As the most avid Vandals amongst you will remember, we were really excited to present to you the trailers for System Tumours, the soon to be released graffiti DVD from the now notorious SMT crew.
Our excitement around the release was palpable, as the film promised to venture into the world of London’s hardcore train graffiti scene. The undeniably exciting trailers had us praying that this DVD release might help remind the London and UK graff scene that steel is still being painted.
Well, blessed as we are, The London Vandal have been gifted an exclusive pre-release copy of the DVD, and we decided to load it up during a smoke-out for review.
System Tumours Review
SMT’s soon-to-be released graffiti documentary, System Tumours, begins with flashes of completed panels, SMT pieces painted mainly on London Underground stock, as well as a couple of scenes of spray-paint racking mischief and police helicopters. This intro scene sets the tone for a hardcore, balls out DVD with a strong London bias – and the rest of the film lives up to the promise. On top of that, a story of triumph and brothehood is told, with interviews and extra footage giving breaks from the hardcore action.
In stark contrast to some recently popular graffiti film, say, Exit Through The Gift Shop, this video focuses on action, not spiel surrounding the art form. This gives it the same old-school, gritty feel as London’s White Trash, or some other long-forgotten London graffiti classic. System Tumours is about the hardcore, reckless and pure type of graffiti that is both loved and hated in equal measure, it’s not frilly interviews with Banksy and Mr. Brainwash. It focuses on the real, not the ethereal.
That’s not to say that the whole film is an action extravaganza – while you will be treated to some edge-of-your seat manoeuvres by the SMT lads, there are also interviews with the crew’s members to add a little intellect to the carnage. But seeing footage of current tube stock rolling out of train yards is a feeling that never gets old, and System Tumours manages deliver on that time and time again, too.
The actual footage is, as you can imagine, all filmed on hand-held cameras – but it’s stable and shot in good quality. So as well as hitting the nail on the head with content, the SMT team made sure the final product is very watchable, sometimes and issue with graff documentaries.
Getting back to the content – watching System Tumours, you witness a few scenes shot from 2011 onwards, in which half-finished pieces roll away from their creators, which goes to show just how close to the heat these writers are pushing themselves. Similarly, you’ll be treated to scenes in which the cameraman, on a bridge above, captures five writers in orange jackets painting chrome dubs on laid-up tubes in broad daylight. System Tumours is a peek at the genuinely high-risk graffiti lifestyle.
Another thing that stands out about this DVD release, is that the entertainment quality remains high throughout. In plenty of graffiti films, the first two or three scenes (or even just the intro) are the most interesting, where all the interesting snippets of a conversation and the terrifying near-misses play out. The rest of the video will be an hour or more of time-lapse photography of fairly average pieces being painted on steel. System Tumours doesn’t do that, it saves the heart-racing scene in which SMT have a near miss and are spotted by security for halfway into the film. Just when you expect the quality might let up, it hits you with a scene like that.
In keeping with the surprisingly high production values of the film, the soundtrack consists of intelligent and interesting choices – both the dubstep smashers that we’ve come to accept as standard for hardcore graffiti scenes, and more more graceful tracks framing scenes of desolate zones at the end of vein-like tube lines. DJ Shadow’s “Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt” makes it’s obligatory appearance.
Clever editing helps to build a narrative not seen in shorter graffiti videos. Translations are given for overheard comments from the public, as SMT’s runners pull into tube stations. “It’s really nice” says one lucky graffiti fan. Footage from a BBC crime show makes an appearance at one point, showing the perspective of the BTP while trying to catch people like SMT. Further interview footage gives away SMT’s inspirations from the graffiti scene, rightly siting Panik and the rest of ATG as North London writers that inspired them to become big players in the scene in their own right. It’s funny, ATG were a big part of that got me taking graffiti more seriously too. Must be something in that.
System Tumours is over an hour long, but fortunately, they haven’t been tempted to throw any old shit in as filler. All of the footage is worth watching and leaves you astonished at the amount of work the crew have put into painting this many panels over the past few of years.
Having now seen System Tumours for myself, I can confirm that my suspicions were correct. SMT’s DVD is what the London graffiti scene has needed for some time. A well made, curated view of real, hardcore graffiti culture – a world often forgotten by the stencil cutters and Banksy fans of Brick Lane. This film was created in the same way that graffiti has been created for decades – with no budget, with huge risks involved, and with no massive reward to be imagined -all done just for the thrill of going out and living, creating – without rules, boundaries, or permission.
A couple of clips in which the crew goof around in train yards, dancing as they paint, or shouting “I’m king of the trains” with arms wide open, give this hardcore and serious film a lighter note. There are also scenes demonstrating the guys’ favoured method of acquiring spray paint, as well as one where the team have to walk across a flood to get to the train yard. It’s these scenes that help the film to tell a story about the writers’ lives, as well as showing us the panels. If all we wanted were the panels, we could look at still images.
Whether you are a London graffiti pundit who enjoys a reminder of where this subculture is coming from, or someone newer to the graffiti scene who wants to know what it’s really like to be a member of a hardcore graffiti crew, I recommend this film to you. It manages to show off the glossy panel-beating side of the habit, whilst telling a personal story about the risks and punishments these guys have faced, which sadly includes prison time. The film closes with a flick through of some of SMTs hundreds of panels from over the years, sharing a memory of adventure and comradely from the crew.
System Tumours is due to be released on the 29th Nov, and now that we’ve sampled the goods,we will be stocking it from that point onwards in our graffiti store. Certain sunny yard scenes in the film had me longing for summer, but consider System Tumours the perfect Christmas gift for the Vandal in your life
Well done guys.
Content taken from THE LONDON VANDAL.
There will be a Birmingham screening next week. Please send us a message on THE BENCH 504 Facebook for details.