Article: Brett Chan

“Back then we weren’t making a living…we were making a lifestyle” – Brett Chan


Trunk Junk: So… art, film, music, skateboarding…

Brett: Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Some hard hitting journalism.

Trunk Junk: I don’t know man, how deep do you want to go?

Brett: Fucking all the way bro. Until it loops back on itself and we arrive in another dimension.

Trunk Junk: That would be quite something. Let’s do it…

Let’s take a stroll through the fat folds of time, back to a point in history when the fair land of New Zealand had not undergone the technological advancements of the 90’s and early 2000’s. The likes of mobile phones and the Internet were yet to take up residence as an obsession in the minds of millions and, more importantly, skateboards were yet to evolve from single kicks to the models we are familiar with today.

During the late 70’s to early 80’s, tucked away in the backyard of a North Island household, skating up a storm on a shoddily home-made mini ramp, ollie-ing over an over hanging lemon tree, once existed the childhood version of Mr. Brett Chan.

Brett grew up in the adjusting and adapting era of the 80’s, living the dream of the jump ramp era. At the time, Brett and the rest of his crew were adopting a chain of thought that was more so shunned by society than accepted – the thought that skateboarding and all the creativity that surrounds the sport could eventually translate into an accepted and sustainable lifestyle.

“I think, with in our society, anything that is not the so called ‘norm’ is ridiculed or discarded really quickly. However, like any minority, the smaller you are the louder the noise that you’re going to make because you’re really trying to make your mark,” commented Brett.

The crew  had continued on in their anti-establishment manner, unknowingly establishing a bigger picture that would one day see skateboarding re-take the world by storm. However, it was still the early stages of this particular movement and Brett would go on to explore many other creative outlets, as Brett began to entertain an interest in film:

“When I was a kid we used to skate on a reservoir up the road from my house. There were man hole things that you could do little wheelies and shit on. We started filming our skating back then using what was called a ‘portable’ camera. Imagine putting your video cassette player in a shoulder bag, with a giant cord and a TV camera attached to it. Back then you had to rest the camera on your shoulder when you were using it and that’s only got to be about twenty years ago. So it’s not like I’m talking 200 years ago. That was how I first started filming. Through skateboarding I learned to document everything.”

So he continued skating, filming, and running a “muck”. What else was this generation of so called misfits supposed to do with their time? School drooled and as a teenager, independence was defined by the length of one’s stride. So he kept skating towards what he saw the future to be. Determination was set in Brett’s ways, as he went to all lengths possible to do nothing, but skateboarding:

“My mother understood what I was up to, but my father didn’t. He was from a generation where he successfully went from packing boxes to owning the company. He shredded it and that’s the way you did it back then. However, my generation was mostly about doing nothing; slacker shit. The attitude was: what ever, I don’t give a fuck. I was skating and I didn’t care, but it wasn’t only my father who didn’t understand it. A lot of people my own age didn’t understand it. Probably because I would go to the beach all the time and I was on the dole.”

Soon enough the idea of living off a skate-orientated career would quickly become an inextinguishable notion. The times had changed.  This ‘minority’ gained momentum in numbers and with popularity came a voice for the industry, which began to appear in the form of today’s leading brands. During this period Brett became an advocate for the iconic skate company Element, further proving that skating full time could potentially provide a living:

“I used to skate for Element. Essentially I was employed by them to represent their shit and to progress their image. You’re backing them as much as they’re backing you. It’s cool now seeing guys these days killing it on a world wide level and sustaining fairly epic lifestyles; where as in my life time we got free boards, travel and product. Back then we weren’t making a living, but we were making a lifestyle.”

In the meanwhile the turbulent times of the 80’s were rubbing off on Brett. Music icons continued to inspire movements. One particular musician rousing the globe, was Michael Jackson. When Brett was a teenager he crossed paths with the MJ experience in Bay of Plenty in New Zealand ,after which a realisation came to life in him:

“I was on holiday with my family at the time. Before the show there was a half hour special where they played the making of the Thriller music video by John Landis, and then the actual video. I remember dancing backwards down the streets after because that’s how psyched I was. I was really young, but that’s when I thought to myself, you can do all this shit. Michael sung it, wrote it and helped direct it. That was the bad ass thing about MJ, he paid for all the bad ass shit that he wanted to do. He wanted John Landis because John made American Werewolf in London. He wanted all the dudes who did all the effects and then they became legends from that.”

Jump to the year 2012, and you will find a well-travelled, accomplished artist standing in place of the young kid from New Zealand, not less the ambitious outlook on life. Now living in Bondi, Sydney, Brett has come a long way and has since spent his time riding the end of a trend setting wave in art.

Brett’s honest style struck a cord and he made appearances in all sorts of exhibitions and projects consisting of both solo and collective efforts. It is this same style and outlook that generated relationships with the likes of Anthony Lister:

“I was always interested in divinity and that’s obviously what a lot of artwork is based on. Mathematics is the language of the universe and so a visual portrayal of that language is geometry. This is why I call my style ‘Future Primitive’; not only because that was an OG Powell video, but it is the description of something that is so simple, such as a line that is able to be put into a fractal form, which can produce the visual representation of a language that is defined by mathematics.”

In 2012 , Brett was pulled in a new, but not completely foreign direction when he launched his first ever music project. After a year of  producing the feature song called ‘Gunslinger and the Girl’, Brett described the experience as symbolising the next biggest step for him:

“The recording of Gunslinger and the Girl was squeezed into a moment when some friends were running a recording session in Vienna People studios. While they were on a break I asked if I could make a beat, recording it just as it came out. So I got to record the lyrics once, using auto tune because I can’t sing at all! Technology saved the day.”

‘Gunslinger and the Girl’ was Brett’s chance to combine art, film-making, writing, directing, acting, singing, music making and collaborating; it just needed to be given wind. Brett had to find someone with the ability to create a visual version in order to complete the project and he would be half way to realising his latest pursuit:

“I went away from that session having secretly created something that I had always wanted to do, but had never had the opportunity to achieve. Now I just had to bring it to life. While at a party at Chima Ferguson’s house I took my homie Jason Morice aside and, over a long neck, asked him if he wanted to use his CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) talent for the greater good of mankind.”

Jason agreed and, after a year of collaborating and working on the ‘Gunslinger and the Girl’, they presented their work at Brett’s exhibition, ‘Rescue the Future’, hosted by the China Heights Gallery in Surry Hills, Sydney. The show was a praiseworthy creative stab, though the response Brett was really hoping for didn’t come until a year later:

“After the film was out, Michael McGlynn, the owner of Vienna People, got back in touch with me. He saw the film on Vimeo and thought it was epic. He wanted to get me back in to do some more recording. Of course, because I reckon that everything I do is secretly awesome and for the good of man, I had already been writing new songs all year so I was ready for the call. I’ve now created a band or collective of people called ‘Quantum Force’. We work on  everything together including the film parts, and have gone back into recording with Vienna to produce an album.”

Brett continues to approach life with the intention to make as much impact on his surroundings as possible. After following a pattern of trends that Brett concludes he was naturally drawn to, he has arrived at what he believes will attribute to the story of his life, a legacy to be translated by future generations:

“I remember the things that were considered cult or outsider when I was younger, but also seeing these people or groups making cool shit happen on a certain level. That’s when I thought to myself that my thinking and my ideas are not wrong; I’m always pushing an idea. In my life I have been fortunate enough that skateboarding became popular and then art became popular and I was already involved in those scenes. I’ve never seen them as professions and I’m not trying to make it, I’m trying to make the work. I’m more interested in this being my life rather than my job.”


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© Jonathan Boonzaaier 2016