Parli Funk - Your local style appreciation page
06 July 2018 by Sancho Murphy
I personally have met a lot of interesting/crazy/weird/creative characters through running the store I otherwise would not of had I kept my office job - designers, painters, musicians, people behind the indie labels I stock, customers, serial pests (lol) - never a dull moment. So I’ve decided to revive this digital portal to distill the experiences, thoughts and ideas that I've encountered with these interactions and use it as a platform to recommend some good shit happening in our capital city!
The thing I love about Graffiti and Urban Art is there’s an authenticity, wildness and spontaneity about it. There is a level of creative freedom and expression that is not governed by too many outside rules. That's the ultimate, the freedom to be able to do ya thang, that's what we're all striving for right? Although small and close knit, Canberra is home to some great writers and painters. I've been following Canberra Graff/Urban Art for the last 5 years - so my knowledge is pretty limited and it's not really my story to tell, so I was super stoked that my nagging led to the opportunity to have the first interview with one of the individual's behind the blog Grandma Tuxan/Parli Funk - documenting and sharing content of Canberra centric Graff from the early 90's/00s and now! As a writer who’s been active for over 15 years, we talk about what it was like growing up in Canberra in the 90’s, who were some of the movers, shakers & risk takers back in the day, what styles and influence were rising in reaction to (sometimes in opposition to) the main culture and in doing so influencing the whole, as well as touch on the decision for the ACT Government to bring in legal walls and practice sites.
With the introduction of more versatile aerosols becoming readily available and imagination & skill being the limit; love it or hate it, it’s undeniable that the Canberra Graffiti scene has progressed and evolved with a variety of styles and techniques to create something memorable.
How old were you when you first picked up the can, and what made you want to?
I was about 13 when I picked up the can. Early 90’s. I remember attempting to bomb a bus shelter in Kambah with my older OG cousin and his mate. After asking for the can to do my own tag, my cousin gave me a foul look as if he was already embarrassed I was about to ‘get down’ in the same space as him. I hadn’t even proven myself yet lol! All I wanted was to boogie too!
The can was handed to me almost empty, so feeling like a toy and unwanted, I resorted to a nearby street sign just to keep my distance from the radness my cousin and friend had just sprayed. From that night I was hooked! I wanted to know anything and everything about it. Special mention to Hau for giving me a dubbed VHS tape of Style Wars and other goodies. He skooled me on the foundations of graffiti back in the day. Peace!
What was it like growing up in Canberra as a writer?
90’s era I can only speak of. Ok, there was hardly any buff activity! Actually the only buff happened on Government property so underpasses and electrical boxes copped a fresh coat of paint from time to time. So things stayed up.
333 (triple three) bus route was our train line. The bus went from Tuggeranong interchange, through Woden, Civic and then north to Belconnen. So we concentrated on hitting anything in and around these areas or any bus line for that matter.
As usual beef was always around the corner so that kept writers on their toes. Graffiti has been described as being a contact sport so it just came with being involved in graff. Funnily enough, the dramas kept the scene interesting! Being a young buck you always wanted to prove yourself. It’s weird because some of the writers I rolled with/friends today for some, I originally had beef with. Either myself or my crew. That’s just how it was back then. Once the air was clear and the testosterone levels were down, you either cliquéd together or the beef just continued, or blew over... very territorial in a way. Canberra is a small place!
SETH was a force to be reckoned with too. The stories you would hear of him, oh my gosh. But it was his artistic skills that would go down in Canberra graffiti history as one of the best to do it. The ‘Can It’ squad use to muscle their way around the city looking for writers to harass and graffiti to clean. Myself and TRON (RIP) got caught up in an incident at Vic & Ric's shop, Kambah. I was only young and I was pretty rattled at the time!
Vic n Ric's, Kambah - 1993/94
DISE (MGO) - Vic n Ric's, Kambah - 1993/94
I was around when the Canberra style evolved to the Sydney/New York funk it is today for us. The internet blew up and the style you would see and associate in Europe was being practiced locally in Canberra! Before this originality was a must and writers were getting called out for biting (copying) regularly. Today it seems to be accepted in a way. Not blatantly but writers were knit-picking things that resembled anything. There was no line between ‘influenced’ and ‘bite’. It’s a sign of the times.
Tributes to old styles is common today but back then if you were biting, you paid the price. Writers like SHUTE, RUDES, BENT, SETH, MGO (DISE), GAWS, AYRE kept that original flow here. They lived by that code.
