EXCLUSIVE: Speaking to...OKER

Graffiti is a world full of fractured egos and people rarely want to acknowledge credit where it’s due. But even the most introverted, angry, opinionated writers will (begrudgingly) admit that OKER is, in the truest sense of the word, a King.

Now 30 years since he painted his first train, his influence cannot be understated. 

OKER brought the NYC funk and their two letter mentality to London & Kent and never looked back. 

Fast forward nearly 20 years and the rest of London is still playing catch up, both style and quantity wise.

When he and DELS teamed up, they became a force to be reckoned with: motivated, relentless, and stylish as fuck. If your full colour trackside ended up with an OK throwup and a TM dub over it, even though you’d be pissed off, the worst thing of all was that his throw up probably was better than your hour long piece underneath. 

Despite his dismissal of all his older pieces as “toy…I was trying to do something that wasn’t me” for most of us those are historic British burners; photos you pored over for hours analysing the letters, the colour schemes, the connections. 

Although he remains an enigma to many, he has never shied away from making his opinions known and stands by them. 

Now, in his own words…

[a Ray Keith mix is playing in the background]

Wavey Garms: Is that Ray Keith?!

OKER: I remember him…I was already out of raving by then. I used to go late 80s, early 90s - ‘cos my sister was 10 years older than me - so when I was about 14, mate. They used to just put a load of acid in me!

WG: Were you going to a lot of outdoor raves in Kent and stuff?
O: Nah not Kent, we used to go everywhere... and Essex a lot. ‘Cos a lot of the Centre Force raves and that were from Essex. 

My mate lived in Woolwich and he could get the Centre Force radio station which wasn’t transmitted very far. That was back when Fabio and Grooverider were resident DJs at Rage on a Thursday night. This was before they were even that famous or whatever. And the closed down Dole Office in Peckham, in like 1990 or something; it was killer. I was never really into it too much but it used to be quite a good adventure. I remember going somewhere and the Old Bill had shut the Blackwall Tunnel and the Rotherhithe Tunnel to stop us going. There were convoys of people, it was crazy. 

Let’s say you’d meet at World of Leather roundabout and there would be loads of cars there. Then you’d go to the next one, and the next one, then all of a sudden you’d be at this field. It used to be sick. 

People didn't really drink anything other than water in the beginning but by 92 the general pub man had a pair of purple Wallabies and thought he was a raver. That was the beginning of the end, when it started to go to the dogs. You know how snobby you get about something when you feel like it’s your thing? Then I knocked it on the head in about 91 and came back to graff again really; that was the year I started writing OKER. I had a few years where I was just into acid, but still took a pen and bombed.

My favourite was I’d drop acid, then about an hour or two into it I’d drop a pill.

That’s the banging combo innit.
I’m pretty normal now - I just have a puff - but we used to be looking for 4 way traffic. Now up and down is easy isn’t it? But left and right…[laughter] I reckon I’ve had up, down and left a few times, but I’ve never actually gone 4 ways.

There was a National Park and we used to go there, build fires and do acid. 

I’ve got a cool book actually, from the last I did acid with DEL and AKT, and we filled like 20 pages of the blackbook it looks sick. That was in the very early 00s at the GOAT’s house…it was a good night! [laughs]

I know a lot of people who’ve done it the other way round. Done loads graff, got nicked, got into loads of trouble, then started hitting raves feet first. 
I’m glad I did it the way I did. Because a few people I know have died along the way through all that stuff. Heroin fucks with people hard. The pipe; the pipe just makes people violent. 

Like I said to you before: I’ve never heard a success story. I’ve never heard "oh Johnny got on the pipe and sorted his life out!” You know what I mean? It’s never like "yeah Dave’s on the brown now, he’s gone and got a mortgage and everything!". You’ve never heard a success story.

What sparked your interest in graffiti?
I got into graffiti probably 5 years before I even did any, around 1985.

My babysitter was a guy who used to write FURI and I was just in awe of him and his mates. At a time when £50 was a lot of money - this always sticks in my head - he had a pair of Diadora’s which cost £50, he had like 10 Lacoste shirts; he just had a lot of cool stuff and he also wrote. Those kids polluted me, like really polluted me. He gave me like 20 pages of Subway Art, he gave me Getting Up! and I couldn’t even copy the drawings they were doing. I’ve still got blackbooks of theirs to this day, and certain other writers who I later found out were famous writers like GRACE and PRIME, would be round there.

