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Street Music

When I was a teenager working in a skateboard shop called G&B up in Anchorage, Alaska, skateboarding was an insular scene that even had music of its own: a blend of punk, hardcore and thrash known as skaterock. Personified by acts like Arizona's own J.F.A., Gang Green, Suicidal Tendencies, Drunk Injuns, and documented on Thrasher magazine's mid- to late-'80s Skaterock compilation series, it was music about skating and set to the whirr-crack! rhythm of the sport.

Skateboarders' music of choice has evolved over the years -- not that long ago, hip-hop was the music of street surfers, given props by rhymers like Murs -- to the point where now if you watch a skateboard video you'll hear an eclectic mix that's as likely to include Coldplay or Al Green as it is punk rock.

One of the skateboarder kids who was sponsored by the shop I worked for in Alaska was Erik Ellington. Ellington moved to the Valley in 1991 and then to Southern California a few years ago, where he now rides professionally for Baker Skateboards. Ellington is one of the riders in the new video Shake Junt, ollying stairs and grinding handrails to the rhymes of Snoop Dogg and Tupac. There's a big Phoenix presence in Shake Junt, and the video had its local première here on the longest day of the year in a parking lot behind Cowtown Skateboards and Halo Piercing at Central and Camelback. Soon, it'll be for sale in skate shops nationwide. It's definitely worth a peek.

Though Shake Junt features a brief segment of Baker riders, the rest of the skateboarders featured in it aren't pro, and several of them, like Ryan "2-Tight" Thomas and Randal Wilson, are Valley-ites. The video's producer, L.A.-based Shane Heyl, is local as well, and many of the other riders featured, like Mike "Reno" Hubert and Jon "Flip" Colbert, spend much of their time riding the concrete here in the 'Nix.

Heyl couldn't afford to clear any of the music he used in Shake Junt, rendering it technically illegal. But he used it anyway and I'm glad he did, because the songs serve up a soundtrack of the riders' lives, capturing their personalities and styles through the tracks their lines and tricks are edited to, with music by acts like Bill Withers, Three-Six Mafia, Black Sabbath, and Slayer.

Hubert, in town for the première, had some time to talk. "You try to get the best song a person would skate to. I wouldn't skate to Three-Six, it wouldn't fit," he tells me. "Like Flip skates to Slayer -- we skate differently. You find the music that most represents your style. I used to just be a hip-hop kid; now I listen to all kinds of shit: Slayer, a lot of music I wouldn't listen to like Al Green. I'd still be a little cocky hip-hop kid otherwise. When you hear a song on the radio you go, 'Andrew Reynolds skated to this.' You don't even know who sings it but you know who skated to it -- it made an impression on you."

"The music is like graffiti, break-dancing, art, skateboarding: It all comes from the same place, the culture we've grown up in," adds Ryan "2-Tight" Thomas, one of the locals featured. "You let the rider's personality shine through the music. Everybody in this video is skating to shit they'd be bumping in their headphones while they're on their skateboard.

"I've gotten introduced to a lot of music I would have never come in contact with from watching homies skate to it," he continues, citing Guy Mariano's Blind video segments with old-school Michael Jackson songs, and Mark Gonzales' pairing with smooth jazz.

Shake Junt itself is a tribute to the music in the video -- the film's named after a Lil' Gin cover of a Dirty South track by the same name that serves as the main theme. "Shake junt" is southern slang for a strip club, and as Thomas says, "They're a lot gnarlier than strip clubs anywhere else. You get up and party in a strip club and you're partying having a good time -- that's the same way it makes you feel on a skateboard. We're partying one way or another. Not saying I get a boner in skate parks, but you get the vibe. If a song's got enough energy to make the asses shake in a strip club, it'll work for a kid flipping his board."

At the première, the words "WUSSUP HATERS" flashed in white letters on a field of black, projected on a white brick wall with a full moon hanging in the background on the summer equinox, while a sample from Group Home announced, "It is okay that we make mistakes, no one on this level is perfect . . . so everyone who doubted me, I'm just sayin' . . . Fuck you!" Skateboarding these days is fully political, with rival factions and big money behind it at the top; this sample is the Shake Junt crew's assertion of independence.

"The way skateboarding's going now, with deodorant sponsors and SoBe drink sponsors, it's losing the edge of keeping it underground," Heyl says. "Nobody in the video has an actual board sponsor or shoe sponsor -- they do get stuff for free, but they're not in the mags or real big time or whatever you wanna call it."

Shortly after the film's intro, "2-Tight" Thomas' segment comes on, with the Underground Kings track "Murder" playing. Underground Kings was chosen, Heyl explains, because they're Texas gangsta rap, and Thomas hails from Texas.

Wilson's part begins with long runs along the concrete banks of a ditch on the west side while soul crooner Bill Withers' "Use Me Up" brings some mellow funk that matches Wilson's flow and flips. Then Young Bloodz' "Shake 'Em Off" kicks in, a crunked-up gangsta rap that's paired with a montage of shorter trick clips.

"We set it up to lots of different songs. Some worked, some didn't," Wilson explained to me. "We were trying to have a long drawn-out song for the pushing, the long runs, and something faster for the clips. Choosing a song for a skate part is such a pain in the ass, such a hard decision to make. People are gonna relate that song to you, even if they're not hearing it in the video."

Shake Junt ended with white words on the screen again, declaring, "Pour it up! Let's do this!" The assembled crowd of mostly teenage skateboard kids went wild in appreciation. Given the median age of 15 or so, most of these kids had probably never heard Black Sabbath's "Supernaut" or Al Green's "Here I Am;" for them, these songs will be permanently associated with the riders who shred to them in Shake Junt.

"I was really nervous, y'know," Heyl told me the day after the première. "We hit that place with all kinds of music. At some points I was looking around, and every time a home team member came on the audience was up in the air yelling."

Skateboarding's relationship to music has changed a lot since the days when I was being paid to slap grip tape on decks; where it was once myopic, it's now as varied as the personalities of the riders. Shake Junt proves that, setting down the soundtrack for Heyl's homies' salad days.

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Brendan Joel Kelley