If you’re like me then at some point before you head out on your pilgrimage to the snow, probably from the first signs of Autumn, you will have watched clips/shorts/movies (depending on your attention span and what you can get away with at work) of the worlds finest snow sliders tearing the mountains to shreds. I’ll also take another guess, that the movies that stand out are the ones whose soundtrack reaches out to you, either in terms of musical taste, or somehow compliments the action perfectly.
Either way, a riders section can be made legendary simply by the choice of music that accompanies it, how can that be?
First, we need a bit of history (It’s OK, you have time!)
There was a time when skiing was boring and desperately uncool, snowboarding was in it’s infancy and no-one cared. The only person documenting the sport was Warren Miller, making tediously long movies with mediocre action, sections with people falling off chairlifts, moguls, ski ballet and worse. All put together in decidedly cheesy terms with an even cheesier soundtrack, chosen by your Grandad (but not your cool Grandad who was a hippy and at the first Glastonbury). This is how these sports and lifestyles were presented to the world, so unsurprisingly, the world thought it was a bit naff.
Then, along came Greg Stump with a series of movies that changed everything in snow film making.
“The Maltese Flamingo”, “The Good, The Rad and the Gnarly” “The Blizzard of Aahhs” and “License to Thrill” showcased skiing’s underbelly, the dirtbags who were rebelling against everything Warren Miller was showing, introducing young punks who, instead of spending days training at slalom, were chasing powder and dropping cliffs. The films, and the stars in them, were all on a shoestring budget, so big names weren’t included, instead it was the young and hungry such as Glen Plake, Scott Schmidt and their friends who got the call and whose personalities perfectly suited Stumps trashy, pop cultured stylings.
Licensing music is an expensive business so these films sought out smaller labels, eventually working hand in hand with ZTT, giving the label widespread coverage in return for exclusive tracks from some of the hottest acts of the era – 808 State, Nasty Rox Inc and Frankie Goes to Hollywood to name but a few. This wasn’t the family friendly Warren Miller show, this was young, energetic and punk which, in the process, inspired a generation of kids (me included) to follow their lead and live the lifestyle that looked oh so enticing, changing the snow industries forever.
Greg Stump was lured away from skiing to make music videos (and a lot more money, I expect) and without his vision, cheesiness made it’s way back into ski movies and things went slightly naff again. But really, by this point, no-one was watching, because snowboarding had reared it’s head and was overshadowing skiing in terms of youth popularity, creativity and energy.
Snowboard film producers became the taste makers, combining their creativity and energy with the aesthetic of the current skate movies (early snow movies often featuring skating alongside) trashy soundtracks, often with the bands name-checked MTV style. Capturing the newest tricks and styles was more important than production values given there wasn’t any due to the ludicrously low budgets, but with video cameras becoming a consumer item it was now far easier to turn in something watchable and more importantly, sellable.
In the pre-internet era and certainly before mainstream acceptance getting hold of a copy of the latest shred flick was hard and the new films were coveted and pored over, even through the summer months, as content hungry snowboarders literally studied each movie, learning each trick, section and, by proxy, soundtrack by heart.
So it became that the tracks in these movies were not only the soundtrack to the latest tricks but the soundtrack to our lives. Long after the video tape wore thin from overuse, those songs and the memories attached to them remain lodged in our craniums and take us back to those special times whenever and wherever we hear them.
Of course Burton were among the first companies to start putting out feature length movies showcasing their team but these often featured slightly strange themes and failed to capture the essence of the fledgling sport, more like a corporate show reel.
But then, along came two production companies which changed the face of snowboarding and how it was presented, Fall Line Films and Mack Dawg Productions. Fall Line had higher production values and made travelogue style films, capturing the lifestyle of powder hungry kids, whilst Mack Dawg placed themselves on the bleeding edge of progression, showing rider after rider pushing the limits of freestyle with a heavily skate influenced theme.
Both styles of movie had huge success, but Fall Line gave way to a new company by the name of Standard which upped the production again and bordered both worlds, showcasing the best big mountain riders alongside the most talented freestylers, often giving them the chance to take their tricks to the big mountain environment.
But come the late 90’s Mack Dawg scored a coup with the hottest team on the planet, the newly formed Forum Snowboards team, and it was this that solidified their position. Purely freestyle, rider driven sections, and soundtracks that reflected the riders often overblown personalities made for compelling watching and often made Standard’s offerings seem a little bit old hat. But this push and pull between the two companies gave us some of snowboardings most memorable moments: JP Walker announcing his arrival to the sounds of Blondies ‘Dreaming’ in Simple Pleasures and Terje Haakonsen being generally heads and shoulders above everyone else in TB2.