So that’s how I really got into it, but actually painting…1988 I started properly doing stuff. I did my first train around 88/89. In 89 I painted a panel with PETRO - who wrote HASH at the time - or maybe I think it was 89 and he thinks it was 88? But it was back then, a few years before I wrote OKER. 

After that I met SKORE, who is a well known writer today, but people don’t realise how much he actually did back then. Like him and DOME had every front on the BRs and that was a big influence on me. I met ENEME around 1990, he was in TK and from out of London near where I was sort of hanging around. He took me to Tonbridge yard the first time I went there - I’ve got him to thank for that…

Tonbridge yard doesn’t, does it?! 
The first time I went I was with SOGE before he wrote SOGE, ENEME and CARVE. Before that I had only ever done Redhill a couple of times and then that was it. It was over: that was my thing. Writing graff had become me, then around 1992 I became OKER. FURI had just died, I was looking for a tag, and he’d given me a can of Buntlack - a yellow ochre - so I wrote it. Not how it was spelt on the tin, I just wrote it how it sounded, and that’s that…

My older brother brought me back Subway Art and Spraycan Art from America and that was it. And he brought back a load of photos of Queens, of the elevated tracks and photos of throwups running on trains in late 89 I’d say. Lots of mad shit, like people I’d never heard of, graffiti I’d never seen anything like before in my life. Now I look at those photos and it’s names I recognise, but back then I didn’t know who these people were. 

In a weird way I still write more for my brother; he’s one of the reasons I still do graff now. 

Graffiti is often a way people channel their grief.
As you know yourself, it’s escapism. Once you’ve climbed over the fence into whatever yard, or onto whatever tracks, you leave your worries at the fence. Because all I’ve got to worry about now is the third rail, me staying alive and me finishing my piece. Nowadays it means I don’t have to worry about my mortgage or whatever, once I’ve climbed the fence it’s the same as back then; I didn’t think about my mum, my brother, my dad, or anything. That was almost my self medication.

It is escapism. It’s like zen…
Yeah it is. And the more troubled times can be, the more graff you end up doing. That isn’t some ‘Fuck it I don’t care’ mentality, you just need to ease the pain and that kind of does it. It’s like art therapy but I did it for myself.

It was either that or drugs maybe? Either that or who knows what? When I was a kid there were still people in my area glue sniffing - real talk - that was happening you know? Graff may have caused me some problems, but it has also saved me. I owe it a lot. 

It’s actually a creative thing. We all get arrested and done for vandalism, but the reality is that in my silly head I’m there creating something beautiful. Even if it’s just an OK throwup: I think that’s a beautiful thing. You might not think it, but it’s just a taste thing. If I was there to vandalise things I’d be there smashing windows and those trains wouldn’t run. But I want it to run; I want people to see my art or whatever. And when I get to heaven…god’s gonna know it’s all love [smiles]. There’s no malicious intent, it’s just me trying to create something that I actually care about, that I love.

I was writing OKER all of 92, and wrote it ’til like 95. I’d been nicked a few times and I stopped writing it. 

You were mainly painting trains at that point...
I was only painting trains.

So did you get nicked red handed?
I’ve never been nicked red handed; like never. I may have been caught up the road a few times [laughter]. So I thought my name was hot and I was painting with certain people - this is when EINE actually comes into the picture in the early 90s. Those people were already writing different names all the time. Even back then, they were just writing all kinds of mad shit, and they were like “You’ve got to change your name” which is when I started writing a bunch of names…I can’t even think of all the names I’ve written.

I went to prison in 99/2000 for carrying a bag of paint, came out and just wrote OKER. I thought I may as well write my name. I’m not gonna stop and I’m gonna go to prison if I get caught, so I might as well do what I want. 

