In 1995, I got a call on the telephone from a person in Austria by the name of Jochen Auer. He was creating a new entertainment concept show, which he hoped to tour around Austria and Germany. His concept was based on a wide spectrum of the more underground parts of modern culture: tattoos, piercing, photography, video, hot rods, custom motorcycles, fashion, sideshow acts, erotic dancers, gymnasts, rock’n’roll music and well-prepared fast food. In a first for Europe, the show would bring it all together under one giant roof. Jochen’s idea was Wildstyle, which I have proudly been part of for the last 20 years.
This was not a tattoo convention, nor was it a car and motorcycle show, or an erotic fair or fashion show. No, this was different. It was a collection of all those parts – given the platform they deserved. And remember: this was 1995. Tattooing was still illegal in New York City and in far more conservative Austria and Germany, tattooing and piercing were still considered fringe outsider art, associated with criminals, bad boys, drunks, or low-level military people. Before Wildstyle there had been no major tattoo event in Austria. Two decades later the show is stronger than ever.
In the early ‘90s, piercing was just barely legal in a couple of small counties in Austria. The country hadn’t yet hosted a major international tattoo convention and had barely recognised the existence of this new cultural world. Jochen was about to change all of that: bringing this new avant-garde cultural world to Austria and putting it on the map, worldwide.
Over the last 20 years, Jochen’s dream, his vision, has become a reality. And amazingly, still to this day, no one else has even attempted a collective show similar to his extravaganza.
Wildstyle has featured too many talented artists and performers to mention in that time, but this small sample gives a sense of its scale: tattoo artists from America, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Tahiti, Hungary, Poland, Germany, piercers from England, Germany, erotic dancers from Hungary, gymnasts from Poland, American-trained Hungarian breakdancers, sideshow acts from America, Mexico, Canada, Scotland, England, Australia and Germany.
The stage show is lit, designed, and artistically directed by a professional. Jochen narrowly tailored music that fit and suited the theme and vibe of the show. It has featured guest stars like Metal Queen Doro, Manowar bassist Joey Demaio, guitarist Rob Holliday of Prodigy, and a special performance of the Jim Rose Circus. Wildstyle has also played host to Native American performers, shown ethnographic body art from pre-modern cultures and always offered a solid choice of fast food. And of course, my own showcase of counter-culture photography: Hell’s Angels, street gangs, musicians and artists from New York’s Lower East Side.
So, why did Jochen call me? He wanted top quality, famous American tattoo artists and sideshow acts. He had heard of the Tattoo Society of New York which I was the president of at the time. Over the years I have been able to bring top-shelf tattoo artists and sideshow performers to highlight his show.
Wildstyle has done much to educate and introduce foreigners to Austrian culture. In Austria it has educated and introduced a wide spectrum of the public to the tattoo, given them a front row seat to see famous artists at work and nourished local artists too.
Wildstyle’s influence on the culture has still not been examined or understood. My hope is in the future some educated people will start to study and examine the show’s influence and contribution to the rise of tattoo culture and all the associated cultures the show encapsulates.
I know for me personally, my involvement with Wildstyle has added much to my life. I have been able to visit, explore and become familiar with parts of Europe that – even if I was lucky – I would have only visited otherwise.
After 20 years of repeated visits I have become acquainted with many parts of Austria and have developed many important friendships. As I have seen New York City, and especially the Lower East Side where I have lived since the late ’70s, change beyond recognition and snuff out the rebellious creativity that made the city great, I have been looking to find somewhere I can feel at home. I think that place is Bad Ischl in Austria. I have been exploring the idea of moving myself, my art and my archive to the small Austrian city where Jochen and Wildstyle are based, which over the years has become a second home to me.
Wildstyle’s 20th Anniversary Tour hits cities across Austria through November 2015.