An Interview with Joe Cox

Whilst visual documents of bicycle motions are by no means important in the grand scheme of the galaxy, it’s funny how much of an effect even the smallest decisions that someone made whilst piecing together footage of their friend’s riding can have on people half the world away.

Joe Cox’s videos, Voices and Tomorrow We Work, are prime examples of this phenomenon. At a time when even the supposedly simple task of capturing footage onto your mum’s Hewlett Packard desktop computer required the patience of a saint, he made well-crafted, thought-out videos that tricked a generation of riders into thinking there were spots in Sheffield. He must have helped shift a few Modest Mouse CDs too.

And beyond all this, Joe wasn’t just some ‘filmer guy’, lagging behind the crew with a load of tripods on his back—he was a highly-honed master of the bicycle, riding with a level of finesse that’s hard to muster on the rain-soaked, glass-smashed streets of the north.

Interview by Sam, photos by Newrick, Wozzy and Benson. Interview originally published in Red Steps Issue 5.

First off, what are you up to these days? Do you ever get out riding at all?

I’m working a lot these days. I build fitted furniture—things like wardrobes, alcove TV units, floating shelves and desks. I love being able to be creative every day and I’m always excited about the next project coming up. Between that and hanging out with my wife and two daughters is where I spend most of my time. 

I try and get out on the road bike when I can too. I can’t ever see myself not riding a bike in some shape or form, it’s too ingrained in me. A bike and what it represents is just too beautiful. Road cycling has a lot of similarities to BMX, for me anyway, a mix of being able to push yourself to your limits and just the simple pleasure of getting out and exploring under your own steam.

I don’t really get out too much on the BMX anymore, I’d like to but it’s just time. I usually only have a couple hours spare at any one time, so by the time I got out and got to a spot I’d like to ride I’d probably have to start thinking about heading home!

Do you still look at riding stuff much? Do you ever see rails and stuff that you’d want to do?

100 percent. I think everyone whos been into BMX or skating will never not be able to see a spot and go, ‘It would be cool to do something on there,’ or whatever. I’ve seen loads of good stuff in the small villages in the Peak District. I’ve been to Tenerife and Majorca and a few places in Spain on holiday the past few years and I saw so much stuff I’d love to ride. In terms of watching new riding, I still check Dig a few times a week. I don’t watch everything, but if it’s someone I know is mint I’m excited to watch what they’re getting up to. I still know what’s good and what’s shit and I know who the real boys are.

Going back a bit…how did you get into riding? Am I right in saying that you and Dan are from Durham. Were there many people riding around there when you were growing up?

Me, Dan and my big brother Tom were all into mountain biking around the early to mid 90s. We lived in a village about five miles from Durham, so it was pretty rural really—lots of trails and stuff. We raced a bit of cross-country around the North East and Yorkshire, and there was a decent area five minutes away with a load of bomb-holes and natural jumps and stuff.  

I somehow heard a rumour that in the next village along some other mountain bikers had made a tabletop in a field, so I rode over there and somehow found it, and there was a load of riders jumping this big tabletop. It was Tom Minns, Stodge and a load of others who I ended up becoming best mates with for all my teenage years. I was pretty shy—I still am really—so I just rode over to Belmont every night after school, and hung around with them not saying a word until dark then I rode home.  

The critical moment happened one summers day when a local ex-pro racer called Brian Graham came to the jump. I think he had a Hoffman Flash and he jumped the tabletop in such a cool way, we all watched in absolute awe. Almost over night, we all ditched our mountain bikes and one by one got a BMX. I started on some shit Toys-R-Us bike, then my first proper bike was a second hand S&M Dirt Bike in green. I loved that thing. Tech 77 brake lever with the push in bit to hold the brake on—which I still don’t know the reason for. Pitchforks, Profile three piece cranks and a whippet chainring. Powerlite 4 piece bars. Peregrine hubs, Alex rims. Shield seat. And thats how it started. 

We moved down into the next field and started building some proper trails. There was a good scene in Durham around that time, a lot of riders. And that was even before any of us met anyone from other areas of the North East.

Once Ape skatepark opened that created a hub for the North East and almost everyone who rode went there every Sunday during the winter. Newcastle, Sunderland, South Shields, Teeside. There was probably hundreds of riders around that time. That’s where I met Newrick and all the OG NSF lot, and it was seeing them ride that made me want to ride street. Newrick was (and still is) literally my hero. I remember one of them bringing an early master tape for NSF 1 to the park, and we watched it in Turbo’s office and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It just looked so raw and cool. I probably took my brake off that same night.

What was it like riding street in the 90’s? Did you get much grief?

We never got too much grief to be honest, I mean we got chased every now and again, but the main thing was we were just looked at as freaks back then. It wasn’t in the mainstream culture like it is now, so most people were just like, “What the fuck are are you even doing?” 

Starting to ride street back then in a place like Durham though was like opening a treasure chest. No generation of riders before us, so the entire city was brand new, untouched. It was no Barca, but there was some good stuff to ride. 

