Lordz Wheels: 1998 -2006
For a lot of people Lordz and the undeniable impact it had on European skating always came with its share of mystery. How is it that They Don’t Give A Fuck About Us, one of the most influential videos of our generation, a pillar of early 2000s Euro-tech skating, was produced by a wheel company? Think about it: trips to LA and Japan, ads in every mag, a team that included guys like Bastien Salabanzi… It’s hard not to wonder how they did it, especially at a time when outside of maybe Cliché and Blueprint, no other hardware brands were operating on that scale this side of the Atlantic. We caught up with some of Lordz’s key players to chat about TDGAFAU, but also a multitude of other (sometimes less obvious) factors that contributed to the company’s success.
– Arthur Derrien
From speaking to some of the guys the general consensus was that although the brand brought some of them closer, they’d already been tight for a while. ‘The crazy thing for us is that we were already a crew,’ explained Franck Barattiero. ‘If none of this had happened most of us would still have been skating together every day in Paris. It’s just that suddenly someone started paying for us to go skate with our friends somewhere else, sometimes at spots we’d dreamed of skating our whole lives. It was pretty mad…’ Franck’s narrative is obviously a little different to say JB’s who was already pretty established and going on tours with other sponsors but it’s this mix of big names and underground Parisians that made the whole operation seem so authentic. Anyway this ‘someone’ that decided to invest in the crew was a guy named Stephen Teng. The first three people he put on were Stéphane Larance, Luypa Sin and Nao Nussbaum, and through them he was introduced to the rest of the squad. From what I gathered he may have done a few crooked grinds at some point in his life but he was definitely more of an entrepreneur than a skater. We’ll come back to him later.
Someone that is crucial to properly introduce at this stage is Nao as he quickly took on an important role behind the scenes, handling the marketing and art direction (amongst other things). ‘Nao was one of our mates, who was on the team but who also worked for the brand doing all the graphics and stuff,’ said Franck. ‘It was perfect! We’d all skate the same spots, all be into the same shit… Everything was linked and I think that really came across in the videos and everything we did. It was one of the brands’ strengths… It’s rare for companies to have that feel to them these days.’
Parallel to all this you had the birth of Puzzle: the European video magazine. It was started by some of their friends who quickly ended up sharing the same office, with eventually some people working for both companies. If you’re a new brand trying to get exposure, essentially being a media platform is pretty effective way to go about it.
One of the greatest misconceptions about Lordz is that they were just a wheel company. Sure they sold a shitload of those ones with the weird plastic bit at the centre of the urethane (Hard Cores? Dual Cores?) during those few years when (for reasons I’m still unsure of) everyone was skating them, but they mainly smashed it with the clothing. Nao talked us through how – at a time when American skate culture was all about piss drunx and skinny jeans – they managed to make us want a track pants you could unzip into shorts. ‘So the Lordz team stood out because they were amazing skaters but also because of how they dressed. Everything about them was technical. We were all heavily influenced by hip-hop but we were also very “sport”. Why did we make joggers? Because we loved skating in Nike joggers. We all grew up loving Nike at a time when Nike wasn’t in skateboarding. Why did we make stuff out of peach skin fabric (like velour)? Because hip-hop brands were using that material and it was comfortable. We wanted our clothing to be almost like our equipment for skating. Then what started off as a few pieces just to keep the guys on the team happy blew up…’
Being from France myself I always thought my perception of how big Lordz was might have been skewed by the fact that it was a French brand, so I asked Nao to give me an idea of just how much it actually ‘blew up’: ‘Basically when we first started Lordz we had no idea how a skater, say in Germany, dressed. It’s only when Puzzle arrived that we realised what we were making was bang on what people wanted to wear in the rest of Europe. You need to remember that this was at a time when everyone was very “rock”, particularly in America but even here. Like Sorry was the biggest video… And we just weren’t really into all that so we made our own shit.’
