Art Interview Interview

Reid Allen is a young skateboarder and photographer living, skating and shooting in Cardiff. In spite of local skate shops closing, government funded anti-skating architecture, and the increasingly prohibitive costs of going to see bands, Reid has spent the last two years documenting the local skate and underground music scenes that are thriving in the Welsh capital. Now, he’s put these photos together in a new zine, The Lords of Bute Town, out now through independent publisher Project Upcoming.

Shot on 35mm film, Reid’s photos offer a glimpse into a lively and defiant youth culture, from hard-won shots of tricks being landed to the joyful carnage of DIY gigs at his friends’ houses, and everything in between. 

Johnny Crisp: Can you tell us a bit about your zine?
Reid Allen: Well I’ve been living in Cardiff for two and a half years now and I’ve always loved the skateboarding scene. I started taking my camera out skating more often about a year ago. At the time everyone was filming for City Surf’s (RIP) 30-year anniversary video. City Surf was the Cardiff independent skate shop, actually the oldest skate shop in the UK, but they went under back in November. A lot of people were always hanging out at spots, even if only one person was filming a trick, and it was great; taking over areas of the city at a time with a big group of us, skating and messing about. I got really into documenting the scene, both the tricks going down and the people hanging out both at the session and after. I ended up with a load of photographs from the winter before, last summer and this winter.

Sadie from Project Upcoming got in touch with me not long ago about my photographs, wanting to make a zine. She asked if I had any ideas. I suggested what Lords of Bute Town ended up being and here we are! It’s been amazing to finally put my work into a physical form. 

Johnny: Have you always shot on film?
Reid: I messed around with a DSLR a bit as a kid, but I got bored of it quite quickly. Then, when I was about 16, I started using disposables just to take photos at gigs and of my mates, and then moved onto 35mm from there! I’ve been shooting 35mm film ever since. Shooting skating is really difficult on film, but occasionally it pays off, and a well-timed film photograph of a trick resonates a lot more. That said, it’s the surrounding culture, and what goes on outside of the tricks themselves that interests me most.

Reid’s photos offer a glimpse into a lively and defiant youth culture, from hard-won shots of tricks being landed to the joyful carnage of DIY gigs at his friends’ houses.

Photography Reid Allen
Photography Reid Allen

Johnny: I’ve read a bit about Butetown: the regeneration projects, the resistance from within the community… is that something that you had in mind when putting the zine together?
Reid: The name is a funny one, because it doesn’t actually have much to do with Butetown, as in the area of Cardiff. Between the city centre and Butetown is Callaghan Square, known as Bute Square to us because of a statue of the Lord Marquess of Bute. It’s a historic skate spot in Cardiff, and one we frequent often. The name of the zine is the Cardiff Skateboard Club’s take on the legendary film, Lords of Dogtown.

However, I think a lot of parallels can be drawn between the battles of residents against the gentrification in Butetown and battles we as skateboarders have against the ever-increasing defensive architecture of the city. For example, they put knobs on rails to stop us grinding them, deliberately rough ground around an obstacle, metal caps on ledges. But it also targets the homeless, for instance anti-homeless spikes and dividers on benches (that look like arm-rests) to stop people sleeping on them. Both are a product of a local government more concerned with financial return than the people in the community.

“Parallels can be drawn between residents battling gentrification in Butetown and the battles we as skateboarders have against the ever-increasing defensive architecture of the city.”

Johnny: Is that your main skating spot?
Reid: Bute square is, definitely, however it stays pretty wet over winter so we’ll more likely be at Wavey Wall, by the Admiral building, or elsewhere around the city

Johnny: Did you have any other project or photographer in mind when you were making it?
Reid: Two of my favourite publications inspired the zine. There was Suburban Scum by Marco Hernandez, which my friend Mark at Meanwhile Press published. That was the first zine of film photographs of skateboarding/skateboard culture I saw. More recently I loved the photo book Do I Look Like I Care? by Dog at Nerve Skateboards. That was really what made me want to get my act together and make a publication!

Dog is definitely someone I’ve looked up to as a photographer. I’ve been following his blog for a couple of years. His photographs of the Blast Skates lot, and their various adventures are brilliant. More generally Boogie is one of my all-time favourites. The portraits he shoots, amongst other stuff, have always been something I’ve aspired to. Also, friends of mine Ollie Murphy, Chloe Sheppard, James Griffiths, Sadie Bailey and Fraser Smith are all constant sources of inspiration!

Photography Reid Allen

Johnny: Is there a lot of crossover between Cardiff’s skate and music scenes?
Reid: There definitely is, both in Cardiff and around the UK, especially in punk music. Here specifically, one of the local Cardiff skateboarders Tom Sanders (the guy on the cover of the zine) plays in a band called Pipedream and lives where all the 105 house shows happen. Often a lot of the skaters come down to the shows, which they might not have done otherwise, so here at least there’s a huge crossover!

Johnny: Tell us about the rise of house shows in Cardiff.
Reid: House shows are a relatively common thing within punk and DIY music in the UK (and elsewhere), and I’ve played or been to many around the country. They tend to happen more when there’s a thriving scene but a lack of affordable venues. It’s mostly just do with venues being too expensive to hire. And so the door entry has to compensate for that, and people can’t afford to go to shows regularly. House shows are great because they allow shows to happen without fear of the promoter losing money from paying the venue. Also, they’re typically free or donation entry (sparing petrol money for travelling bands for example), and that combined with the fact it’s always a bit more of a party than your regular gig, the turn-outs are usually great!

Photography Reid Allen

Johnny: How has it affected the music scene?
Reid: It’s had a very positive effect on the scene, both because more shows happen, and because lots of new bands are getting to play their first (or first few) shows in a comfortable environment. It’s typically alternative rock or punk bands. They’re not too regular but at least one every couple months.  

Johnny: Any bands we should look out for in particular?
Reid: Specifically to Cardiff house shows, I’d say look out for Pipedream, Chain of Flowers, Deadlines, Neurotic Fiction and Vanilla. And if you’re into your hardcore punk/metal check out my band Rancour!

Johnny: Have you got any new projects lined up after this?
Reid: I’ve got a few ideas but nothing set in stone! However, I’ll be putting up a mini-project on my recent trip to Leipzig, Germany on my website this coming week.

Lords of Bute Town is available at Project Upcoming.