R.A.D: The Book of the Magazine
A Definitive History of Skateboarding in the UK from 1978-1995
Dan Adams Q & A (with TLB notes)
R.A.D Magazine was the UK--and to some degree the wider European scene's--bible circa 1987-1995. 23 years since it printed its last issue, R.A.D: The Book of the Magazine will be released in two glorious large format hardback books. Volume 1 focusing on the roots spanning 1978-1987, and Volume 2 chronicling the magazine's run from 1987-1995. Having grown up in Europe myself, the magazine was a huge influence--not only skate-wise--but also in terms of graphic design, photography, and writing--all in the critical transformative years (perhaps the most important in recent skate history) of 1989-1992.
By some act of fate (and also my father; who got me the job), I found myself interning in 1996 at the English company Pepe Jeans for a guy named Dan Adams at the Pepe HQ in Amsterdam. After a few conversations I quickly discovered that Dan had in fact been the main designer at R.A.D. magazine during the years I was most exposed to it. We ended up skating together after work at the Amsterdam Third Floor skatepark and the rest of the internship was focused primarily on learning about the early and mid-80s skate scenes (I started in '86). Some 22 years later, Dan is heading up this effort to publish the definitive collection of the mag's content in book form. Having not spoken to Dan since the '90s, the following was our long conversation regarding this labor of love after our initial catching up. We also ran the whole conversation past R.A.D's founder Tim Leighton-Boyce aka TLB. He had one note that was included at the bottom.
Of critical importance: this book will not be published if they do not meet their fundraising goal on Kickstarter. Before you do anything, consider heading here to help.
ME: How did you meet TLB (Tim Leighton Boyce [former R.A.D editor])?
Dan Adams: Initially I had bought a board from the store that he worked in. So I had quite strong visual memories of him. He worked in sort of the premiere London skate store (before Slam City Skates) in the late '70s. Before the whole thing kind of tanked. So that was his entrée into skateboarding. Then once he started taking pictures and got that sort of visual interest in it he became a very strong presence because it was such a tiny scene. He was always around and everybody knew he was taking these good pictures so people kind of looked up to him. He reluctantly got involved in organizing contests and the more 'official' side of the so called 'sport phase' that skateboarding went through in the very early 80s--trying to get our shit together and be organized--to kind of try to grow the numbers and to make things happen. * TLB Note 1 (scroll to bottom).
Video Teaser 1: BMX to R.A.D
Can you introduce yourself for the readers? What was your part in all this Dan?
Eventually I wound up working for the magazine (R.A.D). For a fairly brief period around 1990 I was the designer and at that point the team was down to him and me in the office. We had sort of funny phone calls like, "Oh can I speak to the tech department please?" And you would put your hand over the phone and the two of us would look at each other and go, "Right, who's going to field this call?"
It still seemed pretty big to me at least as a kid watching in 1990.
Yeah, exactly. No, I think we managed to keep up a good illusion. I think that's the great thing about magazines. They're always a very tangible face, and you can create a very good front with a well-produced magazine and a committed team, however small.
And then behind the scenes it might be two dudes sitting by a Xerox machine.
Yeah. Exactly. But we had good content always. We always had good UK and international writers and photographers willing to contribute their material. So it never looked weak in comparison to whatever else was going on.
For myself, growing up in Europe, the UK just seemed like one step closer to the US. So there wasn't actually a trans-European mag yet but to me, R.A.D held that space for many years.
Right. And ultimately I think that's the great shame that it wasn't able to become that magazine. It wasn't able to cement its position in the mid '90s. It had this great legacy as it had been covering Europe for such a long time.
We'll get into it more as I do have questions later on how it leads to Sidewalk and Document with Andy Horsley, Wig Worland and Percy Dean.
As far as this project, so you were designer at the mag in '90/'91, then fast forward to Dogtown and the Z-Boys ('01) coming out and this interest in our history growing. Who approached you to get this going?
