ONES TO WATCH: 20syl

Skating to the Future of Music

People

At the heart of the “future of audio” are people – inspired individuals who dare to give shape to their creative vision and artistic imagination. Decision makers who prefer to reach their audiences and customers through great audio. Audio lovers who work relentlessly on innovative projects, who redefine and recreate sound experiences that touch the very souls of their listeners. “People” is dedicated to all those musicians, artists, engineers, producers, decision makers, owners and audio designers who fill and shape our world with sensational sound.

Music and skateboarding are the two greatest passions of French musician 20Syl. His latest project spectacularly combines both.

  • Author: Simon E. Fuchs
  • Photos: 20syl
  • Video: DJ Marketing Communication Ltd.
  • Editing / Post Production DJ Marketing Communication Ltd.

In the dark hall, the illuminated halfpipe is the only source of light. But it doesn't just give light, it also provides the sound. Every skater who rolls onto the ramp generates noise and the halfpipe is transformed into an instrument. The sounds become a song.

A Futuristic Idea from Days of Youth

What may sound like a futuristic idea from days of youth has now become reality. Fulfilling a childhood dream, the French DJ and musician 20Syl has managed to combine skating with music. “I have been skating for over 20 years. When I had the opportunity to combine music and the sport, I took advantage of it," says 20Syl. The result is a visionary halfpipe where every athlete becomes a musician. "I want the skaters to interpret my pieces," says 20Syl.

Sylvain Richard, who became popular, particularly in France, under the pseudonym 20Syl, is a musician, DJ, rapper and graphic artist. As part of the DJ collective C2C, he has won five titles at the DJ world championships and his music has also been used for advertising, including a commercial for Apple. He has also remixed songs for Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar.

The Skateboard as the Backbone of 20Syl’s Art

20Syl recorded his first songs at his childhood home in Nantes. It was also here that he first stood on a skateboard. His board, 20Syl says, is like his backbone, allowing him to develop further as an artist. "Through skateboarding, I got to know New York bands like The Roots. And I also met my DJ colleagues from C2C," 20Syl told a French newspaper.

The harmonious halfpipe has transformed a piece of sporting equipment into a music instrument. Yet while it looks like child's play, it is bursting with sophisticated technology and 20Syl worked on the project for an entire year together with his team. When skated on, different sounds are activated on the halfpipe depending on mode, speed and the type of ride. A projector throws colors and shapes onto the ramp, corresponding to the different sounds. A Kinect II 3D camera films the skater and the signal is processed by the music production programs Playground and Ableton Live, which then play previously recorded sounds.

In a steady rhythm, skaters thus create their very own remix. Behind the ramp is a DJ, equipped with Sennheiser HD25 headphones, who inputs the music, forming a song in concert with the skater. The biggest challenge in realizing the idea was that of transforming the skater's movements into music signals and to combine those signals with the sound. "I wanted to have a flowing, direct and visible style," 20Syl says.

The French region of Pays de la Loire made it possible for 20Syl to pursue his new artistic project. And the result is a musical halfpipe which made its appearance in many cities in western France last winter and which will continue touring in spring 2016. Skateboarders will be able to try out the halfpipe in six concert halls, including the Stereodeluxe, the Fuzz’yon and the Oasis. There have also been inquires from abroad to set up the halfpipe outside of France.

The Halfpipe as a Collaborative Project

The halfpipe is not the product of a single musician: A team of programmers, video artists and musicians all worked together on the project. 20Syl, to be sure, likes producing music by himself. “But for this project,” he says, “I enjoyed working together with great people.” And to bring his project to fruition, he had to surround himself with programmers and video artists. “I wanted to have people on the team who are technically knowledgeable, but who also have an artistic vision,” 20Syl says.

The Belgian collective Herrmutt Lobby programmed the app “Playground,” which controls the images, the sounds and the camera. To make his concept reality, 20Syl also brought the artist Guillaume Batista Pina, from Nantes, on board. He too is an enthusiastic skateboarder and had already worked on projects that combined sports with music. The video artist Aurélien Lafargue and the programmer Gilles Fernandez also worked on the halfpipe project.

Visualizing Music

The connection between music and visual art can be seen in almost all of 20Syl’s endeavors. “Music always reminds me of images,” the trained graphic artist says. For him, the visual element is also important on stage -- whether during concerts or with projects like the halfpipe. “More than anything, it is a show. A visual and acoustic achievement,” says 20Syl.

One of the goals of the halfpipe project is also that of bringing together skaters in the cities where it is on display. In addition to putting the halfpipe itself on display, skateboard contests are held and, in some places, documentary films on skateboarding are shown. On one evening, rappers from the region square off against each other, on another, there is a concert combining hip-hop, classical and electro.

Use of the halfpipe is not restricted to skateboarders. Even without boards, children, for example, can walk on it and create different sounds. “The music is composed such that it is optimal for a skater, but anyone can try it out,” says 20Syl.

What do skaters themselves think about the ramp? Many of them love it. “I felt like I was in a disco,” one skater says in a video. “You skate with music, with light, with a DJ.” Another particularly liked the innovative character of the halfpipe. “It’s great to find unusual places to skate and to get to know new people,” he says. Since the very beginning, 20Syl has regularly tried out the halfpipe himself, most recently in Club VIP in St. Nazaire. “The feeling of skating in the dark, lit up only by the halfpipe, is very interesting,” he says. “You can really get into it.”

A Feeling Like Making Music

20Syl likes it when skaters use the halfpipe in their own unique way. “I think it’s exciting to hand over this project completely to the skaters. They should do whatever they want with it,” 20Syl says in a video.

The skaters are enveloped in darkness and concentrate more on their movements, led by the music, than on spectacular stunts for the audience. There is no right way to skate on the halfpipe. The skaters just have to listen and react to the sounds. It is the feeling of making music.