In recent times there have been some rather monumental shifts within the skateboard industry. Some have been merely cosmetic, such as “big name pros” moving from one company to another for more money and less coverage, while other “big name pros” started their own companies for ostensibly (although perhaps with a wing and a prayer thrown in) the same reasons. However there have also been more subtle changes taking place in the midst of this maelstrom of egos and bottom lines, and no company has been embroiled deeper than the Alien Workshop.
Since Alien (under the umbrella of DNA) was bought back from Burton by Rob Dyrdek in the post Mindfeild glow it has been a long, winding and controversial road. Coming off the back of Jason Dill’s “upriver” vs. “downriver” comments and Heath Kirchart retiring, the team was fractured. It seemed as though new blood was going to be on a slow drip with many statements being made (again mostly by Jason “bigmouth strikes again” Dill) about the strict rules and processes involved in getting on a team a prestigious as Alien. This along with Dyrdek’s seemingly ulterior motives, his connections with street league, his seemingly sketchy business partners and rumours of the company moving away from its spiritual home of Dayton Ohio where some aspect of running the company was still left to origional founders Chris Carter and Mike Hill, it was all starting to leave a sour taste in the mouths of even the most stalwart Workshop supporters.
One thing they have managed to do however is continue to put out footage of their riders with a degree of consistency in both regularity and artistically in keeping with the aesthetic of the company. Although they were somewhat under the radar there is some undeniably classic footage, and you get the distinct feeling that if the company itself had been going through less turbulent times that it would have been a small step to a releasable full length. If nothing else these clips are now a useful visual timeline with which to track the progress of the company over the last four years.
Kevin Terpening was one of the first new riders to be announced as full on the Alien roster around this time, after being on flow for the company for a number of years. Being from Ohio and having put in so much time already for the company his bump to amateur seemed like an obvious although well deserved nod to the companies roots. It was fitting then that he should be the subject of the first “Life Splicing” segment, further fitting was the fact that his clip was soundtracked to a telephone conversation between himself and Jason Dill echoing the intro to Dill’s section in Photosynthesis, touching again with the companies past as well as placing Dill in a position of perceived power and sway behind the brand separate from Dyrdek.
The second part in the series showcases the team skating together, at the park that AVE and Dylan Rieder along with Brandon Biebel, Marc Johnson, Guy Mariano and others had set up in opposition to the Berrics. But the team that we see all together as one concise unit is not the whole team, merely a furthering of Dills upriver vs. downriver manifesto (minus Dylan although his input is there in so far as he is a part owner of the titular “box”, and Grant Taylor who lets face it is pretty much beyond reproach as far as skateboarding goes), presenting as it does the downriver guys being the ones who actually skate together. I honestly can’t even remember if Berra was still on at this point but it seems that he was certainly not, based on what is put forth here, in the minds of Dill and AVE.
For the third instalment of the series we are fed a rather obvious marketing ploy. It shows the screen printing and production of a series of limited edition prints to coincide with one of the company’s board series, the boards are obviously not produced in this way but there is a sly winking implication to this, and a suggestion of hardworking artists producing things by hand that had not been associated with the company since Don Pendleton’s departure and subsequent loss of a holistic art direction, something that fans of the brand in the past had pointed to as a negative in recent times.
Nick Boserio’s Life Splicing part is arguably the most important of the series. Outside of Australia and followers of the Green Diamond this was the introduction to one of the most frenetic, gnarly and downright reckless skateboarders that had been seen in a long time. The energy of this part was like a breath of fresh air, and then another, and another until we are left gasping by the final ride away. It is one that I know a lot of people still throw on to this day to inject a bit of adrenalin into the day. Alien however did nothing with Brass and he was left in a state of limbo until eventually being seemingly traded for John Fitzgerald and Donovan Piscopo with Zero. What led to this bizarre transaction, was he not judged to have paid his dues with the company (unlikely having been switched with two unproven am’s), perhaps he didn’t get on with the rest of the team (read: didn’t ride of Vans or look like Dylans baby brother)? Perhaps we will never know, or perhaps we will strive to ask him directly…Regardless, it led to his having a part in “Cold War”, one that I enjoyed thoroughly.