When did you first meet EINE?
I met him in 1990 in this place called The Grasshopper. It was like a bumpkin pubby/club place that some nights would hold Singles Nights, but on a Thursday it used to do Hip Hop and early sort of House. Kate Moss and people used to be there when she was at school still. She might have been a model but real small time; my friend’s sister used to chill with her ‘cos they were all from round Croydon. And EINE used to turn up, he’d have on Vivienne Westwood crowns and all these mad clothes, he was into that stuff back then. I had a pair of Jordan’s on probably; I was as much of a Dave then as I am now. He knew people that I used to write with in Bromley, like CARVE, REGRET used to go down there back then, that’s how I met SOGE, MASS, MAFIA2, STROBE, HASTE…just loads of people about. Names you’ve probably never heard of. 

Then fast forward to 92, he was doing stuff with my friend SPIKE and thats how I got back in touch with him. SPIKE kinda dropped off, and it was just left to me and EINE. We did a lot of wholecars together, who knows how many panels, you know we did a lot over those years. He was friendly with ELK which is how I got to know ELK, and NEMA…and through him was how I got to know one of my best mates which is HEAL. For a while it was easy, there was only a handful of people writing, and you could speak to people and ask them “where have you been?” and they’d been there, so you knew to go paint somewhere else. Or if we were all gonna go to a certain place we’d all go together. It’s not like today where it’s out of control and people are going everywhere.  

Me and EINE wrote for quite a few years, got arrested a few times together, painted a lot. That’s how I first met BANKSY, through him. EINE was a good partner, me and him stayed pretty much till the end of the 90s really. 

What made you do the art show after you got out of jail?
They came to me and said they wanted to do something, and I was kinda down. But I really didn’t wanna do OK throwups on anything or on a canvas: when I looked at anything like that I’d done it just looked amateur. It looked like some kids school project or something; I just never liked it. Then I thought about just making them, like making proper 3D pieces out of proper wood. It’s easy to do it with some MDF and paint it but I didn’t want that; I wanted the beauty of the wood, for it to be a beautiful thing regardless of what it said. 

I wanted people to look and it and to want to touch it, so that to someone who wrote graffiti they’d notice it said OKER secondly. But to someone who didn’t write it was still a beautiful abstract object and thats what I wanted to make. Some people give up graff and all of a sudden they’re painting photo realistic portraits, but I’m not that bloke. I’m quite creative maybe? I don’t know, but if i make stuff I still want it to say OKER. Like I never went to art college, so I don’t look at it like that; I still see it as OKER and just wanted to make OKER stuff that looked cool. They were pieces I was drawing at the time that I liked, so I thought I’d make them. 

People said ‘Ah you should have got it laser cut’ and in hindsight, maybe I should have done! Maybe they wouldn’t have taken months to do, but I think it’s nice that they’re all hand made. A lot of these artists today will think of stuff and get somebody else to paint it. I don’t think it should have been laser cut; I’m glad we did it by hand.

What do you make of writers who try to live off a false career?
What I’ll say is: if you wrote for 2 years, or a year, in 1989, then gave it up, didn’t do anything, sorted you life out, do whatever you do, and then your life gets shit and you decide to come back to graffiti 20 years later, that doesn’t mean you’ve written for 21 years. You might have had an interest for 21 years, but there’s plenty of people who have never written that had an interest in graff for a long time and they wouldn’t call themselves writers. I was around then: I was a toy back then, like a proper toy, but certain people will vouch for the fact that I was around and that I did stuff. Graffiti changed a lot between then and now, and these people come back with these opinions that are just a bit naive. They’ve got no real clue about how graffiti is, it’s just not the same anymore. You can’t try come in with any authority in a game which has changed so much. 

I don’t really hate on those people that come back, but what I don’t appreciate is the way they try and rewrite history. [laughter] I was there through a lot of it - I may have been a spectator cos I was’t a big part of the scene or whatever - and I remember a lot of people who did a lot of stuff and no one talks about any of those people. A lot of it is very selective: if you’re not mates with certain people that are around today still, they’re not gonna talk about you and you’ve been written out of history. Like you hardly ever hear people talk about someone like CHERISH; the kid fucking killed it with about 5 different names! You never hear about the CARL pieces from the early 90s, or the NO AMOUNT OF BUFF CAN CLEANSE OUR SOULS wholetrain he did…come on! These things get forgotten because these people weren’t in the cool gang, or they weren’t in the gang of people who are still around today. 

