September 24, 2020 8 min read

Anaiah Lei currently plays in DARE and his personal project Zulu. He’s previously been a member of The Bots, FireBurn, and Culture Abuse. As with his musician fluidity, his skateboarding feels loose and improvisational yet totally controlled and purposeful. I caught up with him over the phone to talk about the crossovers between skating and hardcore and we did.
We discussed how in many ways, hardcore’s tenets of activism have led it to be seemingly more progressive than skating, which often feels stuck in the male dominated misogyny of an antiquated world. But our discussion wasn’t as much of a high-five for hardcore but rather, a baseline that no matter what is projected, there’s work to do. Always. Skating has to work on being more inclusive and more socially aware. Hardcore has an honesty problem—it needs to stop congratulating itself for a belief system based in decency and realize that the gatekeepers worldwide are predominantly CIS males who—regardless of intention—and maybe the COVID-19 pause is a good time to access how everyone can continue to push progression and more importantly, sustain it infinitely.
I know this has become the stock question du jour but how have you been impacted over the past few months?
With everything—not just COVID-19 but all the protests—it makes things real. This [racism] is something I live with every day. So when it's in your face, on social media every day, it is really exhausting.

Do you feel hopeful that people can really sustain this dissent or is the general state of the entire world so chaotic that it’s daunting?
To hope people would be, you know, trying to move forward and not just in terms of voting, but in terms of just trying to change their everyday life. It's not just just one thing. Part of me is hopeful but another part of me is that this has been going on forever. But you know, this year has opened up a lot of people's minds to actually having to make that change.

How do you think this moment has changed the role of creative pursuits, such as skating or music?
It's really opened up things. You think about yourself and what you need, what you don't need, what you ever needed, period. But at the same time, it's, it's, it's scary. I think because COVID-19 forced a lot of places to close and a lot of people in the service industry lost their jobs. People need those jobs and if they’re not coming back, they need alternatives.

With the music thing, that's a whole different aspect. I think a lot of bands aren’t going to come back, especially ones that don’t rely on a band as their source of income. It's a weird time but not being able to tour makes putting out music something to look forward to.

This is the first time where we’re [Dare] working on an LP and we're not going to be able to tour this record. So we don't, we're not really in a rush to put it out. You know, we don't really need to worry about that right now. And especially my other band Zulu, which I do on my own, I feel like right now, given the topics I cover, I’d like to get something out because it’s relevant now and always been relevant. I talk about like black issues but at the same time, I'm not in any rush. I can at least focus more on the music aspect without being rushed because there are no deadlines. I hope it’s something good for people while they're going through what they're going through during this time. It could be a little bit of a little bit of sunshine, if anything.

If we look back at the past six or so months, there’s been all these different ways musicians have tried to use social media etc. to keep playing. We had the Instagram live shows or even super pro filmed YouTube streams but none of it feels real because it’s a one-way conversation. I think what some DJs are doing—going live or even on Twitch—is more communal. But for hardcore specifically, it can’t survive without the live aspect because it’s not a style of music as much as a combination of all these things. That being said, it’s really annoying when people are like, “Fuck, I miss going to shows.” It’s a fucking pandemic...
Completely. I get it but it does get a little frustrating when someone's like, ‘Oh yeah, I miss going to shows. Do you remember shows?’ Yes, that was only a couple months ago. For hardcore music, it's going to the show and actually being in the energy—I think that’s the most important thing about it.

Honestly, I feel worse for younger people who haven’t been able to see shows for 10 years or whatever. There’s probably a lot of teenagers who just got into hardcore and we all remember that feeling of finding where you belong and then, poof, it’s gone. Some kids probably had their band’s first shows planned...
Exactly. People that just started to get into it. That's so, yeah. I didn't even, honestly I thought about that, but I didn't think about it like that. Like, yeah. That's tough. I think about how I was supposed to be on tour right now and that’s not happening and I was like, ‘Dang, that sucks.’ You can’t wait to play new songs live and see the reaction but I can only imagine if it was like your first ever record you've ever done. And you're just like, ‘OK, this happened… ‘ there are some people that are in that boat right now.

You’re heavily involved in skating. I’ve been thinking about this time in the way that when all the concrete parks closed in the ‘80s it pushed people to explore street skating. How has it been for you?
For a while—when everything first happened—I didn’t feel like I could go skate safely. Even though skating is something you can do it by yourself and you can do it kind of away from people. But it didn’t feel right… I definitely don't want to try to link up with anyone to go skate. I started to realize if I go out to skate, I don't need to necessarily be next to other people. What I'm doing involves me and myself and I can do it without direct contact to anyone else.

