If you wander around the streets of Brighton you may have noticed the green telephone termination boxes have been given a much needed face lift and added some colour to the city. I started to notice these last year and took a picture of one in the North Laines, which became the backdrop picture to the website. Yesterday on my way back from the beach I bumped into Cassette Lord mid flow on Dyke Road at the Seven Dials, so I stopped by for a quick chat about his work. When I asked if I could take I picture of him working, and said I will make sure his face is not in the frame, his response was “it’s ok, what I am doing is legal”. It transpires our progressive thinking council have given permission for Cassette Lord to carry out his art on old green telephone boxes in the City, and he is on a mission to get many more painted in time for the Brighton festival in May. Having dug a little deeper, I found this interview with Cassette Lord on the local rags website.
How old are you?
Where are you based?
Iíve been based in Brighton since 2001. I moved up here from Portsmouth.
When did you begin painting graffiti?
Since an early ageÖ I actually moved up here to run the Artscape Project Ė Thatís where the Artscape name comes from Ė Itís a project I was hired to run which is all about teaching and creating graffiti art on walls and murals to young offenders as community service.
How did you get into graffiti and what made you start painting?
I did a few little things in Portsmouth really, some teaching and stuff also did a lot of youth work and it seemed to be a natural development from that because young people are interested in graffiti so it was something to tie my hands to and I got good at it so I thought I might as well teach it to young people that see it as a cool art form.
How did you choose the name Cassette Lord?
That goes back a while when I used to live with six or seven other people. It was a bit of a party house and we had an invent your own superhero night so I got all these tapes and knitted them all together like a cassette uniform with belt, hat and everything: I was Cassette Lord! Itís a nickname that kinda stuck. I kinda had to resurrect the name a little bit as I was doing the stencil project (Tapes) as it seemed to work really well with it. Cassette tapes have had a real renaissance in recently. I make sculptures out of tapes, spray them white, red, blue and yellow and put them together to get a pixelated retro imageÖ so yeah thatís Cassette Lord!
There is a very fine line between those who see graffiti as art and those who see it as vandalism. What are your views on this?
Thatís a difficult question! Itís a grey area. I would have to say the 3 Cís, consent, context and content, are all key. Iím not very keen on tagging, like when someone walks home and decides to tag every wall. If you are going to do it, do it properly! Find a good wall which isnít someoneís property. Try to think about it rather than drag the scene down for everyone.
Have you ever felt the long arm of the law because of your art and if so can you tell us about it?
Yes. A CCTV police van was parked outside a club one night and I thought it would be really big of me to be able to do the van. It was a surveillance van, I would get away with it and it had the infamous words ďsmile you are on CCTV,Ē so I wrote ďSmileĒ on the sides of the van. But I got spotted and had to get out of there pretty sharpish.
When I was spray painting some of the boxes in Brighton, we had the police come up to us a few times not very happy. This was because my colleague on the council did not inform them of the project. But once the council informed them about the project they had to walk away.
There was an occasion when the police still didnít want to desist and wanted to take down everyoneís names. The young offenders group I was with got really angry as they do not have to divulge this information so it was a tricky one.
Do you write under any other names?
I have a few, M-Cube Ė just think N64 logo using a 3D M instead of an N, I also write a Gatchaman symbol as well as a diamond. And I canít forget the Transformers Autobot Symbol as well. Itís all retro!
Do you write with any crews and if so which ones?
I have done work with a few other artists along the south coast but thatís not just graffiti – itís all kinds of urban artwork, sculptures, community/public artwork. Iím lined up to do some stuff with The Beautiful and The Canned soon which is Guy (Chopper) Harrisís crew who did lots of stuff last year Ė check out their work at the Brighton Youth Centre on the basketball court just off Edward Street, Brighton.
How would you describe your style?
Definitely retro! All my artwork, even the freestyle pieces, all of them references objects, shapes and things people recognise from their childhood. Itís high contrast constructivist retro. I like dynamic lines!
Where did you paint your first piece?
My first piece was in Gosport near Portsmouth. My first piece in Brighton was in Woodingdean.