The ever popular Colorbond fences painted today were rare because back then most fences were made of wood and annoying to paint. Today we have loads of legal sites but back then (I can only speak for the Southside) the Melrose wall and a few other walls were the only spots. So again this caused mad conflict amongst writers. Writers held down their spots like they were their own 16yr old daughter!
Reservoirs (water tanks) were also chill out spots. Before they became fenced up because of the threat of terrorism around the late 90’s. But by then Woden Drains was introduced and other spill ways and underpasses. Excellent timing!
Melrose Wall - 1990's
Woden Drains - 90's
BENT & SHUTE, Woden Drains
Junkie by DDK & VW, Woden Drains - 1988
I wanted to hear your take, what are your thoughts on the ACT Government’s interventions with the administering of a ‘Graffiti Management Coordinator’? Do you think it’s pro authentic growth of the scene or it’s ultimately going to lead to the appropriation and watering down of graff/urban art?
I don’t think it will water down graffiti as the real still continue to go out there and do it regardless! I think the Graffiti Coordinator administers walls where you can chill and paint but I think the culture is too strong for them to tap into a mind of a vandal. You can’t manage graffiti on the streets!
In terms of Street Art and Commissions they have some type of control but every vandal has a mind of their own and personal goals they want to achieve. It’s a good thing the Government offers space to showcase talent and even pay for it but there is always someone out there who strives to stay dedicated to the cause. Whatever that is and 'toys' who just want to rage and take shit out on public property!
What are your thoughts on social media and the current ‘flexxing on the gram’ mentality? Most people don’t have the time or access to physically see the pieces irl, so it’s a great way to share and document, but I also see some lazyAF writers out there - it’s about clocking up the likes and fronting. I guess everyone’s playing the same game but to a different set of rules, thoughts?
Yes social media is here to stay and there are both pros and cons for its existence in graffiti. I personally use it like a diary of my works, outlines etc. A timeline or whatever. It’s the only thing I have kept up to date with pics and content because I've lost my hard copy photo albums personally. Enough to make you want to quit. I couldn’t keep a cold with my track record!
It’s a good way to connect to the world for all its users. Social media is what you make it. Yes there is the shitty side like screen gangsters and dudes who clock likes but doesn’t that motivate any person to produce better works? Or does it ha? Who knows man......
Real heads often voice that it is not about likes and I totally understand this. Insta-love isn’t a true indication of success as we all know. It’s your commitment on the streets! If you are claiming to be a real writer and you're only hitting legals and posting with a bit of a front about how much tins you ‘wasted’ on your burner or how big it is...... that’s whack! If you're talking street life and you banging legal walls... come on son! Ain’t nobody got time fa dat!
I rely on Social Media to keep me up to date with what’s happening. Back in the days, I went looking for graffiti and it was all part of the fun but now I have kids and a family so nowadays I can scroll through my Insta-feed and stay up to date with what’s going on and who’s producing what. The world is becoming lazy unfortunately. Including me!
Images (left to right / top to bottom): RUBEN - 2017 / RUBEN - 2017 / RUBEN, Sydney - 2017 / RUBEN, Woden Drains - 2014 / RUBEN, Canberra Northside - 2018 / RUBEN, Woden Drains - 2014 / RUBEN - 2016
The word “Graffiti” comes with such negative connotations — what do you wish people knew about the art form?
Let’s be honest, the negativity will always be there. It comes with the turf and writers know this, but do they care? No. That’s the fun part for some. Old mate can’t love just one aspect of graffiti, like the colourful pieces (in most cases). They got to take it for everything. The tags, throw ups, blockies etc.
Graffiti produces local neighbourhood Kings and Legends amongst ourselves! The many experiences and stories (both good and bad) that make up a writers active life is enough to keep a dying man happy!
Also, we take risks to do this art form. Probably not myself as much these days but that’s where my roots lie. Shoutouts to all the real local heads still doing their thing. Who stay undercover and go about their business and do it for the love! Sure there are kids that go around town and fuck shit up who have no idea why, they just feel it (and we feel awful seeing it) but there is a code amongst many true heads that keeps the movement going.
Lastly, letters are always number one! You can draw a dope character but if you ain’t backing that up with dope letters... pfft forget about it! Letters for the win!
TKP, Woden - 2000's
Graffiti as I understand it has been evolving into something bigger and better because of the constant need to push. How does the Street Art / Graff scene in Canberra make you feel at the moment?