This two horse race continued for years with only a handful of independent releases coming anywhere close, one of the most notable being ‘1999’ which featured a heavy list of some of Europe’s finest riders but what made it stand out was it’s use of sound design and it’s soundtrack. Although it was based on the standard rider/section format it was like a snowboard movie mixed together by a DJ so each section cleverly segued into another, the songs often mixed into each other using real life sounds to knit parts together. In short, a film whose soundtrack has never been bettered until last years film Paradigm, whose creators went to great depths to make the sound of snowboarding as integral a part of the film as the action itself.
It seemed that the consuming snowboarder was happy with their lot until a group of riders, tired of the way snowboarding was being presented, organised themselves into a production group, called themselves Robot Food and changed everything (again).
Over the course of three movies, this group of über creative riders, showcased not only the finer points of freestyle snowboarding but incorporated lifestyle and goofing around, moving as a crew which everyone wanted to be a part of.
As well as being refreshingly honest visually, the soundtracks are what make these movies so watchable. Classics from the Cars, mixed with up and coming bands such as The Caesars (arguably responsible for making their hit “Jerk It Out” cool enough for Apple to use it in its iPod ad campaigns) Indie pop from Her Space Holiday and a cover of “Video Killed The Radio Star” by the Presidents of the USA.
As well as bring great songs, they seem to fit the narrative of the films and the personalities of the riders to a degree not seen or heard before. Well, maybe once or twice but we’ll come back to that later. You can tell how good something is by how many people try to imitate it and, as such, the whole snowboard industry was now making movies about friends and good times. The Robot Food crew however, knew the time and after three short seasons they called it quits.
Maybe they saw the future and realised they may not have a place in it. Mack Dawg made it to his movie Double Decade before winding up and Standard Films reached TB20 before calling it a day on full length snowboard movies.
As with much of the media, the internet was changing the way the hungry public was consuming the sport. Kids didn’t want to hang on for action which, by the time it was released, could be nearly a year old. They wanted it to see it a few days after it was shot. So as it was, short movies, or clips, started to be self released by the riders themselves, taking away the need for a big production company.
The unmistakable kings of this self promotion has been the Helgason brothers, Halldor and Eiki. Their brand of goofing about, showing as many slams as landed tricks (but those tricks that are landed, oh my) and new media savvy has tapped into a whole new vein of snowboarding culture and rocketed them from relative nobodies in their native Iceland, to being the arguably the biggest names in snowboarding today.
Except for one person who is still, by sheer brute force, bucking the trend. This person’s movie exploits get more ridiculous with every successful release and with the deep pockets of Red Bull behind him, it is affording him time to get very ridiculous indeed.
That person is Travis Rice.
His movies, ‘That’s It, That’s All’ and ‘The Art Of Flight’ were both filmed over the course of two seasons apiece, completely disregarding the trend for quick fix hits. His new film ‘The Fourth Phase’ was filmed over a maniacal three seasons and was released this October. But whilst taking spunking money to new levels, they have also taken snowboarding cinematography to a whole new extreme, borrowing technology used in major feature films to create masterpieces, documenting the absolute cream of snowboarding.
Is it worth it?
Oh, you better believe it.
These films not only make you want to go snowboarding, they literally guide your mouse finger to the Easyjet website and book your flights for you. I can only imagine the percentage increase in injuries on the mountains by middle aged guys (like myself) trashing themselves because they are so jazzed up after watching Travis Rice in the chalet before heading out. Part of what makes these films so watchable is the epic soundtrack. Brain Farm, the production company responsible, worked with artists like M83 (who, in turn, must doff their caps to ZTT’s Propaganda) to score the soundtrack and the accompanying visuals work together so harmoniously you wonder if they had the tunes blasting in their headphones whilst filming.
So here we are, bang up to date. Where are snowboarding movies going next? And what will their soundtracks be like? In an age of quick fix hits, will music become irrelevant all together? Surely the people putting together these clips won’t be able to license ‘proper’ music, so will it revert back to trashy guitar bands making tunes in their garage? Or will music technology become such that instead of playing guitars in their garage, kids will be able to recreate an epic score to rival any Travis Rice film and give it away for free?
What I do know is this, the savvy snowboarder knows their success rides on what music they back their footage with for it is the tune that sticks in people’s ears, get that right and you’ll become part of our sport’s rich history…
To save you gluing yourself to Youtube for months watching every shred flick ever made here is my own personal list of movies that will jazz you up featuring songs that will stick in your mind for months and years to come.