So I did start slowly after that I was meeting up with one or two people that I like. I'm like, all right, we're all good. We'll go, we'll go and skate, keep it small in our groups and go to wherever all the parks are closed. Street skating wise, Noone's on the street. So it's like, all right, cool. That'd be good. It's spots that we normally wouldn't be able to hit, you know? But it’s a weird time of feeling off and on. I want to go skate and then not want to because of the reality of everything happening. That kind of bums me out. So I'm not in the mood to go skate. So it's kind of, it's been, it's been a weird twist up but sometimes skating really does help me forget what’s going on.

That's the beauty of it. You can't be thinking about anything else, you know?
Exactly. So it's been interesting. I've been trying to film ap art with a buddy of mine and I was kind of starting to get the flow of it and then I stopped when everything that happened with the protests—they just took me out. I can't focus on anything right now. I'm trying to get back into filming, but it's been a bit of a mission trying to find spots right now.

Skating is just in a weird place right now because there’s a backlog of video rolling out but slowly drying up and it feels like more clips than usual on Instagram. It’s kind of like we were saying about music—none of it feels real.
It's hard to keep up with. Even not that long ago, you knew there was a new Baker video coming or whatever. Now I see the most random skate crews and clothing companies or whatever companies I've never heard of putting out stuff in my feed. This is like an overload. So I kind of, you know, at this point in the game, I kind of shut myself off from everything. I just focus on what my direct friends are doing and not so much the main mainstream skateboarding.

A lot of skating feels formulaic.
It really does. It doesn't seem genuine, especially with an Instagram influencer skate type fools that are just posting just to post. When I was growing up skateboarding it was never about trying to get views. It’s weird. It's just a big turnoff to me and now it’s a big part of skateboarding is that, but there's a lot of great skateboarding where it's not like that. And they're still genuine skateboarders out there, which I'm happy to be surrounded by, but Oh man, all the other stuff is just so prominent! [laughs] You can be at whatever park there's going to be people there dressed in Louis Vuitton or something looking like they’re on a fashion runway trying to get a clip. That was never skating to me.

It’s a different zone. I try not to comment on it because I don’t wanna sound like the old guy yelling at a cloud or some shit...
No, it's weird. Straight up. But I realized, ‘all right, you do whatever nonsense you y’all want to do. I'm going to go skate over here and have fun and not worry about trying to get an Instagram clip for the day to get thousands of views.’

I have a bit of an awkward last question but I’m just going to fire it off. I notice that so many white people are looking to their POC friends and just pummelling them with questions or acting like they have all the answers, especially on social media when they could just do some digging on their own. Have you experienced that and how exhausting is it?
Oh yeah, 100%. I try to let people know that I appreciate them asking these questions and then maybe some people genuinely are concerned and want to, and it is a thing where you do have to educate yourself but asking the people that have been oppressed for so many years and are exhausted mentally and physically are not the people you should be asking. You know what I mean? I don’t see myself as an activist but in the past couple months being as vocal as I am about it, I'm only doing that because this is just my life. This pertains to me, you know? So of course I want to speak out on it, but on my own terms. People come to me asking for interviews or to be on podcasts and I appreciate it but it's been really exhausting talking about the same thing over and again, because this is something that isn't, this isn't new. It's just new to a lot of people or it's now.

People have been like, ‘Oh, I love your activism!’ This is just me talking about my life.

People can find a pair of obscure sneakers on the internet or a record but when they have to do the work to educate themselves, they suddenly get so lazy. There’s plenty of great organizations and information on Instagram alone that can lead you where you need to be. It’s common sense at this point.
Exactly. We live in the craziest digital era—we have every resource we could possibly think of. Like you said, you could find the best pair of jeans but when it comes down to something like that, it's all of a sudden, such a hard thing to do when you could easily look into that.

I feel that a lot of white people need to think about what media take in—not just the news but what shows they watch or how diverse their bookshelves and record collections are or aren’t. Maybe they’ve been getting a very white view of the world and they should turn that inside-out if they want to begin to understand things better.
Change is slow but people can start somewhere. They can assess in their everyday life and just think about what they watch, what they read, and who they listen to. It's all there you just have to really commit to it.