Have you done many collaborations with artists overseas or travelled abroad for your art and if so then where is the most exciting or interesting place you have painted?
Yeah I did Optimus Prime breaking through a wall in Barcelona with a break-dancer mate of mine. Years ago I went to the Benicassim Festival in Valencia and we had a few days spare in Barcelona. So we got a couple of cans from a local shop and over there you can just rock up to the walls, put your cans down and start painting.
What are your feelings on the graffiti and street art scenes in the UK at present?
When I first moved here in 2001, there was a real explosion of graffiti. Itís really good at the moment. Itís a brilliant scene in Brighton! It has kind of dipped in the last couple of years when the Brighton hip-hop festival lost funding from the arts council unfortunately. I can only describe the scene as tarmacing over weeds and it just starts growing back again! Itís a nice attitude in Brighton and the fact that the council have given me all the phone boxes to do. Progressive is the word I would use as they try to manage it instead of fighting and pushing it underground.
Have you done much commercial work and if so what would you say was your most well known piece?
The tapes I suppose. A few of them are on Flickr and Iíve noticed that some people are collecting them which to me are really encouraging so I quite like it when people feel they can take ownership of them. The tapes are probably the most popular work to date. When Iím painting murals and stuff with young people we always get members of the public of all ages saying ďthat looks betterĒ, ďthat looks niceĒ but just in terms of pure feedback I would say itís the tapes because itís a small object that suits the shape of the box and people tend to like the tactile bright colours and shape. I suppose itís pretty different too as most of the time, stencils are at the bottom of a wall. I think itís rare to find something really well chosen and the image perfectly suits what it is on. I remember I did a piece in Portsmouth in an alley where itís difficult to put stuff up due to CCTV. So I got a ladder, got right underneath the camera and painted a robot using the camera as its head. Itís rare you see graffiti that uses these objects so well.
Is there any one point in your career you would class as Ďyour big breakí?
Coming to Brighton and running the Artscape project. Being out there in the height of summer with othersÖ
Have you ever had your work displayed in a gallery and if so is there any one show which stands out from all the rest?
Yeah, we had an exhibition of all the tape sculptures in a charity shop as they provided all the tapes. I have a few pieces in pubs and bars, usually manga artwork.
Do you see yourself as an artist or a graffiti writer?
I see myself as artist as the term is more encompassing. Saying graffiti writer confines you a bit. I see graffiti art as art not vandalism.
Do you see graffiti writers as writers that have a message to share?
I find most graffiti writers are mainly about style. They try to empty all their ideas out of their head, trying to get the latest freshest idea out or finding the latest shape to work with their piece. Finding new ways to apply their ideas. Basically getting something out before someone else thinks of it!
There seems to have been a sudden surge of interest in graffiti and street art recently, why do you think this is?
Itís becoming part of the mainstream culture. Sheer persistence has helped graffiti artists get recognised and become accepted as an art movement in its own right.
Which other artists work do you admire?
I went to Zurich to see Diamís work. Itís what I aspire to, amazingly light sourced shadowed 3D. I also like Claes Oldenburg, the American artist, takes a tiny object and makes a massive sculpture. Iím very inspired by pop art and I think the tapes fit the pop art style.
Which other artist would you most like to work with if you were given the chance?
Alex Young who did the Tron Piece Ėheís a brilliant illustrator as well as graffiti artist.
What is your preferred medium for making marks with?
What is your colour of choice?
What is your favourite surface to paint on?
A nice piece of concrete wall preferable or good bit of framed wood.
Do you have a favourite piece of all time?
The Super Tanker that Diam did.
Can you tell us one thing about you which most people wouldnít know?
I used to do Capoeira.
What kind of music are you into?
All kinds really, Iím into Beck, Jazz, Old School Hip-Hop, Run DMC, Grandmaster Flash etc.
What are you working on currently and what plans do you have for the future?
Well as I mention the The Beautiful & The Canned as well as displaying my cassette based artwork at an Artists Open House (12A Springfield Road, Brighton).