Last September, during our trip out to Copenhagen for the Half Marathon we got some quality time with Mr Daddy Dark himself, aka Charlie during the BTG afterparty thrown by the NBRO crew.
After sharing war stories of the race, and receiving some encouraging words on what we’re doing with Pavement Bound we agreed to set up some time for an Interview.
Charlie, and what he has done with Run Dem has played a big part in inspiring me personally to start my own journey with running (with similar, parallel experiences of starting at night, wrapped in the anonymous safety of darkness away from perceived judging eyes) and on a larger scale to build up the Pavement Bound community as a place to share and showcase stories….so an interview with him to find out more about his story was a big deal for us.
Tell the people who you are?
Charlie Dark, DJ, producer, writer and founder of Run Dem Crew.
Now, everyone has their own unique story about why they first started running, and how those first few KMs turned into a passion. How did this go for you?
I got commissioned to write, perform and tour a one man show about my musical career and quickly came to the conclusion that if I didn’t do something about my cardio fitness then I’d never be able to do the project justice. I didn’t have funds for the gym so running was the cheapest and easiest option and after a few failed starts I really fell in love with the whole idea of running through London at night. The sights, smells and characters I discovered came at a crucial time when I was really disillusioned with London and was looking to move to pastures new. I guess running gave me a new lease of life and a new outlook on the city.
And how did that turn into the idea of Run Dem Crew?
I was running really late at night past a train yard and someone had sprayed on the wall in blue paint ‘ I wanna be in there’ and for some reason it really resonated with me. I guess it appealed to my 80’s Graff sensibilities. My band was called Attica Blues and when we slowed down on our music making activities we kind of fell out of touch with the idea of being part of a community which I really missed. I felt disconnected from my city and pretty isolated despite being known by a tremendous amount of people and although social media was supposed to be connecting us I just felt lonely. I knew I wasn’t alone in this feeling so coupled with a desire to be part of something again the seeds for the crew were born.
The rest of the story is well documented but Run Dem is essentially a combination of many different ideas and theories. We started with five friends and grew into a movement.
What does Run Dem mean to you personally?
I’ve been lucky enough to have been part of a number of cultural movements and shifts over the years but Run Dem is the one I’m most proud of. It’s completely changed my life and a number of people who have come into contact with its energy. At times the responsibility of running such a large and well known organisation is both a gift and a curse but I wouldn’t change my position for the world. It allows me to connect with people I would never normally interact with and learn from people who I would never normally meet.I’m lucky and I feel truly blessed to have Run Dem in my life.
London is a very unique city with a rich and diverse cultural history, how do you make the most of your knowledge and history with this city to influence RDC?
Run Dem was spawned as an immediate response to the impending 2012 Olympics and the effect it would have on the community where we are based. We were sold the idea of this wonderful Olympic legacy that people were expected to embrace.I didn’t want to live in a city full of disused facilities so my initial idea was to build a community who would embrace the legacy and encourage others in the community to do the same.
RDC has a language and a style that is very London and I guess is a direct result of my own experiences and influences going up in the city. It definitely has an attitude and a confidence that makes us unique. I like to think of Run Dem as a real representation of the types of people you find in London and the way we roll. Multi cultural, intergenerational, every creed, colour and culture connected together through a love of movement.
What is the best thing being that starting up RDC has brought to you?
RDC has opened my mind up to the idea of health is wealth and how important it is to take care of your most precious procession which is the body. Strong body strong mind. It’s introduced me to a whole network of people across the globe and some life long friends. The adventures we’ve experienced over the years will go on to inform my life for a very long time
And the worst/most challenging?
There is this very British attitude that outsiders should not be allowed to flourish especially when they come to the table with new and unconventional ideas. The criticism of Run Dem from some of the more traditional running organisations is discouraging at times, especially as at the end of the day I’d like to think we are both trying to reach the same objective which is getting people moving and enjoying the idea of running.
The most challenging part of the RDC is maintaining it’s individuality and not being swallowed up by the very attitudes it was set up to combat. We often start things as an act of rebellion but when the establishment comes calling its easy to loose track of your original objectives.
What do you think is the most interesting thing happening in the global street running culture right now?
The influence of other subcultures and the willingness of the scene to embrace new ideas around movement and training. The forward thinking crews are incorporating strength and flexibility into their routines now. People are really exploring the idea of what it means to be urban athlete as opposed to just being a runner and it’s exciting to see the discoveries being shared.