I was in Durham on holiday recently and it did look pretty decent for spots considering I thought it was some ye olde historic town. What videos and riders were you into growing up?

The first video we saw was Props 16, the one with the Gonz interview. Minns somehow acquired that. The first video I bought was FBM Live Fast Die. Soil, Thunder, Anthem, On the Down Low, Props Best of Dirt 97, Generation, Nails in the Coffin and Livid were the favourites. Every rider in those videos were heroes to us.

I suppose most people associate you with Sheffield. When did you move there? What was it like when you first started riding around the streets of steel city?

I moved there in the summer of 2002 I think. Rob Hate invited me down to stay with him for a couple of weeks via MSN Messenger, so I went for two weeks, and literally didn’t come back. I had a place at Sunderland Uni starting in September, so I told them I wasn’t going to come, I went home to get some more stuff, told my Dad, and then I moved into the Hate House. Those days were great. No worries, no bullshit, just riding. Always plenty of people about, and coming from Durham the spots were amazing. 

When did you first start filming? What made you want to get a video camera and start documenting what you and your mates were doing?

Almost as soon as I started riding I wanted a camera. Just filming me and Dan on the road outside our house. The day I got a clip on a fisheye from Jessops was the day it started. We’d just look through it for hours on end, amazed at how wide it made the angle, how much closer we could get. And everyone from our generation will know the feeling of seeing three chip footage for the first time. Look at the colours, look how crisp it is. The Canon XM1 with the fisheye was the most beautiful piece of kit.  

I loved riding, and I loved filming. They weren’t separate things to me. We rode and filmed whatever we were doing. It was all the same.

I know Voices is, at a basic level, a video of mates riding, but it was a lot more polished than a lot of scene videos from that time. I suppose it was a lot more polished than a lot of ‘company’ videos too. Was that high standard something you were particularly aiming for?

I don’t think I was specifically aiming for a high standard or whatever, it was more just that I can’t do anything half-arsed. Or I should say I don’t want to do anything half-arsed. What’s the point in that? If I’m doing something I have to do it as best as I possibly can. I loved everything about what we were doing, all my mates were killing it, and I just wanted to show that. 

I suppose we were indirectly reacting to the fact that a lot of shoddy videos were coming out, and you could see that the effort hadn’t been put in. A lot of videos we thought were shit, and they were still charging £20. We put all of our effort into Voices, just because we really wanted to—there was no money to be made or anything to advertise. I wasn’t looking for accolades or anything, I just wanted to make something I thought was good.

Watching it now, there’s a definite ‘British’ feel to it. Was that an intentional thing?

Subconsciously I suppose it was, but it was never outwardly a goal or anything. There was a handful of amazing British vids, but really the good stuff was American. The way we did it here was different, we weren’t superstars, no one was in England—you couldn’t be. We just thought we could make something good, in our own way. That’s kind of the British way—no fanfare or anything—just get on with it.

Fisheye, a few long lens clips, some rolling lines and a bit of super 8… a classic configuration now, but maybe not back in 2006. What sort of stuff were you influenced by during the making of Voices? What other videos were you watching?

I watched everything. But I think I had my own style and aesthetic I was going for. I loved what Jeff Z did with Animal 1. Straight into the riding, no candid footage, no crazy editing—just the riding. That’s all you need when it’s that good. 

Thats my one gripe with the current trend of riding videos now. Far too many non-riding clips. Rich Forne did it well, but everyone has completely ripped his style. Black and white close ups of people smoking, dogs barking, someone’s calloused hands, the locals walking by. It doesn’t elevate your BMX video to high art, it’s cliche now and it’s boring. 

I liked the ethos of the FBM videos, the videos represented the team perfectly. I liked Ells Bells stuff because it wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen before, it was completely insane, yet I feel it was the perfect way to showcase their scene. I liked what Joe Simon did with the HD footage and super clean filming. It was totally different, and that’s what I like above all I think—originality.

Have you got any particular standout memories from that time? What was going on around the clips?

My memories from those days are pretty hazy! The fondest memory I’ve got from the whole period is getting back in after a good days’ riding, everyone would be getting food and starting drinking. I’d go straight to the computer and get the footage captured, whack it on the timeline and everyone would come in and watch it. Someone who wasn’t riding that day would come over later and we’d show them the footage. I’d have had an idea for a song, so I put that onto the timeline to see what everyone thought. Everyone was so into it, we’d spend all day focused on it, for no reason other than because we loved it. There was no money involved, no career to move up. It was a great period of my life.

How important was the music selection? The stuff on Voices was a bit more interesting than the usual whiny Props-rock that was popular at the time.

It was important, but only to the extent that I really like music. I had a bank of so many good songs in my head, and then it was just a case of trying to fit each song to each rider. I mean, Marv wasn’t going to have a sad slow song, and Josh wasn’t going to have hip hop. There’s still songs from back then that I’d love to put in an edit, but just never found a perfect section for them.