It must have been the photographers themselves. I was always involved with Slam City Skates in London as well and good friends with Paul (Sunman) who started that business. He had also been a photographer at R.A.D.
Yeah; it was all a bit intertwined right between Slam, Paul, and R.A.D?
Yeah, it was a small world. It was a really small world. And I suppose very London-centric also, which didn't always please the other skaters nationally. So I had just come back from living in Holland and I got a call from the photographers like, "Hey, we're going to try and do something with our pictures." And I was like, "Yeah, Okay, this is great." Because I knew Tim (TLB) had taken a bit of a back seat from skateboarding. He had felt a little bit sore after the collapse of Phat magazine.
But it felt like the right time to do this?
Yeah. It's one of those time sensitive things where finally people feel they are ready to revisit something which they had maybe parked at some point in their life. So I was immediately down to try and think about how we could pull it off. I think at that point there weren't too many skateboard books. I mean there are tons of them now. But I think in the early 2000s we hadn't really gotten into that phase of skateboarding sort of endlessly reviewing itself. Glen Friedman had done some books and also Aaron Rose.
Fuck You Heroes. Also Aaron Rose had a book around then.
Yeah, my colleague Andy Holmes who I'm working on this project with did the Dysfunctional ('99) book with Aaron Rose and designer Ben Weaver. So all those things were sort of going on and it seemed like the right time to do ours. It was sort of this idea that you could do a book about skateboarding and it would have a broader reach. That was the type of book that was turning up on art director's desks and in art book shops and everybody was like, "Oh really? You can do that?"
So from the inception of it--how do we get here? This is broken into two books with three main parts correct?
It took us about a year after that to gather all the material together from different places. It was all so spread around and it would be like a photographer would come in like, "Okay, I'm bringing my archive in." And then six months later they'd go, "Oh, I just found another box under my mum's bed." The archive was growing the whole time. When I finally got all of Tim's stuff together, we realized it was a hell of a lot of material. And I was opening files that went back beyond the beginning of the magazine.
It's really the UK's skate history to some degree.
Pretty much. There were other people taking pictures throughout, but I would say he was the most competent and prevalent photographer in that early period. He was the most professional photographer. I would say everybody else was sort of doing it for their own personal record but he wanted to be a photographer so he was making these strong images. I suppose in the same way that Grant (Brittain) was a very present figure in those early formative years. Tim used to go out to California on trips and they had met each other at some point. So we just realized there was enough material going way back that like, "Wow, okay we can't just not deal with this part of the story."
So the project grew from there?
Exactly. I realized it was more than just the magazine. We had to show the preamble. We have to show that this whole vibrant world existed prior to it.
And that's '78-'87--the roots?
Then '87-'93 is the existence of R.A.D?
Actually it goes to '95. '93 is when Tim (TLB) and his team decided to walk away from it. And then '93 to '95 is when Wig Worland and Andy Horsley become the main drivers behind that phase.
And they sort of bridge over to the next generation?
Yeah. That's right. Because they are the guys that walk away from the publisher because of various differences and go like, "Okay, we know how to do this now and we can do it better" and go off to start Sidewalk magazine.
Can you introduce the main actors? We've touched on TLB, Paul Sunman, 'Mad' Mike John, Tony 'Dobie' Campbell, TLB, 'Vernon Jay Podesta' Adams, Wig Worland, Skin Phillips, yourself, etc.
The very early pivotal figures would be of course Tim Leighton Boyce, and then Tony Campbell or "Dobie"--he started sort of hanging around and just borrowing Tim's camera. When he saw the results he was like, "Oh this is cool. I like this." He got into it and then was working in a camera store so he had access to equipment. He was there early. Then Mike sort of followed in his footsteps. He was just a keen London guy whose dad had a camera store so he had access to equipment and developing.
I have the TWS cover right here that Dobie shot of Paul Sunman (Aug. 1985 Vol. 3, No. 4).
