There are a select number of companies, brands and individuals that have been on our hit list at Breaks since day one. People who have genuinely played an influential role in our lives, changed our perspective somewhat or motivated us to go out and do something different. Magenta Skateboards is one of those companies and Vivien Feil is one of those people.
If you skate, the chances are you’ve followed at least some of Magenta’s output over the past few years. The brand is polarising and whether you love them or love to hate them it’s difficult to deny the impact they’ve had on the skate scene since their inception.
Magenta are often lumped in with Palace and Polar (something I’ve undoubtedly been guilty of) as the renaissance of skateboarding and all you have to do is look around at the rise in no-complies and power slides over recent years to see their influence. However, referencing Magenta in relation to set tricks really goes against everything the company stands for, which is skateboarding not based on a set framework or blueprint but rather a feeling or emotion. Maybe a little abstract I know but if you get it you get it and you know what i’m talking about.
Magenta was set up in 2010, co-founded by Vivien, his brother Jean and Soy Panday. Bordeux local and long time friend Leo Valls became the first member of the team and it was not long after that their first video Microcosme surfaced. It was around this time that I first came across the French company and whilst I don’t remember exactly where I discovered Magenta I know that Leo Valls was the first person to catch my eye. Leo’s skating had a different sort of energy to everything that was around at the time and for the first time in ages actually made me want to go out and skate.
So towards the end of last year I finally got in touch with Vivien and sat down for an hour long Skype conversation to find out a bit more about the driving force behind one of my favourite skate brands. Grab a cup of tea or coffee, sit down and enjoy.
Then go skate.
Have you been busy?
Super busy, ridiculously busy. We’re trying to do a lot of things. Trying to make an independent skate company, we want to have our own website, our own system not just people getting excited because they saw some collab or something. We want to build something really strong and independent so there’s a lot of areas.
You know you’re building a house, you don’t want something that’s going to fall with the wind. So it’s a lot of work, really trying to think about every detail.
So, i feel Magenta is pretty well recognised by the skate community now but for those that may not know do you want to just give a brief overview?
Yeah, for sure. So basically Magenta first started off in 2009 and we introduced it in 2010. We did it out of France between Strasbourg, Bordeux and Paris. The idea was to make a skateboard company that is our own vision, which is to make something by skateboarders, for skateboarders. Something that doesn’t feel like it’s fuelled by the same things that society is. Not something that when you really break it down it’s like, ‘oh they’re just trying to make money’. So the idea was to make something that reflected our love of skateboarding. We had certain ideas about skateboarding so now we’re going to make a company to express these ideas and create cultural content for people who like skateboarding. That’s the goal of the company, not to make millions of whatever. I mean if it happens it’s cool but we want to make people think about skateboarding and present what we like about skateboarding and that’s what the brand is about and that’s why we started it.
That’s cool. How did you first meet Leo and what was it about his skating that made you want him to be the first member of the team?
So we first met Leo the first time we went to Bordeux, which was probably over 10 years ago. You could just tell, you know sometimes you meet someone and you see that personal relationship that person has with skateboarding. He’s way to intense about it, way to passionate. Most people would be like ok, he’s fucking crazy about this thing but i’m kind of like that too so it’s just like somebody you can talk with about skateboarding for five hours. He’s super specific about what he wants and thinks about stuff so immediately we were like, this guys going to do good. He’s very passionate, very much into it. So we always kept in contact and when we started a brand we didn’t have any money or anything you know so it was like, who would we want ideally to be on the team. He was one of maybe three guys we thought of.
So, i’ve skateboarded for years and I love skateboarding but I’ve never been a technically great skateboarder and the thing that really brought me into Magenta was that it focussed on other things, style, flow etc. It brought my interest back after many years of not being interest. Why is do you think so many skaters have such an obsession with tricks and technical ability?
I don’t think skateboarding is any different to anything else in society where you can tell most people do something because other people are dong it. So if you can control the influx of what people think is cool at the beginning then a lot of people will just do that. The skateboarding industry, it’s an industry you know. There are goals and it’s an industry that wants to make money, they want to profit just like most industries. I think with the technical ability that’s the type of skateboarding that was pushed in LA, where the industry is, and because that’s one way to skate but it was the most popular way in the place where there was the most industry so that’s what they pushed. That’s what the marketing did, the big stuff and then the technical stuff. It’s just two ways to look at skateboarding and there’s infinite ways to look at skateboarding. SO they marketed and then kids see it and then they think that’s skateboarding. Skateboarding is not Magenta or Eric Koston, it’s just about possibilities you know?
