Interview with Jak Hutchcraft about WACO, The Ugandan Skateboarding Federation & Punk in Cambodia

On the fourth episode of ‘Promote The Hell Out Of It’ I had a great time talking to musician & journalist; Jak Hutchcraft. This conversation meant a lot to me, not just because Jak is a wonderful human being with a wealth of knowledge and interesting banter, but also because his band; WACO, mean the world to me. We talk about the band, articles he’s written for Kerrang & Sidewalk Magazine, the spoken word night he helps run in London and lots more. The full episode has sooo much more, but here’s some of my highlights.

You can check out and follow Jak on Twitter & Instagram and you can follow WACO on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.

You can listen to the whole interview with Jak Hutchcraft here on the ‘Promote The Hell Out Of It’ podcast, which is also available on Spotify, Acast, Apple Podcasts & on YouTube.

I was recently lucky enough to travel around South East Asia for 9 months and it was an eye opening and wonderful experience, what do you think are some of the hurdles stopping people from doing something like that?

I’ve realised something that gets overlooked is people seeing themselves doing that. I’ll illustrate what I’m trying to say with with an anecdote. I work with young people, as a youth worker and a youth worker told me years and years ago, it was a great guy from Birmingham, he grew up in Handsworth; in Birmingham, pretty rough area and he’s black. He said that when he was growing up; when he was a teenager, and even right through his 20s, he didn’t know anybody who had gone travelling. Didn’t know anyone who left the country. His whole life was the estates around Birmingham where he lived. People didn’t go, I might do a gap year and go find myself, it wasn’t even in their lexicon. So he said he was focused on making money and cracking on and trying to keep his head above water. He said he got a passport when he was in his 40s, went to university when he was in his 40s, all because his social economic situation didn’t really permit that. It has crossed my mind a lot that I’ve got the privilege or at least the comfort to think, you know what, might just go away for a bit, I might go away and try some new things. It’s not just the social economic barrier but for some people it’s a mental blockade, if you can’t imagine yourself doing something, or don’t know anyone who’s doing something, then there’s a lot of pressure to just try something that you magic out of thin air. I just think it’s quite nice to be thankful and grateful that it’s even in our world the idea of travelling, to go to the places, to leave our estates.  A lot of the kids I work with in Tottenham, in Harrangay, in Hackney, their whole life is that estate, their whole life is that postcode, they have not even been to Central London, let alone Barbados.

The amount of work and effort that goes into a band like WACO is immense, what keeps you going?

This stuff you go through in a band of our level, of our experience, if you looked at it in the abstract, if you weren’t in this world and looked at it from afar, it seems totally crackers like. You drive fucking six hours to a gig and there’s no one there. Yet paid nothing. You come back freezing cold and you wake up and go to work the next day. It must be something that makes you drive to turn up, there’s no one there, promoters not even there and you’re still doing it in high spirits. Next day your like ‘let’s do all over again’. You have to work hard, good things in life don’t come if you don’t work hard. And, it’s very hard to break our spirits. We’ve broken down in the middle of nowhere for 12 hours before gigs, got pulled over by the police in Germany at gunpoint, stuff where you think? You know what! So what? If we made someone smile whilst on stage or we make someone have a good night, or we change someone’s perspective, my job’s done, you know, I’ll put my comfort on the shelf and sleep when I get home.

You wrote an article for Kerrang! about the new Punk uprising in Cambodia and I found it absolutely fascinating, how did that all come about? 

I went to a poetry night and this lovely guy called Miles was running the night. We started chatting and chatting and he just mentioned flippantly that he helped start a record label in Cambodia for punk, metal and hardcore music. It’s the only alternative record label in Cambodia.  Eventually he just left because his time in Cambodia came to an end, he wanted to move on. I thought this is so interesting so I do research and there’s like pretty much four or five bands in Cambodia making metal and hardcore music. Interesting thing about Cambodia, it’s got very tragic and bloody past, with Khmer Rouge, dictatorships, civil wars, for hundreds of years. But in the past 60 years particularly bloody. So no real alternative music scenes have been able to blossom really. There was a surf rock scene in the 70s, late 60s but then because of the conflicts in Vietnam, Cambodia were kind of occupied and the scene kind of died really quickly. The reason they started making surf music is because they got a lot of American radio because of all the American army bases in Cambodia. They were listening to the American surf sound, they’re mimicking it and just making it their own but it didn’t last very long because there was such a genocide to follow and all this kind of stuff, so nothing could really blossom in the same way that it has done elsewhere. So there’s never been a rock scene or punk scene really, these young lads in Cambodia have started making rock and really heavy metal and hardcore music, but they haven’t got any direct influences in the country. There’s no like, oh, let’s make music like Led Zeppelin, like we have here. Even like let’s look back at Electric Wizard or look at all these English bands that are in our recent past making rock music, or influential music. So they had to pretty much form it from nothing, out of the ashes of the conflicts of their country. They’ve made their own scene by watching YouTube videos and watching Slipknot videos, MegaDeath and Metallica. Imagine looking around at your country and going, hold on, I can’t find one Cambodian metal band, but maybe, we could be the first Cambodian metal band. So over the past like 5 to 10 years a few bands have emerged and they’re fucking great. They’re really good and they’re really young. Some of the lads that sort of spoke to us were orphans and then they made this band through some NGO programme. Some of the other lads listen to kind of militant hardcore music and doing the hardcore thing. It’s really, really fascinating.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Another article I absolutely loved was the one you wrote for Sidewalk Magazine about the growth of skateboarding in Uganda, what brought that article on?

