A brief history of Level

In 1999, the magazine Level was born. Brothers Mark and Chris Noble, publishers of a BMX magazine and a core MTB magazine, got bored of going into their local newsagent and seeing nothing on the lifestyle shelves for them or their like. The US had produced Grand Royal, a happy-go-lucky hobby, more or less, of The Beastie Boys, and Mark and Chris felt that there was a gap in the UK market for something along those lines.

How hard could it be?

After several months of masterminding, almost-disastrous back-and-forth wrangling with the bureaucracy of WH Smith (the main wholesaler/retailers in the UK), designing and redesigning and getting editor Chris Quigley on board, Level quietly appeared on magazine shelves across the UK and beyond.

With the contributions of various luminaries—some of whom grace these web pages—and a remit of “All Things Good”, Level went down well. Unhindered by strict genres or target niches, it really did fill a gap. The talk was underground but very complimentary. Issue 01 picked up the UK’s inaugural Magazine Design Awards’ “Best Designed Consumer Magazine” prize.

From then on, the only way was, well, neither up nor down. The high-budget, low-moral advertising vultures of the London-based competition had a stranglehold on the ad spends of the rich and famous brands. Despite an increase in promotional spend and advertising sales strategy, Level, without a desire to sell its soul, found its pages to be a hard sell. Only the most discerning of brands supported the magazine, and it just wasn’t enough. The brakes came on in November 2000, after only eleven issues.

But it’s always been there. Gnawing away in the back of our minds, especially that of publisher/designer Chris Noble. The brothers parted ways with the publishing company at the end of 2006, but Chris saw to it that he took Level with him.

Since then, Chris has had more time to think about bringing the magazine back in one way or another, and during the first half of 2009, he dove head-first into the world of web code which he had so far largely managed to avoid.

And the rest is browser history.

Chris Noble

I grew up in Tolpuddle, a dinky old village on the south coast of England. Tolpuddle’s main claim to fame is the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six nineteenth-century farmers who had the gall to form a union and go on strike. They got shipped off to the penal colony of Australia for doing so and became popular heroes for the hard-working man and remain Mandela-like icons for trade unions. Although they are labelled ‘martyrs’, they didn’t actually die for their cause: after a couple years down under, they were released back to Blighty and most of them moved to Canada. Not a bad outcome for martyrs.
Being 80s kids, my big brother Mark and I got into BMX. In 1987, the United Kingdom Bicycle Freestyle Association owned the UK’s Freestyle BMX Magazine, and my dad, the chairman of the UKBFA, took it on and made Mark editor. (He got in the local paper for being the UK’s youngest magazine ed at 19.) Dad soon bought the magazine off the UKBFA for a few quid, then, a couple years later in the doldrums of BMX, sold it to Mark and I for £1. That’s how it all started. We grew our company organically, our only goal to make good magazines for like-minded people.
Fast forward to 2009. I now live in Oregon, USA, a stone’s throw from Portland, have an amazing wife and two amazing kids, and work freelance as a graphic designer—or whatever people think I’m good for.
I made this website for the same reasons we used to make magazines, and for the same reason we published Level. There was no point in adding just another blog site to the web’s shelves, and as it is a reincarnation of Level rather than a sideline to it, it had to be, well, Level. Welcome to issue 12.
And don’t forget to write.

Andy Jenkins

Over the last couple of weeks, when I get home from work, I take off my shoes, pop the top off a beer and turn on the most recent recording of Baseball Tonight. I’m a big Los Angeles Angels fan—well, a baseball fan in general. Eventually, I’ll move down into my studio, which happens to be an extra kitchen in our house/former duplex, and I fiddle around with a few pieces of paper, paint, glue and wood while the Angels game plays on AM830. Our cats wander in and out napping on various piles of paper. On a good night I’ll get lost in time and just find myself making things, listening to Hud and Phiz, Rory and Terry call the game. Occasionally my son Emmet will wander in and grab a brush, sit down and start making stuff with me. But he’s 13 and so usually he’s come in to ask if he can go skate the 7th Street banks a couple blocks from our house. We’ll listen to an at-bat and chat about our favorite players before I say, “Yeah, go ahead. Be careful.” In the next room my wife, Kelley, is working on her own creations. Sometime during the evening we’ll all finish up our activities and meet upstairs in the living part of the house where we’ll sit and watch American Idol or play CDs, or make cookies.