And it’s interesting you say that talking about the influence of LA because one of the things I think is interesting about Magnenta is the influence you’ve drawn from Japan and the skate scene there. What do you think their idea of skateboarding has to contribute to our Westernised view of skateboarding?
Yeah so just going back I was trying to give you my perspective of the industry. It’s like they want to turn it into a sport, of course, and so they’re just going to look at one way to do it and the best way to not get stuck into that and to get stuck into one idea is to travel and meet people. Since they come from a culture that’s so different they’re further out that we are from the grip of Hollywood and Nike and all these big things. So their perspective is so interesting, their view of skateboarding. Mostly thanks to a couple of individuals like Morita and Gou. These people have created something that’s so amazing that it’s kind of stupid to be secluded in skateboarding. It has as much value as anything else that is super popular today. So we thought what a great injustice that a video like Overground Broadcasting was released n 2007 and no one’s seen it. And just what a person has accomplished you know. He didn’t speak any English, he just travelled the world to skate with all the legends and the people that inspired him. Travelled for years and did this amazing thing and I’m supposed to get excited because some fucking dude’s winning a contest? You know what I mean? Some guy didn’t speak any words of English and believed in skateboarding, took his fucking board and travelled around the world. Then did the video and when Josh Stewart saw the trailer he was like ‘I can’t believe this is true’. Went and did a video with Jahmal Williams, Ricky Oyola, Paul Diaz, Quim Cardona and he’s from Japan and no one’s ever heard of him. He just showed up in the town without speaking English, tried to hook up with people and it worked. You know, that’s what you can do with a skateboard. I’m definitely going to be more inspired by somebody who does his shit like that because it shows you that you can do it than by people who have these big budgets and they fly you somewhere to do… i don’t know. It’s just business as usual. Skateboarding is powerful like that. if you travel and you don’t speak a word it’s instant communication. Yeah but Japan, I mean in general Japan as a culture is so interesting man.
Yeah man, i’m going out there later this year.
Ah really? Leo is out there.
Yeah I’m super excited to go check it out
You should meet up with Leo when you’re out there and Morita and these guys. They’re really inspiring.
So i guess the other thing about Magenta is with everything you guys do, from the way you shoot your films to the style of skateboarding, it’s quite polarising. Why
Yeah I think it’s bound to happen when ever you do anything in life that you want to do. But if you do what you want to do and you take people and say let’s do what we want to do it’s going to be different because quite often people don’t do what they want to do, they do what they think they should do. So we’re coming into an industry that is not used to people doing what they want. They’re used to having a team manager take you to a spot and you’re supposed to perform to the current trend of the day you know? This is not about that. So it’s normal that some people are not going to get it. It’s normal because it’s confusing, it comes from a different logic. You know, ‘I’m trying to find my own logic in there that I’m used to and i can’t find it so it’s shit’. I think that’s the only thing. it comes from a different mentality so it’s confusing at first but i feel that when people start understanding then they’re like, ‘maybe they’re just doing what they want’, and then they get into it.
Yeah for sure. I think the other thing that’s great you know is that we’re sat talking and I say I’m going out to Tokyo and you’re instantly like, ‘oh Leo’s out there, you should hit him up’. I mean it’s reflected in the Magenta logo, this idea of one person being part of this wider thing, this idea of community.
Yeah for sure.
We spoke to Chad Muska a while back…
He’s the best man, Chad’s the best.
Yeah, and he was saying, you know, you used to be able to skate around as a kid and you’d bump into other skaters who you didn’t know but you’d go skate. Just recognising that you all belong to the same family. Whereas what he was saying now is that connection’s being lost. I think Magenta is almost proving that wrong, which is great.
Yeah and I think it’s still going on. If you come and skate in Bordeaux there’s people at the office that stay there and we didn’t know who the fuck they were until a few days before but they skate. The thing that Chad is talking about is still going on today it’s just if you decide that it is. It’s like do you decide that now skateboarding is normal or do you keep it magic? If you keep it magic, it’s going to be magic for you. It’s just not accepting that it’s a normal thing.
Yeah for sure and I agree. It’s the same in Leeds in the UK where I’m originally from. There’s a real tight scene of skaters.