'Graffiti' and 'Street Art' are different. The Illegal/damage aspect of graffiti and letters differs it completely from Street Art. It’s 'Damage' vs 'Glam Life'! Also graffiti isn’t accepted by most. Street Art is and that’s ok. To be honest that’s how it should be. Most Street Artists haven’t been exposed to the alfa-world of graffiti and sometimes get innocently caught up in wars. Education is the key here.
In saying that I don’t mind seeing an established writer crossing over to the Street Art world and doing big things, collaborating etc. Each to their own! That ain’t selling out, that’s just moving forward. At the end of the day it’s the spray can that wins hey!
The thing about 'urban art' is that there is a beginning and an end. It can be temporary - enjoy it while it lasts. Like ultimately, works are gonna get rolled, capped, buildings demolished or walls even taken from the public domain and turned into private commissions. Do you ever feel disheartened as you witness the process of destruction of your creations or those of others?
Honestly I am disheartened occasionally with some of the street artists doing it. I don’t want to name who but I look at it and think a bit more effort could be put into the murals. You are getting paid and have all the colours in the world to do it right so a lil effort isn’t too much too ask!
When I look at things I judge it from how I was brought up. The style, skill, the artist DNA (has to be good of course) and how it’s presented. That’s the graffiti in me! But today is a different ball-game and I understand the general public don’t share my views and that’s just how it is. Like I said earlier - I like seeing the established writer (the battler) who has done their time, ply their trade, crossing over. Or a talented Street Artist that has proper skills to do it! And there are a few out there in Canberra. I am bias here of course ha!
It seems like the mural game is a business and there is big money in it if you have the necessary PR skills and patience to do it. Skill comes last - unfortunately it’s a shame. Look at Melbourne and Sydney. There is some talent there and you come to Canberra and some of it is a total fraud!
As for Graffiti history being taken away and spots being cleaned up - it sucks in a way but that’s the life of a city. Regeneration is a thing. Graffiti doesn’t last forever, same as murals. I don’t believe in capping Street Art that’s been done this way but then again I ain’t putting in all that work on the streets risking it, so honestly I ain’t sour about it. I know there have been a few incidents where spots have been reclaimed or capped but by doing this the writers are only inviting the Street Artists back to fix/produce another mural and get paid again by the Government lol! Think about it!
The only win I’ve witnessed myself was a mural in Kambah that has been destroyed with beautiful throwups and I think the artists have just given up and made it part of the whole production. Great collab!
Past, present and fresh crop, who were some of the writers that inspired you back in the day/currently and why?
I’ll keep this a local thing seeing as it is on Canberra Graffiti.
Past: SETH, SHUTE, RUDES, TRON (RIP), MGO - KOA CS Kings. I grew up admiring these dudes stuff! They always brought that Canberra original style in my books before the Sydney/New York and Euro thing exploded! To me this was the proper Canberra style! These dudes are funky as fuck! 90’s ting!
WEPON, DISK (SHRUB), MEKS (WERS) and AYRE, GAWS - ASN boys. All have style, made names in other cities and I grew up painting with these guys! I learnt a lot of skills being around them as a young buck. Much respect.
PHATS (DEOST), DROWSE, DOLLAR DIAL, FAROE - the boys from out 'Bundah way were an inspiration to me. Each held their own and were a force during the 4 Storey Empire (4SE) years. They were it in the late 90’s and 2000’s. They did a lot for Canberra Hip Hop and produced fresh work too! Special mention goes to the ‘Don Juan’ of the Canberra nightlife DOLLAR DIALS! Always kept it 100%
STOCK (SINCH) - lived in the Northside but I always loved this dude's style.
SETH KOA WD, Woden - 1991
Present: WISKE is a style don! You can’t fault this dude's commitment. He is a well rounded writer and is one of the most committed. An inspiration! Was around back then and today.
IRATE and MINE DND: these dudes although not here in Canberra today made an impact on the scene back then! Legends and well respected! Bombed with style!
HBK boys - what can I say. All city for many years and continue to kill it! Cuff-link KINE, DORESKE, IRUNINEM, CONZILLA, RBOKISM, ‘G-CODE’ BRONSON, boxa BAKUPS. TEARS man! They will go down in this scene as true Kings of the streets! Consistently killing it for over 10 years! Tags, throw-ups, pieces... they have it all! You can always count on these dudes to get the job done. All city Kings!
El PACTO PLS and oldskool master HAMS, DIE! Don’t need an introduction here! A big fan before I met them in person!