It’s a small article interview with somebody who runs the Ugandan Skateboarding Federation. I love that. I love that name. It’s pretty new. He calls it a game just like playing football or whatever. So it’s a new game over there, it’s so like DIY, you wouldn’t believe it. These DIY skateboarding communities, even the DIY punk communities have got nothing on these guys. They’re literally building ramps out of leftover bricks that they found and concreting little half pipes. It’s fucking cool man. I found them on Instagram and it’s well cool to watch, because they’re skating barefoot, they look about seven or eight years old they’re little ripples there. I know that in other parts of Africa they’re more established on the scene, but in Uganda it’s only in the past less than 10 years. A lot of the skateboards are donated. They don’t get boards from skate shops in Uganda, people don’t buy and sell them in that way. They just kind of people travelling or donations. I just find it so fascinating because we talk about skateboarding as a community tool. Some of these cities have been ravaged by AIDS, it’s just really sad. The whole thing’s been flipped upside down for them, their whole life is really ravished by AIDS from the 90s and that. It’s a community getting kids off the street into a skate park, doing something productive, kids and adults alike. Just the whole approach to skating is refreshing, both philosophically and actually the way they skate. I just thought it was so cool. And again, imagine literally just carving it out of nothing. Imagine just carving a scene from nothing. In Uganda, we don’t have skateboarding, why don’t we start skateboarding? I just think it’s almost like a lightbulb moment. It’s like a catalyst. It’s magic, that’s what it is! It’s saying ‘let’s do this’, ‘LET’S FUCKING DO THIS’.

You’ve been helping put on a spoken word night in London called VERSES. How did that get started?

We do it every two months in London. We started it for National Poetry Day last year as a little experiment. I like writing poetry, I don’t mind performing it,  It’s okay, I enjoy it but I like playing music personally a bit more. We wanted to do it to offer a platform to those that might be interested in speaking poetry or anything that’s written. It’s actually worked out really well.  There are some fantastic poetry and spoken word nights all over London, as you can imagine. I don’t want to sound too bold and pretentious, but we tried to reframe it and be like, this is for first timers and veterans. This is for if you just want to come check it out. We’ve had so many people so far, where it’s their first time doing it. We create a very safe and welcoming and encouraging atmosphere and culture that of people do it for the first time. We’ve even had the bar staff at the venue come over up from behind the bar and go ‘fuck it I wrote this poem years ago, but I’m going to perform it’.  It’s really exciting, it’s just early yet, but you know what, if we provide the space and people feel comfortable enough to get up, our jobs done here. I get my kicks playing music and I’ve had plenty of opportunity to step out my comfort zone, but for some people, their poetry or whatever they want to talk about just sits in their bedroom or sits on their compute gathering digital dust. So I we want to give people the opportunity to speak and talk. It’s not a vanity project. It’s not for me to showcase my words. It’s for other people. 

I know WACO has been going through an incredibly tough time. What comes next for the band?

We feel disorientated and very sad because our bassist died recently. Our long time bassist, we always had the same lineup.  Our friend Chris, he passed away in December and it’s just been so difficult, but we’ve decided to continue, after much deliberation. Believe me we’ve been talking about it in mourning and discussing it and speaking to his family. But we decided to keep the band going, because we’ve got a full album; our debut album, Human Magic (OUT NOW). Our Chris played on it, we’ve got music videos with him in it, so it’s like this is his swan song and this is what he left behind for the world to enjoy. I really wish he was still here, but I just want to do him proud. We’re going to do it for him, we’re going to fucking smash it. Our bassist James who was Chris’s friend and our friend, he stepped up and he offered to take the reins. It’s just been fucking mad, it’s been bananas, but you know what, we’re going to do it, continuing WACO. For WACO.

Make sure you subscribe to the ‘Promote the Hell Out of It!’ podcast to keep up to date with the latest episodes and to hear this conversation in full.

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