Up next was Gilbert Crocket, another fairly new edition to the squadron. He had already been officially welcomed to the team with an advertisement and had been previously featured in the second instalment of the Life Splicing series (see above) as well as in other team coverage, but this segment was his time to shine, to show why he had been added to the team. He came through carrying that weight and then some, this clip has all of the bow-legged pop and quick feet that had made him a favourite albeit somewhat awkward fit on Mystery previously. it cemented his place amongst his fans and many detractors and naysayers. again this cam at a time where the direction of the brand itself seemed to be moving in the right direction, but with Jake Johnson still out injured and is a sponsorship limbo outside of the DNA umbrella there were still aspirations to be fulfilled.
Skip forward a couple of months and we have the John Fitzgerald centered sixth instalment. John Fitzgerald is gnarly on a board, lets just say that right off the bat, he is a former winner of SLAP’s One in a million contest who ended up on Zero for the year as a result and at one time it looked as though he might have one of the most anticipated parts of the forthcoming video “Cold War”, however I should say for reasons of full disclosure that it is my humble opinion that he looks like dog shit on a board, reminiscent of an anorexic version of Sloth from “the Goonies”. It was around this time that the rumor mill around team riders leaving began to spin and everyone had an opinion or conspiracy theory. Matters were somewhat confused by Fitzgeralds addition to the team as he rode for Vans along with Dill and Ave, and so it followed that in all likelihood they had got him on the team, only to quit themselves? It seemed as though the void between team and brand was wider that ever with two different sets of egomaniacs controlling the different parts.
Perhaps as a diversionary tactic the seventh Life splicing section showcased the somewhat average talents of Icelandic flow rider Siggi Pall Palsson. This part seemed to kind of slip under the radar, and video parts released featuring people living outside of North America often do. For me the most interesting aspect of this video surfaces around the 1:20 mark, where it starts to appear as though Alien have in fact sponsored the first openly white supremacist skateboarder. Coming at a time where there had been some questions raised about the ethnic diversity or distinct lack there of within certain teams over the years, with Alien Workshop being one of the accused (It Turns out that Josh Kalis wasnt black after all no matter what Lil Stevie said), I thought it was kind of funny.
And That brings us right up to date with this little gem that arrived on the Slap front page and Facebook walls across the land yesterday Life Splicing Part: 008 “TOUROHIO”, which I initially took to be some kind of nod to japanese mysticism, its kind of all the rage right now, but shortly there and after when it stated playing realized that it was just another example of the company trying to reconnect its current team with its roots. Jason Dill and AVE are now long gone, as is their influence and for a time it seemed that without them the brand would be directionless and disintegrate. Kevin Terpening followed them to new endeavor “Fucking Awesome” skateboards, Gilbert Crockett had apparently also unofficially made the same jump. Jake Johnson was living in his van putting out his own footage through the GX1000 videos and seemed certain to be a welcome ad away from riding for Polar. Mike Taylor left and everyone cared that no one seemed to care. Dylan was on the street league tour and filming for the Supreme video in NYC. Grant Taylor making the move to Anti-Hero that has long been pushed for by keyboard jockeys who cannot fathom that someone riding transition without pads on doesnt ride for Anti-Hero. The timing of this clip is obviously an intentional and purposeful declaration that the team stands with the company again as one concise unit. We can only wonder what was offered to Jake and Gilbert to make them stick around, something they would not have been able to assert in there new homes? A say in the direction of the brand perhaps, creative control even? With Dyrdek bankrolling, Carter and Hill running things day-to-day and Jake and Gilbert at the head of the brand, it looks very similar to the structure that we saw two years before. Although I have the feeling that this time they may be able to settle back down into a groove and do what they have always done best, which is to produce and release artistic and groundbreaking depictions of skateboarding to thrill and inspire.