In the late 80s and early 90s, skateboarding started a transition from a five-company economy to an independently-owned, skateboarder-run, hundred-company industry. All of the sudden everyone had a company, a brand, a team, a video. Most of them are long-gone, but for a few years there, it was difficult to keep up (Foundation’s Tod Swank tells the story best).
Alien Workshop was one of the original skateboard companies to emerge from the cacophony of skateboarding’s new-found independence, and for twenty years hence they’ve maintained a uniqueness that sets them apart from the changing trends of the SoCalcentric skateboard industry at large. This uniqueness manifests itself in all aspects of their existence. Their team and their videos are no exception.
Mind Field (2009) is a reminder of everything Alien Workshop stands for, a reminder less like a post-it note and more like an atomic bomb. While one might describe Alien Workshop films as “artsy,” it never gets in the way of the skateboarding. Besides, artful clips of J. Mascis noodling around at home on his guitar, writhing plastic robot bugs, twisting weathervanes, high roaming clouds, interesting buildings, and flocking birds all ultimately coalesce into what Alien Workshop — and indeed skateboarding — is all about: individual artistic expression.
And what about the skateboarding? Well, Omar Salazar’s part, which emerges seamlessly from the clips of him strumming along with Mascis, is pure four-wheel fun. Whether it’s the over-vert full-pipe 50-50 or his huge hippie leaps, Omar just looks like he’s completely enjoying himself the whole damn time. It’s infectious.
Arto Saari’s part (my favorite here — embedded below) proves he can combine tech with gnar like no one else this side of Chris Cole. He peppers his part with subtle flips and shoves here and there without a single slippage in style or steez — and most of his tricks are big-man burly. Do not sleep on the boy.
Self-styled enigma Jason Dill keeps skateboarding weird and wild at the same time. His parts in Feedback (1999) and Photosynthesis (2000) are two of my most-watched, and his part here is hereby added to the pre-session playlist.
One can’t help but think of the mighty Jason Jessee when watching Anthony Van Engelen’s part, but he also channels some old John Lucero (the tailslide to noseslide ledge switchers). He skates mean like the both of them used to, but his update is all AVE. Where others hesitate, Anthony just monster-trucks it.
All of the rumours
Keeping me grounded
I never said, I never said that they were
Completely unfounded — Morrissey
Heath Kirchart’s closing clip doesn’t just make me want to skateboard, it makes me want to put my head down and go hard for everything I’ve ever dreamt of doing. It takes more than talent to make top-notch street skating look this clean. From the opening BS 360 and FS allie-oop lien boosters (ten feet up?) to the motorcycle tow-in street-gap BS flip, Heath just slays everything in sight, and he does it all with style and smoothness not seen since Ethan Fowler’s heyday. Determination is evident, and his thanks list in the credits says it all (“Nobody.”).
I don’t want to geek and gush much more, but let’s not forget the rest of the team. Grant Taylor kills is with big tricks and stamina to match. Steve Berra and Rob Dyrdek turn in short but impressive parts. Kalis keeps it gangster as usual. Dylan Rieder’s opening montage ollie impossible is the cleanest execution of that trick ever committed to video. His part — as well as those of Tyler Bledsoe, Jake Johnson, and Mikey Taylor — illustrate why The Workshop has one of the best teams out right now.
There’s plenty more to say — especially about the parts I just yadda-yadda’d — but the last thing I want to mention is the soundtrack. It’s mostly a solid mix of current Pitchfork-rock (Animal Collective, Battles, Elliott Smith, etc.) and individual style (Dyrdek’s Traffic, AVE’s Adolescents, Heath’s creepy Morrissey song, and you know Kalis skates to the Boom-Bap: “Boom Box” by Bullymouth). Aforementioned Workshop friend J. Mascis and his skate-video stalwarts Dinosaur Jr. contribute several songs (“A Little Ethnic Song” and “Creepies,” and “Almost Ready,” “Grab It,” and “Crumble,” respectively), and original Workshop pro Duane Pitre contributes two pieces (“Music For Microtonal Guitar And Mallets” and “Study For ‘Sun AM'”). The Workshop is a family.
Skateboarding is about pushing yourself and having fun with your friends. Mind Field may lean a little more on the former, but it’s still fun. If nothing else, it proves that Alien Workshop and solid skateboarding are here to stay.
Here’s Arto Saari’s part in Mind Field [runtime: 3:57]. The hyped kinked rails are only a fraction of the story.
I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.