Anthony Smith

It would not be entirely true if I claimed to be from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. My family never really lived in one city longer than a few years before settling there in the mid-90s. I would attribute my interest in photography to this transient upbringing. Acting on that interest in my early 20s, I began studying at the Alberta College of Art and Design in 2003. Itching for a change in scenery, I decided to finish my degree at Emily Carr University in Vancouver where I graduated in 2008. Since then I’ve been spending my time here freelancing, riding bikes, and hanging out with my Boston terrier, Ruby. If you can deal with the rainy winters in Vancouver this city is tough to beat and right now there is nowhere I’d rather be.

David Slade

Film maker, photographer, journalist, piss artist.

Started out humble, remained humble. Born at an early age, grew up fast.

Life took me from Sheffield to London to Los Angeles and all around the world on the way.

I direct films, they get called movies in the US which is where I have been living for a while. Some of the films have been big, some of them small. If you ask me, and sometimes people do, I always say the film I am most proud of is Hardy Candy.

I started out like a lot of people here on a BMX bike, but now I’m too old and out of shape to ride it without getting hurt, not that this deters me. In a related confession I used to set fire to concrete in patterns when I was young, I used to love that.

I did my degree in Fine Art, I really grew to hate fine art. I started out as a journalist, did a diploma in that, this whole art/photography/film thing was a wrong turn on the road somewhere, but you know, I’m rolling with it and life is good.

I direct music videos for bands I like these days. It seldom happens but every now and again I get to do it. I love that synthesis of music and image even though I mainly tell stories these days. The music video is an art-form into itself.

It wasn’t always that way. I learned how to tell visual stories by making music videos and later commercials.

I am more selective now about what I do, my first video was for The Aphex Twin, I look at it now and it’s this shit little student film, but somehow it made some history, it’s got two million hits on Youtube.

You can find my photography online, you can even buy some of it if you want.

I continue to take photographs and spend countless hours either at a computer on a film set or writing in notebooks. Otherwise I mights start setting fire to things again.

David Slade’s site

Portrait by Erica Farjo

Don Pendleton

I grew up in a rural town in a rural state, struggling with the reality of living in the middle of nowhere.

I first found solace in the pages of Freesylin’ Magazine as a kid. One interest led to another and I ended up on a skateboard in the winter of 1984.

It was uphill (or downhill, depending on who you ask) from there. I put all of the provincial energy I could muster into skateboarding. And when I couldn’t ride my skateboard, I would sit at the kitchen table and draw pictures. Both art and skateboarding felt instinctive to me… I loved each of them equally and figured that if you love something, you should spend all your time doing it.

So I did. I pursued sponsorship, I entered contests and embarked on filming tours and drew skateboard graphics for boards that I knew would never be produced.

One dark day, I tore ligaments in my ankle and decided that I may be more suited for a life of art rather than a life of a skateboarding.

I was fortunate enough to land a spot doing graphics for one of the few companies located outside of California, The Alien Workshop, and remained there for the better part of a decade.

In these past 11 years, I’ve focused on skating, painting, doing graphics and the occasional art show or exhibit here and there. Approximately 500 graphics later, skateboarding is still my first love.

Jared Souney

Little kids bikes—specifically BMX bikes—weren’t supposed to get me anywhere. On my report cards from elementary school my teachers wrote things like “Jared needs to spend more time focusing on things besides bicycles.” I guess they were right. I could have, or should have listened and become something I never wanted to be. But being on the cusp of the extreme… living on the edge; it just seems more interesting.

Because of the early BMX culture I was involved in, and reading about, I got inspired to make zines, then later real magazines. I got inspired to take photos and learn design. Then along came the web and I sort of went with that too. I don’t fight the new stuff that comes at us, I just try to evolve with it. I’m confused about print like the rest of the world. I fight a constant daily struggle between print staying relevant and online being accessible and immediate.

Somehow I ended up in Portland, Oregon. You might have heard of it. There are hippies here. And Smart cars. People use biofuels and ride bikes everywhere. I, however, drive a car as much as I can for short distances (with my bike in the trunk), burning dirty-old gasoline. I cut down trees, sometimes.