History is just so warped, and a lot of these people’s sense of grandeur about themselves is amazing…is completely amazing. CHINO said it started happening in NYC in the early 00s or something, and he said “you watch, it’s gonna start happening in England in 10 years, and they will still have their beefs from 20 years ago!”. It’s like they’re stuck there, and they’re just bitter; and that’s the way it is. These people are just bitter and feel that they deserve the fame; they think that they’re the BILLYs or IZ THE WIZ, when really they're not. 

I love that old graff, but people seem to hate; it was always better when they did it for some reason, and I don’t see that it is. That’s the thing, no one sees me as ‘old school’ I feel, because I’m always about if you know what I mean? People are like ‘yeah that old school lot, like so-and-so’; I remember them starting, I remember them finishing and no, they didn’t really do a lot. I never get lumped in the ‘old school’ category because Im always floating about somewhere. I’m still standing. I’m still fighting the cause. There’s no surrender. 

I don’t see the point of writers who make their comeback in a Hall of Fame. 
If that’s what you’re doing; fine. But you cannot have an opinion on that kid who’s got 20 bus stops with 20 fill ins on, because he’s more of a writer than you in your Hall of Fame. Even if you have consistently done Halls of Fame for the last 20 years, it’s irrelevant; it doesn’t really matter because what you’re doing isn’t writing. I’m a writer, when I paint Halls of Fame I consider that ‘aerosol art’; it’s not graffiti. It’s a practice area where I go to practice my hobby, but when I do my hobby properly it’s a different environment. You can do the baddest piece in the world but if I’ve seen you up on 25 telephone boxes in one area I will probably rate you more than the geezer with the brilliant piece. 

That is graff: bombing and getting up. That’s why I almost think people who only paint trains aren’t really writers: it’s not getting up. There was a time when I was that person, everyone goes through that phase. But if you could just give me red, black, white, silver and light blue   - just ‘cos I do like a light blue! [laughs] - and I was allowed to do tags and throwups for the rest of my life I’d be happy. You don’t need all that other shit do you? You really don’t. You really, really don’t. 

There was a notorious BTP officer many of us have had dealings with, and I swear he was more obsessed with graff than most writers are. 
He had a BANKSY t-shirt on in my interview! He’s just such a twit. It’s unreal. I’d love to see him; they might even bring him back! He might be their knight in shining armour! You can imagine it though. I don’t know if he’s anti it, or obsessed with it or what, but I reckon he got bullied or something by a kid who wrote. 

No Old Bill are alright, but there’s a difference between just doing your job and trying to destroy someone’s life. He’d wanna take all your kids colouring pens and look through your missus’s knicker drawer, he’d just be a dick. Over the top. I’m not gonna say that any of the others were cool, but as you get older you understand than someone is just doing their job. This geezer’s job is to nick me. It’s only my fault I’ve been nicked; whatever it is, it’s down to you. It’s not the coppers fault you’ve been nicked in a way, like he’s not the one going out doing anything wrong. When you can see they’re just doing their job and not going too far, you’re sorta like ‘well that’s alright’.. 

When they first nicked me, they were coming for £14million worth of damage; it was just ridiculous. Like 'everything from 1994 to the present day' and all this rubbish. They nicked a geezer who I’d been nicked with in 99 when I went to jail, he was my co-dee and that was kind of the end of him, like he didn’t paint a lot more after that. And they went and nicked him to try and get him roll over on me for the early stuff. He hadn't painted anything for nearly 10 years! Total liberty. Obviously he didn’t say anything. They were just horrible weren’t they. 

We were talking before about a beef from the mid 00s you and DEL had with another crew.
At that point I didn’t really know anyone other than DEL. Me and DEL had a few other mates and that, and we became a common enemy because it’s easy when you haven’t got your own voice. Like I believe - contrary to when I say it to people and they laugh at me - but I actually believe that most of the beef we ever got involved in we never started. 

They started going over, well, one of them started going over…the thing is with DEL, there is a chance [laughter] there is a chance that he did it first, but he swears to me that he didn’t! [laughter] And he’s my mate so even if he’s in the wrong I’m on his side! I believe him, and that’s all that matters as far as I’m concerned. So one of them went over him, he went back, it happened a few times but all in the same sort of spot; all over a certain couple of hundred yards of track or something. Then that person wrote their crew name over DEL, which meant all of them now went over my mate, which is bullying right? 

