Meeting… Of Minds / Soy Panday

Portrait: Benjamin Deberdt

Interview: Charles Paratte

"I have little interest in differentiating Europe, Japan and the States. What is interesting is proposing new ideas, wherever they come from."

 Benjamin Deberdt

The original idea was simple, and inspired by the actual idea of Meeting Of Minds, the Bordeaux based event celebrating the creative forces nurturing Magenta: ask people a question that could seem basic, but could help you learn a lot about your interlocutor:
“Who would you like to have an hour discussion with?”
Soy Panday came first on Charles' list, and his answer turned into a full conversation, since Magenta's co-founder is amongst those who have things to say, and is never too shy not to, just like the brand itself, which is one of the rare ones that actually claims a vision and a way to look at the world that isn't just a marketing ploy. Always refreshing in a world of advertorials and shallow imagery. Here we are, with almost an hour of discussing with Soy what skateboarding means to him, and what he and the Magenta crew are trying to share with us, and also learn from it all…

Benjamin Deberdt

Ideally, who would you like to have an hour discussion with?
Ideally, many people, including people I am already conversing with. Morita for instance, who is here, as he came from Japan for the event. This is someone that would be really interesting to speak with commonly, to fully understand how his mind works. He's a sort of genius. In a way, we understand each over through the things we each do, through Magenta for us, and Libe for him, which have a close philosophy.

You haven't had a chance to speak to him, this time?
I did, but I would like to speak to him with a language that'd be fluent for both of us. To be able to push the conversation further. Today, we still have that language barrier: his English isn't that evolved, and I'm not good at all in Japanese. So, I would like to have the possibility to share more profound ideas.

Are you inspired by him? What about the other way around?
The base of us meeting, and of our open mindness is skateboarding.  But our ideas converge on many points, even outside of skateboarding, and this is why I would like to get further with him. I see skating as a way to reach people. You can capture attention through skating, and once you have that audience, you can actually speak about other things. We are not here to get people to just get drunk on beer. Other brands are doing a great job at that, I believe we have something else to bring, and this is what is motivating us.

Can you explain the concept behind Meeting Of Minds?
It is connected to the idea of Worldwide Connections, to the fact that we went to meet all those scenes, and to have them all here to show things and share, in Bordeaux, a city that is not so big, is a beautiful thing. British, Americans, Japanese, French, they are all showing what they do as they are all creatives. Everybody brings something, and it is all displayed here at the same place. This is also the reason we created Magenta.

Was that the original idea? I thought you guys wanted to start a French brand, in the beginning.
It wasn't as clear then, but the idea was there, yes. Vivien and I travelled a lot before Magenta. I also used to put up the whole world at my place in Paris. Many people would come skate Paris, and ended up staying with me. So, amongst all the people we met here and there, many were doing interesting things, even if they were not aware of it. We kept thinking they was something to do out of it all. Instead of having things all over the place, there must have been a way to do something more human, to progress all together and bring something new to the table.
One thing, without wanting to sound offensive toward Americans, was that at the end of the day, they travel around the world, but just do an american video out of it. Without necessarily connecting with the local scene. I often felt it when people would stay at my place, and I know I'm not the only one. It is not even a blame, I think we are mainly the fruit of the culture we grew up in. The goal in Magenta is to try to dig into the qualities of many cultures.

So that means we'll see the local Australian scene in the Perth video you are about to release?
Yes, you can see the Perth locals. And three Australian photographers are exhibiting here. An Osaka photographer also joined Jimmy, Léo and Koichiro in Perth, and is showing his photos here today.

