Europe's Gnarliest Graffiti Crew Basically Shot an Action Film
We sat down for an exclusive interview with 1UP to talk about their new video "Graffiti Olympics," staying one step ahead of the law, and the future of street art.
Photo courtesy of 1UP
A version of this article originally appeared on Noisey Germany.
1UP is one of the most well-known crews in Berlin’s graffiti scene, but their fame isn’t limited to their home city. Thanks to their spectacular and bold stunts, their professional video productions, and the unbelievable mass of images they spread across the globe, they’ve quickly developed a worldwide reputation. Their YouTube videos are consistently popular: This one, in which they tag an entire train car within a matter of minutes before fleeing over the tracks, has more than one million views. But their most recent escapade, “Graffiti Olympics,” in which the crew goes wild tagging all over Athens in broad daylight, is the cherry on top of their already extremely vibrant cake.
With their new film, which was published on Friday, March 2, 2018, 1UP has challenged boundaries and set new standards for both their art and their ability to pull off illegal acts. Regardless of whether or not you enjoy their stunts, you can’t deny that what we have here is some truly spectacular material of exceptional quality. For that, 1UP can thank one of the very cornerstones of their success: solidarity. After all, without the help of their partner crew Berlin Kidz, director Selina, and the living work of art Good Guy Boris, we wouldn’t have this fascinating video of the Berlin taggers, with its wonderful bird’s-eye views of Athens, Greece.
Nevertheless, all this is still illegal and actionable. That’s why 1UP, which consists of dozens of men and women, always stays protected behind a veil of anonymity—which naturally makes them hard to talk to. But our colleagues at Noisey Germany managed to meet up with the crew and Selina to ask them, among other things, how they come up with such crazy ideas, how much work goes into it all, and what the secret to their success is.
Noisey: How did you guys come up with the idea for “Graffiti Olympics”?
1UP: Ever since we discovered that drones were our new favorite toys, we wanted to take to the skies to film multiple spots. Selina had the same idea, so we invited her to come with us to Athens for New Year’s Eve. The connection to the [2018 Winter] Olympic games seemed apt. Always higher, farther, faster.
Selina: I met 1UP a year ago in Berlin and told them about a drone video that I shot in Australia. They said, ‘The video you made is good. But if we’re going to work together, it has to be even better.’ That was the moment I knew I wanted to work with them.
Higher, farther, faster—is that your motto?
1UP: With 1UP, we want to step everything up a notch—to turn things up everywhere around the world, ideally. It’s like we’re all leading double lives as graffiti artists [who also have] jobs and normal lives. Only a few of us have bosses and acquaintances who know about this double life of crawling through dirty tunnels all night, hiding in bushes, and then going back to work the next day and acting like we’re totally fit and had a good night’s sleep.
In the era of Photoshop and fake news, there’s sure to be people who ask whether the video is actually real or not. How did you plan the drone flight?
1UP: The effort and intensity it took to plan this stunt can’t be compared with anything we’ve done before. We spent days looking for spots, organizing and briefing the different teams, while Selina was busy practicing the drone flight over and over. When it came to the actual video production, the entire neighborhood felt like a mid-size special forces operation was about to take place—different groups on every corner with earpieces and large bags.
In total, we tagged eight different spots. The drone had to be flown and coordinated with the tagging as it was happening. We did all of that in broad daylight! In one location, some crew members were letting themselves down with ropes, while on the next corner others were painting on a roof. A street further down, one of us was busy doing an enormous tag with a fire-extinguisher, while on the other side of the street a group climbed over a wall and covered a whole train car right in front of the people sitting in the cafe across from them. At the entrance of a subway, we did these ultra-wide tags and a massive street bombing, and then the view of a roof and at the end we lit our very own Olympic flame. Passersby couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
Something must’ve went wrong at some point, right?
1UP: Of course the whole thing didn’t happen without any setbacks. First, the drone wouldn’t fly the way it should’ve. Then a number of us spotted plainclothes cops. By the time everything was in place to shoot the video, one of our guys was already sleeping off his hangover in a bed that a homeless guy had let him use. But that was easy to solve: We shook him awake and got going.
Selina: What really stands out to me with this crew is that most graffiti crews are really disorganized. 1UP is different. They’re highly professional in every aspect and put their full hearts into everything they do. I find it very motivating to work in an atmosphere like that.