So I stood up for my mate and we sort of set about them. Around the same time I had a bloke from Peckham and his mates going over me, we had the lot from Croydon, a few closer to Clapham, and, later to come, a lot from north London who named themselves after me which was quite nice. At that point it was cool: it was the early 2000s and it just went off. We started with that lot, then all these different people from these other crews, they all kind of banded together to get rid of the common enemy which was me and DEL. The Croydon stuff started cos I’d gone down there with CARL 123 and ELK, and a few of the Croydon lot went and wrote some not very nice things over our stuff. I thought to myself ‘well that’s not very friendly!’ so I rung them up; I was outraged. You know, fair enough with going over me because that seems to be what’s happening at the moment, but they’ve got no reason to go over CARL and ELK; I thought it was a liberty. I said “we’re not leaving this another night”; we’re gonna go there, we’re gonna go over all their stuff, and they can have it as well. So DEL came with me, obviously, cos no one else wants to go []aughter] He’s definitely gonna stand next to you and go all the way to the stupid-line. 

It was a brilliant time; I loved it. Without that, graff might have got boring for me. 

I remember that GOATSQUAD website from back in the day...
[laughter] Yeah I never made that. I’ve still got a lot of those photos.

We used to hunt stuff down really. Like I’d know a few places…people in the know would know what yards they use. I’d see the train they’d do and know it was from one of 3 places they’re going. Or it’s on a certain side so it definitely ain’t this place. You just know where people are going.  So I dunno what year it was, but we decided on Saturday nights that we’d go see if people had…you know, if you ain’t clipped in at passport control and ain’t got your permission slip, you’re out of bounds ain’t ya?! [laughter] And that was the way we read it. 

People sometimes misinterpret something as a personal thing when it’s a graff thing.
Well, a lot of the time it was personal [laughs] but I didn’t catch feelings. I got immune to getting gone over, like you can’t go over me and make me catch feelings nowadays. 

What I used to get angry about was I’d do a line of throwups, and that line of throwups is how I want it to look: that’s my piece. People think because it’s throwups, you can do a silver piece or a dub over that. I don’t buy into that crap. If I saw a ROBBO tag, my best piece doesn’t go over it. End of. But I’d go over people, then other people would see that as ‘oh he’s freed that space up we’ll go over that’, so now I’ve got beef with these people as well. That’s the way it would end up because everyone would catch feelings - I’d catch feelings at that point. It’s not that I can’t do a piece: I want it to look like this. Simple. If there was a dub you wouldn’t do something there, but because you’re doing your shit dub over my throwups, you think that it’s alright and that I’m in the wrong when i come back, and that also happened quite a lot. 

I believe all of that was to kill me and DEL off. None of them really had a problem with us; we were bullied and we just weren’t having it basically. And where are they all now? They’re all either stuck in a Hall of Fame, or not even writing anymore. It was the best: I could go on certain tracks in south London and not see anybody that liked me. You ride that train the next day, when you’re one of those people waiting to look at your little dub, and me and him have machine gunned the whole line. Dropped like 30 tins or something. The photos are beautiful and hopefully the memories are for the people involved because I don’t have bad feelings about any of those people really. Anyone that’s gone over my stuff at that time; that’s cool. They seem to have more feelings about it nowadays than I do nowadays. I sort of forget about it, I don’t really care…

That’s because they stopped and you kept going, so their memories of their pieces have been dogged out.
Why start that shit if you’re going to be precious about it? If you don’t want your stuff gone, don’t go over peoples stuff. Don’t think you’re tough because there’s 20 of you. If there’s 20 of you and you’ve only got 6 cans of paint, there’s 2 of us and we’ve got 80. We’re gonna wipe you out. Paint is power. Doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve got - it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a tank - your tank ain’t doing no tags, mate. I’ll write on your tank. 

What about BANKSY.
I met him a few times with EINE, when Dragon Bar was on Leonard Street. He’s a nice fella, what can I say? Last time I really saw him I was bombing with SHOGI and BICE, he walked past with his bird, we had a chat…

How did he end up giving you that picture when you went to prison? Was it off his own back?
Yeah, it was sick! I was away - I got 26 months or something like that - and I’ve got a mortgage and 2 kids, which I couldn’t pay. So nicely, DRAX and Charlie from PURE EVIL tried to do some kind of fundraiser thing for me. So they held the fundraiser, and it was REAS, TWIST, KR, JA…I was humbled by the people who were sending me things, like ‘Woah! This is mad cool! Thank you so much’; I couldn’t thank people enough as it were. 

