Pit Bullies Skate
It's hard to imagine the development of skating without punk or other more aggressive forms of pop music, because it's always inspired the athletes," says Alan Deremo, musical director of "Tony Hawk's Boom Boom Huckjam." "There is a rhythmic aspect to punk that is very much conducive to skating and BMX... You talk to any of the athletes [on the tour] and they will express how music has influenced their passion for skating."
Tony Hawk's Boom Boom Huckjam is an extreme-sports touring circus with a stellar ramp course. At the huckjam, some of the best skateboarders, BMXers, and Motocross riders in the country -- including huckjam cofounder Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist, Mat Hoffman, Brian Deegan, and Dustin Miller -- showcase their craft high over the heads of some 15,000 awe-struck fans and knee-scraped fellow athletes.
That's a big fan base for a group some once hesitated to call "athletes." The skateboarders, BMXers, and riders whom some once considered inferior to the blue-blooded varsity athletes of old now have their own industry -- with big-time shows, sponsors, and fans who eschew gridiron and clay for wood and pavement. That Hawk and company could put together a 31-city tour in some of the country's largest arenas is a cultural coup.
As Deremo says, music is an enormous part of the extreme-sports culture. Last year, a rotation of popular national bands, including Good Charlotte, provided the soundtrack for the huckjam.
"It was never really a good integration between the bands and the rest of the show," Deremo explains. "It was confusing to the audience as to where to put their attention."
Coproducers Tony Hawk, Pat Hawk (Tony's sister), and Jim Guerinot wanted a more consistent musical component for this year's show. Hawk and Guerinot had an epiphany while sitting in the audience of the Blue Man Group's recent "Complex Tour."
"Jim, who also manages No Doubt, Hot Hot Heat, Social Distortion, and the Offspring, had the idea of putting together a band that was heavy on percussion and was all-instrumental," remembers Deremo, who is a long-time professional musician and also Pat's husband. "Initially, I was a little bit opposed to not having vocals, but as time went on, I saw it was a great idea, because any vocal would occupy the attention."
Deremo, along with Tony and Guerinot, began assembling the musical battery that would juice up this adrenaline-greased machine. The trio drafted five able bodies from the ranks of Los Angeles musicians -- former Ringling Bros. circus drummer Charlie Paxson; his brother, percussionist Jimmy Paxson; bassist Billy Mohler; guitarist Jimmy Messer; and guitarist Jonny Polansky. They named the band the Anarchy Orchestra.
Their set list reads like a Cliff's Notes of the history of punk and skate rock. "We have a segment where we do a medley of Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, the Ramones, and also the Dead Kennedys," Deremo. That's the thematic nod to classic punk. We also do a nod to vintage hard rock with AC/DC and Motorhead. And then there's a wide range of more current punk and alternative like Rage Against the Machine, Foo Fighters, Ministry, Queens of the Stone Age. They do a White Stripes song as well."
With more than two decades of skating and 13 X Games wins, Tony Hawk is the chairman of the 'board -- the "man" in maneuver. His knowledge of extreme sports has proven vital to the choreography of the show.
"[Tony's] really a huge music fan, and his love of music and input has been invaluable to this whole thing succeeding," says Deremo, who explains that Tony was able to fit specific maneuvers to specific songs and vice versa.
"During the parts of the show that are strictly choreographed, the athletes are doing maneuvers that are exactly in sync with the music, and it's an incredible spectacle," Deremo says. He describes the design of the set as an "urban" attempt to fit the skaters into their natural habitat -- there's a basketball court on one end as well as graffiti. "It's stylized in that sense but not to a degree that it overwhelms the action." There are trash cans and crates at the band's end of the setup. "They sort of look like guys that just kind of rolled into some scene and started playing."
The band shares sound time with DJ Aero and also MC Rick Thorne.
Deremo describes the result as "synergistic." "The energy level of the band speeds the athletes in a sense that they're stoked by the energy of the band, and by the same token, the band is inspired by the more spontaneous aspects of the show, and that drives them to step it up."
Polonsky, whose band played "The Angry Inch" in a Chicago-run of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, says the huckjam has a definite theatrical element to it. "[Playing in the Anarchy Orchestra] is much more akin to being a pit band in a Broadway show than playing a rock 'n' roll show."
The musician says the way the music is tailored to the athletes' action is unique.
"I mean, the athletes don't need us, but it adds an extra oompah-pah. We're playing big stadiums. A lot of people in the nosebleeds. It helps to have as much visual and aural stimuli as possible."
Unlike a theater show, the huckjam has its spills. On the second night of the tour, Motocross legend Cary Hart went down hard and suffered a broken leg, hand, and heel.
"When something like that happens, everything stops," Polonsky says. "But these dudes are at the top of their game. There's been little things, like people falling on their heads. If it's not too serious, we just keep playing."
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