The last interview I did in Tokyo wasn’t supposed to happen. In fact, it was done exactly 4 days before my departure. Uruma Masanori (Skate Distributor) was the one who introduce me to Laurence. We met at his new office and had a nice chat around a cup a coffee about his arrival in Japan, encounters & his new job position.
à Tokyo : l'entretien avec LAURENCE KEEFE
Interview & Photography Farade Nicolas (issue06)
Laurence Keefe, I am 29 and I am from England.
I was born in London but I grew up in the suburbs. I have pretty much stopped school at 16 so I didn’t really finish High School then I went to an Art School for 2 years, it was like College after that I left London and went living abroad
How were you introduced to skateboarding?
Pretty much always had a skateboard, somehow, I think the first one my mom found a skateboard in a thrift store and brought one for me and at 10 years old, I started to skate a normal board.
Must be cool to have parents that pushes you to do it. You know I spoke to Uruma and for him, it wasn’t like that at all.
Yes it’s kinda a bad look in Japan to be seeing skating. In Japanese culture it’s really bad to bother anyone else. If you look at any people here, they don’t wanna make noises or be in someone way, they are really respectful of people they don’t know around them. Skateboarding is totally the opposite of that way of living, it’s like making fucking noise, breaking shit, it’s not a normal way to behave in Japan. Now maybe with the Olympics things might change...
What about the VISA stuff, do you have a working one now?
It’s cool I got to renewed every year which is a pain the ass. But now I think with this company it is pretty legit so it should be good now. Certain things are harsh, they don’t break the rules here. Even things that are so easy in your own country is a fucking mission here.
Then you need to speak Japanese to get all the forms right.
Yes and you need to write as well. They won’t write it for you. Interviews as well so imagine you got a job for a big company even then you can’t do that thing yourself. If you don’t really kind of deeply understand why people do or say certain things you’re gonna loose your mind. But good things about being here in a way there are obviously obstacles however it’s a country that has been built on making things convenient for people. No one steals your shit, no one fucks with you, no one ever wants fight you, you can leave your laptop on the train whatever, someone will bring it back to you.
Is that true? Have you experienced something like that?
Well I live in Barcelona for 5 years so I am pretty on point with not forgetting things. I totally feel comfortable here, go to a coffee shop by myself with my laptop and phone leaving on the table and go at the toilet, it’s school no one’s gonna touch it.
Any racisms experiences?
I am always making that joke but it’s kinda true, Japenese people don’t steal bikes but you do so, that’s why.
Now that I’ve been here a long time if my friends are like «Fuck, someone stole my bike » I’ll probably think yeah Japenese people don’t do that. But sometimes, I would be with 10 japanese dudes skating and all of sudden I’ve got to show my passport but like I’ve said there is a reason for that.
And now that you’re used to this way of living what about when you are travelling to Europe for example?It’s like reverse culture shock. It’s true, every cultures seems weird now. When I am England I am looking how people are behaving. People don’t really give a shit about being in someone else way.
If you come here as a foreigner, people will do everything for you, they will help you out so much cuz you’re a guest. You want to live here it takes time, there is distance and you’re like an alien and I think it’s maybe stressful for japanese people be with a foreigner that doesn’t understand japanese culture. I can’t complain at all, I am so thankful, but I can remember a time where I felt « I am different ». But if you don’t adapt yourself in a certain extent, you can’t live here and won’t be accepted. Same as any country.
They want to do things properly they don’t want to do anything shit, it’s hard to find shit food here, cuz even the cheap stuff they’re gonna make it properly.
So you left London to move to Spain, Barcelona. Didn’t you knew people there or did you just left home like that?
To be honest I think my parents perhaps thought that I would be back within a few months, you knowthat I will be running out of money and then come home but I am almost 30 now and I didn’t really come back, a part from casual visit. But yeah, basically went there with a skateboard and a backpack and I got a job learning English.
Without a degree?