You know i think you can do that everywhere. It just depends on individuals and Bordeux we’re really lucky too because the two traditional shop owners are really cool. If brands are cool, shop owners are cool, all their people are cool and they tell the kids ‘look, there’s no reason why you should ever fight for anything that’s skateboard related with anyone’. Then the kids they have no grit. They never see an older dude talking shit, they never see anybody doing good that’s coming from that energy so they just lose the will to even talk shit. They just understand if you don’t like it, don’t watch it. Just do what you want and if you don’t like it don’t watch it and even if you don’t like it it’s probably because you didn’t take time to really understand where the person’s coming from. Basically, i think skateboarding is larger teachings than tricks and shit so when people talk to me about tricks I’m like, you’re stupid, you know. You don’t choose your abilities on a skateboard. I feel like when I skate i’m very satisfied and I’m good but i didn’t choose to be good. So the person next to me’s enjoying it, we’re all enjoying ourselves, he’s probably got shit tonnes of experiences that I can learn from and we have a lot in common just because we skate. I’m interested in that story not what tricks can you do.
Yeah completely. I was watching a video with Gonz the other day, you know the one where it’s like a day in the city with him. He’s changing the saddle on his bike because his old one is a bit messed up and talking about how kids these days are taught too much that being average is ok but as a skateboarder you really want to have that perfection all the time. He had a little mark on his seat so he was changing it but it’s really a lesson that you can apply to other aspects of your life. I think everything that you can learn from skateboarding is way more interesting.
Yeah, I mean I know Mark well, and he’s a good friend. He gets it you know. When he steps on the skateboard he’s a kid again, he’s a child. He doesn’t care anymore because he’s free. He’s not thinking what tricks am I going to do for the photos he’s going to do something and if somebody shoots it they shoot it, who gives a fuck? He doesn’t get caught up in putting life in a box you know. So essentially we’ve learned a lot from watching him skate. It’s the free energy you know?
It’s like, when I skate i’m a kid. I don’t judge anybody I just do what I want and entertain myself. There’s no competition. You can tell he’s not trying to beat anyone at anything. So that’s the thing too because I think basically what Gonz is doing, you can do it, and I can do it, and we can all do it. But you have to give up on a whole lot of preconceptions like ‘oh, i’m supposed to be good, i’m supposed to do this trick to be seen as cool’. I mean Magenta’s goal, if there’s any goal that we can achieve, i think it’s going to take a long time. It’s going to take a long time because it’s slower to just do your own thing and show people. It’s going to take a long time but I want it to be clear to people that they can have that. Later on, I think people will take a lot of notice, not only of the skateboarding and the tricks but the way the company’s laid out. The energy within the company, the fact that people can come in and out and they’re trusted to do what they can do. It’s like a way to look at life in general and not skateboarding only.
Yeah, but I think this all said, it’s an exciting time for skateboarding and certainly in the past few years with companies like Magenta, Palace, Polar you’re really starting to see a resurgence and it’s an exciting time. Even if it is going to take a while to really tell people.
To be honest you know, what these guys are doing, that’s what they’re doing. People look at it as more of a movement and I think that’s cool. But also I don’t want people to forget that when we set out to do what we did – and we started out at the same time as Palace – we thought we were alone. We didn’t talk to them and see they were doing something and then decide to do something. We just did it thinking the industry was always going to be as it was, which is just people caring for money, and this is what we’re fighting against. I think people also think that there’s a movement, which I guess is true.
But it’s not a deliberate movement.
Yeah that’s what makes it interesting. It’s people that know each other but are unrelated in their plans and end up doing things that are similar at the same time. it’s still people though, that didn’t think they were going benefit from each other. It’s like I set out to do Magenta with Soy and my brother. We thought we’d do what we could on our own. So yeah I feel like this trend kind of hides the fact that if you want to have a good view of this company you have to remember that we didn’t think we were going to be here. It’s maybe different with Polar because Pontus waited two years after 2011 to drop his company so the landscape was already a little different. We’re still going on the fact that we wanted to do something in reaction to what was happening and we want to have our own thing. Because the original idea you have is so important to the future of it.
Yeah, because you went to University as well before didn’t you. What were you going to do before?
I was not going to do shit. I went to business school and it sucked.
Because you’re taught to forget your dream and just focus on the real life so it was not good. I didn’t show up, I didn’t spend much time there, but it showed me the real world too. It showed me how you can take people with dreams and turn them into machines. I could see it was done through psychology. It was done through basically setting out some rules for people to follow that are not real rules, they’re artificial rules. You know you present nature to people and you tell them that the only guy that makes it is the guy that competes the most so you look at nature simply from the view of competition. You could look at it from a different perspective, you could look at it and say, ‘well, competition exists but it’s not that important’, but society tells us that it’s the only thing that matters. If you see two trees, a small one and a big one, we think the big one won. But maybe the small one benefits from the big one and the big one benefits from the small one but it’s the way we look at things. It’s like when you go to the hospital because you’re sick and they tell you it’s a virus fighting your organism and the strongest is going to win. So it makes it into a competition even though you have like a kilo of bacteria in your body. It’s just not like that, they’re working with you. You know I spent so much time researching things, reading books about perspective you know? You look at the world and it’s basically that. A business school is just a place where they teach everyone about competition just like in the rest of society but they even do it more. Just chase the money, haha.
