RF: Watchu write?
A: I write Arms, part of TPW crew.
RF: Arms, Is that a name you’ve always run with? Tell us what other pseudonyms you’ve carried over the years, anything strange?
A: Haha no, I definitely tried many names over the years. I messed around with some names before I properly learnt about graffiti. I originally tried Ablaze and Dice. Around 2004 I wrote Syke, after that was Syte & Syt, which changed to Syme4, then to Symer when I first started getting up properly and met other writers in 2007, then it was Semr/SMR and finally Arms since 2011.
RF: Ah so you really have tried out a few formats then! What’s made you stick with this one?
A: After my first Arms piece, something just clicked and I really liked the letter combination, plus it’s a fun word to play with too.
RF: Tell us about your introduction to graffiti? How and where did your journey start?
A: I was always into art as a kid and I’d copy and draw cartoons from the TV for fun. I started skateboarding around the age of 12/13 and used to go down to the Alsager ramp. It was pretty intimidating as a small teen because it was run down, next to the bin lorry yard and always full of older stoners smoking bongs.
I remember seeing these full colour burners on the surrounding walls and on the back boards of the metal half pipe, also some pieces dotted at spots around the town. I was blown away by the letter styles, characters and colours, and how they were painted on a wall.
I also used to travel to Bones skatepark in Stockport when I was in my mid teens and a few years later I’d take the train to Manny with my mates, to Note shop where I bought my first proper branded graffiti spray paint, I’d be scanning out the windows at the track sides and roadsides. Also on family holidays abroad to Menorca and Costa Brava, I pretty much absorbed everything I saw.
“…If you can go out and paint what you want, when you want, without listening to authority, you can apply that thought to normal life and achieve whatever goals you have…”
RF: Was there anyone you considered integral to your beginnings?
A: There was a local writer called ‘Chopa/Chops’, he had this personified spray can character that I thought was amazing. I think he actually lived in Nottingham and had family in Alsager but I’m not too sure because I never actually met him, he also had a super old piece by the football ground that was dogged and faded and I’m gutted I never got a flick of it, it’s gone now unfortunately.
I also remember one day heading down to the half pipe and there were 2 guys painting a Pinky and the Brain production, I think it was NAKS and SHESH but I’m not sure where they were from, I was blown away watching them paint. A couple years later, there was another guy from the local rollerblading crew, he was painting dubs and pieces down the half pipe, on the tracks and on car park walls, he always did these BIG dubs, I remember the scale always impressed me. He wrote various names over the years, SHO, C3PO, COMBAT and RAEM.
RF: Tell us a little about TPW from your perspective? You’re a founding member right?
A: Yeah that’s right. Essentially we are a group of writers/mates that all met each other through graffiti in and around the city. Originally we had another crew before, but it was too serious, there were way too many members and a lot of dead weight, in the end it fell apart and now with the members that remain, it really works as a whole collective.
RF: So you’re less serious about painting or the attitude is different within the crew?
A: We’re serious about the work we put out but the overall attitude is different to the previous crew. We don’t take graffiti or ourselves too seriously, so I think for this reason it works now. We’re all good mates so we just have a laugh together and even though we are spread out across countries and cities we all do our thing and represent.
RF: Agreed, there’s got to be collectively the same attitude to make it work. Sounds like it all came together easily then?
A: Yeah definitely, it came together naturally.
RF: Interestingly you mentioned above that the crew is spread out across countries and cities. I was around at the time you decided you’d like to move abroad. Where in the world are you now, why there of all places and How easy was this transition for you?
A: I’ve been living in Barcelona, Spain for just over 5 years now. I first came on holiday with an old mate in 2013 and absolutely fell in love with the place (the weather, beach, tapas bars, the laid back lifestyle and of course the amazing graffiti scene.) I thought about making the move. I came back again in 2015 with 2 writer mates and still wanted to move. That was it then. I decided to save up and leave England cus I was feeling so stuck, miserable, depressed and sick of the shit weather. I finally departed in June 2017. The transition was pretty easy overall, I was so lucky to find a permanent work contract, the whole experience has had its ups and downs of course, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.
