Delighted to let DJ Dribbler reminisce on NYC days again for Racket Racket. This time its a look at the knock-out work of legendary New York graffiti writer, Revs. Enjoy.
The average occupancy of a New York apartment was 2 point 5 at the time – the point 5 being a dog.
Most people share in New York… and 50 percent of them have a dog. Generally If you get a girlfriend or boyfriend you move in with them, you might as well if you stay over most nights, that’s living. In a lot of ways it’s good but then it probably also causes a lot of unwanted pregnancies and has no doubt broken up a few great bands before their time. The break ups are heavy… but still they’re final, you move out… it’s back to where it was or it’s move in with someone else right away… it will probably be the latter, in fact. It makes no sense to keep your own apartment and stay over, well that’s what you think at the time. In fact it makes perfect sense because it means you can get the fuck out of a relationship without turning your whole life upside down, but where’s the fun in that? Kids are born every day out of relationships born through housing needs, then the family of three, probably 4, leave the city and the whole thing is fucked… all that energy, all that commitment fucked by pregnancy and veiled happiness – the turnover of tragedy – kick starting the next whilst chopping the legs from the old, setting up then breaking up more great, new bands.
I’d been living with a Swedish sex pest, closet homo / bi-sexual beast (all one person) and another Swede who was super cool; a proper entertaining dude, he knew a few steps of ballet and used to bust them in the bar, good techno DJ too who could stay up forever, really fun and entertaining guy. We moved out of the old place and took the offer of this new apt that was up for grabs as one occupant was touring the world with his band and our friend living with him had to move on… so we got the apartment and his boxer dog came with it.
Mr Tofer the landlord was Hasidic Jewish which worked great for us because that meant he can’t accept rent on a Friday after 6 and on a Saturday all day. He also can’t accept rent from a female so if we have problems we leave the rent with the girlfriend to pay while we ‘have to work’. He can’t accept anything from a female and more to boot our female associate is Jewish, so he’s totally fucked and he has to come back another time as any interaction with her at all could have serious repercussions. Generally they take all that with good humour to be fair, and in my experience the Hasidic landlord is much happier coming round and getting a bit of bartering banter on the rent rather than the regular, straight payment. Those guys love the deal, like your car salesmen types, they love haggling and bartering over money. Make no mistake about the Hasidic, those cats are mad ghetto. Don’t let the get up fool you, those dudes are gully. This guy came looking for rent on Christmas Day.
I’d been living with a Swedish sex pest, closet homo/bi-sexual beast (all one person) and another Swede who was super cool; a proper entertaining dude, he knew a few steps of ballet and used to bust them in the bar, good techno DJ too, who could stay up forever.
Yup, that’s right, Christmas fucking Day and I’m sitting in my apartment when there’s a knock at the door. It’s a basement so I can see the long black coat with the pointy boot shoes peeking out below it… Aaaah whatever man…no one goes knocking doors on Christmas Day, not where I’m from but nah, bang bang bang, he’s rapping on the window now, bending down to peer in. It’s not funny anymore, it’s got to be something serious I’m thinking. For someone to come round on Christmas Day… I go to the door. It’s not Mr Tofer it’s his son…but there’s no way I could tell that from the view I had which was from the knees down out the basement window…from the knees down they are identical, Tofer and his son… Tofer and his son and almost every other Hasidic Jew to the untrained eye, from the knees down are identical apart from shoe size when i think about it. When the Hasidic mob together it’s a quite fantastic sight, I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen a whole community of Hasidic swarm the street till it’s chock a block, shoulder to shoulder, the WHOLE block. Takes about a minute, no more than two.
A sea of people, like zebras on the African plain, wildebeest. Your eyes start deceiving you and you start confusing your own brain… heads and bodies, arms, legs and feet all morphing in the black and white blob in front of you. I’ve seen them fight too. I’ve seen a whole block flooded with Hasidic Jews, thousands of them in seconds, all out because there’s a fight… cops were hopeless… couldn’t get near it…they physically blocked off the whole block of Berry between Broadway and South 10th. The Hasidic kids jumped one of the kids in my building, a few of them… he couldn’t identify shit so they just went out and picked one and beat on him… that brought out the whole community… you never saw anything like it… the swarming. But there he is, the prick, on Christmas Day banging on my window… I answer the door to the guy, he’s banging on that now, I say “Hey how you doing? What’s going on?” and he’s like – “Hey, WHERE”S MY MONEY?” His money? God damn it… it’s fucking Christmas Day and he’s coming at me with some sort of surprise attack. It’s entirely pre-meditated like some kind of Jewish Tet Offensive. He knows I’ll be here given it’s Christmas Day and he comes round to catch me unawares… fuck the Baby Jesus and Peace on Earth For All – give me my money… that’s some cold hearted shit… I don’t know anyone that would pull that patter and i’ve met a few proper rotters as well. No shame in the Hasidic game when it comes to collecting… Christmas Fucking Day… Damn!