TKP crew - SKOSR, this guy smashed it and smashed others in the process lol! MORE, DIEM, funky technician KINK, No sleep Euts! Steel killers! NY flava fa days! RKOE influenced me to do that New York flava! I finally converted in the 2000’s ha! My boy DEFT! We started around the same time and went through it all together! And Don DEKS. Another close friend that produces forever freshness! He had plenty of aliases and just goes about his business. Whenever I go off track he puts me back on it! Style wise that is! They did a lot too! All Kings!!
KINK, Woden Drains - 2000's
Tell us a bit about the work you’ve done with Grandma Tuxan/Parli Funk, what’s it all about...
Myself and a friend came up with the idea to document the history of Canberra Graffiti. We connected with a lot of the old writers that once blessed the scene and was able to score rare pics, a few cool interviews and posts. Writers answered questions, gave stories, reminisced, laugh, rant and brought back the golden era of graffiti in Canberra from back in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. Thank-you to the old writers who shined for us and Shakewell Magazine for giving us the platform to deliver this. I believe the graffiti scene in Canberra hadn’t had a ‘spotlight’ like other cities as such and having something like Instagram allowed us to achieve this. And it was free!
One thing I’ll say is, a few of your prominent writers known in other cities began their craft here in Canberra before moving to the bigger cities making their names even bigger! I felt people needed to know this. I remember when I attempted (only by email) to bring a ‘BBQ burners’ event run by Ironlak to Canberra. This was because many other cities, towns including Hobart (!!!***) hosted this event. This didn’t sit right with me! No disrespect to Hobart but we have a rich graffiti history too! Whoever cared needed to know this lol! Anyway so I get a reply from Ironlak saying that maybe sometime in the future they will run the event here one day but this wasn’t meant to be unfortunately. This was another drive for me to give a spotlight on the scene.
Amongst all the good - politics and ego has always disconnected crews or individuals here. It still does, that’s just how it is but I just needed to get everyone together to make this thing happen! And it did! Not everyone would agree with it or are mad or whatever but hey that’s graffiti! Thinking back today I still would of loved to interview a few more heads back then but time has passed.
'Grandma Tuxan' documented the Canberra graffiti scene from its Beat Street beginnings to 2004. Once I felt I had documented this to the levels I was happy with and the old/true-skool run was over, I then changed the account to 'ParliFunk' to document the scene from 2004 to now to give the new-skool some shine. And it’s still plugging away today. Thanks to everyone who keeps sending in flix!
TERRY and DISE, Woden Drains - 1988
Can you tell us how you came up with the name Grandma Tuxan?
It was a name that was given to the ol’ lady who sold Tuxan shoe paints from her garage in Tuggeranong back in the 90’s. It was one of the better paints of the time and it smelt great too! There are a few pieces back then that have her name in their write ups funnily enough. She was a wholesale supplier and writers would book in a time to raid her collection. They’d flock to her house before their weekend rendezvous if they had the cash, or if their thieving abilities were 100% (slack bastards). If you were caught, you weren’t coming back to the house again. Believe that! Grandma Tuxan forever!
What's the story/deal behind Woden Drains, when did that strip become active? Who started that spot??? At what time did it become a 'legal site'? What are some memorable moments or pieces from artists passing through? I can only imagine if those walls could talk!
From memory it became legal maybe in 1998. I hear a Belconnen writer did the work to get it legal or something and claimed the wall, Understandably, this caused a bit of a stir between some Southside writers who considered themselves as the locals of that area. To cut a long story short the dilemma was sorted and then the flood gates opened for us all to paint.
Special mention to FARO PLS 4SE for making it happen! Woden has a lot of rich history, probably before it went legal you had incredible pieces being done by SHUTE and BENT. Their stuff graced the back pages of Hype Mag in the 90’s as did DEOST (PHATS) and DROWSE PLS. Their memorable burners stood the test of time looking back.
So many interstate writers visited this spot. From Melbourne and Sydney, Perth and Brisbane. DEKS and DEFT did some burners that stuck out in my mind. The TKP productions were something else ha! MINE, SYTAK and the EC boys took it to another level with proper productions. IRATE and DORE killed it down there too. Seeing PROWLA RDC down there was dope. He graced Woden in the late 80’s. Much respect!
SYTAK DND, Woden Drains
Writers off the top of my head that impressed me over the years was RKOE, WEPON, DISK, SKEW, WISKE, KIER, MGO, ROMS, PACT, HAMS, KINE, KOC boys, BONES, GOOZ, SAPH (RIP), RUNS, BRAWN, ROSKE, PUZLE, CONZ, ATOME, BASIX, FEKS, AYRE, NHS and the HBK boys. These dudes governed Woden too lol. The list goes on. So many burners and heavy letters!
