It is great when people manage to realize their dreams. We first heard about PACCBET (pronounced “rassvet”) when we were out in Moscow working on our “Project Russia” issue. While there we met both Gosha Rubchinskiy and Tolia, the latter told us about their idea to create a new brand next to the Gosha Rubchinskiy brand.
Now we all hear people talking about creating something of their own but not many manage to actually do it. Especially in the way that PACCBET had its start with an event at Dover Street Market. If you are aware of Gosha’s work you probably know that it is important to him to observe and create his own moods, departing from this point he manages to develop his work. Because Tolia and Gosha have known each other for quite some time they also know how to create and work together, navigating between different moods and in the end creating PACCBET, a brand to watch.
Watch the PACCBET promo bellow and click here to read our “Project Russia” interviews with both Gosha and Tolia.
Welcome to Moscow. As we walked out of the metro station towards the Absurd office, we found ourselves in the kind of Russian surroundings otherwise only shown on TV: A landscape dominated by a general brown and greyness accentuated by melting snow and mud-splattered automobiles. Maybe this was the Russia I had been hoping for, I thought, but as soon as we walked through the doors of a nondescript building hoping to visit the office of Absurd Skateboards, the atmosphere changed.
This place looked official. The front office seemed like a cross between the waiting room at your local dentist and the airport customs area. As it turned out, the latter wasn’t that far from the truth. To enter the property, we had to hand over our passports and in return we received something similar to a visa. Once we all got our paperwork in order, we were allowed to walk through a little metro type gate and out through a backdoor. Talk about Russian experiences…
The feeling I got when I saw what was behind that door was like falling through Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole. We had left behind the customs officers in the dentist’s office and found ourselves in a completely different world; a world dominated by red brick buildings, asphalt, red mud, and a cacophony of sounds. We walked about 100 meters toward an old building that looked like your typical dusty abandoned factory, and knocked on the door.
A Strange Reality
Soon enough, we were welcomed by Kirill Korobkov from Absurd Skateboards. He opened a wooden door, ushered us into the factory, and we proceeded to walk up not one, but five flights of stairs. We where all breathing heavily! We turned left into a hallway with old Soviet message boards on the wall, only to witness Kirrill stop at one of the many uniform-looking doors, he put the key in the lock, and welcome us into a clean white office. It’s safe to say that at this point, I was in a “what the fuck did I just experience” kind of state.
As we got used to our surroundings, Kirrill started to tell us something about his skateboarding company:
“Absurd was started about six years ago by former Russian skate photographer Lev Maslov and Absurd team rider Gosha Konyshev. They got together to create Absurd during a time when the Russian skate industry was slowly developing. Russian skaters stopped skating for American brands and started their own companies. By doing this, they created an industry that has a particular Russian vibe instead of trying to fit in with an already existing brand. They created their own brand to fit their style.”
Kirrill continued: “In line with that idea, our art direction is partly done by people like Pascha Kuznetsov, Gosha Konyshev, Lev Maslov and some friends of the brand. Everybody on the team contributes something to the company; from the graphics, social media to getting the boards shipped – we all work together in one way or another.”
Kirrill gave us a quick tour around the office, so we checked out the different board shapes and graphics. One thing that caught my eye was that, within all the Russian lettering, I could still read the Absurd logo. Kirrill explained: “The name Absurd is written the same in Cyrillic and the basic Latin alphabet. It wasn’t planned that way, but we are happy with the way it turned out. We don’t need to translate anything and we don’t need to change the name depending on the country.” All over Russia, the brand has been picking up in the years that Kirrill has been with the company: “The Russian skate scene really supports us. Over the last few years, everything has consistently sold out. We’ve got costumers in 60 different cities spread all over Russia; from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad. There is always something to improve, but we are doing well.”
The videos, which you need to YouTube, also help in building an image and personality around the brand: “As for the videos we are trying to do something different, something experimental. There are new videos coming out every day so why would you do the same thing,” said Kirrill.
As the tour went on, we all took turns looking out of the window at what lay outside beneath us. “Would you like to go for a walk?” Kirrill proposed. The obvious answer was YES.
