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Secret Walls - Live Art Battle

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by Amelia Jane (subscribe)
Freelance mermaid living in Peckham. It's far from the sea. Love finding free and exciting one-off events around London and telling the world! See my blog
Published July 12th 2013
I think I can be forgiven for initially not understanding what a "battle" is, when used in this day and age. If it was 1066, it would be a different story.

So when a tall man on Brick Lane, dressed in the current East End fashion; new era hat, baggy jeans and hi-tops, mentioned such a battle, I could do little more than nod politely and imagine the latest craze like when my peers at school used to have "pog battles". We were eight and it was the 90s.

Pogs were all the rage in the 90s

However, when Christian (Mr Battle Axe) said he was going to meet up with his Slovakian ex-girlfriend for some language tips to use against the Czechs in the battle, I realised it was more than just flipping cardboard circles at each other.

It turns out, the battle mentioned was Secret Walls (formerly Secret Wars), a "live art battle". Set up in 2006 by Terry Guy of Monorex, Secret Walls started as a one-off party before it became a monthly event at some of East London's most intimate bars. Seven years later, Secret Walls is an international affair, having visited small and secret locations all over the world.

The battle between London and the Czech Republic took place 13th June at Hoxton Arches. Not sure what to expect, I found a garage door surrounded by young punks which I assumed was it, however after spotting the police taking details of the little scruffs, I realised it quite clearly was not. It was not only on the wrong street, but it was obviously not an arch.

Having found Hoxton Arches around the next corner, I walked into a white walled gallery space, complete with all the ingredients for a PARDY; bar, DJ, Tshirt and bag stand (every party needs one) and a battle table, where aspiring illustrators could battle friends and foes alike on a piece of A4. Josh and I decided to take each other out, DRAWING STYLE! Here's our work:

With a short intro by Reeps1 (a champion beat boxer of the tender age of 22) the battle commenced! And from thenceforth, it was 90 minutes of pure, illustrative competition. In the words of Britney Spears, "the beat was going strong", but they didn't play my favourite song (or Britney Spears), with the DJ whacking on a whole load of high tempo, bass heavy tracks to keep the momentum and artist's fingers going all the quicker. The last time I'd had the pleasure to be motivated by music was at an Indian restaurant in New York; strobe lights and loud bhangra was used to bring in the punters (along with some rather aggressive touting) , and get them out as soon as possible. This was generally as soon as their complimentary scoop of mango ice cream had melted, which didn't take long with the celebratory sparkler perched on top.

The battle was as much about performance as it was about the art. The Czech team did the whole thing dressed in white paint suits accessorised with a nifty pair of goggles and even a mask. I also had a distinct feeling that they were sponsored by Nike...their consistency in footwear was almost Olympian. They knew what they were doing, sketching the outline, filling in bits here and there, waltzing around each other and leaving the main images until last. Very Neil Buchanan. The London team played it cool in their Secret Walls tshirts and concentrated on their own section of the wall, before drawing (literally) it all together at the end.

After 90 minutes, it's up to the crowd to decide. With a baying crowd, there was no time for X-Factor style voting, instead the winning team was chosen by way of a snazzy sound device; the equivalent to the hectometer to measure earth quakes. I call it a cheer-0-meter; very Christmassy.

As the crowd were encouraged to MAKE SOME NOOOOIISSEE, the heat was on.

Finally the results were revealed; there was more cheer for the Czechs; the London team were defeated.

I felt bad because like a true fence sitter, I cheered for both teams.
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