RF: Excellent, it sounds like the move was inevitable then! I guess this is several questions in one however can you describe the UK Graff scene when you lived here? I’d say you definitely played a key role across the County. What was it like growing up and then going on to nurture the local scene?
A: There’s so much talent in the UK, many of my favourite writers are from back home. The scene differs from city to city though, doesn’t it.
When I was a teen growing up, in my home town there were a few writers that I idolised and inspired me to start writing, they eventually moved away or quit.
In Stoke, the scene was originally built up from a handful of locals but also out of towners living there for Uni. Over the years we acquired several legal walls dotted around the city and a HOF tunnel. By the time I left for Spain, the scene was maturing, we had many writers passing through to paint, several jams were held at the HOF, with big names travelling from all over the UK, and there were some serious younguns coming up.
RF: What are your favourite UK writers? Any particular crews that you respect?
A: I loved seeing ATG and RT stuff around 2009/10. NFA is another favourite crew of mine and the FCUK Yorkshire lads.
RF: Did you have a favourite memory from painting back home? Anything in particular stand out for you when you think of painting in the UK?
A: One funny (and favourite memory looking back) that sticks out for me, was Threen and I, painting a big emulsion track side with a character near a freight yard. The traffic coming in and out was nuts, it was non-stop because it was a weekday night. We kept having to run and hide in this bush and wait for the freights to stop at the red light which was parallel to us and then pass, we were so close in this bush we were basically cuddling up to each other ha ha. Then this maintenance train came down the lines so fuckin’ slowly, it had these huge sparks coming off the wheels and onto the tracks and it was spraying all this shit over the tracks, I remember we got soaked in this weird liquid, we both thought it was the end of us! Ha ha.
Personally I just find it a good laugh coming back and painting in the UK with my mates, it’s all proper homely.
RF: How does the Spanish scene differ to the UK? Were there any differences that you noticed immediately? Do you miss the UK scene?
A: When I first moved here, my personal experience was that Barcelona was a bit unwelcoming. It took a while to link with anyone and everyone’s already in their own cliques/crews and they tend to be unwilling to link up if they don’t know you in person.
However, saying that, the scene is obviously amazing, so many sick styles, the streets, tracks and highways are absolutely smashed. There’s always so much competition for new spots too. If a building gets demolished or new fences pop up, it’s a race to get the spot. If you paint a legal wall here it might only last a couple of hours as well.
I’d also point out the attitude from the locals is so different here, they don’t give a flying fuck! They know the yard security guards by first name terms. It’s a constant cat and mouse game. My mate told me recently that they got clocked by a guard as they were finishing up piecing and he said ‘you won’t even let me eat!’ he was on his break ha ha
I wouldn’t say I miss the UK scene as such, but I miss the mandem and I miss the quiet British rails on a cold winter’s night.
RF: Ha ha that’s hilarious! From what I’ve witnessed myself out there it’s a different beast entirely. What’s the Spanish term called when they lock a running train down again?
A: Ha ha it’s called a Palanca, where they pull the emergency brake and paint it on the platform lol.
RF: Regarding the ‘cliqueness’, It appears it’s just ‘the way’ for newbies in general trying to enter the scene. There’s an air of paranoia that is present as everybody puts their guard up around someone new.
A: Yeah for sure.
RF: You’ve got a solid group of writers around you now though. Did you have an approach for getting through that guarded attitude? How did you manage to get to where you are now?
A: It just kind of fell into place in the end. I think I messaged Senar on Insta a couple months after I moved and we ended up linking up. From there, I met people via him and also friendships were strengthened with people I’d already met because BCN is actually pretty small, everyone kind of knows everyone, especially the English lads. I also just crossed paths and met people too.
RF: Do you have a preferred link out there to produce work alongside? The Robin to your Batman? Watson to your Sherlock Holmes?
A: I paint quite a lot with Senar VHS DBK, we’ve painted together regularly for the past 4-5 years. I’ve linked up with Ponk HA TNS a few times. I also like to paint alone as well, I find it relaxing and therapeutic to just go and do my own spots and not have to compromise on colour schemes etc. I can just take my time, crack some cervezas and get lost in it.
