
Man I agree. I'm experimenting with cam set-ups. Hence why there’s a various amount of styles of footage in the edit. I want to find my own thing. VHS with MK1 looks so good. Retro London looks ill and to replicate with the skate skills in this era gives a niche effect that can't be replicated. I hope we can all do you well and anyone reading this that wants to film but is intimidated by the price tag of a £1000+ cam.. don't. You can film on anything. Just get the angles and character. I paid under £100 for this camera (Sony TRV510) with a century fisheye. It's cheap. It does the job. Go on eBay. Go out. Rep your boys.
That's solid advice. I'm definitely an advocate of getting gear from eBay, saved searches and a bit of patience are the key. Harry kicked the end of the camera off last week and had that been a £2000 camera with £500 worth of glass attached I wouldn't of enjoyed my pint as much that night. What are you working on next, any more projects lined up at the moment?
I'm only working on stuff for you and hopefully a swindles piece. Whatever else happens, happens. I want to rep my mates and have fun. Nothing more!
Right let's round this off, anything you want to add? Shout outs, call outs or honourable mentions?
Shout out to all the London lads, especially the ones that made these moments happen. I hope this piece reflects the London character that we all shine bright. Thanks to you, Sam, for all that you do. The lads in Reading. Everyone who I've got along with, past, present and future. DRC for smashing it in and to everyone reading who is interested in filming and editing. If I can do it, so can you. Get a cam. Film your mates. Whack it together and make some memories come alive! DirtBox4Life.
Filmed & Edited by Jon Lee
Photos by Dom West (Banner photo Jordan Maders)
Text by Sam Currie