London’s underground rollerskaters

Ewen Spencer captures the quad skaters reinvigorating roller disco by bringing their four-wheels to the streets of east London

Ewen Spencer is a subcultural maverick. Spotting the subversive scenes that aren’t always obvious to the everyday eye, the filmmaker/photographer's previous Dazed collabs, Brandy & Coke and Open Mic – both part of Channel 4's Music Nation series – shone a light on England's garage and grime music scenes. His latest project, jam&cheese, is a film centred on a group of quad skaters, tearing up the streets, shopping malls and last remaining roller-rinks of London. Friday evenings are spent doing all-nighters, perfecting their styles – jam skate, speed skate, street skate – and converting their old ice skates into bespoke four-wheeled footwear. “It takes everything away, it’s like I’m flying,” says one female skater.

Scouting out rinks in Wembley, King's Cross and Vauxhall, Spencer follows a new generation of skaters, all who are increasingly finding their youth clubs falling to property development. Kicked out of public spaces, one skater explains: “If there’s two things the Mayor wanted to get rid of, it was the pigeons and the skaters.” Spencer finds the four-wheeled fanatics taking to new spaces, including Stratford Mall – an indoor pedestrian thoroughfare open 24-hours a day now known as a 'mecca' for skaters. “I think the police are probably quite pleased to have so many young people in one place having such a great time,” he says. Keep an eye on his Instagram and Twitter for a series of scrapbook images from jam&cheese as we catch up with the photographer/filmmaker below.

How did you first come across these skaters?

Ewen Spencer: I heard about this group through my friend Ratty (creator of Lord of the Mic’s grime DVDs). His intern Emms is a quad skater and told me about the Stratford Centre scene. Ratty’s young boy gets down there too.

What do you think draws people to this style of skating?

Ewen Spencer: Its mobility – therefore freedom – for young people. Autonomy. Getting away from your day-to-day and meeting new groups of people with a shared interest. It looks good gliding along and is something that is shared. 

Is this a revival of the culture of rollerskating or is it something that's always been quite subversive, and never really gone away?

Ewen Spencer: I don’t think it's ever gone away since the 70s. The difference today is that more people are finding different terrains to skate on. The Stratford Centre is a great example of this. The boots are developing and the skills are becoming more elaborate.

“The nation's youth clubs are closing down due to their funding being withdrawn and a group of kids have taken over a shopping centre at night to skate – it's brilliant” – Ewen Spencer

When the kids are at Stratford Mall skating, what's the public's and police's reactions?

Ewen Spencer: The skaters turn up relatively late on in the day. The centre is a public right of way as it's one of the main pedestrian thoroughfares to the neighbouring Westfield mall. This means they are obliged to keep the centre open and lit 24-hours a day. The skaters are moving around people walking through the centre but most people are either beginning or coming to the end of a night out, scattered, with the odd commuter.

Why do you think it's important that we celebrate and support these subcultures?

Ewen Spencer: I enjoy the inventiveness of subcultures like this. The style the music and, in this case, the reappropriation of a huge de-prioritised space in a densely populated part of the capital. It shows the brave inventiveness of youth. The nation's youth clubs are closing down due to their funding being withdrawn and a group of kids have taken over a shopping centre at night to skate – it's brilliant.

What kind of a future do you think roller-skating has?

Ewen Spencer: I think it will probably grow and keep evolving. Hopefully this film and other interest in the scene will help in that development.