So, the thing is I really wanted to split with my girl at the time but of course, she had moved in and as I’ve outlined she was super useful for avoiding the rent. I was going to have to sit it out for another month or so before she had something sorted, it was always going to go wrong but I made it clear to her where I stood. Who remembers the banal break up anyway…
“What do you want for tea, honey?”
“I want you to leave… I want you to get your shit and get the fuck out of this apartment, walk the hell out of my life… and take your fucking sausages”
“Yeah well I can’t leave right now, I have nowhere to go…”
“I’ll be fine without you, you know, just get the fuck out.”
“Yeah, I know… still, you want some Jimmy Deans?”
I had moved to South 2nd Street and inherited a dog and a hardcore bitch. My girlfriend was Jewish and did my head right in.The dog’s owner was in a punk band called Bouncing Souls and he fucked off on tour for 2 years leaving his dog behind. Everyone knew that dog, everyone on the block and for the surrounding 2 or 3 blocks knew him. I took him out first night I stayed there and people were shouting across the street at me,
“What’s up BO!”
They all knew Bo, they all speak to your dog.You can walk around Brooklyn and people will talk to your dog and totally ignore you, or they may just nod at you and smile after engaging your pet. New Yorkers love their dogs and they’re very good at the upkeep of them. Scots are really rubbish at it. Beaches and public areas in Scotland are smited by dog shite. Dog owners in the UK, compared to their New York counterparts are totally classless, lazy bastards. If you can’t clean up after your dog you shouldnae fucking have one! That’s what I say… In New York not so, there’s no need, it stays clean over there, they have dog runs and areas for dogs, it’s very much their city too. We were spoilt for open space at the time in Brooklyn. Pre 911 the waterfront was all open, right along the Williamsburg shoreline of the East River. People went down there every day walking dogs. There were drum circles and people sunbathing and chilling in general. There were no clear areas set out, it wasn’t like a city park or anything, it was entirely barren with a few logs to sit upon, you had to break through the wire fence to get in there. There were a bunch of homeless living down there, mostly just wanting not to be disturbed, fucked with drink and drugs. It’s all condos now I hear.
This one day was hot, a real dog day, I took Bo out regardless.
We’d walk for hours around the neighbourhood, I loved the graffiti and was following the beefs and who was getting up in the hood closely. I’d walk around seeing new tags from Cycle, Cost, Jesus Saves and Set Up, interested on different levels, fascinated on some. Semen was good but mainly in the city, he had character, so did Rate. I liked Semz because he kept varying his styles and Miss 17 was up too. Others hitting it hard were JA, UFO, Dirt and Perry ,there were countless others, PG, Betz, Dee17, DG, Kech, Doze, new writers every other week. Walking around though, the one guy who stood out from the pack was REVS. It wasn’t just his spray can work, he’d started to write Revs in metal and go around welding it onto things. He’d done the subway diaries – a white scroll, sometimes yellow in the subway tunnels with his diary notes written in black onto it.
They were all over, loads of them talking about his school friends and teachers, his graffiti influences, all spray painted on the walls of the subway tunnels, fresh as fuck. Revs had been around for years. He’d done the wheat pasting posters with Cost all over Manhattan, hitting every traffic light – can’t fuck with that either, one of the most famous graffiti campaigns of all time. Him and Peak had done the ‘world’s biggest piece’ over at Dumbo… a pretty dull massive piece that is still artistically competent and huge……… Yet he stayed underground. Others around him were making a lot of money from graffiti but Revs just seemed to be saying fuck it and taking it to different places, new levels, especially with the metalwork and the sculptures. Statues were now appearing all over Brooklyn, some 3 feet high; there were manhole covers, gratings, dumpster covers, building support beams. Most said REVS some he added other graffiti associate names, some said other things like ‘supersport’. He’d been done by the cops along with Cost and had to cool it for a bit regarding all the subway/wheat posting damage he had done. This was his new thing. I’d read he liked the idea of dog’s pissing on them. Urban Art for All.
The one guy who stood out from the pack was REVS. It wasn’t just his spray can work, he’d started to write Revs in metal and go around welding it onto things. He’d done the subway diaries – a white scroll, sometimes yellow in the subway tunnels with his diary notes written in black onto it…
Revs had hit the building next to the Williamsburg Bridge with a red roller. Two lines, 2 letters each, 10 foot high… RE on top, VS underneath.