So, who's presented at Meeting Of Minds?
You have a lot of photos by Jean Feil, shot during our different trips to New York, Tokyo, and in the irradiated area close to Fukushima. Pep Kim who is Korean, and lies in New York, shows photos too. Richard Hart came from San Francisco with pictures, and also presents a video starring all the people that ended up staying at the Howard House, back in the days. You have drawings by Olivier “Tavu” Ente, from Lille, North of France. Paintings by Glen Fox, including one he did live. Josh Stewart came to present Static IV. Liu Puli from Osaka sent us photos from his trip to Perth, and is shown next to the Australians Josh Roberts, Garth Mariano and James Whineray. We also have Morita, who came from Tokyo with his sign "My Friend" and a lot of ideas. You also have the Magenta family from Bordeaux: Masaki Ui, Yoann Taillandier, Xavier Benavides and Maxime Galipienzo are also presented here. Connor Kammerer, our NYC buddy and rider also brought 3D photos he has shot…
The whole things kind of snowballed. Vivien found the space for the Static premiere, and thought about doing some sort of exhibition in it. So, we all worked on it, everybody trying to bring some ideas. People from all over came, participated and a ball doing it. There is a super positive energy.

With everybody in Bordeaux, the capitol is here now, then?
I don't like the concept of “a capitol”. From my point of view, it is one of the cities where the most things are happening in France. At least, it is a good place to meet, as Magenta is based here, there is a solid scene, and many visitors… But whither it is in Bordeaux or somewhere else is not that important, the main idea is to not make it a French event only. It is not about a country, but about trying to unite interesting things. Skateboarding can be repetitive, you have to unite new ideas and get the whole thing more connected to art –because there are super artistic things in the nature of skateboarding, like how architecture is read differently, a look at images whither photos or videos that is different– and show the mood that can come from feeding off the others influences.

Bordeaux is also a lot about Léo, isn't it?
Bordeaux has a really good skate scene, with many interesting skaters, and a great energy, and Léo might be the most active. He travels a lot, brings people back, films a lot. Actually, Josh Stewart filmed “Skate Bordeaux”, a little documentary for the Ride Channel, with Léo and the whole scene.

 Richard Hart

360 flip, in San Francisco. photo: Richard Hart

Josh came with Static 4, what was the connection with him?
In fact, we had meet at the Static 2 premiere in London. We talked a lot and I loved what he was doing, he influenced me a lot, for many reasons. From there, we ended up filming a part for Static 3. This was in 2007. Vivien had a few clips in there, also. We kept in touch, and even took a couple trips together.
When we launched Magenta, he proposed us right away to help with distribution in the States. More or less, he started his distribution business so he could help us with Magenta. He already had a little e-shop on his site, took some boards on it, and it did well, so he expanded that side of the site. From there, he ended up distributing other brands that were on the same wave length.

Speaking of which, do you follow what is happening in terms of “small brands”?
Yes, I do, but maybe not as much as I should do, just because there is so much to do when you run a brand. Off course, I see what is happening. We have been friends with Pontus, Paul Shier who does Isle, and the Palace guys for a long time now. It kills that they all do their own thing, and that the epicenter has moved a bit from the States. It is great that there is a European Pole this an international dimension. I have little interest in differentiating Europe, Japan and the States. What is interesting is proposing new ideas, wherever they come from.

What I find interesting is that Theories, that is american, came to distribute brands from outside the States, while keeping their vibe and expression intact. You would only see the exact opposite, just a little while ago…
It is pretty new, yeah. Everybody is influenced by the States. They have been an influence on the whole world since World War Two. They are really good at selling their ideas. Google, Facebook, Hollywood, Coca, etc. All things american are made to be sold everywhere around the globe. They are amazing at that, even if the values that come with it are not necessarily the best.
On the other side, you have Japan, where they are really good at making the highest quality products, but might be less good at selling them. They sell it in Japan, as people respect what is made over there. In Japan, quality is no joke. Then, you have us, in the middle, very influenced by both, so we were thinking, how do we unite these two? Try to push values that we think are good, and unite people –Worldwide Connections– something more human, fairer.

