Saturday, January 21, 2017

With "Fetish", Welcome are no longer the Monarchs of the Mystifying


When Welcome skateboards apparated onto the scene in 2010, they immediately got attention for putting out boards that looked like no one else's. With team riders like Chris "Mango" Milic, and Eric Winkowski bending minds in their Monarchs Of Magic vid, they just as quickly gained a rep as the team that skated like no one else. A lot has changed since Monarchs. A brand that began as a quirky oddity, has grown to become much more than just the common ground between old warhorses looking for the glory days and millenial hipsters burning to be "different". Welcome is now a wildly successful a-list company. The distinctive boards that once set them apart are now representative of the status quo. With Welcome's new full length video Fetish, the same might be said to have happened to the team's skating.



No doubt, The skating in Fetish is top flight. State of the art. Mind blowing in many instances. But is the old magic there? Or is the wizardry that once defined Welcome just become the norm?

Fetish is a undoubtedly ambitious video. It clocks in at about 40 minutes in a time when many skate brands are abandoning full lengths altogether. Its aesthetic is low-fi, using a VHS style square aspect ratio, and there's not a drone shot to be found, nor a single minute of slow mo ultra-hi-def b-roll. Fetish has more in common with Shackle Me Not than Away Days. That's not a criticism either. I may be an old kook, but I still like it when skate vids look more like Rubbish Heap than an episode of No Reservations.

The caliber of skating on view would certainly be at home in any 4k, professionally lensed piece of big company promo porn. There are crazy gaps, ludicrous handrail and hubba tricks,  and dizzying, a-list park flowing. The Welcome team's location scouting is also on point, with unique spots, from pixellated hubbas to roller coaster quadruple-kinked handrails, on display. The skating is also inventive, each rider has his own style, every member of the team is distinct.

In short, Fetish looks like a very solid team video from a very formidable team. There's lots of talent. Lots of jaw-dropping hammers and even a few mind-benders. But, even though theres a whole bag of NBDs, there aren't not nearly as many of the HOEDYTOTs (how on earths did you think of thats) that set Monarchs Of Magic apart back in the day.

And there's the rub.

Welcome's rep was not built on just being creative, It was built on the bizarre. Monarchs Of Magic was characterized by maneuvers that had skaters not just asking themselves: "Could I do that?" but also "Would I do that?" There are many moments in Fetish where the old magic shows up in little bits. Ryan Lay kicks off his opener with a nollie hippie jump through a bump-to-ledge. Will Blaty ups the early grab game (early grabs are a recurring theme in the vid actually) and also throws in some next level cave mans, Jason Salilas does a literally death defying wallie between two roof-high ledges(his ender is a gnarbender as well). But, on the whole, only Jordan Sanchez delivers a part that really felt like the "original" Welcome to me: solidly unconventional and brain-altering, free of stunt skating, yet no less accomplished because of its technical and creative level.

Still, All the parts are great. No denying. Daniel Vargas could put together an edit that was 3 minutes of carving and it would be awesome. Nora Vasconcellos still looks like she is having more fun on a skateboard than anyone else. Aaron Goure does the biggest stair-set early grab yet, and a great rail grind-dumptruck out move. Ryan Townley more than earns his ender spot with yank out variations on rails, a boneless fs wallride down a set of stairs, as well as other assorted gnarness like a flatground no comply over a ridiculously huge sidewalk gap. This is great skating. But is that enough when the name "Welcome" is above the titles? This is a good video, but The difference between Fetish and Monarchs Of Magic is the difference between the cutting edge and the Avant Garde. One is impressive, the other, disruptive.

It may be unfair to judge a video by these standards in 2017. Unique use of unique terrain, and a no-tricks barred approach to every type of skating is the norm now. It's harder to surprise people when they've been conditioned to expect the inconceivable. I don't know whether Welcome has come to look more like the rest of skateboarding, or if the rest of skateboarding has become more like Welcome. Yeah, it's an unfair standard. But it was a standard Welcome helped set.

Welcome is no longer  a cult, but an established religion. They are a big deal. I have heard whispers about philosophical changes in the welcome camp, but these, are just rumors. What is indisputable is that Welcome's presence has pushed the outliers in skateboarding even further out. Maybe it is just not feasible for a company in Welcome's current position to be able to match the skewed brilliance of crews like Fancy Lad, or even go weird-on-weird with players like ex-Welcome rider "Mango" Milic, whose recent, fantastically bent, 6 minute "Dr. Scarecrow" edit looks more like the evolution of Monarchs Of Magic than anything in Fetish. Then there are Instagram ronin like Ben Koppl and John Benton. How can you keep it weirder when strange is the default setting, even in the flow ranks?
Still, this is the first video that I felt compelled to write about at length on this blog. That counts for something. It certainly got me wondering if there can ever really be another skate flick like Shackle Me Not or Video Days: One that can change everything: not just the contemporary trick roster, but the whole style, approach and objective of skateboarding? If it's still possible, what would that edit look like? Thinking about that is definitely a futile endeavor. That's the thing with revolutions though: by definition, you can't see them coming. They just appear. Like Magic.




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