RF: I’d say the unwritten rules are shared globally across the scene, when you moved out there did you cross any boundaries that you shouldn’t have culturally speaking? Have you done anything that’s frowned upon and in saying that do you think you’ve offered anything that could have surprised the Barna heads?
A: As far as I know, I don’t think I’ve ever really broken any ‘graffiti rules’, maybe tagged over another tag in the dark? I’m not sure, nothing intentional though. In my opinion, I wouldn’t say I’ve offered anything surprising really. It’s such a huge scene, you need to be a big player to stand out, I just do my thing and I’m quite particular about where I paint and the spots I do.
RF: Looking at your style currently I feel it’s changed completely since your move abroad. You can see how much it’s matured. Did you recognise this adjustment? Was there anyone or anything that made you think I’m ready for a switch up?
A: Thanks bruv. I think it was just a natural change tbh. I started playing with sharper angles, straight lines and a dub style with a triangular ‘A’ before leaving Stoke, it’s just progressed from there I believe.
I stripped everything back to basics, trying to achieve big bold letters, sharp angles and I’m trying to execute everything as cleanly as possible. For the past few years I’ve been enjoying experimenting with characters again as well. I stopped painting them for like 10 years and I don’t know why, they’re so much fun, I find it more enjoyable than doing letters sometimes.
RF: Style wise, what works for you now?
A: I mainly enjoy big graphic styles, anything unique that catches my eye with interesting structures, compositions, shapes and cleanliness. Aggressive looking letters, chunky/bubbly letters and then also like weird styles (some that look like they’re semi inflated or something).
No particular order – Soeta, Roids, Krek, Onek, Salem, Mers, Dyson, Dems, Estoy187, Gangs (Towns,) Ders, Dasr, Aroe, Rels, Wisher, Tizer, Amuk, Nems, Raek, Floor (Saeph,) Ziner, Pubes, Rond, Pures, Bilos, Dial, Nmph, Ruin, Revox/Refox, DEFS crew, to name a few.
Image credit : @barcelona.graffiti
RF: What players do you respect out there and why?
A: In terms of damage, Baren, Bunes, Azen and Loak are All city kings, they’ve killed it for years, and still keep killing it on a regular basis, they’re also rocking other names.
FKNS crew, Saher, Suor, Ansiar. Lucer & 031, UDK, CMS, NTP are all smashing it at the moment as well. There’s also a writer called ELS from outside of BCN, I’m really into his stuff, he has this super blocky style and paints the Renfe. Taish has amazing full colour burners on the Renfe as well.
Peos is also smacking it with fresh t-sides.
For pieces/dubs, my favourite Barna writers are Ponk, Tonto (Lenz, Len2) Wegas, Datil, Foner, Japon, Estoy187 (when he was here) Saher, Ricer, Yerk, Ater, Phebs. Bizio
RF: Being serious though, I feel graffiti is a sport, highly competitive so to continue with that metaphor, in that arena are you respectful to your fellow sports men/women? Do you demand respect for the work you put in? What’s likely to happen if someone dogs you, are you bothered? Do you move on or move on ‘em?
A: Nowadays I paint for my own self gratification and because I enjoy painting graffiti rather than trying to get others’ respect, but I would like to think that other writers would generally respect and rate my work too. I’m a respectful writer and I never intend or have intended on starting beef with anyone.
That said, if someone intentionally lines out my shit or takes the piss then I would most likely retaliate, depending on where it happens. Obviously as you know, last year someone went over a very old dub of mine back home, but it’s just not worth the time and energy to argue and retaliate with egotistical crackheads, especially since I’m living in Spain now.
RF: How easy would you say it is to go All City in Barcelona? Is it something you have any interest in?
A:I’d say it takes a lot of dedication and effort to go All City. Hammering all of the barrios, painting Renfe regularly and metro and then the buff on top. There’s a reason why only certain heads are All City, because they’re fully dedicated and relentless, they live for it! The big players have been consistent for years to maintain their status. For me, it’s not something I’m really interested in. I like to paint at my own pace and do things as and when I please.
RF: You’ve recently become a father – That’s a big move – Congratulations! How’s this changed your mindset? Does it concern you painting more of the spicier spots?
