Scene zines: Wheelbite (Brussels, Belgium – part 1)
Next up in our series ‘Scene zines‘ is Brussels. The city where the flemish, Walloons, Europeans and the rest of the world meet. We asked two magazines to answer some questions: Wheelbite (online & video) and Schief (print & online). Because we love all of those guys. But mainly because as of last year they have found a way to co-operate. Curious how? Then read on.
screencap from the video ‘Wheelbite 2011‘
Meet Ralph (RLD). Creator of Wheelbite. He explains how it went from bad to worst.
Wheelbite began back in 2006 as a simple blog where a small group of skate friends could post footage, photos and gay jokes. I’d like to think it was the quality of our skating and reporting that brought us the attention, but I think it was mainly the amount of homo-erotic references we posted that caught everyone’s attention. Your not going to tell me that with so many men getting hot and sweaty together, there isn’t some sort of chemistry at play..?
Is working on Wheelbite a Job, hobby or something in between?
I couldn’t call it a job because there is no money involved, but I do try and keep the site updated regularly. When I was made redundant by my last employer I decided that the corporate world was not for me. Even though I could do what was asked of me, I knew I was the round peg fitting into a square hole so to speak. Once I was relieved of my position 6 months ago I could focus 100% on Wheelbite and other skate projects. I believe that the perfect job is the one where you enjoy what you’re doing to the point that it doesn’t feel like a job at all. That’s how I feel right now, so I get up at 8:30 each morning and start to send emails, search for news, watch footage and seek to promote skateboarding as much as possible. Outside of skateboarding I practice Kung Fu which benefits me physically and mentally. There is discipline and creativity involved, it pushes a person’s boundaries and raises their awareness of their surroundings which isn’t that different from skateboarding I suppose. I highly recommend doing something other than skateboarding in your life because it helps you put things into perspective.
So you do make some money with Wheelbite?
Ha! I wish! Obviously Wheelbite has evolved since it’s creation and today I want to take it to yet another level. I must acknowledge and thank everyone who visits the site, talks about it or even slags it off because it means there must be an interest. What began as a private joke among friends has spread through the city of Brussels, to other Belgian cities, across the borders and overseas. The internet knows no boundaries (except in North Korea?) and social media provides powerful tools to get the information out there and link communities and individuals together. I’m always checking out the Wheelbite Facebook account and Twitter page to see what’s going on elsewhere. Whether it’s local brands like Homemade or Ungovernable posting footage of their riders, a party at the DNA or a crew of skaters in an underground carpark God knows where, it’s all good! I also want to thank my friends for letting me film them and post photos of our adventures. Speaking of filming, one day the Wheelbite video will be released and the world of skateboarding will change forever. Mark my words!
Besides being gay, Wheelbite publishes great videos too featuring the Brussels urban jungle.
Do you think there should be more city related magazines?
Diversity is the key. Obviously the range of mediums on offer depends on your demographic. An example would be France which suffered from having too many magazines. The end result was that the most creative and core titles got squashed out by those with the biggest advertising accounts because the pie can only get split so many ways at the end of the day. In Belgium, the situation is slightly different. The skateboard community is divided by a regional and linguistic barrier. Wood Mag caters to the Flemish skaters and Schief handles the French side of things. I used to work on Flatspot Magazine which tried to cater for everyone, but publishing content in 2 or 3 different languages meant that space was limited and deadlines were a nightmare. It was a shame to see Flatspot sink because everyone working on the magazine had their heart in the right place and wanted it to work.
The second phase of Wheelbite was to try and fill in the gap Flatspot had left by keeping track of the local scene and promoting what Belgian skaters had to offer. Schief ran along parallel lines so it was silly to duplicate everything on two seperate websites. We’re all good friends so over a session and a beer we decided to join forces and give Brussels the boost it needed. Schief handles coverage of the Brussels and Belgian scene catering to French speakers whilst Wheelbite moves onto bigger and better things. I cannot say more because negotiations and contracts are still being drafted, but hopefully people will appreciate it and continue to support Wheelbite.
What is your take on print, video and online, skateboardmedia in general?
Unlike previous generations who relied on 12 issues of their favourite skate magazine each year, reading and re-reading each page religiously until the next issue came out, today’s generation has the internet which delivers content and footage to your retinas all day everyday. This is brilliant and terrible at the same time. On the up side, information spreads incredibly fast and kids are much more up to date with what’s happening. On the down side, kids suffer attention deficeit disorder and the mysticism of professional skateboarders is dead. There needs to be quality control from both print and online media. Too many companies push webclips to the masses like cheap coke to clients. Magazines are too quick to jump in bed with corporate sponsors who in turn dilute the information and messages the editors are trying to preach. Back in the day, Transworld got a bashing for it’s hotdog and army adverts but today their competition are promoting terrible energy drinks and electric razors so where are the morals and diehard ethics in that?
Today, the best media sources are the independent magazines such as Soma, Anzeigeberlin or Grey who deal in quality over quantity, whilst online Slap does a pretty good job of generating content that’s fuelled by it’s readership and infamous forum members. Someone referred skateboard forums as the last bastion of free-expression for skateboard media and they are not entirely wrong. Having worked in the media for a several years, I understand that publishing a magazine or hosting a website does not come for free so financial backing is an absolute necessity, but the editors need to keep the balance level. I believe skateboarders have matured since the diehard days of the 80’s and 90’s so it doesn’t really make much sense to scream “Skate or Die” when you drop your kids off at the skatepark in your Prius, but the older generations and media definitely have a responsibility towards the kids to keep them educated about skateboarding’s roots. The corporate non-skater influence has infiltrated the culture to a point where people are ready to take things for granted and accept whatever is fed to them without thinking about the longterm consequences of their acts.
What plans do you have for coming year?
Like I mentioned earlier, Wheelbite is entering yet another phase of development but it is still work in progress so I cannot divulge too much. What I can say is that the focus will be on independent skate brands and projects that deserve the attention and support of skateboarders everywhere.
Do you have anything to add?
Never forget that a skateboard is a toy so for that it needs to be fun. Skate and Enjoy!
If you’ve liked this post, you might want to read our first article (ANZEIGEBERLIN from Berlin Germany) about ‘scene zines’ as well.
And also, stay tuned for Brussels, Belgium part 2 about ‘Schief’. We will publish this article on Thursday 12 January.