Dirt and Perry started the whole roller thing, that’s the truth, I think – it’s what they stated and they weren’t suckers. Dirt died unfortunately but Perry kept going for a while hitting it hard catching tags all over the 5 boroughs. Their roller work was real innovative. They hit a few buildings around the same area, same part of Williamsburg. Up top, right next to the bridge, they were first to get the rollers out. Revs, Cost, Amaze and Peak all took it to the next level doing huge roller pieces on the brick walls of Brooklyn and along the sides of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway but Dirt and Perry started doing the tops of the buildings. Dirt then just got into rollering his name over shit, it was very original.
Revs had rollered this one building next to the bridge big style. He did what’s required when you’re shouting your name over the noise of the Brooklyn traffic going to and from Manhattan… 8-10 foot letters in bright red and facing the river, not side on to the bridge, facing Manhattan and as obvious as the Domino Sugar Company sign next to it. Stating your name…… and they can read it from a mile away, the other side of the East River…
Booming, bright, blood red.
They cleaned it off, or they tried to. Obviously they weren’t as adept as Mr Revs cos they only managed to wash of the top RE, the VS remained. The building was white and had been converted into apartments, my friend Frank had his photography studio in there. Most people would be pissed off if someone daubed their building with some blood red paint but nah, he thought it was cool, Frank liked it, he would refer to the building as The Revs Building.
“Yeah come back to mine… It’s the Revs building, do you know it?”
It’s the VS building now I guess.
Revs had succeeded there in that respect. He had a building named after him now, if not by the owners or the original builder, by the residents. I bet he would like that. I mean, I also bet he doesn’t give a fuck but I bet he’d like that he changed the name of a building to The Revs Building in our minds, what writer wouldn’t?
We’d walk down South 5th Street on the North side of the bridge and under it’s massive red and grey steel arches. Flocks of starlings bursting from it’s beams, peregrine falcons nesting in it’s alcoves. It’s a sloping downhill road, unkept with potholes at the time, goes down to the river past Berry and Whythe, eventually hitting Kent where we’d make a right round at Rocky’s and walk along the shore. Down there just before Rocky’s on the corner of Whythe there’s a mechanic’s yard… they have a green metal surround to their front gates. Welded onto the top of the entrance, right in the middle, like a sign above the entrance to the work yard it says REVS, in metal, green metal the same as the gate, matches perfectly, it’s the same metal. I’m walking past with the dog and the guy from the yard comes out, he’s an older guy.
“Hey man,” I point at the name above the gate and smile… “You Revs?”
“Nah” he says, smiling back… “But I know him.”
We keep walking down to the shore. It was all just barren industrial area at the time, all weeded over, acres of space next to the huge Domino Sugar Factory, (It’s called Output now, it’s a nightclub.) The whole skyline of New York right there in front of you, across the river. It was spectacular down there, a lot of people relaxing every day, every morning. Much of the ground was concreted, old floors of torn down buildings from the days when this area was hype with activity from the East River transport, right across from 14th Street in the city.
Bo was really hot by the time we had gotten down to the river and panting hard, he was a big guy. We had to harness him round the front, he would attack other dogs otherwise, he could easily pull you off the single leash. So we had him on a mega short leash and a harness round his chest. Down by the river it’s ok though, you can take him off the leash down there, he just runs around and other dogs don’t bother him none down there.
But it’s hot, baking hot and Bo’s panting heavily, his tongue is out the side of his mouth. Throwing the stick is an option but damn it’s hot and the dog’s not a pup.
I walked him further down to the waterfront and there’s a trailer there around the bottom of North 8th Street, maybe North 10th. The trailer is white/blue and faded with the sun and age… it’s got style though and it’s a clean area where someone works, perhaps lives. It’s a workspace though primarily, or looks like. Just a regular trailer with this mutt dog sitting outside it, all black and candy, german shepherd coloured with a white flash on the chest, a real street looking dog, real cool dog with a blood red name tag. They have running water there. I can see there’s a hose hooked up, a thick black industrial hose with a clamp at the end. It suits Bo, he’s not a five star treatment kinda dog. Born in Alphabet City on Avenue D and taken across the bridge to Brooklyn, his boxer ears were cut down badly but it just added to his charisma, his tail had been butchered too, real back street job.
I look around, there’s a bunch of old, burnt out oil and garbage cans, industrial cans most likely for make shift fires or water storage, the kind you see on picket lines, farms and building sites, all rusted. The dog’s barking and Bo’s getting jumpy but he’s too hot and thirsty to even muster a growl. It’s the dog’s patch, the dog’s hose, Bo knew the score sometimes.
A guy comes out, he’s in his 30s, white dude, he’s wearing bleached jeans and work boots, the jeans are thick work jeans with dark brown and dirty markings on the thighs, they’re shredded and have been patched up, well worn work jeans, bleached, stained with dirt and toil. He’s got a checkered work shirt on, again it’s very well worn. His hair is messy and unshorn, a mess of light curls, not styled at all. His hands are covered in oil or some such and he’s got a rag, a leather. He’s a working guy.