How were you living during the making of Voices? What was day-to-day life in the Hate House like?

All we did was ride, a few people went to uni, maybe a few less had actual jobs. But most of us just rode and were on the dole. No worries, just riding and going out on the night. Tesco’s Value food, a bottle of cheap cider before Corp. I once witnessed Rob Hate down a bottle of Tudor Rose in one go, and he went from completely sober to literally passed out drunk in ten minutes. That was interesting to watch.

Was it hard to edit a video whilst living there? From what I gather it was a far cry from a slick media hub.

Nah it wasn’t hard at all—the opposite I would say actually. Because it was all we were doing, it wasn’t like I had other commitments and I’d have to try and get an hour in here or there to get it done. If I wasn’t riding and filming I’d be editing. And I’ve never really slept very well so I’d be up until 3am most nights just playing around with the edit.

What were your thoughts on how people flocked to Sheffield after Voices came out? Is there any truth in the story of you lot hiding in the Hate House and not answering the door when some American filmers came knocking?

The main problem with it was that there aren’t really any spots in Sheffield. There’s plenty of things to do, but we’d had some Americans whinging before when we rode for miles and the spot was the black bars—some one foot high flat rails. Lino loved them though, so it was worth it. And I’m pretty sure he got someone to take a photo of him standing next to Ponds Forge rail. That’s true street knowledge. 

So yeah, we may or may not have done that, but it was more that none of us could be bothered with the pressure of taking people to shit spots and having to judge their reaction for whether to stay or move on. 

Haha that makes sense. How did making Tomorrow We Work differ to Voices? Were people specifically going out to do a lot of those tricks?

The actual process wasn’t really different at all, but yeah almost everything filmed in Sheff we specifically went to do it. Like I said, Sheffield doesn’t have many traditional ‘spots’ so we’d just have to go roaming around, and for instance Josh would see a mental gap, note it down and then we’d go and film it when he’d got the bottle up for it. Or looking at a well ridden spot and trying to come up with something that hadn’t yet been done there.

I might be overthinking stuff a bit here, but TWW definitely has its own look to it, with all the red brick, the terraced houses and the slightly vignetted lens. Was there a certain look or feel you were aiming for?

Yeah I had definitely had a certain look and feel I was going for with TWW. With Voices, I just made it as I went along really, but with TWW I think I had the whole feel to it in my mind even before I’d decided to make another video. I wanted the footage itself to be film-like—warm and dreamy—but the general feel to be almost cold and detached. It’s hard to put into words, but the final outcome is almost exactly what I had in my head before I’d filmed a single clip. 

Not too sure what my question is here, but it seems a lot of people think they can just buy a VX and it’ll mean their footage will automatically look good. What other stuff should people consider with cameras and things? Why does your footage still look good whilst loads of stuff shot on the same camera doesn’t?

Yeah I used to be very opinionated on this topic! It’s the same as any other thing, and it really annoys me. Wannabes who come in and buy the right gear thinking that’s all there is to it. I don’t know if my stuff was good or not but I put everything into trying to make it as good as it can be. Always looking at what the best angle is, 

literally studying how skate filmers used their fisheyes. I could have written a thesis on the theory of filming. I taught myself After Effects and post-produced every single clip in TWW so it had the same feel running through it. 

It was the same with Animal 1—I bet Jeff Z filmed 95 percent of that video, and you can tell, the final product was so consistent, it wasn’t a random bunch of clips, it was a single piece of work. 

Newrick’s recent stuff too—it’s the whole thing as one, if that makes sense. Hit the North Part 2 nearly brought me to tears, so make of that what you will.

Maybe a bit of a vague question, but why is it that people love videos so much? People still talk about Voices now—why do you think these 30-60 minute videos stick in peoples’ heads so much years later?  

They literally shaped us when we were growing up. That list of videos I said we had growing up, I still know them all off by heart. If a song comes on the radio from a classic section you get that feeling. I still get sad when ‘King of Pain’ comes on the radio because I know it’s when everyone gets injured at the end of Road Fools 2. If a Props end-credits song comes on I’m happy. I put Can I Eat on and I’m fully psyched up to go and try a nose wheelie on a curb. I felt the same after coming back from the 

Strangeways premier and I haven’t rode in a year. A good video is what everyone loves about riding condensed into half an hour. 

Well said. Wrapping this up now—I know you made a few edits after TWW, but was there ever plans to make a third video?

In short, no. I could only do it when I was fully engrossed in it 100 percent. Both the vid’s I made took over my whole life while I was making them.

OTHER INTERVIEWS: Addy Snowdon / Clarky / Gaz Hunt / James Newrick / Wozzy / Steven Hamilton / John Dye / Tyler Rembold / Bob Scerbo / Lino Gonzalez / Jake Frost / Seth Ethier / Chris Reyes / Dan Price / Daniel Niles / Amos Burke / Tim Evans / Jeff Z / Rob Dolecki / Lord Leopold / Loz Taylor / Cookie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s