That's right. Like people do now-you go out skating, one of you has got a camera. You stop skating and take some pictures of your mate. You switch around. The other guy borrows the camera. And so it flows. I'm not really sure why Paul picked up a camera. I think all of us--me as a designer included--were so incredibly influenced by those early Skateboarder Magazine images. They were just so exotic and beguiling. I think if you had the means to imitate that you would try to do it. Paul got a camera and ran with the ball. Vernon or "Jay Podesta" which was his nom de plum had been to journalism school and wanted to write but also take pictures. But he didn't want his pictures published under the same name so he had his pen name. For him it was a very journalistic thing. Wig Worland--same thing. Someone who just wants to document his scene I think.
Are Wig and Skin a little younger than the early guys?
Yeah, Wig is a little younger and then I think Skin was sort of in the middle. Skin and Wig sort of came through at the same time as far as getting their first pictures published.
Who originally launched R.A.D. from BMX Action Bike?
Well Tim (Leighton-Boyce) was working for what was a BMX magazine (BMX Action Bike) as skateboarding was simply not a way to make money in terms of taking pictures. He and Dobie were doing BMX stuff 99.9 percent of the time, and then finally began to be able to push some skating in there. There is a huge BMX archive that Tim has also. We're not covering that right now. But there was this strange kind of zeitgeist where BMX people started to interact with Skate people. The legacy of Spike Jonze is the same thing. It segues and crosses over. The clothing was very cross-pollinating. Bikers were wearing skate brands, both were wearing surf brands--that whole weird Life's a Beach/Bad Boy Club was a big thing that somehow connected the two cultures. We've tried to get to the bottom of what brought about the big change in the way skateboarding was viewed. Some people said, "Oh, it's when I saw Back to the Future ('85). I got rid of my bike and bought a board." But something in the air just changed.
So was R.A.D actually born out of this BMX mag. Was the title simply changed or did they leave? Did it stay under the same printers?
Initially. Yeah. That's pretty much what happened. They could see that things were starting to evolve. There was sort of a whole regime change that goes on-that TLB could spell out much more clearly-but I think a pivotal figure in this was a guy named Nick Phillip. He was kind of this very aggressive street biker. So he brought kind of that street skating attitude to bike riding. He specifically didn't want to ride in races with nylon race jerseys and all that.
Yeah. And he had his own clothing brand called Anarchic Adjustment. Which was very well liked by both the BMX and the skate world. He had this whole counterculture attitude and I think Tim (TLB) could see that he had all this energy and attitude that he could bring to the magazine. He started hanging out and asking if he could help make ads. Just cut and paste stuff because that was his style.
And all of this was happening in parallel to the growing late '80s skate boom correct?
Well Tim was a bit ahead of that boom. He and Dobie were pushing skating already-early on they started changing BMX Action Bike from being sarcastic about skating to starting to allow a bit into the mag. They produced a Skate Action supplement in BMX Action Bike, which was a very bold thing to do. (It was partly funded by skate equipment distributor Shiner, who felt that the time was right to push harder and back skateboarding in a more visible way). Then it seemed to keep growing with the peak around '89/'90. But I remember working in the store (Slam City Skates) during that period and suddenly it went from being this sleepy little skate store to somewhere that had a really rapid turnover.
Vision Street Wear and Airwalk were coming in...
That's right. And all the companies started to release their "mini" boards as more and more kids started up. All the party people sort of started coming in to buy Vision Street Wear shoes and all that.
Video Teaser 2: Magazine Master
Even without the skate story, just from a fashion point of view that era is so visually interesting. The neon glam streetwear boom.
I think it's a really strong and not very well documented youth scene. And it's a weird one, because it's essentially these mostly urban and some suburban kids, grabbing hold of this strange hodge-podge of Californian brands--like surfy stuff and skate stuff--and then doing this nutty mix of clothes. You look at the pictures now you're like, "Wow, super clown." But then that sort of rolls into the whole Stussy thing--which became hugely influential, I don't know about in California but in London and Europe the wider culture bit off a huge chunk there.
