If you could distil day two of CARBON 2014 into one word, it would be ‘candid’. After all, we’re talking about a day that saw presentations from photographers Richard Kern (self-described pervert) and PrettyPuke (constantly on the verge of being permanently banned from Instagram). Meanwhile, Mad Decent creative director and A&R Paul Devro didn’t flinch in telling the crowd about the times that he’s championed a music release only to have his colleagues denounce his selection as irredeemably wack. (And, ultimately, how these releases have been some of his triumphs.) Key take-homes: Be fearless. Be true to yourself. Find what you love and figure out how to make money doing it.
Photography by Lester Jones at I Dig Your Sole Man.
Forum C: D.I.Y.
“Thanks for crawling in today, hungover or not,” said ACCLAIM’s very own founder-turned-MC Andrew Montell to kick off the second day.
He clearly wasn’t the only one to notice an increased number of red-eyed, coffee-clutching punters in the audience compared to yesterday’s kick-off. However, for those feeling the effects of a Saturday night turn-up, they were about to be cured through two hours of creative inspiration more cleansing than any wheatgrass and kale shake could ever be.
The first session of day two was themed ‘D.I.Y.’, featuring a roster of three speakers who built their brands from the ground up – completely self-made – and have arrived at the point where they can have a crowd of eager listeners, pens in hand, keen to soak up some of their wisdom.
Gracing the stage first was Stephen Malbon, creator of both the culture-shaking publication FRANK151 and youth-focussed creative agency Bon.
Taking us back to the pig farm he grew up on as a kid, Malbon retraced the steps and recalled the lessons that inevitably led him to where he finds himself now: a revered taste-maker known for having his finger on the pulse before anyone else knows what’s happening.
Malbon started FRANK151 in 1999 at art school in Atlanta, and over the course of 15 years the publication’s grassroots, underground approach has blown up onto the global scale. From featuring his circle of talented friends in the first issue, the now New York–based publication has featured everyone from A$AP Mob to MF Doom.
Which is why it was so comforting as a struggling 20-something to hear the softly-spoken 38-year-old candidly admitting that “I had no idea what I was doing when I jumped out of school, and I don’t even really know what I’m doing now.”
He pressed on the importance of learning how to sell yourself, “learning to package things to corporate sponsors”, so your creativity can convert into a career. According to Malbon, “it’s about making sense of the madness going on everywhere and finding where you can slip in. It might be scary, but listen to yourself and your intuitions. When opportunities open up, go with it – and don’t quit.”
Paul Devro might’ve just killed it at the New Era party less than 12 hours prior, but you would never know. The Mad Decent creative director sprung onto the podium bursting with energy and buckets of his infectious charisma. Seriously – dude had the crowd laughing like it was standup.
“That is what I do – I brain-fart ideas,” Devro announces, gesturing to a slide with a cartoon picture of him being flown away from some evil sloths by two slow lorises. “I do a million things… Everything I do is just some retarded shit.” Devro is the definition of a jack-of-all-trades. His job description includes many slashes, but can mostly be limited to DJ / producer / creative director / A&R / “total music nerd”.
But between his laugh-out-loud anecdotes, like the story of his Toad-themed DJ project, his affinity with “mad scuba bondage 3D art” or that other slide that just had a video of him taking a selfie with a monkey in the snow, there was one clear thread running through his mad ascent to success: breaking the rules.
For Devro, finding his place was simply a matter of learning to trust his intuition – “learning to go with my instinct and believe in myself.” Once he did, he was unstoppable. This is the guy responsible for the success of Zebra Katz’s ‘Ima Read’, Baauer’s ‘Harlem Shake’, and DJ Snake’s ‘Bird Machine’ – three tracks that everyone at Mad Decent thought were “too wack” to get behind. Devro pushed them out anyway, and we know how that story ended.
He stood at CARBON as a living example of why you should jump into the pool when everyone else hesitates on the edge. When you combine risk with trained intuition, you can only reap rewards.
Rounding off the session was Perth-based, world-conquering producer Ta-ku (real name Regan Matthews) who broke through initial self-diagnosed public speaking nerves to cap off the DIY session perfectly with a humble talk that still has my note-taking hand throbbing in pain. The man is wise.
“I don’t know it all. It’s hard to break down the whole DIY thing. You just do what you do – you work as hard as you can.”