Before Portland I made stops in Central, PA (Amish country), and Southern California, but learned most of my life-lessons in Boston, a small city in Massachusetts, once inhabited by Pilgrims. I do not have a Boston accent.

I’ve stayed hip and green by locating my photo/design/media studio above a vegan bakery, owned by a friend I met because of those silly little bikes I should have given up years ago. I’m not vegan, but I am vegetarian. Not for political reasons, but because I never really liked meat, and kittens and puppies are sort of cute.

These days I still photograph grown men on those little kids bikes (as well as on skateboards, motorcycles and more) on top of doing design work, some video, some writing, some opinion giving, and whatnot. I get most of my information these days from Twitter. In a few months it will be irrelevant and I’ll have to find a new existence.

Johann Chan

As a kid I drew pictures, was told off by teachers for daydreaming and rode around on a BMX. As an an adult I make imagery, get paid for ‘creative visaulisation’ and ride around on a BMX.
An unhealthy pre-teen bout in Marvel comics ended after buying my dream bike—a second-hand Haro Master. A few Swatch stickers later, I found myself wearing ridiculous shorts, Anarchic Adjustment t-shirts, making stickers from photocopies and experiencing my largest teenage faux pas. Alongside being a general social misfit, stickering bus stops and temporarily possessing some embarrassingly shit dreadlocks, I started Emer, a BMX clothing brand. Shortly after I became a contributor to the UK’s Ride BMX Magazine and, later on, Level.
I currently work as an art editor for design publications based in London, designing and commissioning some of the top creatives in the industry.

Kevin Wilkins

Waking up before you’re supposed to should probably be more upsetting, but it was an accident and what can you really do about it?

Here: let me play mini politician and answer my own question.

1) Lay in bed and lament—stirring all sorts of madness or 2) get up, listen to Warsaw, drink warm coffee-flavored water, and lament—stirring all sorts of madness.

About 70 months ago my best friends in the world asked me to jump ship with them and start a new skateboard magazine. The Skateboard Mag we’d call it, and it was akin to waking up before you’re supposed to, knowing you can’t do anything about it, and instead doing something else. Because, I mean, why the hell not? Right?

Answer: Right.

About 421 months ago I went over to a friend’s house. He lived across the street from our school and that just fascinated me. All he’d have to do, I reckoned, was wake up when he was supposed to, put on some shoes, and then just walk a few steps to his first class. Life across the street from school must have been sweet.

Also, he had stashed a bunch of cardboard boxes in the bushes at the top of a big grassy hill right there in front of school. When I visited, we’d sequentially run, jump, and slide down the hill on the cardboard. Pretty much killed all the grass, but that just made it slicker. It was the funnest thing ever. No joke. Eventually, the janitor or the groundskeepers figured out what was killing the grass and confiscated our makeshift sleds, but out of habit I went to visit my friend anyway—hoping some of that across-the-street-from-school magic was still attainable.

As luck would have it, his brother had just gotten a new toy. A skateboard, he called it. It was grey and plastic and it scared the shit out of me. We couldn’t stand on the thing so we butt-boarded for a few hours. Like sliding cardboard on grass, it was also the funnest thing ever.

Soon after that my family moved away. I got into the regular kid stuff and really didn’t think of much, other than waking up before I was supposed to and being a kid. I went swimming a lot, ran track, played basketball, and watched TV. I had a paper route. I went to church with my parents. I rode wheelies on my bike—that kind of thing. And, yeah, I had a skateboard. And, yeah, I rode it. Funnest thing ever.

Then about 336 months ago a group of professional skateboarders visited my town—Lincoln, Nebraska—for three glorious autumn days. Although I didn’t know it at the time, skateboarding was “dead,” and the visit was a way for these remaining professionals from California and Texas to plant the seeds for the out of control weed that skateboarding has become today. Anyway, it was on a Thursday in September that I strolled behind a house on Eastridge Drive and saw a guy doing handplants on a backyard vert ramp. It freaked me out. I couldn’t even comprehend what I was seeing. And even though it made no sense to me, I knew at once that whatever the hell that guy was doing, it had to be the funnest thing ever. I walked into that backyard as a kid who had a skateboard, but I left as a skateboarder.

And now it’s now.

