One miserable Melbourne winter day we decided to give Niche a call in sunny California and see how he was going. If you’re a local you might be familiar with Niche’s art from when he was running with the infamous 70K crew who consistently and systematically terrorised Melbourne’s transit system in the early noughts. Now based out of the US Niche is still putting in work, if you’ve seen his recent pieces you can see a passion for graffiti in its purest form. He paints simple letters that drip with style, executed quickly with no frills or flourishes. We took some time to reminisce about the past, and look forward to where it’s all heading.
Can you introduce yourself for us?
My pretend name that I write on stuff is Niche VTS NR. It’s a bit weird saying my fake name, but whatever
Is it weird to say out loud?
Yeah, people don’t call me that, and I don’t talk about graffiti a lot either so it’s weird to talk about out loud. It’s not really a topic of conversation amongst my friends and myself, it’s just some thing that I do.
How’d you get introduced to graffiti? Where did it start?
Well back when it was big in the late eighties was when I started. Back in ’89 when I was a little kid in primary school a couple of kids from school showed it to me, and I discovered rap music and all that sort shit at the same time. It just kind of started from there. Maybe I have some compulsive tendencies or something because I’ve just stuck with it for this long.
Do you think there’s an OCD side to it?
For sure. I’ll sit there and make stickers for like four hours doing the same tag over and over non-stop and not even notice that the time has gone by.
Do you need that outlet?
I don’t know, as the years have gone by there’s time that I do a lot and times where I won’t do anything for weeks or months. It’s weird, the inspiration will come and go, and lately it’s been back. I’m busy with other shit now as well, I’m not a teenager anymore with infinite time to run around and do shit.
You’re from Melbourne originally right?
I grew up there, and I left when I was about twenty-one and went and lived in Ireland for a while and then moved back, then moved over here. So since 2000 I’ve only been there for a year and half or so. It’s been a while.
And you were painting with the 70K guys in Melbourne back then?
Pretty much the time that I lived in Melbourne was the time that that was all going on, so that short little period was the time that I was living there.
How did you get down with those guys?
Well I knew Stan, he travelled a lot so we actually met overseas. When I came back I didn’t really have any friends in Australia anymore, you know the people that I grew up with I didn’t really talk to anymore. So they were like the only guys that I knew, and we all just kind of came together as a group of people and somehow came up with a name for ourselves and started running around writing it on things. It all happened very fast and we were very productive, and well you know what happened after that.
During that time period in the early 2000’s when you were painting with 70K did you have any sense that it was all going to fall apart like that?
Eventually they’re going to come looking for you. When regular fucking pedestrian-ass people recognise the name, and know the name, that’s when they’re going to come looking. The city got pretty saturated with that name, so it was only really a matter of time. Plus, a couple of the guys did some things that I’m sure pissed the authorities off a lot and that probably didn’t help. But that’s par for the course, you can’t do this shit and not expect it. It’s only a matter of time before something happens.
Was that always the ambition? To be recognised on that level?
No. We were just a bunch of guys who liked hanging out together and it just happened that we all wrote graffiti as well. It wasn’t really a thing, like WUFC and SDK and MOA and those sort of guys all run around and their goal is to get that name really big, but for us it was just our group of friends.
Do you have any regrets from that time period?
No. Not really. I should have done more, I’m sure if I had of drank less I would have done more.
How much has your approach to graffiti changed since those days?
I still love it and it’s fun and everything, but I don’t sit there and look at pictures on the Internet all day and really nerd out on it anymore. I don’t follow it, like I don’t know what’s popular anymore. I know what some of my friends are doing, like a talk to Rime and he’s always off travelling and doing crazy shit. There’s so many paint companies and just weird shit, it’s like fucking pro-skateboarding or something. I don’t really keep up with any of that stuff, I’m out of the loop, and I don’t know what’s cool anymore.
Is that a conscious effort on your behalf though?
There’s just so much going on, where do you start? I wouldn’t even know what websites have graffiti that’s worth looking at. I might go on one or two blogs, or occasionally Tumblr but really unless it’s posted on fucking Instagram I’m probably not going to see it. I haven’t been to a shop that sells graffiti stuff for years. It’s not really a conscious thing, it’s just that I have other shit going on now. I’ll paint my stuff and if people think it’s cool, whatever. What people are doing now is just way beyond what I’m doing. I was looking at those guys like Vltraboys and those dudes, and what they’re doing is fucking crazy. I’m totally out of the loop on that, dudes are getting really technical and I’m not near doing anything like that. I still like simple graffiti.
What’s pushing you? Why do you keep painting?
