A *useless review by Mackenzie Eisenhour
Words below by Mackenzie about the *useless DVD extras
“Wasn’t it about time? Weren’t we all fed up with them all anyway.”
—The Odd Numbers, About Time (1990)
I have been tasked with ascertaining the skate nerd street value of this brand new DVD from The New Deal—30 years since they definitively rocked the industry boat and unveiled their manifesto (“Once upon a time, there was a group of skaters…) in 1990. Due out this winter, •useless… (The New Deal Video Collection) 1990-1992 contains the 15 Min. Promo (’90), the inaugural full-length Useless Wooden Toys (90), and the second full-length 1281 (’91). Along with the first three videos, the DVD also boasts a brand new Best Of Remix (including never seen demo footage and more edited by Socrates Leal) along with a ton of bonus interviews and juicy extras from Andy Howell, Steve Douglas, Paul Schmitt, The Odd Numbers and more. Let’s dive in and have a look at the goods.
The New Deal Skateboards—like FDR’s namesake set of progressive policies in the 1930s that bucked the old guard—offered a drastic reboot of the skate industry hierarchy at the turn of 1990. Their first few videos were a direct embodiment of that reboot, in absolutely every way. New skaters, new (skater-owned) distribution, new terrain (street), new tricks (NBDs by the boatload), new graphics (neon and Andy Howell art direction), new logos (the box and the sun), new shapes (with noses!), new wheels (tiny ones!), a new DIY business model, new ‘no frills’ video production style (mostly by necessity), and even brand new music to drape over the lot (The Odd Numbers!).
If you enjoy building a hard copy library at home like I do—I would highly recommend owning their first three videos; entirely digitally re-mastered from the original ¾ inch U-Matic tapes by sir Paul Schmitt and housed on a single DVD. If you were there like I was (my introduction to The New Deal was at the YMCA Skate Camp in 1990 when Paul Schmitt showed us the promo in the dining hall before he walked cabin-to-cabin, handing out stickers to every camper)—I’m preaching to the choir. The nostalgia endorphin payload alone is enough to validate buying this whole DVD.
If you weren’t there I’ll put it this way; you simply cannot tell skateboarding’s history without these three videos. If you’re even remotely interested in the roots of modern street skating and the modern skate industry—these videos (along with several others from ’89-’91 like Hokus Pokus, Video Days and Rubbish Heap) stand as the point of genesis for everything that comes after them. Even if none of the broader arguments sway you, let’s just go with star power: Templeton, Howell, Vallely, Sargent, Ibaseta, Hall, Girard, Brauch, Daclin, Barajas, Douglas, Montesi, Knigge, Hendrix, Mills, Fissel, Morrison, Taylor and onwards. Like I said; if you know—you know. If you don’t—you should.
On top of the three videos, let’s focus on what is actually new here—30 years on. Without spoiling too much (aka SPOILER ALERT), I will say that the interviews contain some absolute shockers. For example, the original promo was initially finished and all set to go scored to the ‘80s skate rock band Agent Orange. Basically, the Odd Numbers were a serendipitous fluke. After Paul Schmitt told Steve Douglas that Agent Orange was a no-go, Steve scrambled to find a replacement and by luck, his friend Ray Stevens who owned 819 Productions in San Jose handed him the Odd Numbers’ demo tape. Had that promo been released with Agent Orange as the soundtrack, a band firmly tied to the ‘80s vert scene, I’m not sure The New Deal we know today would even have existed.
Other bits of skate nerd gold that were new to me; the New Deal name came from a UK skateshop named New Deal Skates circa ‘89. During an interview at Harrow Skatepark in London—the same skatepark where Steve Douglas honed his skills (also coincidentally where Ed Templeton shot the cover of Welcome to Hell [’96]), first witnessed TA skate, then later had a Schmitt Stix ad at, with a backside pivot in the infamous capsule (the same gnar boots capsule Mike Frazier front blunted for the cover of TWS in Feb. ’94)—Steve breaks down partnering with the shop owners Ray and Gary to launch New Deal UK Distribution (at the same time he was launching New Deal Skateboards in CA) out of none other than the steel shipping containers at the skatepark.
Beyond the incredible determination and ingenuity of the brands founders (one story involves sending only the master tapes of the ND videos to distributors and having the dists. make VHS copies to save money on international shipping), what truly struck me was the amount of ‘stars aligning’ incidents occurring not only at the launch of the brand but also down the road as The New Deal becomes the seed for everything from 411VM, Element (after Howell’s run of Underworld Element), Mad Circle, Giant Distribution (Itself responsible for later housing New Deal, Element, Black Label, On Video, Bueno, Popwar, Vallely Skates, Destructo Trucks and more well into the ‘00s).
In another of the more mindblowing revelations via the bonus interviews, Douglas explains how Josh Friedberg had been tasked with creating both SkyPager (’93) and Da Deal Is Dead (’92) in addition to laying out a Newsletter zine for Mad Circle, New Deal, and Underworld Element. After Josh quickly knocked out the two videos but was lagging on laying out the print zine, the decision was made to make it a video zine instead. That zine would then become 411VM.
Outside of the factoids, Paul Schmitt does a great job breaking down video formats through the ages, along with relaying his own trip from Schmitt Stix and Vision to his new home at Da Deal. Andy Howell—another critical piece of the puzzle—sheds light on his musical, artistic, and skating contributions from the ATL. The Odd Numbers themselves give an interview while playing their classic New Deal songs live, and the aforementioned Best of Remix contains some amazing unseen footage of Sarge skating demos in Finland.
Finally, Steve Douglas also has a second interview focusing solely on creating the three videos. Through all the years I have loved those first three videos, I wasn’t aware as to exactly how singlehandedly responsible Douglas was for making them. Through my years working in the industry I had always viewed Steve Douglas as more of a George Powell than a Stacy Peralta. The biggest revelation for myself watching this DVD and its bonus content was that from 1990 through 1992—Steve Douglas was truly ND’s Stacy Peralta. Thanks to the New Deal for heavily impacting my life and looking forward to a potential Vol. 2 covering The New Deal from 1992-onwards next. Skate nerd street value: Gold.