What does BTG mean to you?
In simple words it means family. Global not local. People from across the world coming together to build in peace. It’s a testament to the simplicity and beauty of the idea that it has been embraced by so many people. The highlights are obvious but the small moments when you find yourself in conversation with someone from another crew away from the noise are really special.
How did your relationship with Bridge Runners start?
My good friend Acyde who i’ve known from 19 long time hipped me to Mike and the Bridge Runners in the very early days of Run Dem. We shared mutual friends involved with Supreme so when I started the crew I thought it polite to reach out to Mike and make him aware that we were doing something similar. We both come from the old school Hip Hop era where originality is everything. It was only polite for me to reach out but it didn’t initially go to plan. My emails and Myspace messages went answered for almost 6 months and then one day I got a mail simply stating the names and PB’s of his top members. It made me smile so much and really reminded me of some old school Hip Hop battle vibe and from then on I knew Mike was the real deal. What you have to understand is that Mike was under no obligation to share his idea with the world and not many people would have been as open to sharing their vision with the universe. He basically put his foot in the door and allowed a ton of people to roll through onto bigger and better things.
My first Bridge Runners run was a baptism of fire and it made me realise how important it was for crews to bring their own spin to the movement to broaden its appeal. There is no point in having a movement of crews that are all carbon copies of each other and no crew in the world runs like Bridge Runners. The landscape of New York alone with it’s leg burning bridges can not be replicated anywhere else in the world. If you don’t believe me go try and PB at the New York Marathon and see what the rolling hills of Central Park have in store for you when you are gasping for air and desperate for the finish line.
Over the years Mike has become one of my firm friends and we share many mutual friends from the music, fashion and street culture days of old. I like how his mind thinks and his endless energy, the unofficial mayor of New York who never sleeps. Every movement needs a maverick to lead the way and in Mike and the Bridge Runners we have something truly special.
We notice more and more street runners are experimenting with trail running, ultras and other sports, what’s your view on this trend – you yourself seem to have a passion for multiple sports.
Running is the key that opens the doors to cardio and cardio opens the door to the confidence to try other disciplines. I feel people are also realising the importance of cross training to prevent injury especially with all of the big characters in the movement who have never returned from injury.
Eventually you end up in a cycle of training for the same races and distances and it can get boring. At the end of the day there are only so many marathon medals you can accumulate before you start to look for something new to keep the interest fresh.
Personally I have to switch it up to keep my body on its toes. I’m not in my twenties anymore so if I want to keep up with the front of the pack I have to train wisely to maximise my potential and more importantly recovery.
What are your personal running goals for 2016 and beyond?
At mile 18 of the New York Marathon I said to myself never again but then Mile 21 made me forget the thought so now who knows what the future has in store. I’ll definitely be organising some of my own races as I still feel there are a lack of events that really cater to the way that people run in crews and aside from the New York Half and what Still Waters are doing there isn’t really anything else that appeals to the movement . We need more of our own events for sure.
Goal wise I’ve always wanted to do an epic run and raise a load of big boy money for a great cause. I have unfinished business with a couple of half marathons but basically I just want to stay healthy and prolong my running career for as long as possible.
What’s your favourite running related product or item?
I still love my Nike Fuel band and it hasn’t left my wrist since it first dropped but my current obsession is the Tom Tom Bandit action camera. I feel that the recording of runs and the making of mini films is going to become more common and the TomTom works really well especially with the instant editing and sharing features. I like the Go Pro but this just feels more comfy in the hand and easier to use. I love that I can film a run and instantly edit and share it on the run. It might sound like a small step but for someone who has come to running with a skateboarding background the filming side of the movement really excites me. I love all of the slick slow mo running stuff but I’m excited to see if the future can bring a little more energy.
We couldn’t let you go without talking about music…what do you train to?
As a dj and producer tempo has never dictated what I train or run to but attitude and sentiment is definitely important. I like to choose music according to where I’m training almost as if it’m soundtracking the run. Currently I’m listening to a ton of Grime and ideas for new Attica Blues tracks alongside this awesome composer called Nils Frahm. I’m late to the whole Drake fascination but I find the introspectiveness of his lyrics great for the marathon miles. At the end of the day I like music that takes me on a journey, a sonic adventure. I’m trying to teach myself to run without solo without music again as I never race with music these days.
You can read the rest of our PB INTERVIEWS series here.