Limitless and above the ground

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A Lithuanian artist and video-maker behind the name of AboveGround likes to keep his identity secret, but he’s not a mystery to those who have voice in the rap scene. Even though he took first steps only two years ago, AboveGround has already collaborated with such hip-hop legends as DJ Premier and the list goes on. Having learnt everything by himself, he challenges the art scene by having absolutely no rules or boundaries – his work proves that leaving a mark means being fearless. Here’s a sincere talk with a guy who seeks to document his life the most creative way possible and who represents the rap industry in its truest form.

Do you remember the very first video you made? Was it a long time ago?

Oh yes! I’d say the very first one was a rollerblading video when I was about 13. My friends and me used to skate all day and film each other using a Nokia phone (it had an extendable keyboard, a couple of megapixels’ camera and at the time it was a proper middle class thing). We also edited our masterpieces with Windows Movie Maker. It was a Tony Hawks Pro skater era when everything I cared about was baggy clothes and my skates. That’s as far as I remember. Then I did a few things when I was at high school – I was a naughty kid and I had to find other ways to get good marks so I was involved in several school projects.

My stepdad used to have a Sony handycam so I used it for all my videos. That’s how I learned the basics of editing and filming. In terms of music videos, I made my first one in January 2014. It was for an old school hip-hop duo Chrome & Illinspired. The whole project was really random. I met Chrome at the pub where he used to DJ once a month, we had a beer together, and I introduced myself mentioning that I’d love to do a video with him and Illinspired. He gave me a weird look because at that time I didn’t have any material to show him. In spite of that, we ended up shooting it and we’ve made 4 videos ever since! I remember the moment when I made the first cut of the video (yes … it wasn’t great), something clicked inside me and I realized that this is something I want to take seriously, push forward and most importantly develop my own style. So far so good!

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Do you have any authorities or people who you could call your teachers?

No. Not really. I observe things from different sources. No one really helped me out with what I do and I didn’t come from an artistic background. I didn’t go to university to study film – I’ve learned every single thing myself by reading and practising. Three years ago I bought myself a Nikon d7000 from the savings I had from working in a factory, then started taking pictures of my graffiti activities and ended up getting hooked. There are a few people who opened my eyes and gave me the true taste in photo/videography, though. Anis Ali, Tom Gould, The Grifters crew and Twodicks. I would like to thank those guys for making me feel crap when I’m comparing my work to theirs. Keep it up.

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How did you end up in London? What does it mean to be an artist in this city?

I actually moved to London not long ago. I used to live in the East of the country. Now I live in a tiny room in Stratford Ends, I eat yellow price food from Tesco, I edit my videos on a desk made of cardboard boxes and sleep when… Well, I don’t sleep. But I love London; it’s a very diverse city. You don’t play by the rules here. It’s like wild Wild West sometimes… Things happen really fast, and if you’re humble and dedicated I believe it’s the place to be. London is more of a lifestyle thing. It just sucks into your bones. You really need to be true to yourself and believe in what you do. One single link here can change the rest of your life. Being able to do my thing here is exciting – I can definitely see myself grow.

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Even though you haven’t been in the media industry for long, you have already collaborated with numerous rappers. Which collaboration is the most memorable for you?

Yes, AboveGround only began two years ago so there’s still a long way to go. I’m not really trying to fit into that ‘media world’. It’s just something I do that is described as media. I really hate that “watch my new video, subscribe, like and share, please make me famous” attitude. I like to keep myself to myself.

The most exciting collaboration was obviously with DJ Premier and The Four Owls. DJ Premier has been an icon to me since I was a kid (I actually used one of his songs for my first video ever). I had to take a seat after Fliptrix rang me and asked to do a video for that track. Shame there was no budget for a visual and we were really tight on time but that project was really special and we had a lot of fun filming it. Our location guy Andrew knew London like the back of his hand and had keys to everything. We broke into a 30 floor abandoned hotel, a council estate, then climbed some serious rooftops… Good times.

The other memorable collaboration is definitely with the veteran Verb T. He was the person that pushed me into UK hip-hop. We’re still working together constantly. I went on tour with him a couple of times and he was my biggest motivator when I started. Talking overall, I haven’t made a video that I’m really satisfied with. Yet. I got high standards. Most of the projects I’ve done were pretty much “point and shoot” style in random locations under interesting circumstances. I’m really spontaneous with my visuals and I like to improvise. I’m an artist. But recently I’ve started writing treatments, polishing ideas and it’s how I came up with more serious concepts. I’m about to start a new series of episodes that I’ve wanted to make since I got into videography. I’m very excited about 2016 – I believe next year is going to be the gamer changer.

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How would you describe your creations? In what ways is your identity in the media world special?

This is a hard question. I struggle when it comes to describing my work. I’m documenting my life in the first place. My lifestyle has been crazy for the last few years. Most of the material I shoot cannot be publicized because it would get me into trouble. I’m not sure how special my work is to others but I think it stands out in some way. I’m aiming for that original recipe. My identity is special because not a lot of people know me and most of the people still don’t realize that there’s only a single person behind the whole AboveGround – me.

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Judging from your media accounts, you definitely like telling stories behind the shootings. What is the most enjoyable part of video making? Do you enjoy process or the result more?

I think I’m not great at writing. English is not my fluent language and I might be a bit shy sometimes, but with time I realized that some of my photographs are not in full potential. Then I took up a habit to take more photos of such a kind where I could leave some space for expressing the moment in writing too. Process and the result are both on the same scale for me. It’s like a jigsaw. You can’t achieve good results without getting involved in the process and the process is not worth anything without a result.

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You’re really close to the street culture. What does fascinate you about it?

I am indeed close to that. I think we’re digging really deep by trying to find an answer to this question. I think it’s the attitude, style and vibe in general. I just can’t get enough of it. I’ve always wanted to leave my footprint in this scene.

In what ways do you try to stay creative?

I create. When I can’t create I get upset and drink rum, smoke blunts and listen to music till I reload my shackle. Then I carry on again.

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What are your biggest ambitions right now?

My biggest ambition right now is AboveGround. That’s the only thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and go to bed, when I struggle with life, when I spend my food money on developing films, when my eyeballs look like someone punched me in the face because of lack of sleep, when I dream about capturing the moment which will mean a lot in 20 years’ time. I don’t care about who I’m going to be when I’m old. I care about what I’m going to leave behind myself today. I go all in. My other ambition is my own house. I would sell it straight away and buy myself a RED camera, loads of lenses, paint and would move to NYC to live in a ghetto apartment in Queens or Brooklyn (laughs).

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If you didn’t create videos, what would you do?

I’d be a music producer and create INSTRUMENTALS in the capital letters. When I was young, one of my friends gave me a Gang Starr CD and it changed everything. Even though I couldn’t understand a single lyric in the song I still loved it because of the beats and sound in general. I’m also into my graffiti. But I keep it to myself; it’s more of a personal thing. I think all these things I mentioned are linked to AboveGround, obviously. You can’t be good at everything unless you’re a part timer. And I do my thing 8 days per week…

Discover Above Ground:

The Four Owls – Think Twice (prod. by DJ Premier)

Dead Players – Call Us Now

Verb T & Illinformed – Foggy Eyes

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