Then I’m just sitting in my cell one day and I get a letter, and one of BANKSY’s people has rung up and said “We wanna give OKER a painting”. They actually put a cap on the price, because they didn’t want it to become crass. He gave me the painting and the name of the gallery in Amsterdam that wanted to buy it and that was that.

Where did you meet DEL?
When I met him he was writing MUZZLE and he’d just write like ‘FUCK’ on things. I met him through my mate who skateboarded and that was that. DEL was one of them and then he fucked it all off. You couldn’t be enough of a menace, I don’t reckon, doing skateboarding, so he had to up his game! [laughter] Or he’d already pissed off the whole skateboarding nation and they just didn’t wanna bar of him, and he had to find some new friends [laughter] One or the other! We’ll never know the truth…

But yeah, thats how i know him, then that was it. He’s one of the only people I’ve ever met who would motivate me to go painting, I was normally the instigator. He’s the best person to paint with. I think he became the best partner that I could have 'cos he only knew what I had told him. He had no outside forces! It was funny to corrupt him - nah, i didn’t corrupt him, he doesn’t need corrupting! He was good. He’d do stupid shit…he’s just nuts, but he also comes up with cool plans and they work.

He might be where he is now but he’s not stupid: he might have used his intelligence in the wrong channel, but he’s an ill bomber.

Some of the pieces he was doing in 2000/2001 were so dope.
He won’t do a piece! Now he just refuses. Totally refuses. And he’s good! He sends me blackbooks full of outlines and things, but he’s just not into that. He’s really good at graff full stop. His style is really lazy but really nice. 

How did you first end up in NYC originally and meeting all that lot?
I went NYC in ’96 with SPIKE that’s how I met CHINO, and then when I met CHINO that’s when things kind of changed for me.

I met a Puerto Rican girl, she was a Latino singer and she was singing for Marshall Jefferson. I ended up with her, and then through going back and forth all the time I ended up always seeing CHINO, getting to know him better. For a couple of years he didn’t know I wrote to the extent that i did. Like no one out there has heard of anyone from here. Then through that made a long lasting friendship with him. I split up with her in probably 2001 and then funnily enough the girl I was with over here moved to NYC and we were there for a while. That’s when things really took off with them lot.

Like I said, CHINO changed things for me. I thought I could write and then that geezer introduced me to graffiti really. By sorta 1997 - lets say 1999 - I thought I knew what I was about,I’d done X amount of this and that, I’d done a lot of graff. But then I met them and realised what a toy I was.

I was walking down the road with this bullshit outline - might have taken me a week to draw or something - and they were doing throwups better than my piece that I took a week to draw! It was just like ‘ah I’m doing something wrong here’ and then that was that really. I met JA, I met SKUF, VEEFER…all them lot and yeah…I’ve been in BYI since like ’97 or something. I’m the bumpkin obviously [laughter] Bumpkin Youth Idol. 

Your hand styles used to really stick out, at a time when everybody was just doing regurgitated London styles.
Like I say, I just got polluted by seeing real graff. CHINO introduced me to what real graff was…introduced me to the SKUFs, the JAs…just really influential people. It was weird. I painted my first train in 1988, so it was like 10 years writing and I’d been heard of in this country, and then to go over there and just be like plankton. I just learned it again, you know? I went back to zero. 

You’d already acquired the skillsets.
I had to lose that bullshit! England was full of self imposed rules.

It took me years to break free of the rules. It’s so much better than doing some close minded thing.
Yeah, like ‘it’s gotta look like this’. I’m not a natural piecer, but I like my pieces to look different a lot. Some people, their whole photo album is just one outline; it’s beyond me. I would rather do a bad piece than the same one. 

The problem is, in London - and it might happen in other countries but I don’t know about that - some of these kids that are coming up are only aspiring to be that bloke. If the king of the world’s got one outline, why would you need to do two yourself? 