So we walked back down the stairs, through the door and back onto this immense industrial site.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a place that looked more like a movie set. Big windows looking into rooms with old machinery lit by a single light bulb, dark streets that reminded me of the Godfather movies, and people sitting in random rooms smoking cigarettes waiting for their break to be over. At the same time, it was starting to become obvious that our crew must appear totally out of the ordinary. We were basically acting like children on their first visit to Disneyland. In the midst of all this excitement, I asked Kirrill if he knew anything about the history of this place:
“These grounds are home to one of the biggest still existing ex-Soviet factories. It was built in the 1930s during the Stalin-era. These factories produced the large machinery for power plants. The oldest part of the factory grounds is a particularly interesting place because of the special type of architecture. It’s one of the last remaining examples of Soviet industrial architecture of the 1930s. I think this factory was once the number one factory in Russia. Now things have changed. The factory itself is still in production but it’s much smaller. There are a lot of empty spaces for rent. These spaces are popular amongst artist, musicians and other small companies like us.”
Even though we were in Moscow, I said, I got the strange feeling like we could have been standing in one of the old parts of New York or Manhattan. It’s almost like we found a time machine and as soon as we stepped trough the portal, we entered another dimension.
“It’s probably the architecture of that time that reminds you of some of the famous buildings in Manhattan. They were built around the same time, even though the Cold War tension had started. I feel like they inspired each other’s architecture. The oldest part of the factory is a really interesting place, you can still feel the Soviet vibe over there. I’m happy that we [at Absurd] moved our business here about two years ago. I enjoy being here even when I’m not working. It’s a space that evokes thought and inspires you. I’m happy that the government realizes the historic value of this place and decided to declare it as a monument.”
We walked into a building that on the one side had all the features of a marble palace but also had hallways that reminded you of Bladerunner or maybe even Aliens 3. As good tourists, we were filming and taking photos of anything and everything that crossed our path. People started to take more notice of our crew and as we exited the building, we were confronted first by a guy that told us that taking photos was prohibited. We then walked for about five meters and a second guy showed up. This was turning into a situation. As it turned out, he was an important person. And he aggressively spoke to Kirril. To make a long story short: after about five minutes we were advised by Kirril to go back to the office, take our stuff, and leave the premises before we would get in some real trouble. We all hurried, through the door, up the stairs into the office to grab our stuff and get the heck out of there. Some people you just don’t want to argue with…
When we walked out of the main door and onto the street, we kept on walking for about three minutes, before we looked at each other and said: “Well, that was sketchy!” But also: “Wow, how beautiful was that place?! What a crazy experience!”
The conversation went on like this until we got back to our apartment. We were happy. We had gotten what we came for – and more. We also got our first glimpse into another side of Russia.
Any conversation about Russia and its youth culture these days is bound to include Gosha Rubchinskiy. It’s inevitable. He’s considered one of the most exciting streetwear designers of the day – with collections in haute stores such as Dover Street Market and Tres Bien – as well as an influential photographer. His work is without a doubt a reason why the fashion world is looking East for fresh ideas. His approach consists of an authentic mix of real life situations unfolding around him, captured in a Soviet aesthetic and told in a Russian accent. Skateboarding always plays a major part in Gosha’s imagery and its focus on showing teenagers on the streets in their natural environment. Most of the teenagers don’t even know about their power and their style, which is what inspires Gosha and makes the results appear so real. It’s just normal life, caught with an open mind.
We’ve had the pleasure to meet Gosha in his own Moscow neighborhood, in between bar hopping and walking around from one club to another. To no surprise, he turned out to be a friendly guy who likes to share his story. And it was also impressive to find out that he is taking care of his friends a lot and that he has such a strong belief in a romantic idea of community.
Interview by Benni Markstein
How did you get started with photography? What is your background?
Initially, I started photography in my school years just for fun. I just shot my friends with basic film cameras. It was nothing special. During college, I took some photography lessons and learned how to use mirror film cameras. I studied fashion, styling, hair dressing and some make-up. I always had a need to document my work, so I had to learn more about photography because I had to present it. I learned that it is always better to have a complete project. When I started my fashion project, I started to use my photography for it, since I knew how to develop film. But anyway, I was already taking pictures of my friends my entire life, for example while going out or skating.
Your new book Youth Hotel just launched. Please tell us something about making that book.