Matthews, who worked as a health insurance salesman up until November last year, used to “set aside two hours a day to make music, chipping away at it slowly, real slowly,” until his music could sell itself. It was a reminder that things don’t, and shouldn’t, come easily. And you need to be willing to do the grind, even if that means getting rejected by ACCLAIM more than 30 times. (We love you, Regan.)
Easily taking out the Best Powerpoint Award for 2014, the beatsmith broke down his key messages with an appropriate image of him with a Madame Tussauds wax figure and a matching pun heading. “Don’t be afraid to take Jackie Chan(ces)” and “Be Yaoself” (cue picture of him hugging Yao Ming’s leg) were just some highlights.
“Don’t take yourself too seriously, enjoy it. I’m just a dude who makes music and I don’t want to ever think anything more than that. Just have fun with it,” Matthews concluded, self-deprecating to the very end.
With that, lunchtime was called and it was time for the impeccably-dressed auditorium to file out onto Swanston Street and get some fresh air.
Forum D: Film & Photography
Forum D brought four unique voices from film and photography to discuss what it means to take a photo and what it will mean to the people who see it.
To kick it off at full strength was the boundary-pushing, “no need for an introduction” Richard Kern. A self-confessed voyeur, and a hard-working photographer who started shooting in the ‘80s, he wryly reminded us why a 60-year-old man gets to shoot young girls with their clothes off: “I’ve just been doing this a long time”. We saw some of his most iconic works from a large portfolio: Kim Gordon, that Sonic Youth cover, Marilyn Manson, the women from his books Looker, Medicated and Contact High.
Kern’s talk focused on how not to exploit your models and not take advantage of them. “This is really hard. It’s always money versus trust.” He explained that he won’t shoot unless a model release is signed and always makes sure the model knows what their getting themselves into. Whatever the content, however controversial, Kern stressed the point that being a photographer is about building trust.
From PrettyPuke we learnt how a dysfunctional kid from Hollywood, growing up in chaos can unexpectedly find a voice through photography. An escape, a fantasy, something that represents the vernacular of our generation. Tapping into this, PrettyPuke’s work serves as a window into Gen Y youth culture and our favourite vices of sex, drugs and violence. He began simply documenting his friends and his nights out on a disposable camera, but soon, in a bid to push his work beyond “an audience of 16-year-olds on Tumblr”, he did something that “only someone of our generation would think of”: put on a digital art show on Instagram. A year later he’s got over 52,000 followers and he’s getting flown to the other side of the world to tell us about it. “I’m just capturing moments in my life – the ones that I feel weren’t made to be seen.” The thread tying PrettyPuke and Richard Kern’s presentations together: there’s a voyeur in us all.
Janette Beckman, a icon in the punk and hip-hop scenes, took to the stage with grace, a huge body of work and a bunch of anecdotes that sure beat anyone else’s average workday. She told the story of her career, which started with shooting Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Sex Pistols and The Ramones, and expanded into a London punk and NYC hip-hop catalogue that you could only ever dream of. She spoke of the sentiment in England after Sid Vicious died and how this really changed everything. “The kids were taking over. The skinheads, the mods, the rockabillies and punks. They were different to each other but they all hung out.” This was the culture Beckman thrived on and documented. “Shooting on film taught me a lot. You had to get it right, but I never wanted to pose my subjects. I just wanted to capture them. That’s what fascinated me.”
Last up, with a dramatic entrance, was one of the best skate photographers still kicking, Mike O’Meally. After five-minutes of thunderous bagpipes, he made it to the stage. If what you came for though was an archive of Dylan Rieder and a few stories of how he, Dill and Alex Olson all braid each other’s hair at night, you got a lot more than you bargained for.
What we got was an authentic and intense presentation from O’Meally about the ubiquitous undertones of war and religion in his work. He also touched on the idea that the contrast between Eastern and Western culture is, in a way, analogous with the tension between skateboarders and security guards. The Aussie expat also shared his observations about how the city of New York reacted and changed in the aftermath of 9/11. “We all fall down, but it’s about the way we get up.” The strength, the humanity and the triumph of the human spirit in challenging moments is what O’Meally looks for in his subjects, whether skaters, boxers or everyday people. His words and his photos hit hard and whether you expected something so deep from him or not, his presentation goes down, for me, as the most insightful of the day.