King ADZ interview


On Friday 5th April Amsterdam was lucky enough to have advertising legend and street culture guru King ADZ give a presentation of his latest book: The Stuff You Can't Bottle: Advertising for the Global Youth Market. Erik Kessels from the advertising agency KesselsKramer joined King ADZ giving insight into their practice and views on the contemporary youth market, advertising and street culture. If you didn't make it down to the event on the day, don't worry, I was lucky enough to get an interview with King ADZ, check it out below.

For the people reading this who don't already know, can you give an introduction of who you are and what you do?

I am a writer, film-maker, and street middleman – which basically means I’m the conduit between brands and authentic street culture/talent.

You played a part in Blek Le Rat's rise to recognition and fame, how did that come about?

I was making a pilot for a TV show and needed a pioneer. I discovered that Blek had been getting up with his stencils on the streets since the 1980s, and tracked him down to his house in the country, where he couldn’t get arrested. He was in the wilderness, lucky if he could shift a painting for £200. I made a film about him and this led to Thames & Hudson asking me to write a monograph on his work. This put him on the map. Despite all of this, what was really important, was that Banksy gave me a quote for the cover of the DVD, and this has been used ever since to back up the myth of Blek. The Banksy quote made Blek famous.

Street Art really took off a few years ago when everyone went a bit mental for it, how do you feel about Street Art today? Has its popularity from mainstream culture tarnished its reputation?

I don’t have anything to do with street art any more. I have some great artists on the walls of my house as a testament to the great journey and times I had, but as I’ve written three books about it and shot a million films I think I’ve done and said all there is to say. It was interesting when it was a sub-culture. Now it’s mainstream I couldn’t give a flying fuck. Saying that, the only street artist who I still talk about is Amsterdam’s own – Laser 3.14 – he’s the business. Love him and his work.

Do you see any similarities in the Streetwear market today? Its definitely picked up a lot in the past few years and gained widespread followers from all over the world, what effect do you think this will have on the industry?

I love streetwear. I’m 44 and by rights I should have stopped wearing street shit, but I can’t. I once said I’d give it all up and buy a couple of classic suits, but that was a lie. Streetwear till the day I die. It’s an integral part of my cultural DNA. I’m so happy that the industry has boomed. I’ve worked in and out of it since the 90s and I love that it has become a bone-fide part of the fashion world. I don’t give a toss about haute couture, unless it’s a colab with someone from the street. And for ages – just like the art world and street art – the fashion world refused to accept that streetwear was just as important as what they were doing. They were so fucking snobbish about what was ‘real’ fashion. I think one of the turning points was Stephen Sprouse’s LV graffiti bag. A lot of folk took notice of the street after that

Whats your favourite brand?

Stussy. But I have the upmost love & respect for A-life, Supreme, and Patta.

Nike is by far the most popular sneaker brand we sell in store, can you put your finger on how they achieved the success that they have seen over the past 3 or 4 decades?

They have a lot of very clever and intuitive people working for them around the world, who understand that advertising and brand sustentation is not just about making content that looks like an advert. Plus they sponsor artists, designers, and whatnot. They got that it was about embedding their brands into the hearts and minds of the youth a decade or so before anyone else was doing it. They looked way into the future and understood. I usually only wear Vans half-cabs, but recently bought a pair of Nike Challenge Court McEnroes, cos I used to rock them in the 80s.

Compared with style tribes from previous decades the youth of today just doesn't seem to have the same sort of pride in labelling themselves like the Mods and Punks of the 60's and 70's or the Casuals and B-Boys of the 80s did. Do you think the days the youth branding themselves and rolling in a pack of easily distinguishable tribes are over?

No. It’s still there, it’s just a bigger movement. Sneaker heads are the mods of today, but because of the internet it’s a global phenomena.

How big of a part do you think the internet has played in this? Streetstyle is no longer contained to your city, by simply cowing the right blogs you can see the latest trends from most big cities. Has this had a positive or negative on youth culture?

The internet is omnipotent. It created the platform for what street culture has mutated into. Just like the intent created a platform for street art, it also provided a channel for streetwear. It’s good and bad. A lot of people think they’re hip to something cos they read a blog. You need to do way more than that to become part of our culture. You need to actively participate and add to what we’re doing. Rather than just consuming. You get back what you put in. If you just buy stuff on-line then all you’re going to get back is just that – a parcel in the mail and an empty feeling in your stomach when you seen someone else wearing the very same thing.

As well as your passion and books on street culture you also have a book that documents your love for street food. Can you tell us your definition of 'street food' and where is the best place in the world to get some?

Street food is my heart. Street food is the most uncomplicated, authentic food you can find in any city. I like a bit of high-end tukker from time to time but street food is the only way to get an authentic insight to any city. From sabich in Tel Aviv to borrie rolls covered in Chakalaka in downtown Jo’burg to Dim Sum in Singapore, it’s all good in my hood. Nom nom nom.

Your work has seen you travel the world documenting and researching for your projects, where is the most inspiring place you've been and is there anywhere you still haven't been that you would like to go?

South Africa is the most inspiring place. I’ve been living and working in and out of the place since the mid 90s and I can’t shake it! There is no-where like it as the street culture is fresh as fuck. Hard to beat. End of.

I’d like to go to anywhere that is media dark. Not sure that exists anymore, but wherever that is I want to go. I took this photo in Mali 6 hours from the capital in the middle of no-where. They didn’t have running water but this kid was rocking a Nike headband.

Finally can you give any advice to any young creatives reading this looking to make a career within the youth street culture industry?

Carve a niche with your uniqueness. It’s easy to say and hard as fuck to actually do. You have to really believe in what you do and do it differently to everyone else. Personally, some of my biggest successes have come from my biggest mistakes.

King ADZ book The Stuff You Can’t Bottle: Advertising for the Global Youth Market is a must read for anyone with an interest in the youth market, street culture or advertising and is available to buy now.

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