It was sort of the beginning of the streetwear movement that exists today.
Exactly, but I think that it also helped legitimize skateboarding to a lot of people who may never had otherwise been exposed to it or taken it seriously as this valued cultural thing. And as far as R.A.D--what I've discovered in getting a lot of feedback from ex-readers was that it was this wonderful channel for them in these suburban towns to kind of absorb this whole cultural phenomenon that was going on. And this phenomenon wasn't tied to the music scene or pop culture or TV culture. It was strictly coming from skateboarding.
I felt like the magazines then were like this secret guidebook you could get in the mail. They were cultural education pamphlets. They told you what to wear, how to act. Everything.
Yeah. Absolutely. That's the story that comes back all the time from the former readers. The feedback has been fantastically warm as well, I have to say. People have this amazing amount of empathy even after all these years.
For you or I--I suppose the nostalgia pay off is enough to validate this whole project. What about kids who didn't live it? Why is this important for them?
I think skateboarding as a culture is in this amazing period of being able to review its past. And a lot of people would say, "Well, fuck it, let's just go forward." To me, I figure if you're going to go out and buy a book about The Beatles or about Punk Rock or something, why in the hell wouldn't you go out and buy a book about the history of skateboarding. It's equally powerful as a cultural phenomenon if not more so. If you are in any way interested in the world around you, it's as valid an exposé as anything out there.
Another point for myself--with R.A.D and the U.K. and European skate scenes in general always felt grittier and punker. Any non-California skate scene pre-2000--you almost had to want it more. You didn't have the right weather, you had shittier product, no skateparks--but the photos are almost stronger for it. The passion has to be so deep to want it. You made due with what you had.
That's one thing that struck me when I first opened up the boxes after all this time. Obviously I had lived through it but I was like, "Damn, everyone's gear is so crappy!"
Bad equipment, worse ramps, in the cold.
(Laughs) Pretty much. You look at it sometimes and go like, "Why would you do it?" But it definitely comes through and I think in a way everyone was learning on the job, taking these pictures so while the technical virtuosity can be patchy, that actually helps accentuate this romantic view of something and make it look even more arcane and edgy.
Most of the cameras used to shoot on probably don't exist anymore either so you could never replicate these photos. Someone not knowing how to set the F-stop on whatever long extinct camera shooting a long extinct scene will never be replicated.
That's absolutely true as well. Now you are so used to seeing these digital images that are super sharp.
It's almost cooler to have this amateur photography now.
In a way. There is some wonderful stuff that are clearly some very early snapshots by the guys. They are really pretty crude but they have this great feeling about them.
For me photography is all feeling and those photos are just so strong. It's almost the same feeling I get from like--you ever see those Russian skate photos from the 80s/90s with really messed up gear. There's just this link you feel as a skater to them. They are clearly having to work so hard just to get there. Just to identify as skateboarders.
That's really true. I was at a conference in London a few weeks ago and somebody had made a movie about a skatepark that had been built in Africa somewhere. I just had such a huge grin on my face because it seemed like those kids were having the same experience that we had had in the late '70s and early '80s when it was so fresh and new and exotic for them. Some of these kids were just kind of going for it man. Just having a ball. Without all the sort of pretension and bullshit that comes with modern media exposed skateboarding.
Yeah. Exactly. That's rad. Can you get into the TWS connect real quick--with the Sunman/Dobie cover (Aug. 85), then Skin who ran the mag for a decade as EIC. Then also Grant Brittain, Spike, and Chris Ortiz had photos in R.A.D correct? Was it just that small circle still?