Afterbang – Robot Food
This movie was the one that broke the mould in the early noughties. The DVD came with loads of extras that could be unlocked with codes that were released throughout the winter but the real secret was that they were showing you what it was like to hang out with these guys (and my god did we want to hang out with them), shredding insane mountains and parks, smashing powder, all to a top drawer compilation of songs.
Travis Parker – Her Space Holiday – Keystroke
David Benedek – The Presidents Of The USA – Video Killed the Radio Star
Outro/Credits – Talking Heads – Once In A Lifetime
Lame – Robot Food
Proving that they weren’t a one trick pony, the Robot Food crew came back and expanded on the theme with a couple of new names, notably the punk as fuck Scotty Whitlake, and Travis Parker’s seminal section, arguably one of the best ever, with a classic track, one that literally everyone in the western hemisphere knows.
David Benedek – Billy Idol – Dancing With Myself
Scotty Whitlake/Louie Fountain – The Clash – Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
Travis Parker – Tears for Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World
Afterlame – Robot Food
As if to stick two fingers up to the rest of the industry the Robot Food crew made a new movie in a more documentary style following the exploits of the riders as they try and find good snow, hot park laps and killer footage. For me, this is the complete movie. I want to hang with these guys, I want to be part of their bro-down, I want to shred with them, and if their soundtrack was the soundtrack to my life, I could live (and die) with that.
Intro – Norman Greenbaum – Spirit In The Sky
Jakob Wilmelmson/Hampus Mossesson – Air – All I Need
Outro – The Knife – Heartbeats
The Garden – Volcom
In the late nineties, at a time when budgets were getting bigger and quality was improving, Volcom turned away from all that, handmaking a film, shooting on Super 8 using absolutely no digital technology. This gave the vibe a decidedly different feel to everything else at the time and it’s soundtrack pushed it even further that way. Instead of thrashy guitars or in your face hip hop, they went back to Neil Young and Deep Purple and earned their place in snowboarding folk lore.
Road Trippin – Neil Young – Heart Of Gold
Terje Haakonsen/Jamie Lynn/Bryan Iguchi – Deep Purple – Highway Star
1999 – Mosberg
From out of nowhere came a crew and a movie that changed the way soundtracks had been done up to that point. Using the sound effects and weaving them into the soundtrack, which in itself had been mixed DJ style, gave this movie a fluidity not seen as yet, sewing the individual pieces together and making it very hard to turn off. An underground classic.
Axel Pauporte – The Beastie Boys – Sneakin Out Of The Hospital
Babs Charlet – NTM – IV my people
There is nothing online pertaining to this film, track it down on VHS!
All of it…
Canadian skate and snow madness in a very low budget style, but with a stellar soundtrack featuring Nat King Cole and other jazz and easy listening favourites, mixed live by DJ Vinyl Richie. This is a cult classic and the soundtrack could easily put off the hardened metal snowboarder but something about this movie is so charming that it cannot be denied a place in my favourites.
TB2 (A New Way of Thinking)
Standard Movies first proper solo outing was a who’s who of snowboarding when it dropped in Autumn ’93. Bleeding edge freestyle and big mountain riding, the likes of which hadn’t been seen before with this level of production, and some killer, if slightly predictable, tracks to accompany it. Noah Salasnek’s skate style fitting the tune by Primus so completely and Terje closing things out with a tune that announces his complete dominance of the sport that feels more like a best of rather than an introduction.
Terje Haakonsen – PAW – Gasoline
Noah Salasnek – Primus – Jerry Was A Race Car Driver
Terje’s section https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NychdrUBF4
Odd Man Out
Although the action is pretty shabbily cut together with botched landings cut short, the guys at Room and Board productions had made the savvy move of coming to London and getting in with Sony music who let them use some of the finest up and coming bands of the day. The soundtrack boasts big tunes by Oasis and Reef, who both went on to great things turned this from an average shred flick to one of the most memorable. Not to mention a small UK contingent getting cameos and a large section filmed at the UK’s snowboarding home in the Alps, Les Arcs.
Axel Pauporte – Oasis – Slide Away
6ft Stereo is a DJ and Producer who, after seasons in Val D’Isere and Morzine, and calling Bourg Saint Maurice/Les Arcs his home for many years, is now based in Brighton UK, with a vast knowledge of snowboard movie soundtracks blotting out other, more useful, information in his brain.
He is to be found playing in and around Brighton and at festivals such as Glastonbury and Beautiful Days.
When at home he hosts a weekly show, 11am-1pm on 1BrightonFM.co.uk and also puts out a monthly podcast, one of which is an hour mix of snowboard movie tunes, which you can find here: www.soundcloud.com/6ftstereo