You might have caught our reel with the English writer Ponk HA TNS last week on Instagram. This veteran artist, based in Barcelona for the best part of a decade, is deep into topics aside from his consistent bombing in the city, like skateboarding, politics and music. As the #mtnmusicmonth comes to a close, we sat down with him to talk about “dubs” – a term often used in the UK to describe both his favoured silver pieces and the music with Jamaican roots that informs his radio show and DJ selections.
“Dubs are quick, one colour bold pieces, often silver to deal with the rough Victorian English train track walls.”
We wanted to talk to you about meaning of “dubs” in UK graffiti and music, which deserves a little investigation. Starting with graffiti, when was the first time you heard the term? What does dub mean to you?
Yeah, I think for me the term immediately conjures up memories of seeing big silver DDS (Diabolical Dubstars) pieces lining the train tracks of London in 1995 – 97.
When I learnt the meaning of the crew name and linked that to the quick, funky and readable tracksides. This confirmed my understanding of the word dub in graffiti – how it should look and what it should do. I think it could be a harsh British weather thing too – Maybe.
Quick, one colour bold pieces, often silver to deal with the rough Victorian English train track walls.
Who are the main proponents of the style?
I think anyone from the 90’s from the North to the south of England are well versed in the strength of a perfectly placed and carefully executed dub.
Is there anything different about a UK dub compared to silver pieces executed anywhere else?
I think all the things I mentioned before give the UK a particular flavour. The weather, the surface, the mentality in the UK that you’re doing something bad and being watched (CCTV) wherever you go.
Is that different to any other country in Europe/ the World?
I don’t know but I feel it’s given the UK versions a special and unique quality.
“It’s not easy feat making a dub look good. The nature of a dub – quick, illegal and visible with good placement means there’s always a story to be told.”
What do you like about painting dubs? Can you recall any special memories whilst out painting in silver and black?
I think I mainly like the simplicity. There’s no hiding your style behind extras, do-dads, and fancy connections. It’s not easy feat making a dub look good. The nature of a dub – quick, illegal and visible with good placement means there’s always a story to be told. If you’re into this, you know.
I also like painting these simple pieces in interesting abandoned spaces. Going off exploring and finding new places to paint adds to the excitement and the ‘thrill of the chase’. I’ve no doubt this energy materialises in the piece or pieces that unfold.
“The ties between the development of music from this epoch and graffiti are always mentioned when any of the pioneers and proponents of graffiti talk about how things developed.”
The term “dub” in music can refer to several different concepts, but it seems clear that it came over to the UK from Jamaica, connected to reggae music and sound system culture. Has this influence filtered into UK graffiti?
The influence of British colonial emigration has without doubt influenced every area of UK culture. Especially the youth cultures, which naturally have their roots in the mid 80’s when young people discovered their voice.
The ties between the development of music from this epoch and graffiti are always mentioned when any of the pioneers and proponents of graffiti talk about how things developed.
The soundsystem culture influenced UK hip hop, rave, drum and bass, garage, grime and more. These sounds have influenced culture, fashion, language and style. Graffiti as an art form is influenced by everything. Everything that influences people ‘comes out’ in the style of the writer/artist.
You used to live in Bristol, one of the most important cities for both graffiti and music in the UK and maybe beyond. Who were the musicians and writers that you coincided with? What makes it a special city?
I arrived in Bristol in the early 2000’s. Graffiti, skateboarding and music are integral to the city. So much so that people (me included) have found themselves drawn to the city for one or all of the above reasons. When I arrived the city was energised from the recent ‘Walls on Fire’ graffiti jam. I would go down to the docks regularly to check out the pieces from the best of the UK’s writers.
Soon after that I met Sickboy and Spam. We started painting together and I fed off their unconventional artistic styles. At the same time I met the TCF crew through Feek. Paris, Eko, Xenz & Ziml were producing some of the freshest, biggest and most organic productions in the UK.
Acer, Rowdy, Soker, 3Dom, 45rpm and more were also painting, learning and growing. It was a good-vibes scene; artistic, energetic, competitive but also inclusive, so we would learn a lot from each other.
Musically the vibe was everywhere. In all corners. I arrived after the drum and bass era of Ronnie Size, Krust and Die but the strength of that scene developed into the new generation of bass music and dubstep-fueled parties and nights that gives Bristol its spirit and intensity.
English culture has been under the microscope since basically Brexit, and most recently, the culture war promoted by the Government, pitting the populace against black footballers. As a UK national who’s lived abroad for a while now, what’s your perspective on the situation?
Fuck. This question needs a book not a badly-worded statement from me.
I guess it’s also very difficult to give a fair and unbiased opinion without actually being there, Seeing and understanding what’s actually happening in the towns, cities and streets.
The whole world is suffering right now from increasingly authoritarian governments who use the (controlled) media to enforce their ideas and warp the minds of the proletariat.
All the information is out there but it’s invariably disguised and warped to the point where no one knows what’s really going on and I don’t think this is only happening in the UK. It’s also not only happening against the ‘black footballers’. It’s happening politically between left and right, around the subjects of immigration, economy, environment, war, education. I don’t know if it’s always been like this throughout history. But certainly right now, it feels like those with power are trying to do everything they can to maintain it at any cost. Check @ukfactcheckpolitics
How do you think that the graffiti movement can give more support to the Black Lives Matter movement, if at all?
This movement is a coming together of people. It’s important we realise and understand it’s a movement and not an organisation. A movement for change, understanding and education. It’s a moment in history that we can all learn from that has inspired change all around the world. Giving people hope and strength and instilling panic in the governments and oppressive regimes that benefit from people living in fear and tyranny. Everyone who understands this should be behind it. We should be coming together to make change.
“I think we can all talk more about anything political. Open up the discussion with our friends, think about our own actions and change how we live.”
I think we can all talk more about anything political. Open up the discussion with our friends, think about our own actions and change how we live.
Graffiti, born from the street, and from young people wanting to be heard. As much as I love it, graffiti has developed, as with most things in our society, into an individualistic activity, where freedom of action is more important than a shared effort and responsibility. It would be great if we could turn this around.
I recently saw Fresh’s post saying that writers should “spray positive messages” this really struck a chord with me and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while now. As writers we often feel similar to Skeme:
“It’s a matter of bombing, knowing that I can do it. Every time I get into a train, almost every day I see my name. I say, ”Yeah, you know it. I was there, I bombed it.
It’s for me. It’s not for nobody else to see. l don’t care – l don’t care about nobody else seeing it, or the fact if they can read it or not. It’s for me and other graffiti writers, that we can read it.”
But our names and expressions are out there in the public realm. If writers were more politically active, maybe we could be the ones to help make a change. As Fresh said: “If you write graffiti you have this beautiful tool to say something to the world. Try to be impeccable with your words, you never know who can receive them.”
To finish off: what’s your all time favourite graffiti dub and music dub?
Graffiti: The first huge Fume in Hammersmith. Anything by Nylon in the 90’s.
Music: Impossible to give you an all time favourite, but check out my Syndicate Sound playlist on Spotify for an idea of the music that I’m into.