Fat as fuck, heaving with vibrant, electric, throbbing life, bursting with colour, form and dimensionality, and fluctuating between the awesomely futuristic and a cheeky wink, Bristol writer Lokey’s mesmerising industrial symphonies of spray are an object lesson in the perspectives of imagination. Lighting up the streets as his tags burst clean off the walls and rampage through the cityscape before rocketing back into the wall and tearing it a depth it never dreamed of, he’s been bombing the game 16 shades to twilight for 20 years now...
How did you initially start out writing?
Well I was only about nine years old, and a family of kids that I was pretty good mates with had gone off to America on their summer holidays to visit their relatives and when they came back, they were loaded with all these photos of the graff in the Bronx and a sackful of mix tapes. Now at the time, we were all hanging out in this park up the road from my house, and we had lino down, trying with limited success to breakdance, so the mix tapes were the instant draw from their haul, but when I came across the graff photos, I was just like ‘what the hell is this?’. And that was it – I was totally hooked from that moment on, although I didn’t do my first proper piece until I was about 11. It was only a small piece – about 4 foot long and 2 foot high, round the back of a petrol station in Kingswood, where I used to live, but once I was up and running, I never looked back.
Did you come up from that kind of age with a group of mates who were all bang on the same tip or were you on your own with it?
When I initially got into it at around 9, I was in junior school, and it was that much more difficult to find other kids into graff around me, but by the time I hit senior school at 11, right when I was actually starting to paint instead of just dreaming and sketching, there were 4 or 5 other kids in my year alone who were at the same sort of stage – just picking it up and starting to pull bits and pieces together. So like minds and all, we gravitated towards each other and started hanging about together, swapping photos, sharing the odd magazine that came along, and getting stuck into books like Spraycan Art – don’t forget, this is all pre internet, so books, photos and magazines were like gold dust, and by bouncing ideas and pooling our resources, we all got deeper into it.
Now when did the name Lokey come along, and was it a conscious decision to step away from this idea of the big brash tag into something more understated and, well, low key!
I’ve been Lokey since about ’91. Up until then, I’d toyed with a few other tags which usually weren’t words at all but just letters I liked and combinations of them – it was more about the visuals of it than a specific meaning I think. Then, round 1991, I was over at a girlfriends house with a few tunes playing when this new jack swing band called Lo-Key came on and I instantly locked onto the name. The next day, I gave it a thorough test drive from the dictionary to the black book, and all the meanings and connotations seemed to tie in perfectly while I felt I could really work with the letters, and it just stuck from there on.
How did it feel coming up in an intensely vibrant Bristol scene where there was just so much stuff going on?
When you’re young, you see things in a totally different way. There were already a lot of crews around at that time – and the likes of Cheo, Teaoh, Inkie, Chaos, Shab, Turroe, Sp27 and a few others were already painting and they all ended up forming one big crew called TUB – The United Bombers, and a few of them used to knock about up at the shopping precinct in Kingswood which was all of 5 minute’s walk from my house. So I’d be up there too, sort of loitering with intent around all the older kids. I’d also get the bus down to dug out , so not only was there this thrill of watching a big crew in action, but I was learning off them as I went. Obviously as far as they were concerned, I was the annoying young lad, but their girlfriends would always step up with an ‘Ahhh – ain’t he cute’ which probably both wound the kids up and allowed me to stay around at the same time! Cheo used to live one road up from me, and my mum thought he was a right lovely lad so she was more than happy for me to stay round his. Bearing in mind he was about 3 years older than me. The playing field was suddenly completely different . Now that meant that I could get out and have free wanders whenever I fancied them and be able to hang out with the older kids, go to all the parties and go out tagging with them, so it was seriously exciting for a lad in my position to have access to that world and be able to be so free with it.
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW - LSD MAGAZINE ISSUE 6