Dance music pioneers, brothers and New York graffiti legends - on one 12” record
Frankie Bones and Adam X were both pivotal DJs in establishing the American rave scene in the early 1990s. They grew up together as the two sons of the Mitchell family on East 38th Street in the rough neighborhood of Flatbush in Brooklyn. As a producer, Frankie Bones is probably best known for his Bonesbreaks series. Adam X is a pioneer of fusing industrial and EBM with techno and has released a dozen albums of electronic music, sometimes under different aliases.
As told by Adam X
I first became involved with grafitti in 1984. My brother had already been writing since 1982 and his graffiti photograph collection sparked my interest. He suggested that I take photos and as I collected comic book art and also had a passion for trains, the combination fit me perfectly. Frankie also gave me the tag name VEN. At first I was primarily interested in photographing and I would only write my name here and there. While traveling around New York City with my camera, I would meet very talented writers while benching trains on subway platforms.
My brother and I loved to study street and subway maps as kids. Our father worked as an electrician for the MTA, the public transportation company in New York. My brother, who tagged BONES, had access to my father’s keys to get into the parked train cars. My dad was aware that my brother was doing graffiti, but not the full extend of it. Frankie was heavily up on the BMT and IND trains, which are the lettered lines, but he also had tags on the insides of the numbered lines. He was hitting lines that were often buffed after a few months. He would then catch those cleaned cars to hit them again and again. He was of one of the all-city inside kings of that era because those trains rode into Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx.
Our father was murdered in 1985 and when my father wasn’t around anymore, I took advantage of the situation and got into painting trains. Soon after I started to hang out with PURE and REAS, I started going into train tunnels, layups and yards with them to paint. I have painted a handful of times with my brother, but our careers in graffiti were very seperate because he is five years older than me. My graffiti assault on the train system began when Frankie’s was slowing down to start focusing on his music career. It was a few years before I would join him into the world of techno music, both DJing and producing.
I never assimilated my life in graffiti to hip-hop culture. Most of my older peers and friends in the scene, artists like SEEN, were into rock music. Other writers were into funk and soul. I get why people connect grafitti with hip-hop because that’s how it was sold to people through documentaries like Style Wars and movies like Wild Style. But for the most part, I didn’t come into grafitti through rap music. My brother had been a DJ since 1981 and we would listen to disco, freestyle, electro. I was also a huge Kraftwerk and Black Sabbath fan. When I hung out with PURE, we would sometimes taking mescaline and listen to Pink Floyd. I used to be more into different scenes of music, but since I got into techno in 1989 I haven’t listened to much other music outside the world of electronic music. I’m a techno snob!
Techno was my way out of graffiti for a while. When the MTA completely cleaned the system in 1989 after years of the trains being heavily painted, REAS and I became the forefathers of what is called the clean train era and we had many problems with the NYPD’s Vandal Squad. The cops were out to catch us hard. They were staking my house out, doing dirty shit to try to catch us. By 1990 I got tired of playing the cat and mouse game with them. I knew I was close to being caught and having to do jail time and preferred to step away. My brother was already playing ‘Summer of Love’ raves in the UK by that time and he would come back and show me videos of 20,000 people in abandoned aircraft hangars raving to house and techno. It was amazing to see those young people unified while we were living with mindless gang violence and racism. We had a vision to bring raves to New York City and give the youth a peaceful outlet to listen to these new sounds of techno music, and that’s how a new journey in life began for me.
For most of the ’90s my main focus was on my music career. I was really inactive doing graffiti. Around 2000 I became heavily attracted to graffiti culture again thanks to the advent of graffiti websites popping up on the internet. Seeing fresh burners on clean trains and freight trains, but also subway graffiti from the ’70s and ’80s that I’d never seen before, amped me up. By that time also I had several people working for me in my record shop, which meant I could take time out to paint and reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen in years.
In 2007 I moved to Berlin and a few years ago I started to photograph subway graffiti there. Last year there were more burners on trains in Berlin than at its peak in New York City in the ’70s or ’80s. You could see a train pull in on the U-Bahn that had multiple burners on one set of train cars. It was mindblowing to see. At one point, there had to be at least 250 pieces running in the system. The Berlin train painting scene is a much different scene than in modern New York. In Berlin the majority of painted trains will run in passenger service, which the MTA doesn’t do. In New York there is also a quite active scene, but it's more than likely that the trains are cleaned immediately.
It was my idea to have the Writers on Wax release as an All Out Kings record with PURE and my brother. My track ‘Never Ending Quest’ is a bit more downtempo, it’s my more industrial side of techno. There is a very dark and metallic influence on a lot of my music. I equate it from painting in dimly lit train tunnels with trains whizzing by. I often find the long process of painting and recording music to be quite torturous. I’m the perfectionist who’s never perfect and I will drive myself crazy to get things right. But when I get it right, I’m elated with happiness.