What does hell look like? The introduction of Toy Machine skateboard's seminal 1996 video “Welcome To Hell,” with its pulsing overlay of the Stars and Stripes on top footage of police officers, businessmen, and fast food service workers, would appear to paint hell as the mirage of American exceptionalism.
What comes after that scene, born of those apparent depictions of damnation, would become a cultural touchstone: skateboarding performed at the highest level, composed and displayed in a fashion that would influence and endear audiences for decades to come. “Welcome To Hell” features a unique and progressive patchwork of skateboarders, most of which would become icons in the skate world, and helped redefine what the modern skateboarding video could be.
A young Joseph Shabason felt that impact. The acclaimed musician hit rewind on his VHS copy of “Welcome To Hell” hundreds of times in his youth, each watch as thrilling as the last.
“I know that video better than any other video. When that video came out, I was so obsessed, we would just watch it every single day, multiple times a day. We’d watch it, go skate, come home and watch it again. And I started to think it would be cool to recontextualize it. In the original video, all those songs are so heavy and so iconic, I just wanted to see what it would feel like to see those parts with different music underneath, but than also approach those parts and writing songs for those parts having known them so well and how each skater makes me feel a particular way I was like, I think I can do something that feels connected to those parts in a different way.”
That invigorating, improvisational, full-body experience of skateboarding is one that Shabason likens to jazz, where a shared language exists between the wheels and woodwinds. The way the skateboarder and musician command that language is what distinguishes them, adding definition to the mercurial concept of “style.” This connection becomes most apparent in collaboration; ensembles of skaters and musicians are a noisy, creative bunch. Reflecting on this relationship and the Toy Machine classic would ultimately lead Shabason to wonder: what does hell sound like?
“When I realized I wanted to make the record, I was like, if I make this record, I can’t release the video unless I get Ed Templeton’s permission. So I messaged Ed on instagram and hoped for the best. To my surprise, he wrote back 12 hours later and he was just so cool and supportive. And throughout the whole project, he’s been so chill and generous. He even contributed art for the inner sleeve of the record which to me, is mind blowing.”
Shabason’s album is a provocative reimagining that instills a new sense of awe in the 27-year-old classic prompting the question first posed by the original: what if hell was a place you wanted to return to again and again?
Pre-order Welcome To Hell here.
Follow Joseph on instagram here and stream the album here