Thoughts on Subculture at Lake Louise
I write to you from the shores of Lake Louise. My cousins have been talking about this spot for days, and stopping here was a foregone conclusion when we embarked on this journey. It is the shining jewel of the Canadian Rockies: stunning, awe-inspiring, and unmarred in its physical, natural appearance. Or should I say it has been marred by nature in such a way that it has been cultured, crafted; polished until smooth by the forces of erosion and plate tectonics. I digress. Getting here was a long, long, looooong journey of restless legs and fragile concentration while trying to push through unending stretches of road. And when we finally made it 1300 km from Winnipeg to Edmonton, and another 400 km to Banff, and yet another 70 to Lake Louise, we see...people. Too many people. A lake littered, clogged with the most tourist-y of tourists, young and old, proudly beaming in their hiking shoes and Merrell windbreakers and excessive accoutrements in case they run into any scenarios with nature that they can't fully control. And they bring with them 6-foot tripods and 2000 dollar cameras and all the gadgets you would expect to steal the soul of our nation's most photographed natural location. And there are air-horns and idle speech that boils over into calamity and the harmonious, calming sound of the water, which is all you really came to hear, is drowned out by everything you drove 1730 km to escape. It was only after exploring the area more, and hiking 1 km to a solitary lookout, obscuring the rabble, that I was able to feel a sense of peace at the spot and draw some semblance of positive inspiration from looking at this natural wonder.
In this instance, the interview I did with Obscurist Works came to mind. The "BAPE God" was so careful about exposing himself and his passions because he didn't want them to become this: farcical and dulled by others. Okay, that may be hyperbolic, but I'm human; I can be prone to exaggeration. Bear with me.
A Bathing Ape is the brainchild of Nigo, who channelled his insane passion for '70s American pop-culture, fashion, and (of course) Planet of the Apes into a brand that touched a nerve in Japanese youth. The brand gained popularity on the island in the late-'90s, without any compromise in Nigo's vision. He was able to play around creatively and express himself through his clothing and other ventures like a café, a hair salon, and a TV series, all under the BAPE name. After co-signs by Pharrell (and Robin Williams), A Bathing Ape entered the North American mainstream. The brand became a mid-2000s household name to those barely willing to scratch under the surface of fashion or rap 'subculture'. One could see BAPE footwear on celebrities from Jay-Z to Mandy Moore and Joel Madden. The unmistakable camo and ubiquitous Ape were featured frequently on a 2005 Kanye West as he rocketed to super-stardom, at a time when Late Registration propelled him to his first nod in Time's 100 Most Influential People. As American culture tends to do with its new, shiny, foreign toys, Nigo and BAPE were thrust into the global spotlight.
The story of a Japanese designer finding his way into the wardrobes of America's biggest celebrities (at the time), despite barely speaking English and doing little to market to a Western audience, was inspiring to some, and at the very least a curiosity to others. Many of the latter saw, and continue to see, the over-exaggerated aesthetic of Nigo's brand as farcical; a joke. Obscurist Works not only understands this, he straddles the line of this dichotomy, understanding where both sides are coming from. He rejects gaudiness and is hypercritical of the brand, but at the same time, finds common ground with Nigo on a philosophical level. He, just like Nigo, is able to invest fully in his passions while relentlessly pursuing originality, and doesn't care what the outside world thinks about it. There is an unmistakable, unique style to his art. Comparisons can be drawn on the plane of inspiration too, although Obscurist Works is quick to affirm his commitment to originality. He loves Planet of the Apes, hip-hop, and elements of '70s culture with a rare passion. Obscurist Works' body of art (in a sense a reflection of himself) is the '70s reinvented for the Age of the Internet. He can use the Internet to fully explore the grimy subculture portrayed in the obscure films that influenced an era. Only today could a kid in his 20s draw a pic inspired from Fantastic Planet, layer it with his own style, reference it on Instagram with some rap lyrics, and have it all make sense. He's not one to travel to Lake Louise, snap a selfie at the shore, and go. When he's passionate about something, he explores it fully. And If you aren't genuinely curious about Obscurist Works and how he creates, this interview isn't for you.
If you wanna know the reason why he draws in afros and bell-bottoms, and his work is rife with apes and women from a bygone era doing cool shit, this interview probably won't help you either. Okay, it might, but it's more of a starting point. If you really want to know the person behind the façade, go watch Shaft and Dolomite. In fact, delve deeper. Immerse yourself in the passionate, hectic world that is Obscurist Works and see what it is he sees. Don't go to Banff just for Lake Louise like a sap. Dive in, and explore everything this insular paradise has to offer. Push the extent of your curiosity, and don't be afraid to be passionate in a digital and physical world that prides itself on being too cool to truly love things.