There is a hotel in Moscow from the ‘80s that was built for the Olympic Games for the youth and young sportsmen. It’s a strange building with 28 floors in a real Soviet mood and feel. One day a friend of mine, who is a stylist, came to Moscow and she wanted to stay in a strange hotel. So we chose this one as I also wanted to take a look inside and see what’s going on there. It was very interesting, so we rented a room, spent some time there, invited some friends and had some parties there. It’s very empty, so we had the entire floor for us, played some music, danced and also we could smoke. During these parties I shot some pictures there. My friends of IDEA Books, who also made my last book Crimea / Kids, asked me to do something new and asked if I had something for them. I said yes and told them that I have some great outtakes from my Youth Hotel series that we could use. I mixed these pictures with last year’s cool pictures that I never used. I think the name Youth Hotel is very romantic. Youth is such a short period of time in your life that you spend shortly.
You mentioned that you had unused photographs you were able to use. Do you feel that different outlets are also important to realize different ideas in your work?
Photography for me is like a diary. It’s about documenting. I see something and when I think it’s interesting I shoot some faces or some outfits or some boys wearing something in a good way. Afterwards, I can use it for inspiration in my new collections. It’s always interesting to document some energy, or some moods, and to look back for some inspiration.
Please describe the overall image and aesthetic you are aiming to create.
I see something interesting here in Moscow, in Russia. My friends are doing interesting things that I always wanted to show to other Russian people, and also internationally. It doesn’t matter if it’s through photography, or films, or fashion – those are just different ways to show it. For me, it is always about showing things that are happening in Moscow and what is interesting and what is our mood.
The Moscow mood?
Moscow, or Russian, or my Gosha mood – I don’t know! It’s all about the same things told through different outlets. But what is it? I don’t know, it’s my vision; it’s different things that I think are great. If I think this guy is great, or this building, or this landscape is great, I want to show it to people.
And if people don’t like it?
Anyway, I like reactions. It’s a good thing when people react because it’s bad when people don’t care about you. I like bad reactions like: “What the hell is he doing?!” I like that.
What’s your background in skateboarding? Do you still skate?
I’m not, like, a big skater. I started when I was 22 years old. During my school years I never had friends that skated and I was really focused on art, sitting at home and drawing. Later I met some people that skated, not too crazy just in a basic way. Sometimes I go skating but I’m very busy right now and you only have a few months during the year to skate in Moscow. I’m not professional enough to go to indoor skate parks in the wintertime. Also, every year it’s a challenge to kind of start skating again and again. It’s always like stepping on your board for the first time. Anyway, I try to remember how it works.
For me it’s a about the romantic of being a teenager having time to go skate in the streets to escape problems.
Some people still live this life, people who used to do it since they were teenagers. I like to go skate on sunny days in summer and to watch others doing good tricks, to cruise around and take some pictures.
I guess you have many friends that skate, then?
Yeah yeah, it’s a big community with friends, and their friends! When I met these guys for the first time around eight years ago, I thought wow, this is really cool and it is something so true and strong. These guys are really interesting people, the most interesting guys in Russia are from the skate community. Because it mixes guys from different areas: some football fans, some musicians, some Hip Hop dancers, and graffiti guys – they all skate together. Skateboarding is the connection. If you want to meet cool dudes it’s easy to find them in the skate community. For me, it was like fresh air when I met skateboarders for the first time and every year new and cool people become part of the community.
Do you see similarities between skating and fashion? And do you get inspired from skating?
Yes, of course. Normal life always inspires me. I can be inspired by some cool 15 year old guy coming to the spot for the first time because he has some weird style and I will use it for my collection. It works this way for me; one guy can inspire the whole collection. I met Kevin Rodrigues in Paris who has a very cool style – he is really inspiring. Everybody around him is now wearing the same style as him and this is how it works.
How did that connection with Kevin happen and is he your new muse?
First of all, I’m checking what’s going on in the skate world and of course I saw him many times in videos and I liked his style. The first time I met him was in London through a Converse presentation. And when I saw him in real life I thought he was an interesting guy, and that I would like to know him more. Six month later we met again in Paris at Place de la République because we have some friends in common. So we started hanging out, drinking beer, and he was like “Oh, you’re from Russia! That’s cool, we love Russian people.” So we became friends from the first day. It’ the same with Ben Kadow from the US, how they look and how they skate is something I really like.
Crimea / Kids (2014)
What do you think is are the differences between the Moscow scene compared to other cities?