What have you been reading recently?
Erm, I just had two books show up at my house. I got The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and I got some Indian book, let me get it, some Indian epic. I recommend you read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It gives a good perspective on the power of the mind because if you follow the evolution of science you realise that it’s basically some people believing a theory and then fitting the world into their theory. It goes back to what I was telling you about competition. It’s like, you choose to look at things based on competition but you could choose to look at them based on something else and it’d probably be more true.
It’s so true and when you have that perspective of the world you do tend to just see things through that narrative.
So when you were asking me about what do you think about people who don’t like what we’re doing I see that. They just can’t find what they want to see so they don’t like it. It’s fine but I guess their capacity to change and to learn new things and realising you can change your theory on life is limited.
I really liked what Soy was saying in the Caste documentary about the graphics on the decks giving an insight into each of the skaters’ personalities. What’s the significance behind the morse code deck that you did?
So the communication series we did was like ways to communicate but international language. It’s like language that was intended for people that can’t usually communicate. So it’s trying to find a common base of communication between people and I think we have that mentality. When the Japanese videos came out people in the states were like ‘oh that’s something different’ and they put it in a box in their minds. They didn’t think that’s skateboarding too so had to include it in my game you know what i mean? I think that’s why this is so important because it’s really interesting that they tried to create communication tools that rely on the common between us. The things that we can commonly agree on.
So just changing the subject a little bit. Magenta is quite well known for shooting on the VX. What is it about this camera that makes it so perfect for skateboarding?
I don’t really think it’s the camera. It’s more the people you know? But yeah the camera has specifics. It has the biggest fisheye lens so if you’re skating and filming it’s the perfect proportions. It’s really lightweight and really convenient. What’s the most interesting thing though is real life. You know when you got from point A to point B and you see people and you interact. That’s what’s going on. So you’re trying to find a technical tool that is going to give that impression and i think the VX gives this impression of confusion and energy that is quite similar to skateboarding. You feel this confusion that people with no idea what it is must feel. Beside that though we’re not set on it. We’ve shot on other stuff. The people we use like this camera and I don’t want to tell them what to do. They have a working relationship with the VX so we’re going to go with that. We would be able to work with something else though, for instance the HD, it’s really good to fix the aesthetic. Less so the energy and more the aesthetic so there’s plenty of things you can do.
Soleil Levant was released last year now right? There was a lot to digest with that and things that required you to go back, watch the film again. Little references and stuff running throughout it. What’ve you got lined up for the future in terms of filming, releases and stuff?
We’re working on a new full length which will be released this Spring. So that’s the big one. We also have the intro clip for our new rider Glen Fox coming out sometime soon.
Where’s he from?
He’s from the UK. He’s from Jersey island, closer to France than the UK. It’s a small island just off the coast.
Yeah I know Jersey. Cool man, that’s exciting, i’m excited to see it.
We have a whole lot of shit though. We’re always filming and doing stuff. I feel like essentially we like it more than anything you know. A lot of brands, it feels like they like the brand more than skating itself. We just like skating.We have hours of footage.
It’s the most important thing.
I’m talking to industry people sometimes and they’re like, ‘why don’t you wait to release this clip’, and it’s like because we’re passionate. We just like it. We’re not trying to make money you know. We are trying to survive and do what we want and not be forced into doing some things.
Do you get that a lot then? Industry people trying to give you advice on things?
No but first and foremost I don’t want you to get the impression that I don’t like these people. I understand these people. I went to business school, I understand that you could think like that but I shield myself from all that. I’d rather read and talk to a few people that I like. You won’t see me at these events drinking champagne trying to fit in. I already know what you think, it bores me.
So what else have you got planned for Magenta over this year?
We’re working on a new premium line, a clothing line with our friend Chris who started Caste. He’s working to help us out to design a collection. We’re doing a world tour for five years of the company so we’re going to go to a bunch of cities and present our film and present a concept show that is made to present skateboarding in the way that we look at it. So it’s going to be photos and paintings and just a lot of peoples experiences around skateboarding in which somebody who doesn’t know skateboarding is going to come out and realise this is definitely not a sport. I want people to find it really interesting. So basically we’re going to try to do that. We did something like that in Bordeux and it was really successful. So yeah that will be the big thing and then the full length as well.
Words: Mike Evans
Main Photo: Jean Feil