From the shores of Yaam to the back alleys of downtown Berlin, the underground street art movement in Germany has never been hotter. Recently, we had the chance to hang out with the enigmatic SAM Crew, a collective of street artists throwing up some of the coolest murals in our city, and were treated to a rare insider’s look at how they make their mark. Scaling the scaffolding with them as they put the finishing touches on a four-story wall in the Wedding borough, we saw first hand how these guys operate like true after-hours teammates — working together on every project, each crew member adds his own mark to the piece. Their aesthetic, which combines illustrated figures, typography and cryptic structures, is perhaps one of the most recognisable in the city.
After several hours weathering some serious heights, we sat down with the guys for an oral history of SAM Crew and why exactly Berlin is the epicentre of street-art cool.
PUMA SOCIAL: Who are SAM Crew?
SAM Crew: The current members are John Reaktor, Hazard Hope, Duke Cuke, Billo and Fogel Junge. The classic graffiti writers and forming members are Kain, Zink and Big Daddy Nec.
PS: How did SAM Crew get started?
SC: The SAM Crew started 10 years ago as a ‘traditional’ graffiti gang in Schwerin. The graffiti business here is big game, and you need to risk a lot to be ‘successful’. Some of us did traditional pieces, bombings and roll-ups, but John Reaktor did things another way. He painted a new illustrative style, used untypical surfaces and hidden places. He got into the young, growing network of Berlin’s urban artists and began to create the street art section of SAM Crew, recruiting new members. We’re related by our collective passion, our aesthetic philosophy and the faith that acting in a crew gives better potential for great work, like a baseball team or a rock band.
PS: Berlin is a really vibrant city for street art. What's it like being involved in the culture here?
SC: It’s a paradise. There’s a possibility of personal fulfilment here, and it’s the place with the best vibrations in Germany – we’ve got cool spots, ruins, a nice infrastructure. There are many people with a similar philosophy, but ‘exotic’ lifestyles give the city a unique taste!
PS: How has Berlin's street culture changed since you started?
SC: I guess we got into street art about five to seven years ago, when Berlin’s urban art movement was at its peak. It was a time in which some (mostly east Berlin) artists changed their style in innovative ways. They broke with the tradition of hip-hop-style writing and entered new forms and mediums. It was a great time; you saw revolutionary pictures every day. We guess this was the zenith that gave Berlin its image. The movement has gone mainstream in the last few years. On the one hand this is cool, but on the other hand we’ve got lots of arbitrary crap, which doesn’t give a f--- about Berlin’s tradition.
PS: What is the future of street art in Berlin?
SC: Theoretically, you need to unite street art and graffiti in the term ‘urban art,’ because in practise it is one. It’s standard for many youngsters to express themselves artistically, like they do with skateboarding or music. Graffiti has a relatively long and extreme tradition in Berlin. It will only die out when society radically changes, so street art as an intelligent version of graffiti will survive as long as people are open minded. Never forget that urban art existed even in Pompeii 2000 years ago!
A history lesson from street artists? Only in Berlin. Tell us about your city’s street art culture in the comments!
Top two photos courtesy of SAM Crew. Bottom photo courtesy of Louise Brailey.