I think the main difference is the places to skate because of the weather and the winter. In Moscow, people have to do all the things they like to do during the summer period because in the wintertime everybody starts to become lazy. I think that’s the main difference between Russia and other countries. But besides that, I think in terms of the community, friendships, and skateboarding – everywhere is the same around the world. That’s because it’s so easy if you go to Paris, or to China, and meet some people at the spot, it’s the same connection.
Many people pay attention to my work and that’s why I need to use it to show the good things about Russia.
At one time you said that you would like to change people’s perception of Russia through your work. Is that true?
Yeah, it’s one of my ideas that I want to show Russia the way I see it. I think I have my own vision and I want to show it because it’s hard to imagine how it is if you don’t live here. I have power and the ways to show it – so that’s why I need to use it. Many people pay attention to my work and that’s why I need to use it to show the good things about Russia. Now we’re living in a time of information war, and especially many bad things about Russia and I would like to say: No, it’s not really like that. I can show you what’s happening. Well, and what I think is the beauty of being a Russian.
Why is there some much attention on Russia at the moment? What is attracting the people?
It was a closed country for many years and no one knew what was secretly happening inside. It was just a big myth surrounding what it is – and it still is. The country is big and of course you can be in Moscow or St. Petersburg, which is easy. But that is not the real Russia. You have to go to other cities to understand the Russian mentality better. Like you told me the story of this security guard Dima in Sochi and what his soul is like. I think you’ll understand more now. These are things I also like to show about Russia, because I think it’s good here. It’s not only clichés.
So what do you have coming up for the future and new projects?
I have an idea for a short movie so I try to find free time for it. First of all, I need to sit down, write the script and then start filming. This will be my next project.
Before I flew to Russia, I was sitting in the PLACE office watching YouTube videos when I came across this small documentary about Tolia. In it, he talks about growing up in Moscow, living with his father, being creative and how skateboarding helps him express himself. It was quite a good video portrait, but at the same time meeting people face to face can be a totally different experience. With our trip to Russia, I would have the chance to find out.
We arrived in Moscow on a Wednesday and went out to party with the crew on Thursday. In a bar I met Tolia in person and we instantly hit it off. We talked, smoked cigarettes, danced, and before the night was over, he told me that we were now friends. And he was right, we had become friends in a matter of hours.
I got to know him even better during our time in Sochi. And I soon realized that Tolia lives by his own vision: he knows what he wants and how he wants it. He is aware of what’s going on and is not afraid to be straightforward and verbalize his opinions. That’s a good thing, sometimes I feel that people hold themselves back so they can sustain a public image. But not Tolia –as you can read in this interview.
50-50 to Tailslide.
So let’s start off with the most important question, how did you learn to cook?
When I started living with my now ex-girlfriend. I felt it was important to cook, we had a good kitchen in the apartment and so I started making simple salads and pasta dishes at first. From there I progressed into preparing different types of meat. Cooking is easy when you cook every day and keep trying to make new dishes. At the same time, I might have gotten the gift of cooking from my grandmother. She is an amazing cook.
Who is in the Epic Aces Crew?
(laughs) You heard about the Epic Aces crew? It was started by some guys from Saint Petersburg as a joke. We started calling ourselves Epic Aces. We took the logo from a cocktail brand and we had plans to make some clothes, but as of now that hasn’t happened. Now it’s just an Instagram account so if you want know who the Epic Aces crew is – check out @Epicaces account and look at the people it follows.
Tell me about your friendship with Gosha Rubchinskiy.
I met Gosha about six to seven years ago. I met him at a casting for one of his [runway fashion] shows. I got casted and started to walk in his show. So I walked in his first show, then his second one, and then we started to become friends. Nowadays I help him with his work, for instance with the Vans collabo. I also helped do work on a show and sometimes we just talk about the things he makes. I’m kind off like Gosha’s right hand man.
You are also connected to Supreme – how did that happen?
I met the guys from Supreme in Moscow. They were there to work with Gosha on a lookbook for Grind Magazine. Grind is a magazine from Japan and Supreme always shoots a lookbook or an editorial for each new collection they do. So that is where the connection started and this year I went out to Paris for this shoot.
You connected with the scene over there pretty well.
When I was out there, there where a lot of people visiting Paris. Alex Olson and a couple of the Bianca Chandon guys were in town, I met all the Blobbys, and I became good friends with Kevin Rodgrigues, Greg Cuadrado, Guillaume Périmony, and the rest of the crew. Those were a fun two weeks, I love those guys. Those guys go out to and try to learn a new trick every time. I think the skate scene in Paris is the most influential scene at the moment.
