Words by Anthony G. Pappalardo
The full length, not the common cut
Plan B's second effort, Virtual Reality may have been the most anticipated video of 1993 but as the video era sped up, so did the competition. That year saw strong releases from Underworld Element, Birdhouse Projects, Real, Spitfire, Foundation, World Industries, as well as FTC's first shop video. Which video you see as best is subjective, but influence is infallible. Released during the tail end of '93, 101's third promo video, Snuff, was a sleeper hit that threw haymakers for eight-minutes... if you don't count the post credits clips. Compared to World, Blind, and Plan B, 101's small team and eclectic, yet cohesive aesthetic made them an interesting outlier in Steve Rocco's stable. Raw power amplified by impactful brevity, Snuff was the perfect contrast to Virtual Reality's main stage depiction of skateboarding.
"It was too much," says Brian Lotti, who was skating for Blind at the time and appeared in the "Friends Section" of Virtual Reality along with the rest of the Blind squad. "The average guy isn't that hyped on jaw-dropping stuff."
Packaged in surplus VHS boxes procured from the manufacturer and embellished with a single sticker, presumably printed at a Kinkos, Snuff's terse length had the feral force of a hot mixtape. In fact, Snuff has a lot in common with a Canal Street slow burn CD "tape" as it was released with little fanfare but coveted by fans, and spread dub-to-dub for those not lucky enough to land a copy. Snuff not only marked most of skateboarding's proper introduction to the Wu-Tang Clan, Gino Iannucci, and Jason Dill, but it was a pivotal evolution for Natas Kaupas' brand.
“Filming with Gino was psycho, because nobody knew [how good he was]. No one had seen a big piece of the Italian Stallion… what the prince was up to."--Jason Dill
"Watching someone execute something from a silly idea to production--that's something that stands out to me about Natas," Dill says of what he learned working and riding for him. "I don't know where he even got them from but using all those boxes from old skate videos was insane. When they showed up I was blown away. I had one that I wish I still had. It was Hokus Pokus, with Matt Hensley doing the one-foot. It's genius. That's why Natas is Natas. It was cool because it pays homage and then also, you couldn't pick two dudes who could better embody that [himself and Iannucci]--we consumed so many old videos and it shaped our skating. "
Before a severe injury drove Natas to the creative side of 101, he was revered and as influential on modern street skating as his peer and good friend Mark Gonzales.
"Natas was 27 and pretty much out of the game," says Gino Iannucci. "No one was pro at 30 and if you were, you were a vert dude."
"There was no fucking bone marrow therapy back then," Lotti says. "You're done, go play tennis, bro."
No slight to 101 stalwarts Adam McNatt and Andy Stone--the latter stated in an interview with Chrome Ball Incident that injuries and editing curtailed his part--but Snuff was essentially a "Double A-Side," much like the Wu-Tang single that Iannucci's song was taken from. Of the four parts, you see a split. Stone thunders out to Motorhead's "Ace of Spades," McNatt to a punked-out cover of "San Francisco," while Dill flows to a smooth Brenton Wood track, and Iannucci announces himself via Method Man's swagger. We should note that Gabriel Rodriguez does appear for a second, soon to follow the rest of the Girl team's exodus via Chocolate.
"Filming with Gino was psycho, because nobody knew [how good he was], ” Dill says. “It’s such a different time now because there’s terrorism in your phone, tricks in your phone, fucking Nyjah in your phone but man, nobody knew his caliber. No one had seen a big piece of the Italian Stallion... what the prince was up to.”
“I wouldn’t have picked that song now,” Iannucci says. “But at the time I was really psyched on that single and also, the lyrics fit: 'You don’t know me and you don’t know my style.’"
"He brought up the fucking tape--one side was "Protect Ya Neck," the other was "Method Man" in a purple and white sleeve," Dill recalls. "The other thing that was the soundtrack to filming Snuff was the Jerky Boys. I had never heard them before. Gino introduced them to me early. When he brought that out, I was such a little kid... milk out my nose laughing... crying. Wu-Tang, Black Moon, and the Jerky Boys were the soundtrack."