I think that essentially what happened was the whole big deal in those days was to save up every penny you had and get out to California. Get to the Mecca and connect. Obviously people like Steve Douglas and Bod Boyle did that on a professional skateboarding level but someone like Tim (TLB) and Paul (Sunman) went out to photograph or skateboard but would then also connect with other photographers. Paul was friendly with Tod Swank and Grant at one point--you'd go to their houses and you'd stay there. If there were cameras around they started sharing techniques, discussing film stock. Once Grant (Brittain) realized there were these guys in the UK that could take a half decent photo he immediately had a way of getting content from the UK and Europe. Once Paul and Tim started slowing down and taking less photos people like Wig (Worland) and Skin (Phillips) became more important. We have a great letter Grant sent to Wig from TWS saying "I don't have ANYONE sending me pictures anymore. If you've got some, send 'em."
I thought it worked for Transworld too. Obviously the mag is called "Transworld" so it helped to have photos from EU and UK.
I don't want to speak for anyone else but the way I remember it obviously Thrasher and Transworld had different ways of looking at things. I don't want to knock Mofo or Kevin Thatcher in any way--their photos are great--but for me personally I think somehow Transworld always had a slightly higher bar in photographic terms. I think if you wanted to take pictures, people tended to look up to Transworld as somewhere you wanted to get to. That may be why Wig came over and tried working at Transworld and also why Skin did end up going over and working for Transworld for so many years. I think there was always that kind of two-way traffic going on. The TWS guys would come to London and Europe in the summer or everybody would meet up at Munster for that. Not only all the skaters, but all the photographers would meet up there too.
Who published R.A.D?
It was published by various magazine publishing companies--being sold-on more than once. The owners would basically say, "Here's your monthly fee, you can have this many pages, you can have this many color pictures, and we'll take the advertising and sales revenues." That's how those publishers work. And when it doesn't make enough money from the advertisers they go bust, shut it down or sell the title to somebody else. That was why in the end Tim and the original team decided to cut loose and do their own magazine, which was Phat.
Do you know roughly what the circulation was at the peak?
No. I could look it up. But maybe not enough to keep it from going under. I think it was always done with an enormous amount of belief and love for the thing itself.
It was on newsstands in the UK right? It wasn't only in skateshops?
It was on newsstands absolutely. That's something that's such a great thing to hear back from former readers. They all say like, "In my town there’s this one newspaper stand and there was that mag. Right there in the middle, that was my magazine."
I miss that. Newsstands were like this oasis in the desert.
Exactly. And I think that was hugely rewarding for Tim as the guy that made it happen. He was very much about two-way traffic. He was like, "I'm not preaching here. This is not my magazine. This is your magazine." And I think that was why it's held in such high regard by its former readers.
I have to ask you, because it was my own favorite article in R.A.D, but do you remember the article circa maybe 1991 that was like a tongue in cheek "How to Win Munster?"
That's Gavin Hills. He had such a sort of healthy irreverence for any of the bullshit. He had a very interesting take on life in general. He went on to become a very well thought of and even decorated writer outside of skateboarding.
Wow. Really? That's amazing.
He wrote for The Face and the wider press. He won awards for his writing and covered war zones and all sorts of things. Generally speaking, it's his writing in R.A.D that is the writing people remember. He wrote the contest report about Munster and it was far less about like "Rick did a twist and Jack did a slide." It was all the kind of background silliness and then his own paranoia and silliness were baked in as well. I think it touched a chord with the whole neurotic boy outsider thing that a lot of skate kids feel.
Have you reconnected with him?
Well, sadly he died. He was killed in an accident at sea. His career was very much cut short. There is a book of his collected writings.
Oh man. I'm sorry to hear. I think I tried to write like him when I started writing about skating.
It was an unfortunate thing.
So how did it end then, TLB leaves to do Phat?
Yeah, Phat was very much Tim and Gavin--with the rest of the then R.A.D team cooking that one up together. They had wanted to buy R.A.D from their publisher and finally have full control of their destiny, but it was sold to someone else. Deciding they were fed up with moving yet again and having already raised funds to do the magazine, they decided to launch their own title. The problem was trying to get a distribution deal. Distributors immediately said "this isn’t another skateboard magazine is it?" because their experience was that there was scarcely a market big enough for one skate mag. They needed to convince the distributors that this was something different and play down the 'skate' aspect of it. Their primary interest was skating and all they wanted was to carry on producing a good skate mag by whatever means.