‘It’s the same thing as what’s going on now,’ Nao continued. ‘Look at what kids are wearing in Paris and London; it’s not what kids are wearing in California. They don’t want to look like that, they think it’s lame. Well it was the same thing with Lordz… Even with brands like Girl that we loved both in terms of team and vibe, when we’d look at a lot of the clothing they were putting out, we’d think it was wack. We wanted stuff that didn’t look like the existing skate clothes because we wanted them to actually be good for skating in. And trust me it wasn’t even a fashion thing because it’s not like we’d get let into the club wearing what we were wearing. It’s crazy how cyclical it feels when you look at brands like Palace or Hélas. I get a similar feeling from them… They just decided to do what they wanted to do with no restrictions because what everyone else was doing didn’t suit them and it worked. A part of it definitely comes down to luck though… I work in marketing today and looking back on it I still find it crazy how it all worked out. Nothing was really planned.’
By ‘all worked out’ what’s implied is that they managed to make enough money from their sales to provide for their bold marketing ambitions. ‘Their marketing budget was huge
for any company, let alone for a wheel one.’ explained Franck. ‘Everyone that had a pro wheel, which was everyone on the team at the end, was paid.’ According to their TM Benoit Copin, some of the guys were paid 900 euros a month at one point. Even today, it’s hard to imagine a wheel company paying their riders that much… All in all They Don’t Give A Fuck About Us allegedly cost the company a million Francs (this would be about €200k today).
Before getting too deep into the TDGAFAU phase it’s probably important to acknowledge that contrary to what people often think, it wasn’t the brand’s only video. Conspiracy, their first full-length (2000) in fact played a key role in what came later: ‘To put it into context, before the first Lordz video a bunch of us barely ever filmed,’ stressed Franck. ‘We’d skate just as much but there just wasn’t anyone there to capture it. That changed with the people behind the brand investing lots of money into the production of videos, ads, etc: they got it straight away. So suddenly all these European filmers and photographers could properly progress because the crew they’d shoot with was actually enabling them to make a bit of money and focus on their craft, which in turn helped us progress because we’d be pushing ourselves more.’
Conspiracy was also extremely well received and although it didn’t get out there quite as much as the sequel, it definitely ended up in the right hands and was a huge confidence boost for the guys funding the operation as well as for the troops. Whilst reminiscing about the trip to LA from which stemmed the second video, Franck added: ‘I remember going to Mike Carroll’s because Lee Smith lived there or something, and right at the top of his stack of VHS tapes there was the Lordz Conspiracy video. Like he’d just been watching it! I still remember how much we tripped on that…’
The longest skateboard video title ever? Maybe not anymore thanks to Pontus but it definitely stood out in 2003 as a lot of the big ones from that era (Sorry, Menikmati, Mosaic…) were just one word. It’s always been source of speculation so we thought we’d settle it once and for all. Here’s Franck’s interpretation of it: ‘Before that video a lot of us had this feeling that even if we did trips and put stuff out, the American industry didn’t give a fuck about us. Unless you were living in California, you could skate as hard as you wanted: you weren’t be getting sponsored by an American company. But it also had a second meaning, which was “they don’t give a fuck about (the) US”. As in: the guys in the video don’t give a fuck about the American industry anymore. We were also all listening to a lot of Tupac at the time and getting kicked out of spots in Cali then jumping into the van and blasting that Tupac song kind of cemented it.’