I have a family—the most patient, loving girl you could ever meet agreed to marry me 217 months ago, and today we have two boys, 125 months and 84 months respectively, who, as I type this on October 1st, 2009, are all still sleeping. Together we take turns waking each other up before we’re supposed to and trying to figure out the next funnest things ever. Also together, we live about a block and a half away from where I first saw that guy stalling inverts and Andrechts. I work on The Skateboard Mag from a basement room in our house.

And there you have it.

Accidental and upsetting, it’s also pretty amazing when you wake up early and start typing some bullshit for a Level bio.

But bullshit is what it’s all about, innit?

Lee Basford

I’m an art director at Fluid in England, working in and around the overlap of art, design and making things, producing work for arts, video games, fashion and music companies that include Sony, Capcom, Sega, EMI, Artificial Eye, Saatchi and Electronic Arts.

Since working on the first incarnation of Level I’ve written and illustrated for publications Paper-Sky, Dazed and Confused and Tokion, designed typefaces for T26 (USA) and Fountain fonts (Sweden) and since 2000 exhibited both as a solo artist and as a member of the Outcrowd in England, Japan, USA, Germany and Ireland.

In 2007 I was invited by UNIQLO to their Creative Awards ceremony in Tokyo where I received the Judges Choice Award, and was honoured to be one of the artists asked to take part in the Lightning Bolts + Innovation Art Show curated by Nike, which debuted at the Beijing Olympics.

Mark Noble

If the Level printed publication had a master cluster, I guess I was in the mix somewhere helping to knit it together in our little office. Mags have always been in my scopes since year dot—at first as inspirational and iconic bicycle motocross and skateboarding magazines imported from California as an young teenager, then later on as a career that spanned twenty-odd years and encompassed all manner of the wonder of magazine making, which ended in 2008 in a somewhat ugly fashion. But hey, we live and learn. Nowadays, I’m running a small, fledgling BMX bicycle company from my kitchen table and going back to the roots of riding through another channel and enjoying it again, with a bit of help from some really good people. I also write for ESPN, which sounds gigantically commercial, but actually the journalism is hugely independent and genuine—and it’s fun. And now this—rambling again about this ’n’ that ’n’ all sorts on Chris’s Level site. Brilliant! Let’s do this…

Omar Almufti

I grew up in Berkeley, been living in San Francisco since two thousand and four, spent a couple years in Euro as well. I like eating, drinking coffee and riding track bikes, and that’s how I try to spend most of my time. I like staying up late and waking up early. I also like getting out of the city whenever I have a chance, kicking it with my friends, things that are made by hand and having a lot of work to do. Working on a couple projects right now, soon(ish) the links will be right here.

Posy Dixon

I’m Posy Dixon. I live in London. I like riding my bike around the city, going on obscure adventures, chasing parties, and finding cool stuff. I also like people (the good ’uns), dusty record shops, loud music, quiet colours, whiskey, coffee, bloody mary breakfasts, animals and photos.

Here’s a photo of me.

Some people say I talk too much which is why I like to write I suppose… someone’s got to want to hear it surely?

Roy Christopher

I’m an aging BMX/skateboard zine kid. That’s where I learned to turn events and interviews into pages with staples. The pages and staples have long since given way to text-links and scrollbars, but the rest is basically the same. I still ride BMX, and I still skateboard.

I do still commit quite a bit to actual pages too. A book-length anthology of interviews my friends and I did around the turn of the millennium called Follow for Now: Interviews with Friends and Heroes (Well-Red Bear) was released in 2007, and has been lauded for its eclectic but consistent content. I was assistant editor to Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky on his anthology Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture (MIT Press, 2008). I was also a contributing writer to the FREESTYLIN’ Magazine reunion book, Generation F. I’m currently working on a book about technological mediation as well as one on Hip-hop. I am also pursuing a Ph.D. in Communication Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Though I write for Level and a few other spots on- and off-line, my personal website is home to most of my musings about music, BMX, skateboarding, technology and whatever.

Tom Oldham

Six-foot three-inch photographer from London via Dorset, who having tried many work-type things prefers this as a means of income and as access to great times. Travel, portraiture, music, all the good stuff. Bit like Level really. Somehow squeezed various aspect of my life into all of the original hard copy issues of Level and now delighted to see its return. These days you’ll find me shooting for The Fly magazine, at most music festivals and in an East End pub that requires no publicity at all, thank you.