You guys have been filming a lot. Is that the first time you are all together, actually? It must have been easier when you were only three French dudes?
Yep, it is a bit more complicated now. It just got out of hand. Then, one day, you realize: “Wait, we have seven pros!” This is a strange feeling, as in my head, we are still a really small company. Personally, I work in my living room, none of us is swimming in money. Some people might think: “That's it, the brand is booming, they must be racking money!”. [Laughter] It is quite funny. I am in my living room, and I realize I have to design seven boards, and also find a way to pay all our riders. But, in the end, we manage!

Do you already have a concept for what you are filming right now?
Right now, we are stacking footage. We do have an idea, but it is still in fruition. It might not have such a philosophical message as Soleil Levant. Many people saw it as a skateboard video only, which is OK. But there is more in there, maybe you have to dig a bit for it. We actually showcase those American / Japanese influences with Jimmy and Zach's part. All the non skating footage is about the strong values of Japan, the ones about craftsmanship, perfectionism, and the whole Japanese idea of masters. The voice-over concentrates on the positive aspects of american culture, on the universal side of their ideas. The next video will have a different message. Maybe it will be more about what skating itself expresses, and what part of everybody's personality and character shows through it.

We saw it coming for a while, but what were the reactions from Ben Gore joining the team?
Reactions were great. It is hard to discuss it, as we have known him for a long time now, since we were filming for Static 3 with Josh, in Miami. Shortly after getting Magenta on its feet, Vivien and I told him: “Come skate for us, what the hell are you bother with … for?”. Ben really does bring something different, jus like any one of us does bring something personal. Riders are not a product. I think that what is interesting is to feed off people's personality, try to learn a bit from each other, to show the personalities…

Who are you a fan of, someone you would love to have on Magenta, despite Morita?
I am happy with who we have right now.

You are not a fan of other people, though?
All the people that I am a fan of ride for the team, or have had a guest board with us: Ricky Oyola, Kenny Reed, Jack Sabback, Jan Kliewer, Pontus Alv, Jake Rupp, Love Eneroth, I can't even name them all. They were all into it, so in the end, they are all part of the brand, in a way. We also do boards with artists, with people we like the work very much. I can't get into the “team with X riders” concept. I see more of a group of people that put out some sort of value, and carry certain ideas. It makes more sense to me than the idea of “team rider”. Michael Jordan is paid by Nike to wear their shoes. The day they stop paying him, he's gone, that's it.

Nobody leaves Magenta?
No, because there is no reason to leave. Plus, we don't only ask them for their skating. Ben shoots photos, Yoann films and design… They have a platform to do things they like, and we can manage to live off it. So many people are killing themselves at work. And you wonder: “Why?” If you have a skill, do it good, and you'll be able to live off it. This might be what we have learned from the States, actually.

We speak about the brand, but what about the company, the business side? Is it working?
Yes, it does. It is doing good. Of course, many things are to be fixed, but we have no debts. It is growing everywhere. I think the people are receptive to the ideas that we put out. The current state of skating is such that it all seem so far way: you don't know who actually runs what company, since so many brand got bought, and you don't even know who rides for who, who designs for what company, people switch teams over night…
We are trying to have the family grow perpetually. We travel and meet people we keep in touch with. But even in the way we skate, we try to show it is not just some sport, where you have do the biggest trick. In 93, 94, the same thing had happened: skateboarding had turned inaccessible, because it was way to complicated. This side is coming back nowadays, because things are getting super dangerous. Why would I start skating nowadays? If I wanted to be accepted, I would have to kickflip krook a ten stairs? That cult of performance is leading us straight to the Olympics, through Street League. I don't want to give technical points or amplitude points! It is a vision none of us identify with…

Do you think Magenta actually benefit from the actual mainstream market of skateboarding, by giving people something else?
Most likely, yes, and I respect people getting off Street League! But I am not even sure if saying that Magenta benefits from the success of the mass market is the right way to look at it… We were looking for something different that wasn't in the mainstream market, for ourselves, and this is why we created Magenta. Magenta benefits from the fact that, apparently, we were not alone…

Here is a little visual recap of the Meeting of Minds event that sprouted this conversation:

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