It was also the very first video that Sebastien ‘Paco’ Raban (who filmed it and edited it with Thomas Paulin) worked on. Before that he’d been on just one skate trip… Yet to this day it’s considered (by him and pretty much everyone else) his masterpiece. ‘That video is still what people remember me for in skating,’ admitted Paco. ‘I’ve been filming for Vans for ten years but the only thing people seem to care about me having on my CV is my first video, ha ha. Last year I met a kid in Israel, who was basically as old as the video, that told me he started skating because one of his friends showed it to him. I’m still amazed at how much it got around…’
The music Lordz used is something else I’d always been quite curious about. I think I can safely say that making tracks specifically for a skate video rarely works out but in this case, having a soundtrack that still doesn’t exist anywhere (without the skate noises) apart from Paco’s computer seems to only have added to the myth. Here’s what Paco had to say about it: ‘I always envied people that got to do videos for Cliché, as for a long time they opted for not worrying about music rights and using anything they wanted. Think about Guy Mariano and Michael Jackson: it’s combos like that that make legendary parts. It’s a lot harder to achieve that if you have one without the other. We went for the complete opposite approach and got music custom made for it by Kool Shen (of NTM) and the dudes that make the beats for IV My People (Madizm and Sec.Undo). Everyone gave them songs they would have liked to skate to if they could skate to anything and we got those guys to work towards something that would incorporate some elements from those songs. We were stoked with what they came back with at the time… Obviously they aren’t songs you’ll start dancing to after hearing the first five seconds but I think it worked well.’ And he’s right, it did work well. It reinforced this feeling that they didn’t care about what the rest of the industry would think. Having a Flo Marfaing part to Kool Shen, in which he raps about Flo’s skating should have felt corny, but somehow instead it felt brave. So we asked Flo for his take on it: ‘I’d sometimes hear certain visiting Americans say stuff like “some little French guy will probably do it (talking about a certain trick) but nobody will ever hear about it” when they’d be shown spots. I wouldn’t say I took it personally but repeatedly hearing stuff like that kind of made me want to go extra hard for this video. Skateboarding is our whole life, just like it’s theirs, why would it be any different? Why would we not count? Yeah I guess a part of me wanted to shut them up. And with this video we were able to do so in a way that truly reflected what we were about you know? All the dudes that made the songs are people we hung out with. They didn’t skate but they were into what we were doing. We wanted to represent.’
When asked about Flo Marfaing, every single person I spoke to about TDGAFAU agreed on one thing: that he was the driving force behind the video. Everything he did at Le Dome went down over one month during the summer of 2001 and it’s seeing all that footage and what the project was turning into that transformed the video’s progression. Which makes sense, if you were going to be in a video with someone kickflipping out of a tailslide on 16-stair kinked hubba; you’d probably feel an urgency to step your game up. Here’s, according to Paco, how it all went down that month: ‘I’d say we spent about two thirds of it at Le Dome but we’d always show up at the spot stupidly late. Like that crazy line with both hubbas and the switch inward heel down the double set, he had to do
it twice because the first time he’d done it at night and his hand touched the floor when he landed the last trick.’ Let’s take a second to let that one sink in… He’d just survived sliding down TWO 15+ stair hubbas and one of the hardest tricks ever done down that slippery double set, at night, but still decided to redo it because his hand gently caressed the floor at one point? Keep in mind that it’s VX footage and practically too dark to even make out that hand touching. Most pros would have taken that one and quit hucking forever, basking in its glory for the rest of their lives.
What I find the most fascinating though is probably still the way he approached trying stuff there. ‘He’d skate the spot non-stop, all day and every now and then would mess around with stuff on the hubba,’ explained Paco. ‘If he’d stay “messing around” up there for a bit longer than usual that’s when I’d get closer and maybe get the camera out. To give you an idea, this one time I was filming something, I took a break to smoke a ciggy at the bottom of the stairs and at one point I looked up and saw Flo backtail like a metre of the hubba then run down it. I instantly ran up like “fuck, do you want me to film it?” But he replied “nah finish your cigarette, I’m just looking at stuff…”’
That being said, this very contagious motivation wasn’t the only reason he became the mascot during those years. His positivity and almost child-like insouciance were also (and still are) a huge source of entertainment. From all the Flo stories that were shared with me, this one from TM Benoit Copin is probably my favourite: ‘My job felt a lot like babysitting back then, which is probably linked to how much weed they all smoked. I remember this one time leaving Barca, Flo got these weed seeds that he decided he absolutely had to bring home. So when we got to the French border he figured that the best thing to do to get them through was to hide them inside his ears. Only he hid them so deep in there that they got stuck and the first thing we had to when we were back in the country was to go to the doctor’s because he suddenly realised he couldn’t get them out! He was really pranging…’
TDGAFAU played a huge part in putting Barcelona on the map. We’re not going to claim the Catalan capital wasn’t in skate videos before that but they’re definitely one of the first crews of out-of-towners to really explore every corner of the city (despite the obvious appeal of its main plazas). ‘To give you an idea, when me and Bastien went to Fondo for
the first time, we took the plastic off the benches,’ recalled Paco. ‘We just thought we’d see what was all the way at the end of one of the metro lines and we stumbled across that!