England - it always has been and I like that about it - it’s a very insular scene that doesn’t care about Europe, and it was even worse in the ‘80s and 90s. Something might come on the internet and get 3 million likes and everyone is like ‘Ooh! wow! that’s amazing!’, but it doesn’t translate properly outside of England: you take that abroad and it’s just some toy shit. 

Not to sound big headed, but I wanted to be recognised on a larger scale. What I’d learned and what I’d seen made me think England was just too rigid - loads of rules or whatever - and I’m seeing how loose REAS and these people were. Just drawing ill styles. 

Like GHOST. It blew my little mind when I first saw his stuff.
When I first started writing graffiti, or when I first started writing OKER in ’91 or whatever, I probably wouldn’t have liked GHOST’s pieces. You need to get to a certain level of maturity in your game to even understand what’s going on there. And that’s what I see it as; a lot of people are very amateur in their taste and appreciation of that kind of graffiti. 

Because that geezer, and a lot of the people who do that ‘not technically amazing’ graffiti, they can do it all. REAS will draw you the baddest wildstyle that will burn all these twits who think they can do it. And his letter will have proper structure and shape, it won’t just be a load of silly connections camouflaging everything; it will be proper.

You have to be able to draw in order to deconstruct. You have to get to a certain level to deconstruct. Once you get to that level you realise how loose and cool these things are; it changes you. I sound like a snob or like I think I’m better; I don’t. 

I’ve been blessed. Blessed to have my eyes open, otherwise I’d be one of them too. 

Was that the start of the throwup revolution?
They poisoned me!! Like polluted me properly. When I came back from there it was like I didn’t do graffiti like I did before. People would come up to me and say “urrr I like your old stuff”;  it’s toy. I hate it all. I just hate it, it ain’t me. That was something I tried to do; what I do now I don’t actually try to do, I just do it. And i’ve learned that from them, it’s a whole different approach. 

Minimum effort, maximum satisfaction. 

Like the CAP method.
I met CAP and, you know, told him that he had a lot to answer for [laughter] It’s not even the CAP mentality…it’s just bombing properly. All these bullshit rules that I brought from England out there; none of that existed. That were just made up by some geezer who everyone was scared to say that it wasn’t the truth in case they got beaten up. 

There are no rules, that’s why it’s cool innit? You can just go and do what you want.

You and DELS were the first people I remember with 2 letter throwups running on trains.
When I came back was when DEL first started writing, around ’97, which was really when I was first getting friendly with them lot. DEL…DEL won’t do a piece. He’s just like “psssh that shit’s soft. what do you wanna do them for?” 

Certain people - like LES or someone like that - LES has never done a piece. Takes 10 cans to do a piece say; how many throwups can you do with that?  It’s about getting up. That’s it. That’s graff. It’s not anything else. And that’s what really changed.

Before that I was a train writer. Like real, real into just painting trains, and that really got changed by them lot. It’s about bombing, it’s about getting up, and pieces are not the way really. I still do them now and again but I get really bored. 

Going on a 2 letter spree is very different to painting panels.
Going yard, you spend an hour in there - you might do some burner that’s half a carriage, wow - mate, everything that’s pulling out I got.  Everything. It’s like ‘hehe just done a window down whole yard. Cheers’ [laughter]. We went with JA and done 17 wholecars somewhere in one night, and did 20 odd the next night. Just top to bottom fill ins, murdering ‘em. In the first place there were other people’s pieces in there; we went over them, and we dropped like 6 litres of ink on the insides as well.

It was a beautiful thing. 

Once you start just going and doing throwups in yards, you don't just own one end of one carriage, you own all 4, all 8, all 16; you just feel powerful. Like these jelly beans, all different colours bouncing down the train. You haven’t even tried and it looks mental.

Like I said to you before, when I look at my photos, at my old pieces from the 90s, that just looks like some dated shit. But if something is just wrecked, its wrecked; that doesn’t date.

It seems like in London now everyone has a 2 letter.
When I first started doing them that was some toy, bumpkin thing that me and DEL were doing. Everyone had cracks and shines in their pieces, whatever you wanna call it, like the ‘classic style’. 

And DEL put it right. DEL was like “there ain’t no cracks in our shit cos there ain’t no flaws” [laughter]. We don’t put cracks in our graffiti cos there ain’t no weak points. That was his argument to that stuff! 