Leading up to Snuff, Dill and Iannucci played the cassette incessantly and by the time Enter the 36 Chambers was released in November of 1993, the band's underground buzz had bubbled up and helped them chart. Regardless of how it was marketed, when a video was released from the World Industries camp people paid attention--the serendipity of Wu-Tang emerging only made Snuff and Iannucci's part more indicative of skating's temperature.
"I wouldn't have picked that song now, but at the time I was really psyched on that single and also, the lyrics fit: ‘You don't know me and you don't know my style.'”--Gino Iannucci
The talent purge prior to Snuff is key in understanding its impact. With some of the World umbrella's biggest names, including Rick Howard, Mike Carroll, Guy Mariano, Jovontae Turner, Sean Sheffey, Rudy Johnson, and Eric Koston leaving for Girl, 101's tight roster was left without their quarterback in Koston. In his first prime, Koston added technical perfection to 101's arsenal. Snuff is 101 hitting a new stride, with Dill and Iannucci showcasing skateboarding's future, albeit without any intention. Cleaner, leaner, and an emphasis on precision was key, as street skating was emerging from its awkward "flip and pray" phase and its equally embarrassing fashion.
"You see Dill, he looks like he was born with a skateboard under his feet," says Iannucci.
"Dill was almost like a little Sheckler," Lotti says when talking about his first impression of Jason Dill. "So much energy and skill... a little wizkid."
"Eric leaving and all those guys going to Girl, I even felt a bit weird having last part." Iannucci told me as we rewatched the video on an iPhone screen at a pizza shop in Long Island. "The way style evolved was natural. Those tricks--pressure flips and late flips--it was hard to look good doing them, so it just made sense to phase them out."
“Everything you did--every manual trick--it had to be something no one had done before," Dill explained. "Skateboarding is way advanced now. Even something as simple, like a switch heelflip fakie manual, you’d check it off your list. ‘No one’s done it in 411 or whatever, OK, I’m doing it.’ The nollie heel back tail [filmed in the World private park], there were things you had to do to survive--you had to advance your tricks. At the same time, I’m learning how to dress. I got baggy khakis and a tight blue shirt--I look like a fucking imbecile. I was just throwing my punches and trying to survive in a gang fight."
One of the biggest factors for Dill and Iannucci's contributions to Snuff, were that their parts weren't even intended for 101. Prior to the video the duo were filming for a company through World, spearheaded by Brian Lotti, under the working title Program.
"Companies didn't have so much of a distinct branded aesthetic back then, it was more about the video, going around downtown LA getting fabric swatches to make cut-and-sew shirts, rather than how brands are so focused now," Lotti says about the concept behind Program.
Though the roster was more than adequate with Dill, Gino, Jeremy Wray, and Ben Liversedge, a botched poaching failed to net Kris Markovich, and Program never made it past the concept stage. Dill and Iannucci left their sponsors for the theoretical brand, so Lotti returned the favor by passing their footage onto Natas, securing them both on 101.
"There's a line that I do at Macy's--we used to call it Kaboom, because in Tony Ferguson's part in Virtual Reality it opens with [a Souls of Mischief song lyric] 'Kaboom!"--I do a horrible frontside flip then a switch crooked grind, there I'm not on 101," Dill explains. "Frontside bluntslide UCLA--not on 101. Backside flip the Imperial double set, I am on 101. I think there's even tricks where I'm riding a Mad Circle board and even a Stereo board."
“I was so afraid filming Snuff–weed paranoia–lots of Wu-Tang, I’m arriving at this place where Guy Mariano walks on water… from Shiloh Greathouse to Jed Walters, these are all the people who pushed technical skateboarding.”--Jason Dill
"It became a possibility that if the right guys came together Steve (Rocco) was going to start a company," Lotti explains. "It [the existence of Program] was two to four weeks of cruising around with Dill, Gino, and Jeremy Wray under the guise of starting a new company, but in the end it didn't work out because we couldn't get Markovich, who Rocco really wanted. They knew Jeremy was great but they didn't really know how good Gino was. I had put so much in to wrangling everything, to have one dude change his mind... if it can be destroyed that easily I didn't want to do it."