You can imagine our disbelief…’. This feeling that there was a new El Dorado of granite and marble, full of spots that had only just been christened by the guys you were watching, is for many one of the reasons that the video had the impact it did.
At the same time, this first wave of hype around Barcelona, with all these American teams starting to come over, also heavily contributed to some of these guys getting noticed. This anecdote from Paco sums it up pretty well: ‘When we were in Barca a bunch of the Habitat dudes were also there and they’d sometimes hang out at ours. This one time Tim O’Connor came over with a few others and we showed him some of the stuff we’d been getting… And he went mental. I know he likes putting on a bit of a show but he genuinely went nuts. He kept going: “This is the future, this is the future man! This isn’t even today, it’s the future!” He was hobbling because he’d killed himself repeatedly trying to ollie some spot and amongst the footage I think there was Bastien backside flipping it or something ha ha. We were skating all the same spots so it was funny. And they weren’t like “fuck they’ve taken us out here”, they were just tripping!’
To this day Bastien Salabanzi remains one of the most enigmatic characters to emerge from our little bubble. There’s been a million attempts at understanding how exactly this prodigy’s brain worked and why he behaved the way he did on and off his board, but I don’t think anyone has ever been in a better position to discuss it than these guys. He got on Lordz so young that his first sets of wheels were given to him under the supervision of his mum and the crew was by his side for every step of the ride when he blew up. Even at times when some may have struggled with him, they’d all known each other for so long and had a group dynamic that was so powerful, that individual egos were squashed. Or at least when they were all together they were (but we’ll get to that later).
The first thing Paco pointed out was his initial struggle with adapting to filming with someone that consistent: ‘When I filmed with Bastien it was when he was at his absolute peak, between Sorry and Really Sorry. It was pretty difficult for me at first because the first three tries are never the ones where you film the best, you’re not sure where the skater’s popping, how high he’s going to go, whatever. But with Bastien, almost every trick he’d get would be landed in that window. So I had to adapt…. He’s one of those dudes that truly makes you realise how much of a mental thing skateboarding is. And then there’s the fact that he’s just hyperactive: his batteries were fully charged at all times.’
Beyond this technicality, I asked Paco what it was like to be on missions with him as I knew they went on quite a few just the two of them. ‘Let me put it like this: a young me would have probably loved the idea of being friends with Bastien Salabanzi more than anything but there was definitely a few times at spots when I tried to play it like I wasn’t with him ha ha. “Yeah I know it looks like we came to the spot together but it’s not what you think, ha ha… We just get the same bus.” Still unsure about what he was getting at I pressed him further: ‘Well for Bastien’s special bar to fill up he needs to be seen by people, that’s how he works. That’s why he’d do so well in comps. This means that if he’s having a good day it’s incredible to witness but if he isn’t, he’d go so mental that it would be sometimes difficult to be around.’