What else sets 1UP apart from other crews?
Selina: Traditionally, graffiti is very individualistic. It’s about making your name larger and tagging better spots than anyone else. The crew is secondary. But with 1UP, it’s not about the individual. Everyone sets aside their egos. They’ve achieved a lot because they’re a unit working toward a common goal, and a model like that has a number of benefits. Besides, I like the way they do their work: There’s a lot of it, and they do it quickly and in every possible location. They come up with ideas that no one else does. Things never get old when I’m shooting with 1UP. In fact, what’s probably most difficult is capturing it all on film, since everything happens so fast.
Why Athens, of all places? Sure, there’s the Olympics and whatnot, but were there also other reasons?
Selina: It’s the perfect city for a project like this—here are so many great spots, and people in Athens are generally pretty open-minded. Greece is going through difficult times and because of that, they have a better idea of what the real problems are that societies actually face.
1UP: That’s right. The consequences for getting caught tagging aren’t that drastic [in Greece]. That said, there are cops almost everywhere—except for in Exarchia. That’s a district in Athens where cops only go if they want to get hit by Molotov cocktails. Even in the other parts of the city, things are usually pretty laid back when it comes to street art. The locals generally have a positive attitude toward graffiti, but the police aren’t really seen in a positive light. One night before our drone flight, we were caught on site during preparations and the police tried to pretend we had a gun while they held us in the cell. For a brief moment, things didn’t seem all that funny anymore. But in the end everything worked out.
There’s another crew in the new video—Berlin Kidz. Just like you guys, they usually take rather large risks, surfing on commuter trains and lowering themselves from buildings with ropes. As a consequence, they’re watched more closely—not just by the graffiti scene, but also by the police. Are you guys afraid you’ll face legal ramifications?
1UP: Fear... that’s a very subjective and random thing. Some people are super relaxed when they tag, while others have to take a shot first to calm their nerves. Those are the people who, because they’re drinking so much, wind up tagging in the most unreasonable places. But yeah, there’s always fear. At least in places where the price you’ll pay if you’re busted is high—whether it’s a bodily injury or having to pay a fine and damages for cleaning it up. Depending on the location and circumstances, there are different ways of protecting yourself. Some of the factors are how long you spend tagging and where, how you plan to escape, whether you’re wearing gloves, if you’ve concealed your face well enough, etc.
Graffiti has an increasing influence on advertising and pop culture. Even the German Sparkasse bank has an ad campaign with hip pieces in the background. What are your predictions for the future of graffiti? Do you think you’ll have a couple more years of fun and then head to the galleries?
1UP: Trends come and go, but graffiti will always be around. At least for the foreseeable future. First off, there are some countries where graffiti has been completely eradicated from public spaces through strict policies, draconian punishments, or across-the-board surveillance. Most countries, however, are far from getting there, and right now it doesn’t look like much will change in that regard anytime soon. And even if it does, people will always find loopholes in the system, once again making graffiti a subversive act that brings a little chaos and creativity into an otherwise sterile, gray world.
1UP has almost been like a sort of brand for a while now, similar to the Wu-Tang Clan logo or ACAB. You’ve released books, DVDs, and even collaborated with Comme des Garçons. More and more adults outside of the scene are familiar with the name 1UP. Why are everyday people taking notice of 1UP as opposed to other graffiti artists?
1UP: There are a variety of factors that go into that. From the very beginning, it’s always been our goal to legibly bomb central and unusual places so that people simply can’t miss us. All of this is taking place in Berlin—one of the most important cities in the world for the graffiti scene. Plus, we’ve been documenting our work professionally from the very beginning and have reached more and more people far outside of the graffiti scene through our videos. Lastly, we’re almost constantly traveling around the world. Nowadays it’s almost impossible to travel the world without stumbling across our work. So keep your eyes peeled for where we’re headed next! 1UP and the Berlin Kidz are always traveling, and maybe we’ll be shooting the next video together with Selina in your city. One United Power!
As we all know, no video is complete without a soundtrack to go along with it. Noisey would like to give a shout-out to the Berlin producers Beathoavenz and the young artist Flora Camille, who produced the music for “Graffiti Olympics.”