Amsterdam on Tour: Punks and City Kids

As early as the mid 70’s an alive and kicking graffiti scene already existed in Amsterdam. This scene developed independently from the New York graffiti scene. In a city, at that time, on the verge of exploding with protest and rebellion. Punk rockers, disco fans, hooligans and other rebels, they all wrote their messages on the walls. The styles were richly varied and the messages equally so. The ‘Amsterdam on Tour’ book takes the reader deep into the underbelly of Amsterdam.


In between 1975 and 1984 the streets of Amsterdam were ruled by hardcore taggers. Done first by political activists, such as Provo (short for Provocation) and Liever Lesbies (Rather be Lesbian). Followed by ‘Punk Graffiti’ written by Punkers, kids with a ‘No Future’ attitude. Shortly after, the so called City Kids took command. Young hoodlums tagging the streets with a new kind of stylistic ‘name writing’. Graffiti in Amsterdam would never be this raw again.

KGB Supports Revolution (1981). Picture from the book ‘Amsterdam on Tour’.

GOING ON TOUR

Street Art Today had a talk with AGAIN, the author of the book. He’s not an academic outsider doing research on a certain subculture. Being one of Amsterdam’s most prolific bombers of the 80’s makes him a first hand witness. AGAIN’s book counts over 200 pages with never before published photos and interviews. The title refers to ‘Going on tour’. Slang language bombers used for a specially planned nightly walk through a certain neighborhood. With the goal to ‘bomb’ signatures as much as possible, to eventually achieve ‘All city fame’.

AGAIN: “In the 90’s, I used to read these interviews with graffiti writers from France, Germany and Scandinavia. They all told the same story. Of how graffiti in Europe had started because of the movie Style Wars and the book Subway Art. This made my skin crawl. In Amsterdam we already had a very unique and hardcore graffiti scene. The Activists, Punks and City Kids invented a completely original visual language. The story starts around 1975 with activist street writings and ends in 1985 with the introduction of the French BANDO-styled graffiti pieces. The style that would take over Europe. By then, graffiti had finally found its definite form.”

Cover of ‘Amsterdam on Tour’.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

The event that triggered the bookproject, was a gathering of like minded ‘tag freaks’ in 2009. A meeting of kindred spirits in the studio of Dutch visual artist, and graffiti writer, Boris DELTA Tellegen.

AGAIN: “There’s this small group of Amsterdam ‘tag freaks’, the so called ‘tag archeologists’. Crazy people who love to search for still existing tags from the 80’s. I’m one of them, and so is DELTA. And a few younger guys. At the meeting in DELTA’s studio we all brought our collections of old school graffiti photos and other interesting stuff. That evening DELTA showed me his copy of AmXXXdamned Graffiti. The first ever official Dutch graffiti publication. A stencil booklet with a yellow cover from 1983, with pictures by city photographer Jean Lehnert. It was published by the Goethe-Institut. For me personally, this cheap looking booklet represented the Holy Grail. Better than Subway Art. It blew my mind!”

Together, the ‘archeologists’ came up with a unique collection of early graffiti heritage photos. They decided something had to be done with these important relics from the past.

AGAIN: “At first, DELTA wanted to make a ‘stencil-zine’, just like AmXXXdamned Graffiti. But in my opinion our stuff was too valuable. It deserved better treatment. That’s when I started working on the book.”

Spread page from ‘Amsterdam on Tour’ showing different styles in 70’s tagging.

THE DOCTOR AND THE PELIKAN

The most famous Punk-writer is, without a doubt, Ivar Vičs a.k.a. DR. RAT. The book contains a lot of never before published photos, sketches and other artworks by Ivar. Besides being active as a graffiti artist, Dr.Rat was also an illustrator for underground punk-magazine Coekrant made by Hugo Kaagman and Diana Ozon.

AGAIN: “DR.RAT was a true ‘player’. A charismatic dude with a lot of energy, good and bad. He turned into a cult figure because of his lifestyle. The complete package made him an icon. He was crazy wild, shooting heroin all the time. His work stood out, he had a real talent for drawing. DR. RAT died in 1981 because of an overdose. We got in contact with Jet Vičs, Ivar’s mother. I’m so happy she granted us permission to use photos from her private collection. She still had her son’s painted jackets hanging in her livingroom. But, I have to admit, my favorite Punk-writer of alltime is ANUS PELIKANUS. As a kid I was amazed by his Pelikan character, drawn with those mad angry eyes. I think the guy was a graffiti ‘style master’, even better than Dr. Rat.”

ANUS PELIKANUS hitting a squad car (1981). Picture from the book ‘Amsterdam on Tour’.

CITY KIDS ON A RAMPAGE

According to AGAIN, it were the Punks and the City Kids that made Amsterdam’s streets furtile ground for graffiti. They were paving the way for the colorful New York styled master pieces that would blossom a few years later.

AGAIN: “The early 80’s were a dark and dangerous era. With the constant threat of nuclear war, unemployment, housing shortage, squatters’ riots and heroin abuse. Revolt and rebellion was in the air. Panorama Magazine published an article: ‘Amsterdam City Kids – Out of Control’. About a lost generation of homeless kids. Smoking weed all day, roaming the streets and painting graffiti everywhere. Unafraid street warriors on a rampage. Around 1984, ‘bombers’ like EGO, MANO and WALKING JOINT had completely destroyed the city centre. They also tagged on doors of privately owned buildings and churches. Tourists and other people hated it. Those kids just didn’t give a fuck. When the colorful New York graffiti started to pop-up, the general opinion got more positive. When New Yorkers like BLADE, QUIK, BLAST, LEE, ZEPHYR, FUTURA 2000 and SEEN started doing pieces in Amsterdam, people were much more open for it. Finally graffiti artists making something beautiful. But it were the Punks and City Kids that rolled out the red carpet.”

New York writer BLAST at the Vondelpark (1984). Picture from the book ‘Amsterdam on Tour’.

GET IT BEFORE ITS GONE

Amsterdam On Tour is a completely unique graffiti heritage publication. The book is filled with historic photos, drawings and first hand stories of all the key players on the Amsterdam streets in the late 70’s to the early 80’s. Read the thrilling eye witness accounts by legendary writers such as KAAGMAN, N-POWER, EGO, AGAIN, SHOE, WALKING JOINT, GASP, HIGH, RHYME, DELTA, JAZ and BLADE. A must have for hardcore graffiti lovers and academic art students alike.

Check for online orders freshcotton.com. You can also buy the book in Amsterdam at the Stedelijk Museum, American Book Center and Athenaeum Boekhandel.

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Remko Koopman is a visual artist, graphic designer and author from Leiden, The Netherlands. He has been active as a graffiti writer using the pseudonym 'SCAGE' since 1987 and infiltrated the world of Street Art with artist collective 'Booyabase'. Koopman is co-author of the classic Dutch graffiti book 'Amsterdam Graffiti - The Battle of Waterloo' and author of the book 'De Leidse School' (The School of Leiden). He's also active within the field of cultural education for the youth.