At the same time being the best in the world at anything usually comes with its share of madness. If it’s eyeballs that he needed to produce what he did back then, who cares: it obviously worked. That Bastien part didn’t just stand out because of the skating though, the editing and music also gave it quite a different vibe to the rest of the video. Again Paco was happy to fill me in on that: ‘Since he was kind of “the star” he got preferential treatment and I stayed with him in Barcelona to edit the section with him. What’s funny is that when we looked at everything, he very quickly started asking me who was going to have the last part. And I was honest, I told him it would be Flo because he was the one that really pushed everyone to be the best they could; he was the reason the video was what it was at that point. This led to a lot of, “What about if I do this, this and this by Monday before you leave, I’d get the last part then right?” He quickly realised I wasn’t going to change my mind ha ha, but we did try some crazy last minute stuff! I remember going to that long triple set (the one Flo fs flips) at half eight in the morning so he could try to 360 flip it before I caught my flight. In fact I remember that he woke me up that morning saying: “Man, last night when we decided to try this in the morning I was on such a hype that I decided to stay on a hype and not sleep. I played Pro Soccer Evolution all night, look look I saved some of the goals!” That should give you an idea of the constant level of energy he had, ha ha. During that period I realised that if he hadn’t been a skater, whatever he’d have chosen to be, he’d have been the best at. Even from the way he’d speak about Michael Jordan you instantly understood he had to be number one.’
The first thing that needs clearing up is that when they went to America some people definitely did give a fuck about them. Not necessarily many, but the ones that did, like Julio De La Cruz (who used to run Neighborhood Skateboards) went out of their way to help them. ‘Julio really took us under his wing,’ Benoit Copin insisted. ‘I think it’s because like us he felt like a bit of an outsider in the States. In those days that scene was just so closed… Plus I think he liked our humour and you could tell he really enjoyed driving us around in his big camping van, giving us little hip-hop history tours whenever we’d go through places like Compton…’
Franck also added that Julio being their guide and them being so used to having the option of sessioning plazas all day meant that they skated LA quite differently to the locals: ‘What’s funny is that when we went to California we skated it like Europeans. At the time people over there would mainly skate on the weekends in schools or in the evenings with generators, but that’s something we never did. We were trying to skate all day every day and inevitably realised how much harder it was to do over there because they didn’t really have many spots where you could do that. Basically it just reinforced the idea that it was ten times better for skating at home!’
‘Also Julio De La Cruz being Julio De La Cruz, he’d take us to the gnarliest parts of eastside LA…’ Franck reminisced. ‘We skated all these spots that nobody from over there would go to because they were scared. I remember at the time we’d all rock these little gold chains and he’d always be like “don’t worry this spot’s fine, just take off anything shiny you might be wearing…” Super reassuring, ha ha.’
William Phan is another name that comes loaded with mystery… Although he technically skated for Square (Lordz’s sister company) he’s probably one of the TDGAFAU standouts
whose disappearance is asked about the most.
On the one hand it’s pretty obvious that he had the gift, with flatground abilities arguably still unmatched to this day, on the other it always felt like it came so easy for him, was so little of a challenge, that he didn’t seem that bothered about it. Paco, having pretty much filmed every bit of skateboarding he’s ever put out, was in a pretty good position to enlighten us:
‘It’s crazy that William, as talented as he was, never filmed a proper full part… And you know why? Because he was so damn lazy ha ha. All he had to do was a kickflip on flat and people’s minds would be blown. And he kind of knew this… The typical scenario was this: he’d do a couple of flatground flip shifties at MACBA, an American team manager would walk over, tell him “we want to hook you up, we’ll send you some stuff, just send us some footage”. He’d get boards for six months and wouldn’t send any footage… At that point they’d either give up on him or send him to America so he could get clips out there. Only getting clips in America is hard, especially if you’re William, so usually it would end there. But in the meantime someone from another brand saw him do a kickflip at MACBA… And so on. And that happened with like five brands.’
I guess that explains why he didn’t blow up in the way some people wish he did, but he still lives in Barca, why is it that he’s not even sporadically spotted at MACBA floating those waist high kickflips? If skateboarding was that easy, you’d think it would be too fun to just drop? The Lordz TM’s theory is that he got way too deep into 50 Cent and smoking weed, but again I think Paco’s account is probably the closest we’ll get to actually finding out what happened. He explained to me that William’s last big shot was a Seek mission in Barcelona where they’d rented an apartment for a couple of weeks to get footage. He was rooming with Josh Kalis who had already told everyone how hyped he was on his skating, all he had to do was be the legend that he is, do a few tricks and it was a done deal. Only five days in he met a girl, stayed locked up with her (in this room he was supposed to be sharing with Kalis), didn’t come skating once and that was that.
