Dinosaur Jr., Operation Ivy, Wu-Tang Clan. These nameswere foreign to most skaters until Alien Workshop’s mesmerizingMemory Screen, H-Street’s Bootleg, or 101’s forever-underratedSnuff. Skating and music have always been close associates,sometimes by blood in the case of Suicidal Tendencies and Dogtown.The right song in the right video catapulted a band into skate-rockhistory, bringing with it skateboarders’ coveted respect and years ofsupport. Both sides of this cross-promotional phenomenon got wisequickly as skate companies began hooking up bands with gear andthe occasional pro-band model deck, and bands desperately wantedtheir music in skate vids.
These days, sponsorship is merely a baby step. Launchingtheir own record labels and music tours, skate companies are theones breaking bands. Getting rock stars to endorse skate gear is acakewalk, chances are they were wearing it already.
The earliest organized collaboration between the twocircles was most likely the Skate Rock cassettes popularized byThrasher in the early 80s. “Bands like JFA, Agent Orange, TSOL, BigBoys, Gang Green, Minor Threat, et cetera were basically made up ofskaters,” explains High Speed Productions? Rick Rotsaert. “Producingthe first Skate Rock cassette tape was as easy as asking the bands ifthey wanted to contribute.” The first Skate Rock show went down inMay of 1983 in San Francisco featuring, among others, SteveCaballero’s now legendary band, The Faction.
A decade later, a few other DIY skate-related labelsdecided to jump in the game. Beer City Records was launced in1992, the same time as their skateboard company, as a vessel forpunk, hardcore, and skate-rock bands to release their music. “Labelswere interested in pop-punk, techno, rap, and alternative,” saysMike Beer. “There were a lot of great bands around despite themedia labeling punk as dead.” Ten years and 138 releases later, BeerCity continues to set the standard with records from The U.S.Bombs, The Faction, and newly signed DRI. The next time you seeDuane Peters skating or onstage sans shirt, check the Beer City tatblazing across his stomach.
After years of selling punk vinyl in the Sessions skate shop,Joel Gomez started Sessions’ record label in 1994. Created as ahobby and a way to expose his friends’ bands, Gomez maintains hisfriends-before-partners ethics to this day: “The bands thatsported/sport Sessions stuff were/are my friends. We never sendproduct to bands we don’t have a relationship with, who I’ve nevermet.” Some of Gomez’ friends include Dennis Dannel of SocialDistortion, James Hetfield of Metallica, No Use For a Name, theBeastie Boys, and Sick Of It All.
Fast-forward to reports on Vans in the Wall Street Journal,Nike owning Hurley, and skateboarding as a hot commodity.Volcom, Vans, and Hurley have all started record labels of theirown, and shoe companies like DVS and Sole Technology have musicand entertainment managers on staff. The focus is no longer onband exposure or for love of the music, it’s now about growth andexpansion of companies. Simply put–it’s business.
Because Sessions and Beer City may have been seen ascompetition by indie labels in the past, it’s all handshakes and backpats with the new crop of skate labels. Take Vans, forexample–between their retail stores, Triple Crown contests,skateparks, and the Warped Tour, they’ve got a virtual strangleholdon the target market’s attention. And with Vans willing tocollaborate, who wouldn’t want a piece of this pie? “Epitaph wantedto help because we’ve launched many of their bands on WarpedTour,” explains Vans Vice President Of Global Marketing Jay Wilsonon the founding of Vans Records. Wilson sees other labels as allies,rather than competition. As Vans has grown, they’ve tried to strikeexclusive deals and merge with would-be competitors for the benefitof all parties. The end result is skateboarding and music exposed inthe largest scenes possible.
While Sole Technology and DVS may not have their ownrecord labels, they definitely stepped into the ring and had theirshare of successful relationships in the music biz. Etnies was asponsor at this year’s high-profile Coachella Valley Music Festival,which may be seen as a step at countering the Vans Warped Tour,but Sole’s Carrie Tucker described Etnies’ musical affiliationsdifferently: “In exchange for our support and ability to promote (ourartists) in areas where they might otherwise encounter difficulty,they show us loyalty by not wearing our competitor’s shoes, andlicensing their music for our video releases, et cetera.”
In a similar move, DVS sponsored this year’s precariouslytitled Cypress Hill Dr. Greenthumb 420 Harvest Festival. KevinDunlap expressed DVS’ involvement with artists as on a morepersonal level. “We don’t necessarily sponsor an entire band, insteadwe try and focus on key individuals in the band that best representwhat DVS is all about,” he says. “We hook up certain individualsfrom Incubus, Cypress Hill, System Of A Down, Papa Roach, AlienAnt Farm, Hoobastank, Slipknot, and Linkin Park.” Quite a far cryfrom the bands that, say, Sessions or Beer City sponsors, but timeshave changed.
But there’s another unexamined variable in theskate/music scene–the outsiders. You know ’em–Gillette Razors,Microsoft, McDonald’s. The big guys trying to jump on thebandwagon. There’s an old adage about if you can’t beat ’em, join’em. “Paul Frank, Levi’s, and Ben Sherman, who are more lifestylebrands, can be our allies,” says Sole Tech’s Tucker. “By partneringwith these types of companies, we can both increase brand exposurein complementing markets.”
Somewhat on the flip side, DVS’ Dunlap explains how skatecompanies will always have the upper hand: “One thing we have inour advantage is that they are not skate-industry companies. Thesebands understand that their target market lives the action-sportslifestyle, and by representing our industry, they form thatconnection with their fans.”
The new has run full circle into the old as Thrasher plansto release a best-of-Skate Rock CD later this year, and guys likeSteve Caballero and The Faction have paved the way for young gunslike Tony Trujillo and his band. For all the pros who wanted to getinto the music industry, that goal is now in the palm of their hands.And as Wilson leaked that Vans is pitching movies and series to MTVand other major broadcasters, the opportunities are endless forskateboarding’s future crossover.