A:Cheers brother! I’ve obviously had to change my priorities. Now family comes first. The past few years I kinda changed my mindset anyways. Now I really enjoy finding and painting clean/virgin walls, bandos and chill spots. I very rarely paint legals as they might only last a couple hours here and I just find it boring doing the same walls over and over. I like to locate spots, create a list and then tick them off. In regards to naughtier things, I still do them here and there but it’s just slowed right down and I have to be a lot more calculated and careful.
RF: What would you say you’re in the scene for? What’re your objectives? I often ask myself this – With so many things being accessible to me now in later life, why of all things do you still paint Graffiti?
A:I think at this point, graffiti is ingrained in me. I’ve been doing it for so long (15 years, plus an interest for even longer), it’s just something I do, I think it would feel so weird to stop. I definitely prefer the more chill walls nowadays and I enjoy the full process, finding new spots, adding to the list and then completing the piece that I had in mind for it. I don’t really have any objectives, I just tend to play it by – new spots only, as much as I can.
RF: So what’s next for you in this culture? Anything planned in?
A: Just going to keep doing my thing really and keep it as natural as possible. I want to make sure it’s still fun and enjoyable, I don’t want to force myself to go out painting or it’ll just bring out shit results, I just paint when I have the motivation and free time. I’ll probably take an even more relaxed approach in the coming years with having other priorities now. But I want to keep pushing it forward, keep progressing the style, continue to experiment with characters and get cleaner with it.
RF: Do you think you’ll get on the road again, relocate? What’re your thoughts on painting in other countries?
I’m definitely open to it bruv. I mentioned to you before that I was offered a relocation to Cyprus last year with work but it didn’t feel right at the time. It’s more difficult with us having a family and with work restrictions but we have talked about maybe Portugal further down the line, or eventually maybe the Mrs wants to go back to the Caribbean! I’d be keen for that ha ha.
RF: Anywhere you really wanna visit and what for?
A: I’ve not travelled outside of Spain since 2019 except to visit home because of the Pandemic and responsibilities at home, but in terms of a graffiti trip, I’d love to go to Belgium, Holland and maybe Germany to check out the panel scenes. It’s not something I’ve really done before though, travelling to other countries only for graffiti but it’s something I’d maybe be up for in the future.
RF: What do you love about graffiti?
A: I’ve always just enjoyed stylized letters and characters, and the actual application of art on walls.The mysteriousness of who the person is behind the name and the different reasons we individually choose to paint graffiti.
The process of finding sick spots, sketching up and finally executing the piece, then the feeling of achievement afterwards, the same also after a successful night of bombing.
The feeling of putting a big tag on a shutter. Graffiti has also given me some really good mates for life.
The way graffiti gives a different perspective on life in general. Something Dasr once said in an interview really resonated with me. How graffiti gives you life confidence. If you can go out and paint what you want, when you want, without listening to authority, you can apply that thought to normal life and achieve whatever goals you have. Also, it made me realise about the human psyche, you can get away with pretty much anything in a hi-viz vest.
RF: Any pet peeves? What are some of the things you consider as do’s and don’ts?
A: I hate dickhead attitudes and wanna be badmen, when essentially, what is graffiti? It’s just applying paint to a surface ha ha. Obviously it’s a culture full of egos but some people are just pricks and the status goes to their heads.
Do’s and don’ts, I’d say just generally respect the graffiti rules, things like, throws over tags. Personally I wouldn’t really do dubs over throws, and pieces over dubs. I just look for new spots/clean spaces, but if it really comes down to it though, only go over what you can burn.
RF: Anyone you wanna give a shout out too?
A: All of the TPW gangdem, Senar, Ponk, and shouts to Drat and Giro.
RF: Share some wise words…
A: Graffiti is a marathon not a sprint. As I’ve got older, I’ve realised just to do what makes you happy and fuck what other people think, you don’t need to prove shit to anyone.
Random one here and off topic ha ha, but something I’ve been pondering about for a while ha ha, it’s about investing into assets (Crypto/stocks, which is also an interest of mine) buy into fear and sell into greed. Buy when there’s blood on the streets and sell during the euphoria stage. Something I’ve learnt the hard way.