Some might see this as a waste of talent (and maybe it is) but I’m a fervent defender of ‘less is more’ and at least this guy quit while he was ahead. There probably wouldn’t be the same fascination around his skating if there was an endless amount of William Phan footage for us to draw inspiration from. I’m also convinced that the six minutes (at most) of bouncy skateboarding he put out over his short-lived career are still a greater contribution to our culture than 90% of what gets posted on the Internet today.
Alex Carolino was part of the first generation of Brazilians to come over to Europe every summer for the World Cup comps, which is where Flo Marfaing and some of the other guys met him for the first time. After footage of him started popping up in a few Puzzles some of the team riders basically got together and told the owner ‘we need this guy’, convincing him to fly Alex over for a trip. What I’m sure felt like
a bit of a gamble at the time most definitely paid off.
‘The first trip we took him on he barely spoke English…’ Franck recalled. ‘He was skating some really fucked up Brazilian boards. I remember thinking “do these even have seven plies?” They were so heavy, sounded like cardboard, always delamned… But every time he stepped on them he had twice as much pop as us… He was just so talented; you could instantly see it. And you could tell he’d learnt to skate on terrible spots and with terrible gear, so when we put him on perfect Spanish plazas it was paradise for him. It was as if everything was suddenly way too easy. And it just clicked, he was straight away really cool to hang out with.’
Long story short, after the second video that, as mentioned previously, cost a huge amount of money, they were unable to follow through with the product. They invested loads into Aeon (their shoe brand) but containers full of shoes got stuck at the border because they were struggling to pay import taxes that had shot up because of a change in tariffs. Shops were left without anything from their brands for ages at the most crucial point and it hit them hard. To make up for their losses, they began to cut corners, making cheaper (and inevitably worse) products, which lead to shops complaining. Then the recession hit and shops started closing with unpaid invoices… On top of all this, tensions mounted around a drunken fight involving a friend of some of the skaters and the owner, who was left with a huge scar across the side of his face. Then, not long after, Benoit Copin, the TM that helped make the brand what it was and who also was an integral part of the crew was fired. Shortly after that Lordz was done.
Where are they now?
Given how it all ended and how much energy they put into making Lordz what it was, the demise definitely came with its fair share of frustration, but looking back on it now, everyone I’ve spoken to regards that era as some of the best years of their lives. They are all still really good friends and a lot of them hang out regularly despite their lives often taking very different trajectories when it all ended. JB, almost 20 years after he got on Deca, is about to once again turn pro for a major American company. Luypa can still be seen flying around MACBA most days, flip tricks as razor sharp as ever. Stéphane and Franck have both started families. William lived happily ever after with the girl we mentioned earlier and spends all of his free time making hip-hop beats. Flo is now 40 and hasn’t changed one bit. He recently big spin heelflipped out of a noseslide on the same kinked hubba he nollie crooked grinded 18 years ago. Nobody was available to film him that day so he skated it alone, setting up his iPad on the floor to capture it.
Today nobody feels the need to conform to American standards and it’s easy to see the influence brands like Palace, Polar or Sour have on our culture at a global level. The pointless distinction that for years existed between the ‘Euro team’ and the ‘US team’ is almost finally eradicated and companies are at last encouraging their riders to film at home (read Jacopo’s interview) rather than flying them to Cali to be judged on their spots. You can have a part in an all-Norwegian scene video, that’s edited solely to Norwegian music; if it’s banging it’ll get the worldwide exposure it deserves. The industry finally gives a fuck about skateboarding regardless of where it comes from; let’s just not forget that it’s in part thanks to these guys paving the way for us.
Special thanks to Franck, Paco, Flo, Luypa, Porky, Spoon, Nao, Leo and everyone that helped make this article possible, but also Bapt Mysor, Henning Braaten, Alexis Jauzion, Thibaud Fradin and all the people that despite massively contributing to the brand’s magic, we weren’t able to fit in these pages.