From the punk movement in the '70s to the ravers in the '90s, right up to the current-day grime era, it's as if there's always been an underdog making a racket at the margins of British mainstream culture.
As London rent prices continue to skyrocket and the gap between rich and poor grows larger, a new generation of creatives is emerging — the type unshackled by notions of orthodoxy and who are unafraid of taking risks. As traditional paths to success become harder and harder to find, other, arguably more interesting, alternatives are popping up in their place instead.
Three figures in the UK’s capital represent processes that are occurring right now, and each possesses key traits that are driving the debate forward, whether through their unique vision, their sense of perception and purpose, or by simply being without fear. In our final set of stories, we journeyed to the UK capital with Nike to speak to these creatives and hear what they had to say.
Up until last year, GAIKA was a guy who appeared in public behind masks. His most recognizable, the one that appeared on his debut 2015 mixtape, MACHINE, was a wirey mesh construct that took the 'Nike Air' medallion on the Air Max 90’s heel tab and pressed it across the nose like a muzzle. But while he wears them, GAIKA doesn’t hide behind them. Instead, the masks are the physical demonstration of a broader effort in his work to challenge the conversations surrounding current music and identity – particularly the ones that pigeonhole black, straight, British musicians like him.
Pointless and outdated artistic conventions are there to be discarded.
"I wouldn't describe my work – that's not something for me to do," he says. "Artistic 'boundaries' are entirely unimportant to me." Hailing from London’s Brixton and creatively incubated at various points between the borderless fluidity of Berlin, beneath the melancholic pearly-gray skies of Manchester, and across the labyrinthine streets of Amsterdam, GAIKA is fearless, fluid and international in his approach.
"To be a revolutionary artist you just need to face the fear of death," he explains. "And whilst I think it’s important to walk your own path as an artist, I don't think that absolves your responsibility from society at large and an internally set moral compass. Pointless and outdated artistic conventions are there to be discarded."
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Vision: Evian Christ
The former school teacher trainee-turned-guardian of neo-trance music, Evian Christ is a difficult man to get your head around. Signed to Tri-Angle and Warp! Records and affiliated with Kanye West’s DONDA creative agency, he was one of the creative forces behind Yeezy’s 2013 album YEEZUS and is a guy who you could say straddles the line between prolific creative genius and absurd conceptual artist.
Christ has operated on the margins throughout his career — not so much venturing from the well-trodden music path, but rather refusing to acknowledge its existence in the first place. When his uncle gifted him an album by British techno pioneers The Black Dog back in 1999, the youngster was transfixed by the artwork, which featured a CGI dog. From there, an unlikely obsession was born as Christ attempted to collect as much canine-related electronic music as possible. It's the type of lateral thinking that feeds into his creative process to this day; the artist still inspired by atypical objects while bound to an unconventional approach.
“I have a huge illuminated LED NATO logo,” explains Christ when describing the rules he follows in order to create what he does, as well as the physical studio space in which he achieves it. “Sometimes,” he adds, when I’m working on mix-downs I turn around and focus on that rather than on the computer screen. In those moments I’m thinking about how my music relates to or honors the victims of the trance war - not in an Edward Starr ‘war’ type way, but perhaps in the same lineage as Muslimgauze’s relationship with operation peace for Galilee."
Christ's story is microcosmic of creativity's indiscriminate nature. Whether it's obsessing over a cross-Atlantic military alliance logo and coming up with a trance banger, or taking in a piece of Parisian architecture and appropriating it to a groundbreaking sneaker. In the end, a fearless and distinctive vision often reaps the most satisfying rewards.
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Perception: Liv Little
It’s difficult to assign one overarching characteristic to Liv Little. As the editor in chief of gal-dem mag, the publication written principally by women of color, she’s overseen the magazine becoming a driving force in challenging what views, interpretations and lived experiences are actually seen in the media landscape.
gal-dem came about from a desperate desire to connect with other women of color.
Sadly, this can be seen as rebellious. But it’s also perceptive, too – a perception that naturally comes from the legitimate discontent that for too long, the world has been simplified at the expense and suppression of other people’s voices. "The inception of gal-dem came about from many things but mainly out of what was a desperate desire to connect with other women of color," she explains. "We look at topics or issues which matter to us and try to think of unusual and exciting ways to tackle them. It's all about collaboration and bringing in the voices of those around you."
Little’s work is also by definition collaborative. With well over 100 women now writing for the magazine, it is already expanding from the confines of virtual publication and commentary into physical events. From mini-documantaries to comedy nights and artistic installations, including gal-dem’s Friday Late piece at London’s V&A in October 2016, Little is part of a process that’s bringing previously unheard voices into the mainstream debate. "I personally hope that women of color are able to take solace in our platform and that those from outside of that demographic really listen and engage with the topics we are discussing."
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Read the stories we gathered with Nike of genuine creatives living in Berlin and Paris, and how they’re making it as creative people in their cities. See how the original Air Max 1 compares to this year’s re-release, see inside Nike’s never-before-seen secretive Air facility in Beaverton, or read the story of how Nike’s new VaporMax sneaker was created from 30,000 parts and 30 years of research.