the SUBCULTURAL FABRIC OF
COPENHAGEN WITH SILAS ADLER
For part two of our Copenhagen Stories series, we caught up with Soulland founder Silas Adler to discuss the crucial role that skateboarding has played in not just his own creative endeavours but for the city as a whole, and visit the ultimate Copenhagen spot.
GH: Tell us where we’re going…
SA: Right now we’re going to a skate spot called 'Jarmers Plads', and I would say it's the most legendary skate spot in Copenhagen for modern street skating. The spot was built in 97 or 98 and it’s just this square in front of an office building. The first skate video it was in was a video called ‘Copenhagen Summer’ in 1998, and among others, it featured Anton Juul, who is one of the founders of Norse Projects and I would say the most legendary Danish street skater of all time.
GH: What’s so special about this particular spot?
SA: What’s special about this spot is that it looks very urban, because it’s in front of this office building trying to look like New York style, and it's right next to this huge road junction. The whole space was built and meant to be used for pedestrians to chill, but the architecture is quite cold and rough, so as a pedestrian you are not really drawn to using it to relax, you know. But it’s perfect for skateboarding! Every town has that spot where everyone meets up, like Southbank, Place de la Republique in Paris and so on, and that is Copenhagen’s version.
It’s kind of hard to skate; it’s more or less only ledges and they are all the same height, around knee high. There’s no small ledges to work yourself up on and to practice tricks and so on, so it’s a motherfucker to learn new tricks on! The ground is super rough as well, it’s granite but it’s not polished. If it was any rougher, it would be impossible to skate there. It takes a lot of effort and this motherfucker is eating your board, so if you had a full on session your tail would be done and you’d have no pop in the board anymore!
It’s a spot that relatively a few Copenhagen skaters mastered, and to be honest I was not one of them. I was too bad at skating to start with, but I was like too heavy in the ass so I couldn’t get the right pop, haha. But I still skated there a lot, and my skate crew that I used to roll with were like the second generation that skated there. Before that it had quite a locals only vibe, you know, and Anton Juul and those guys were like the first generation to skate there, and I guess they kind of accepted us!
GH: That final point is interesting because you’re sort of touching on tribalism a little bit. Was it intimidating being a young skater and going there at first?
SA: I mean, for me I always found it quite easy and natural to hang out, be part of the crew and you know, I understood the specific codes and ways that things needed to be done; what clothes, what music to listen to, so I actually found it quite easy to move into that environment. I understood it and I was all for it. It’s funny because my son skates now, and I was talking to someone and he was asking how is he getting on, is he good etc. He’s not that good at skateboarding like I was, but he is super good at hanging out like I was, haha. I’m not saying that as someone who just sat there and didn’t skate, I skated, I tried to film shit, I tried to push it as far as I could.
Coming back to the tribalism thing, there are a lot of people who skateboard who are really into that whole aura around it, and then there are groups of skaters who are really against it. Our crew were like really deep into the whole hip-hop culture that was around at the same time, from the mid to late 90s; that was our reference for everything! Having an urban spot as our main spot just fit the whole vibe and how we saw ourselves perfectly, you know..
GH: How do you think skateboarding has influenced your approach to work?
SA: For me, it meant everything. What I really learned from skateboarding was how to work without a hierarchy, if you will. For a lot of things in life when you’re growing up, your age defines your level, at school etc. School wasn’t my strong point and I had a hard time understanding the age thing as I got older. Like, this guy is two years older than me and because of that he has the right to be an idiot towards me, I wasn’t having it, fuck you, you know! Skateboarding was the opposite, it wasn’t about age, you either get it or you don’t get it. It was different then to how it is now though. At that time, the skateboard scene was much more linked to the worlds of graffiti, music and Christiana and the hash dealers. For instance, the local skatepark has been rebuilt now and it’s a place where kids and parents can come and put your phone down and skate with no problems. Back then people would get robbed all the time and all the Turkish gangs would come over and want to fight with people. Either you understood the culture and you were a part of it, or you didn’t.
But I also learnt that if I’m open to people, and if I’m just being myself then I can connect with people on so many different levels. So when I started travelling with skateboarding I knew that if I went to like, London, I would have friends. We could link up and I could stay on their couch or whatever, you know! The same in Paris, or Berlin. This understanding of like an international community is something that you can create yourself by being open minded and being yourself. On a personal level, I think that is one of the most important assets when it comes to working in fashion and menswear...
GH: Bearing in mind that skating had such a strong identity in the era’s that you’ve mentioned, how is that relevant to what you do now?
SA: Back then, I guess that being a skateboarder meant that you were in a position that was somewhat outside of society, and if you were into the hip-hop side or more of the hesh, Zero kind of vibe, you had a tendency to not give a fuck, you do what you do and you know that the people that are close to you understand it and they like it, and it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks. I try to do the same with Soulland, I don’t want to do stuff just because that’s how other people do it. I want to do fun stuff and I don’t really care if it’s on trend or whatever.
GH: In the 90s it was graffiti, music and skateboarding that went together. I find it super interesting that so many people that were involved in these subcultures have gone on to have these big, influential brands. Do you think that these shared values are still as important?
SA: Except for the prices of things, I think that Copenhagen is a very easy place to be young. I think it’s also very easy to start a brand, so this group of people that had these shared experiences and interests just did it at the same time. We all have healthy competition with each other, but also have respect for each other and supported each other and grew together. That is skating, or graffiti, or music!