"I don't even know how I met Brian but luckily I did. For the summer of 1993, we skated with him every fucking day--on that kid shit," Dill says. "Brian was hurt--he had dislocated his shoulder--so he was taking it easy but he'd come with us when we'd film. He'd encourage us. He was really cool, really soft spoken, and patient. He had ideas of how we'd put a line together. He's just an epic human. That's how the idea to do a company at World even came up. I'm glad it didn't happen."
As preempted in Virtual Reality earlier that summer and in the underrated New World Order, gone were any pressure based tricks, multiple flips were cut, and clothing was less garish and superfluous. With less to hide behind there was more to see and this was a direct cue to any skateboarding thirsting for direction. The future was deceptively simple: grind/slide further, catch tricks clean, and for fuck's sake, don't drag your toes.
"Let's be honest, beyond how they look or how much finesse they have, they're both really fucking good skateboarders," Lotti says about Dill and Gino's stand out style and work ethic. "That's the virtue of the way they skate. It gives license to everybody else to go do their thing--it doesn’t have to be complicated, just do it well and do it with english. That's it."
One thing that set Snuff apart from its peers was a lack of handrails, with Dill logging the only clips with a lengthy, perfectly leveled out noseslide that Iannucci recalls as "really fucking big and sketchy" in real life along with a switch backside 50-50 on the Hewlett Packard rail. Dill's footage shows a real balance, with nollie tricks, thought out lines, plenty of clean looking switch, and punctuated by a lack of switch mongo. It's also worth noting that neither Dill nor Iannucci wore shorts--I'm serious. The speed, execution, and curation of their footage exposed a different lane in skateboarding that defined classification as much as it became the identity of 101.
"I do a handrail in Snuff?" Dill says. "Oh, the noseslide. I was so scared. That was big.... Hello, the first switch backside 50-50, thank you very much. Guy Mariano, that switch nosegrind backside 180 on that HP rail. Guy was the best. I was so afraid filming Snuff--weed paranoia--lots of Wu-Tang, I'm arriving at this place where Guy Mariano walks on water... from Shiloh Greathouse to Jed Walters, these are all the people who pushed technical skateboarding."
Before this reads like a referendum on Stone and McNatt, let's note that Stone does navigate Pulaski Park expertly but the quality of Dave Schlossbach and Socrates Leal's filming vs. his footage is an example of how the right filmer can elevate the subject. Also, logistics were a factor in the variance in footage.
"That heelflip was incredible," Dill says about McNatt's memorable trick on a bank, which both he and Gino witnessed, also explaining why they didn't film often with him. "That happened on the 10 Freeway going west towards Santa Monica. Every time I pass that that, I think of the heelflip on that peach colored bank. Adam was South Orange County. Gino and I wanted to skate the spots in LA that we saw in videos. Redondo Beach High School--that Daewon shit--or the Santa Monica Courthouse, those spots will always look cool to me."
Despite the curse of the "blind guy on a pogo stick," Stone's next part in the rebranded Element Skateboards Fine Artists Volume 1, showed his skating refined and on point. For McNatt, well... he was never meant to be a pretty skateboarder. Even when his style tightened up during his stint on Evol, it still had a natural whip and wave to it that had its own charm. As we'd see with 20 Shot Sequence and Trilogy, Marcus McBride and Clyde Singleton's styles made 101 even more cohesive, further endearing the brand before its demise in the late-'90s.
At a time where hour-long videos were the norm, complete with tour/demo sections, slam sections, and lengthy credits, Snuff not only stood out proving that tight focus and concept outweighed quantity; it honed the "EP" / short-form video construct to a razor sharp point. Okay, fuck it. Seeing Snuff for the first time was akin to being shanked in a prison fight and forever looking at the scar and remembering the shock, fear, and awe... probably.
"This is terrible--I still haven't seen it. I need to," Lotti says when I ask him about seeing Snuff for the first time. "That video dropped in my little black out phase. I get to watch it now though and have that to look forward to."