So we never really ran that. I think we kind of, at that point, brought a few people down to our level or something. They were trying to go over us with dubs and they soon realised that wouldn’t work, so they had to get their own throw up to try and compete or whatever. Which was funny.

I fully credit ARXS with bringing back the 2 letter thing back. 
It’s a shame I kind of missed ARXS; as he was leaving I was sort of on the way back in. I didn’t really know ARXS then like I do know. I think he’s cool, we’ve painted some stuff together; I like him. It’s a shame he’s not here, you know? It’s a shame. In a way I credit OFSKE for bringing me back.

Yeah he’s been going wild!
He just was my kind of scum! [laughter] Do you know what I mean? Just a normal kid, no real heirs or graces or trying to be cool. He just loves graff and bombed hard. He didn’t put it up anywhere: you’d see it, and that’s why you’ve heard of him. You would see it. SIME met him and said he was alright, then I met him and he reminded of a proper writer; of something from yesteryear. Couple of Homestyles and just a whatever-fits-on-it-cap. Not really knowing what cap, not really caring. Just bombing.

It’s pure what he does.
Exactly; it’s not diluted. 

London is going through quite a mad time at the moment. There’s loads of trains running with graff on.
Yeah things seem to be running and it would have been really nice to be a part of it; it’s a young mans sport I suppose now. But yeah it is a beautiful thing. Having stuff running is nice for people; it’s even nice for the public to see it again, to see it’s not dead. It’s cool, you can go to London Bridge and see stuff running, because for a while there was nothing, from like 2009 for a few years. There were probably a few factors: less people painting, they had a better budget. It was probably a good time to be painting because a lot of people weren’t doing a lot, so the people who were could take advantage of it. 

I dunno what’s gonna happen. Who knows? They might have just thought ‘well most of Europe has it running and it’s not a problem, why does it need to be a problem here?’. When it was British Rail maybe they took it more to heart? Now any country you go to - it’s not just a resurgence here - the world is getting slammed: America, Europe, everywhere. People are just having it. 

It’s a beautiful thing. 

We were talking earlier about the bullshit, macho mentality in graff...
It’s funny, because people - I don’t know if they think they’re superheroes or what they think they are - but at the end of the day, we’re all colouring in pictures. It comes from being a hippy or something, graff. It’s like hippy kids doing acid and writing on stuff, doing art. The mentality of it is mad; you become a tough guy because you’ve done a couple of panels. It’s just ridiculous. People actually believe their own bullshit. If you wanna be tough go and be a bank robber, do something else, because it’s easy to be tough in this world. It doesn’t help you if you’re tough anyway: if you can’t rack paint being tough doesn’t really matter. It’s hard to explain but it’s something that kills graff. 

Hand in hand with that tough mentality is the ‘I don’t give a fuck what it looks like’ mentality. That mentality created the idea that it’s bumpkin to try. People are scared of some of these people, even though down the pub these people probably get pushed around and treated like twits, in the graff world they can be well tough. It’s like they’re big bullies trying to assert a way of doing stuff…I don’t know why? They ruin graff and don’t ever really do it. 

It’s not about being tough and scary is it? It’s a creative thing. It’s just a laugh; how stupid is even doing graffiti with a spray can? Just the thought of that alone is stupid enough. Hiding in bushes and running around…it’s just like a little adventure. Some Peter Pan shit, it keeps you young. I know people my age and I see them and think ‘what happened to you?!’ because they look old. Their mind’s old; everything about them has gone old because they resigned themselves to life in their 20s and they had no dream left other than going to work and bills. 

Whatever it is, you need to something to make your brain not stagnate and I think graffiti is a good one because it’s very creative and you get something out of it. Even if it’s only tagging. 

Cheers OKER.

Written by: Henry.
Photos by: Oker and Henry. 

Check out OKER's website here.

9 comments

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  • excellent interview with oker,a true king in the game👑👑

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  • Oker is not wavey lol ? great interview though!!

    You need one of the other old schoolers to give an interview. Regret,Diet maybe? Someone who was out there from the early days!!

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  • Some of the stuff he says about the constrictive, mediocre London “rules” is totally BANG ON. Fuck all those middle-of-the-road crack and shine ageing roadmen pricks. BE YOURSELF.

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