There is also a Dutch connection right?
Yeah, I met Noah Bunink last summer. He was booked to walk in a show for Gosha and I met him through that. We started to become good friends. He’s actually my English teacher (laughs). Noah is also a really good creative skater. I like his style. He can skate everywhere.
Coincidentally, a lot of those guys skate for Converse and you recently made the move from Vans to Cons. What happened?
I skated for Vans for about three-and-a-half years. The old team manager, Vitalik, is a good friend of mine. He did a lot for skateboarding in Russia. He would host competitions, helped to get skateparks built, and organized a lot of tours for us to go on. The problems started when Vitalek left Vans to go work at Adidas. Vans waited for some time before they appointed a new person and when they did, this person didn’t have that connection with skating. So for the last year-and-a-half, the situation wasn’t that cool anymore. We only did one tour and it wasn’t set up like it used to with Vitalek. I still think Vans is doing good in Russia, but I think I’ve got a brighter future over at Converse.
Drawing is another hobby of yours right, I remember being in the Absurd office and you showed me the sticker pack that you made.
I’ve been drawing all my life. The sticker pack was actually the first time I designed an actual product. At first, I was really happy with those drawings, but now a couple of years later I can’t look at them anymore. I would like to do some new ones, so that people can see how my style progressed.
You told me that you also do stick-and-poke tattoos. You started that at an early age right?
I did my first stick and poke tattoo at 13. My best friend asked me to do it, I was so worried something would go wrong. Tattooing at home can be unhygienic and I didn’t want him to get an infection or something. He just told me, ‘Fuck it, let’s just try it!’ That was the first one and since then I have been tattooing a lot of my friends. And as with everything, I got better with practice. This year I went out to London to work there as a tattoo artist. My work is in demand because I have my own distinct style. When I do tattoos, it’s important that the quality is always the same. People pay good money for my work and I think it’s important that I do good work every time I tattoo someone.
Where do you see Russian skateboarding going in the next couple of years?
I think last year was a good year for Russia. People are starting to recognize Russian skaters like Gosha Konyshev who had a part on Thrasher or Max Kruglov who won a lot of contests. Next year is going to be even better, though. We got so many spots and you don’t really get kicked out. I would like tell everyone you need to come and skate in Russia!
Do you think that skate brands from Russia are going to benefit from the growing interest in Russia?
I don’t know, I think the skate brands need to refresh their look. It could be good for Russian kids to see a Russian brand do well overseas and I think Russian design is really good. Absurd for example has done some great things, but right now I think we can do better. Pasha designed the new series. I haven’t seen the graphics yet, but in the past he always made great graphics so it could be the right thing at the right time. We need to keep the Russian identity, [mixed] with designs that appeal internationally.
Is there a young generation on the rise as well?
Well, we got Dima aka Dimzer Z who is a filmer, but he’s also got some crazy tricks like fakie 540’s on flat. Then there is a kid named Gleb aka I.killyou. He’s sixteen and I’m out skating with him all the time. He’s so good and I hope he’s got a bright future. They are working on the “Troica 2” video right now.
When I was partying with you in Moscow, I noticed that Russian music is really a part of the Russian party lifestyle. Do Russians really celebrate their own culture?
Well, next year I’m filming a new part and I’m pretty sure I want it to be edited to some Russian music. It’s important to use Russian things because I am from Russia. I’ve lived in Moscow my whole life, and to show people my Russian side is important to me. You need to love your hometown and your country. I could move outside of the country but I always have to come back home. My friends are here and my family is here and they are important.
Tolia’s video for Place
Interview by: Roland Hoogwater
Photos by: Alexey Lapin / @lapinotomy
The next two days are all about Tolia Titaev. Today we present you with moving images, tomorrow we present you with Tolia’s interview.
This video shows Tolia cruising with friends and having fun but it also has some pretty hard tricks like the Backside Smith grind in Paris. Tolia was a not only a big part of Place issue 55 he is also a big part of why we like Russia. We will continue to follow his path both in the skateboard world and all the other worlds he is a part of.
If you don’t know Julian Klincewicz, Stas Galaktionov and Brian Elliot. They do great work outside of skating you and you should familiarize yourself with their work.