I’ll mention something on the side here, Canberra writers were used to rocking up, rolling the wall and just piecing. They only had thought in executing their piece only in a way. ‘Letters only’ of course and all the fancy stuff came last, like your background and even a character ha. We had that mindset of “every man do they own thing” no one worked together imo. But I saw something in the way MINE, IRATE and SYTAK were doing things. Producing proper productions and telling a story in what they were spraying. I think this mental state pushed us locals to do things differently and taking the time to link pieces in productions. It takes a lot of work man! A lot of mind power! Everyone has to be on the same page! KIER did it with 4SE productions in a way but I reckon The EC boys did that extra level that inspired me personally!
MINE DND, Woden Drains
True Krime Passion, Woden Drains - 2010
Although the number of women entering the scene is increasing, the gender balance still swings dramatically towards men with graffiti / urban art. Have their been many active female writers/painters during your time in Canberra?
There hasn’t been a lot of female writers in our scene. I can only think of two back then who were partners of writers but I think they have been and gone now. I may be wrong? As for today I think there are a few but I ain’t entirely sure who is? Street Art has a few female artists today. Actually I think females find this more appealing than Graffiti from what I’ve seen.
You mention Grandma Tuxan selling paint from her garage as one of the ways to get supplies. And I guess there were hardware/automotive stores as well. What other brands of paint were available back then? From my personal experience with my shop, over time, new brands become available through distributors stepping up - have the brands done much to support and nurture the scene? Because I can't really see there being one without the other.
Ok brands I used was British Paints from Big W for certain colours. Plastikote from Bunnings,
K-mart had a few automotive/antique brands and the push forward ‘touch up' paints were ill. Krylon was stocked at Auto Barn and was very popular amongst writers. They had plenty of colours to choose from than your other brands. They were very expensive too because they were constantly being racked lol!
Tuxan was shoe paint and is the best smelling paint! Just very small but plenty of colours to choose from. Sprayon was similar to this also - it had similar colours in the range too. They both were made at Victorian factories in the 90's. Slightly less quality then Tuxan but still great to use.
We bought New York fat caps online or racked Tuxan nibs from shoe stores at malls to get that ‘circular spray’ for outlining our pieces and the finer details. After piecing I'd have a bowl of turps ready for my used caps to sit in so it cleared up for my next piece. If you were poor like me, you could always could rely on Clint’s stores to get the fill colours like ‘machine gun grey’ and ‘gloss black’ etc.
If you went to Sydney or Melbourne you could buy Belton and other brands and bring it to Canberra. We would hold these expensive colours dearly and would ‘drag a can out to its max’. For example I’d use a good Belton yellow to highlight/detail plenty of pieces haha. We nailed the art of maximum spray can use!
No brands supported what we did. It was all for love here! We were pretty creative when it came to using colours. Certain brands were better than other brands in the colour and we knew this. It took time and failed experiments with the can to realise this. That was all a fun process. It’s different nowadays with better paint.
Boot-sellers and retail shopfronts selling paint aside, what was the first dedicated graff store to open up in Canberra? There's only really been one hey - Writer's Block? This was before my time, tell me about it......
Yeah Writers Block was the first shop I know of besides Grandma ha! Much respect to the WB shop in Curtain during the early mid 2000’s. It inspired a lot of today’s writers. Run by two prominent dudes in our scene who did a lot for Canberra Graff and Hip Hop for that matter! Sometimes I used to go there and just chill. Eat lunch, talk shit, scream poor and ask for free tins or whatever lol! Nah it was all love from them dudes! I personally think it would be hard to run a Graff Store myself. So you doing good Sancho.
If you could share a message with the next generation of graffiti artists, what would it be?
If you have an ego, be prepared to back it up because there is always somebody around the corner knocking at your door who’s wants a crack too! Don’t get too far ahead of yourselves! Some might want to play the game like that but I’ve been around long enough to see them disappear as fast as they came up. Learn the history of Graffiti! Respect the ones that did it before you!
Also style is key! Practice your skills and techniques. There is always room for improvement. Draw, study and draw! If you want to become a hardcore bomber, please bomb with style. There is nothing worse than seeing terrible graffiti.
The original interviews on the Shakewell Magazine blog of Grandma Tuxan connecting with various Canberra writers past and present is no longer published online, but you can still get an insight into the often underrated but very active Canberra graffiti scene on the Parli-Funk Instagram account. All image content in this article has been taken from Parli-Funk.
PARLI FUNK - Graffiti in Canberra 2006-Now!