He’s not a five star treatment kinda dog. Born in Alphabet City on Avenue D and taken across the bridge to Brooklyn, his boxer ears were cut down badly but it just added to his charisma, his tail had been butchered too, real back street job.
“Hey you need help?” He’s suspicious, he’s from Brooklyn, he has an accent.
“Hey man, listen my dog’s really hot, can he get a drink from your hose? He’s real thirsty, we walk down here a lot.”
He looks at Bo, you just need to look at Bo to know he’s the real deal.
“Oh, uh yeah for the dog? Sure, go ahead.” He goes straight back inside the trailer.
Cool guy I’m thinking and I take Bo over there, he’s a dog lover obviously. You can tell that cos he’s got a cool well mannered dog outside the camper and that was straight up compassion he was showing for Bo who’s tongue is hitting the ground cartoon style by this point.
Bo laps up the water from the thick rubber hose, stamped and clipped with a metal clamp and we walk on down to the river.
Some weeks later I’m walking over there again with Bo, just chillin’, winding up and down the wee streets near the river. Loads of fresh tags every day, loads of throwies on the sides of the warehouse type buildings down there, a great place to see new street graffiti on the daily. Just walking up and down the blocks coming off Kent Avenue along the waterfront you would see all the current writers. You could see some good styles and you see who’s finding their feet. One day we were just strolling up what is the darkest of all the streets down there and bosh! There’s a new Revs welded in black on the metal bars outside of a warehouse building…
Woah! check that out! Revs welded a new one, mad cool…
…He must stand there for some time welding that on and the metal work skills to make his name in metal too. He’s fuckin’ great, no one else is doing this, Revs won’t wash away…
…and It looks GOOD! – Solid metal, 2 inches thick, welded onto the X shaped building supports of a warehouse at an angle on one of the arms of the X, and welded perfectly, in jet black.
Damn! Revs is the man.
We keep walking and head up North 10th Street. There’s a new store up there, one of those new SoHo looking stores selling beds and lamps, foot rests for hundreds of dollars and some other, really quite cool stuff – they have a poster in the window for a new graffiti book coming out called Autograf. It has a great picture of Serf on the cover. He’s in front of the Manhattan Bridge on a rooftop wearing super cool shades at night with his jacket pulled up hiding his face, it’s a great photo, real outlaw but a really high quality photo. I want to see this book.
Next day we’re walking down Bedford Avenue, I get a sausage, egg and cheese roll and a coffee out of Leon’s Burger Hut, it beats the crap out of La Villita Bakery, their bread tastes mouldy and the cheese is wrong. It’s that or the newly opened Bagel Store and I like the ladies in Leon’s. I walk slowly down the road with my sandwich and Bo. I’m headed down to Spoonbills’ book shop, they usually have all the latest stuff coming out, a magic wee bookstore. As I pass the Bagel Store I notice a massive new piece across the road… it’s head height and 30 feet long – has to be a legal piece – CYCLE, it says. His name looks like a reptile, all green and slimy, he’s hit the whole building with Lady Pink who is on the end corner. This is a great neighbourhood for graffiti. This piece is right next to Spoonbills.
It has FuckinRevs tagged across it in blood red and he’s also looking down, at a dog. He’s holding up the dog beside him, it’s back feet off the ground, it’s front haunches held up triumphantly in front of him, facing the camera, belly first.
I walk in the bookstore and there’s a bunch of graffiti books there along with everything else; some really super cool books on urban calligraphy, independent pressings and all.There it is, as expected – Serf’s hidden face and Autograf. I pick it up and not only does it feature most of the writers around at the time but I notice the main script written in the centrefold had been done by REVS. This is very exciting and I quickly flick through the pages to see a hand written essay from the man himself. I get the book.
I start reading through the handwritten text, he has great writing, all upper case and Revs is making the point that most of this kinda thing is shit, but these photos in this particular book are great, so he agreed to be in it. Like I said earlier, Revs had basically said fuck it to all commercial projects of this kind in the past but not only has he agreed to do the pages of text taking up the centrefold of the book but he also has allowed them to photograph him.
In the photo his face is hidden, it has FuckinRevs tagged across it in blood red and he’s also looking down, at a dog. He’s wearing shredded work jeans stained, dirty and brown at the top and a work shirt, well worn and stained. He’s holding up the dog beside him, it’s back feet off the ground, it’s front haunches held up triumphantly in front of him, facing the camera, belly first. They both look really happy, even though you can’t see his face. It’s a candy / black dog, german shepherd coloured with a white flash on his chest and a blood red name tag, the picture is taken down by the East River, on the waterfront – behind them towers the Williamsburg Bridge.
You can read more from Dribbler in NYC on Racket Racket here.