Yes, I was mostly working 3 days a week, I was making 800 euros a month or something and I was skating as much as I could.
Barcelona was and still is the mecca of skateboarding, however for us some of the French people just go there to party because life is cheap as hell.
Totally I lived 5 years in Barcelona, and that is probably one of the reason I left in the end cuz it’s like «Never, Never Land». It is too easy to be there and have a crazy lifestyle,you are there, want to skate, party, and nothing really happens, no real action there that you could find in London, Paris or Tokyo. Nothing moves foward.
Did you move around Europe?
Maybe around 2008 - 2009, I planned a few trip. I saved money for a year, go on a big skate trip for a month or so, comeback, working, saving and living again.
You met people there?
Yes, I was already going on trip before but I met this filmaker Patrick Wallner and ended up going to New York for 3 months, he was living there, invited me on a trip from Moscow to Hong Kong by train. That was my first visual travelling experience with a group of friends and since then I do this every year, it has been 8 years.
Alien Workshop videos blew my mind when I was younger and always made me wanted to grab my board and skate.
Older skate from my hometown made me 3 VHS tapes with bootleg videos on them with GIRLS Skateboard - Mouse, then some random porn clips, it was like 50 % skate, 50 % porn. The old FTC videos, San Fransisco old era and stuff... Few of the skaters that I watched while growing up had sponsors or had been in the states for awhile.
Did you had in mind to be Pro or something like that, or said to yourself «Ok, I can do this for a living»?
I don’t know if I ever thought it was possible but I just wanted to skate and that is where it is happening.
Since when you are living in Japan?
In 2011 I first got here which was 4 days before the earthquake hit. It was on one of those trip I was talking about earlier. I went in Tokyo, got a job teaching English here straight away in those 4 days. I had a job interview the day of the Earthquake, they offered me the job it was super far away so I took the train back to my place and it happened like that in a second. After awhile I started to work for FTC in the store until this company came up. Evisen Skateboard and Tightboots production is those guys from Osaka that produce videos and now they’re making a full clothing line. We got two offices and this one is where we make the design, the creative stuff and all the stock are in Osaka where they’re taking care of the shipping. We are just starting distribution, everything is new.
"If you don’t adapt yourself in a certain extent, you can’t live here and you won’t be accepted."
Who are your sponsors?
FTC is the first people that looked after me when I came to Japan and helped me with boards, they gave me full support. The guys from Hélas in Paris helped me out for years now. The Evisen stuff and the office we’re in now is kinda new, I am working on a welcoming clip for them, no one really knows that I am skating for Evisen.
So I got the scoop!
Yes, people close to me already know about it. It was pretty much the same last month with Adidas when I got offered the job to be the Skate team manager from Japan.
Which cities had the biggest influence on you?
Hard to say because most of the countries where I’ve been that has the biggest impact on me wasn’t good for skating, it’s more about that the skate, it is a good excuse to go there. We went to North Korea for a skate trip and it’s almost impossible to skate there. India was the worst place for skateboarding but there was a special atmosphere there, a little bit magic I have pretty good memories from it, Iran as well, the locals are really welcoming, we stayed in a house and they took care of us.
Which Japanese cities have you been to skate?
Osaka is pretty good. Tokyo is very stressful, you got to land the trick in 5 minutes or the cops will come and kick you out. Every city has its own vibe.
What kind of skating do you like?
I kinda just look for interesting spots find objects, something unique and trying to do a trick on it you know even an hard trick that no one has done before.
Do you keep an eye on European skate?
Yes a bit, I think Polar is really sick, all those companies but now I think a lot of people are really influenced by Japanese skateboarding and videos as well. You see videos from the States and Europe as well you can see the Japanese influence.
But not a lot of Japanese skater.
That’s the thing I think Japanese skaters haven’t been well represented abroad yet. When you look at Evisen for example a lot of people are interested in it but it’s hard to deal with it mainly because of the shipping but that’s where we are getting into, that is our goal and we are working on it.
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