They could see other dimensions emerging--video games, youth culture, street style, girls--I guess all the stuff that the British Loaded magazine would do later or Big Brother. That whole mix of things young men are supposed to be into. They saw that something broader could be done with the mag to make it more accessible to a wider audience--whilst still covering skateboarding.
Almost the old Action Now model. But with naughty stuff.
(Laughs.) I suppose in a way. And a lot of guys liked Action Now but of course the purists were like, "That shit sucks!"
Yeah, no horse riding photos for me thank you.
(Laughs.) That's right! There was the horse riding stuff. But it was an interesting model I think.
How long did Phat go for? A year?
Not even. They made it to three issues. They had a cover debacle. They were picking up on all that sort of macho hip-hop imagery. So they had this guy Matt Stuart, who was part of the London skate scene--he had this plastic pistol or a Colt 45 or something that he was pointing directly at the reader, but he had a flower stuck in the end of it. It was supposed to be kind of a mockery of the hip-hop imagery around 1992/93. But some national newspaper picked up on it and published an image of the front cover but with the flower cropped out. They ran this whole thing like, "Look at this toxic poison. They've got pictures of semi-nude women, kids on drugs.” The whole Big Brother thing. And if you look at it now, it looks positively tame. But at the time the reaction in the national press was pretty extreme. Newsstands began to refuse to carry the mag and if they wouldn't take on the magazine, you wouldn't get any advertisers. So they were happy to sell porno mags, but something that was perceived as dangerous and salacious to the youth of Britain--they didn't want to touch it any more. That brought the house of cards down.
So Tim leaves to do Phat (that dies after three issues) and Horsley keeps R.A.D going for a bit?
Tim had dispensed with R.A.D as a title and gone down this other route. Andy Horsley and Wig had stepped in and almost forcibly taken over R.A.D from this guy who had bought the title--they convinced him to let them do it.
If you drew a chart of it--R.A.D sort of splinters into Sidewalk and Document a few years after TLB leaves?
That's essentially what happened. TLB goes his own way. When Phat collapses he gets out of publishing and actually stops taking photographs, which is a great shame. After about 12 or 13 years of trying really hard to promote skateboarding I think he finally ran out of steam. He ended up working for New Deal UK here in London so he didn't entirely leave skateboarding.
I also read that Seb Palmer at NB has really helped you guys too. Seb probably grew up reading R.A.D right?
He is a complete fan. We wouldn't be doing this without him to be honest. He's been so behind this 100-percent. We spoke to him a long time ago about it. Before he worked for New Balance. We didn't really know too many people in the industry, particularly the shoe side--which has a bit more money to kick around. So they helped us get this project off the ground, but we are still going to self-publish.
Which leads us to the most important question I probably have. How can people help this project along?
We are going to self-fund through Kickstarter. That's the way to get the book initially. You can pledge to buy it today and help fund the whole thing. Ultimately we'd like the book to be distributed globally--beyond the Kickstarter. We should be able to print enough books in the initial timeframe (funded by the Kickstarter) that allows us to then distribute afterwards outside of that. The people who pledge now to the Kickstarter will essentially be the ones joining us in making it happen.
So by committing to purchase now you can make this R.A.D book a reality.
Exactly. That's right. When you pledge to get involved you're essentially becoming a part of our team. Without those people, it won't happen. Unless a generous publisher wants to step in. But that's where we are right now.
Go pledge to buy this book.
* TLB Note 1: "I wince at the idea people might get, that I’m into the notion of skateboarding as a sport. The competitions, stadium skating, etc… are not what I'm interested in at all. They were a necessary part of providing a focus and building a community, but 'sport' has far too many negative connotations for me." --Tim Leighton-Boyce
Video Teaser 3: Mashup
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