Maybe I’ve just been doing it for so long, it just becomes like who I am or something? That sounds weird to say but I’ve done it for so fucking long it’s just like why stop? Guys like Twist and Os Gemeos are pretty old are still doing it, so I guess I can too. I used to think that the age would come where I was past it, but people stay younger older now so I think it’s okay to be in your thirties or forties and still write graffiti. And it’s still fun, so fuck it. It’s fun to walk around the streets with your friends and write your name on shit, that’s never going to stop being fun.
Do you think that elements of graffiti culture are so accessible that it’s almost become bigger than itself?
Yeah it’s a lot like skateboarding where people like it, but they don’t want it around them. Like people watch skating on TV and think that it’s cool but they don’t want kids grinding their curb out the front of their house. It’s like it’s a nuisance but its still really popular and accepted. It’s weird for me to see Rime who pretty much lives on the road and paints, that’s his career, he’s a professional graffiti writer and that blows my mind. It’s crazy that there are people who can do that now.
Is that something you could see yourself doing?
God no, I would get so burnt out on it. It just wouldn’t be fun for me. Those guys, they’ll spend a whole day or two days painting a piece on a wall. Anything longer than two hours and I’m over it, I like it to be fast and dirty, in and out. I couldn’t do what they’re doing, spending all their time and pushing it and innovating new things, that’s not what I’m interested in at all.
So what do you do with yourself now?
Well it’s summer, so I spend more time going to work, drinking, and hanging out with my girlfriend than anything. That’s pretty much what my days consist of now. At nights lately I try and write more graffiti, because I know I’ve been slacking off big time. I’m trying not to be a lazy bastard, I really need to do something because I’m going to die one day. So it’s like fuck, I better do it now.
You say you have to, or that you’ve been slacking off, but it’s not like anyone is going to hold you accountable for that. I mean it’s still a choice on your behalf.
I guess so. I know my friends like seeing my graffiti, and people like it. So I want to do it because I like it, and I feel good when I do it, and I feel accomplished when I do it. And I know that my friends want me to do it, and I want them to do it so I can enjoy their graffiti. It’s that give and take. I just feel lazy if I’m not doing it. I know no one is holding me accountable for it, but if I don’t do it for myself I feel like I’m slacking off and I should be doing more.
Could you see yourself stopping?
I don’t know. I feel like I’ll always be doing something. I feel like if I don’t, then I go back to just being nobody. I go back to being like everyone else, and I don’t want to be like everyone else. It makes me different from most people, and I’ve done it for so long and I’ve got good at it. When I was a little kid I really really wanted to be good at graffiti, and then I got good at and it’s like am I just going to stop now?
What’s your ideal situation to paint?
The most fun thing is just having a marker in your pocket and walking around. The thing I like most about doing this is writing my name with marker on something. I mean I like the finished product of a piece, but the actual process of painting it I don’t find very enjoyable. I like doing throwups and I like doing tags, that’s what’s fun. Painting a piece, I just paint really fast and then it’s done, because I just want to see what it’s like at the end. I don’t want to care about the process.
Do you think you can translate that dogmatic approach to other areas of your life?
It definitely translates to my approach to drinking for sure. I want to do graphic design, and I think that a lot of graffiti stuff would translate to that, and I’d get kind of creative outlet through that. So hopefully my obsessiveness at being good at something will translate to that, and I’ll be able to have that same recognition and success in that field under my real name.
Do you want to come out from behind the name?
I like the fact that I’m invisible right now, that’s cool. One of the things I first liked about it from when I was a kid was the mystery. As you get older you meet more people and you see how the sausage is made, and it turns you off a little bit. One of the things that first attracted me to it was that I didn’t know who was behind the names on the wall. I like that mystery.
I guess we’re seeing a shift away from that with these celebrity-style writers…
Oh yeah, you can put a face to a name so easily for a lot of people. I feel like even though people are putting their face out there, it’s not necessarily easier to convict someone for graffiti. It’s like yeah there’s a picture on the Internet, and this is that person’s face, but where did it happen? When did it happen? The actual nuts and bolts of getting in trouble for graffiti is a lot more complicated than people think, so putting your face and name out there doesn’t necessarily translate into jail time. The fact of the matter is for you to get convicted of anything, you have to be caught red handed, and printing a bunch of shit out from the internet doesn’t make a case for a fucking cop.
I think some people just aren’t really concerned, and especially for people like Revok, I mean I guess it sucks going to jail but I’m sure that leads to more jobs and more notoriety. That’s how I feel a lot of people are right now. It’s like rappers, you got to jail and it just makes you a bigger name with more money. I think graffiti writers are seeing that and saying fuck it. It’s not just about writing your name on the wall anymore, it’s about building a brand.
Do you think you’ll always be in the shadows that way?
I don’t have that desire for it to be my job, so I’m not really trying that hard. My goal at the end of the day isn’t for you to be able to go to the mall and buy a t-shirt with my name on it. At least not this name. That’s not really my concern, I just want to dick about with my friends and have fun. That’s what it comes down to.