by Emily Dinsdale for BUILDHOLLYWOOD.com 14.07.21
We spoke to founder Jonny Banger about empowering communities and bringing the rebellious Sports Banger spirit to the UK streets.
Sports Banger is a true from-below phenomenon, punching up and talking back to authority. Born from the tradition of anti-establishment DIY culture, the acclaimed clothing brand is making an art form of conspicuous, unapologetic bootlegging. Founded in 2013 by Jonny Banger – an artist working across fashion, activism, culture and curation, music, publishing and so much more – Sports Banger channels the frustrations, passions, dreads, and hopes of a generation. Always focused on community, Jonny explains, “Sports Banger is a celebration of people, our relationships with each other, and the outside world. We know lots of people from all different worlds and we like to bring everyone together. Everyone we work with, there’s a personal relationship there somewhere. The most important thing is art and fun.”
In the wake of these exciting new developments in the Sports Banger story, we spoke to Jonny Banger about what inspires him to keep creating, community-building, and the allure of bootlegging culture.
What do you love most about living in this city?
Jonny Banger: The empanadas in Seven Sisters.
How did the name Sports Banger come about?
Jonny Banger: I was on the way to our first Rinse FM show, hosting the School Records show. Klose One set me up a Twitter, Jonny Banger. I didn’t have a laptop or smartphone at the time. I’ve always had a passion for sports shops, whether that’s Sports Direct or a collection of Polo Sport. When I started with t-shirts, the name Sports Banger just happened.
How would you describe Sports Banger? What does it all represent?
Jonny Banger: It started at the bottom with t-shirts coming out of the rave. It’s an idea to do what you want. Sports Banger is a celebration of people, our relationships with each other, and the outside world. We know lots of people from all different worlds and we like to bring everyone together. Everyone we work with, there’s a personal relationship there somewhere. The most important thing is art and fun.
Could you tell us a bit more about what drives you to keep creating?
Jonny Banger: I like good times and the best times are creating stuff.
A lot of your work is very community-focused, especially the past year with the pandemic i.e. the NHS t-shirts, and the Covid Letters exhibition. Why is that so important to you? And how can art help to build communities?
Jonny Banger: If you can throw a rave you can organise a food bank. Over lockdown, I didn’t do anything different – I sold t-shirts, I spoke to the food people, the delivery people, the ICU units, the local school. It’s just coordination – everyone plays their part, you just make the phone calls and join the dots. People asked to donate to what we were doing, but I wanted people to replicate what we were doing on their own doorsteps.
T-shirts don’t change anything, you need action. I was proud of our work. It’s mad that Edible London, who we worked with over this period, have just moved in next door to us. I only found out two days ago when I saw Sonny who runs it and we shouted ‘Oi!’ at each other. They collect and redistribute surplus food throughout the community and also have grow gardens and rooftops across the borough. The area of Haringey, where we are currently, has the fastest-growing rate of unemployment in the country.
What are your thoughts on boot-legging culture, particularly these days?
Jonny Banger: You can’t bootleg a bootlegger and there is no such thing as an official bootleg. We started at the bottom, still at the bottom. Join us.
Tell us more about Maison De Bang Bang?
Jonny Banger: Maison De Bang Bang is the fashion house, it covers everything. It’s an umbrella for the t-shirts, record label, fashion, book publishing, art, and raves. After five years in our last place, we’ve just moved studio. We built everything and it’s all modular, so the space can move. It’s a dream studio. We built the sound system and it sounds insane, one of the best I’ve heard – and that’s pretty hard to get right. We’ve accidentally built a nightclub.
Our next fashion show in September will be a proper maison/salon show in the new studio, bringing all the people together again like a housewarming on acid.
What project has been the most fun so far? Could you tell us a bit more about it?
Jonny Banger: The Covid Letters exhibition was great – it opened, closed, opened, closed. Think we managed to open for a total of 10 days. It was amazing all the kids seeing their own work hanging. I’ve never experienced an atmosphere like it in a gallery or museum. Strangers were talking to each other like the smoking area at a rave and the place was full of hope, good energy, and laughs.
I’m so happy the exhibition found its home at The Foundling Museum, the first public art gallery and children’s charity in the UK since 1739. Jeremy Deller is a trustee there and invited me to show the work. It’s an important part of the social history of London and not many people know its story. The children’s work hung alongside paintings by William Hogarth, the Grandfather of political cartoon and satire.. you’ll prob know his piece called Gin Lane. The museum just made me and Sir Quentin Blake this year’s Foundling Fellows which is mad and The Science Museum have asked to archive the whole project in their collection. We self-published the book which was so much work. It’s beautiful and the best thing we’ve done.
The fashion shows are the most fun, you can watch them back if you find them online or read the reviews. Five of our models thought it was a good idea to do a load of mushroom juice before walking, to calm their nerves. We had a free party sound system for another show with 18 bass-subs. We show away from the London Fashion Week schedule and do our own thing, there’s hardly any press and no buyers.
The last show was more of a party, Paranoid London played live and we kept changing their outfits. Josh Caffe the vocalist wore our ‘Fisting Tommy’ outfit in homage to Tommy Hilfiger who was showing in London for the first time in 20 years at the Tate. Their show was an hour before ours. Max Allen gave the classic Aaliyah outfit a twist, including sensory deprivation mask, studded jockstrap, and chapless jeans. After this show, Tommy Hilfiger reached out to collab and Tommy himself spoke about us in his Vogue interview. Dressing Skepta as a postman for Xmas Day Top of The Pops, performing Shutdown – 5 days after the national postal worker strikes was fun. I was buzzing when I got commissioned to make two outfits for 2Chainz and only had 24hrs. He went from wearing the most expensivest shit in the US to the most cheapest shit in the UK. We made it out of a load of Slazenger Banger towels and ran short so we had to use one off the radiator in the toilet.
Tell us more about the work you’ve created for the collaboration with BUILDHOLLYWOOD, can you talk us through each piece?
Jonny Banger: We were due to work with Absolut last year but the project dropped due to unforeseen circumstances. The Absolut Banger billboard is completely unofficial. Hopefully, this will encourage them to sponsor our fashion in September because we honestly can’t afford it.
The inflatable wiggle piece is from our second fashion show, we’ve just cut a new pattern of this. I love the image from the show of SGT Pokes, photo by Ollie Grove. The eyes billboard was a print we put through some tracksuits previously. It’s an image for the country getting ready to come out of lockdown and an end to restrictions, everyone’s a little bit confused and paranoid. My mate from Odyssey Soundsystem said ‘illegal raves are now illegal’ and it’s true. The police have just this month set up Britain’s biggest task force to crack down on illegal raves and the Met police are launching a summer crackdown on them. Criminal Justice Act 1994 – the reprise.
The Maison De Bang Bang billboards are a nod to our new studio and work moving forwards. BANGER is banger. The bigger the better. You never get given free billboards, let alone three in a row.
We’ve got some behind the scenes photos from a previous show, taken by Foxall Studio. I love the models and mix of tech in the photos. It shows the process of Joe Cruz and his scanning photography. Mandeep is wearing a ‘Conservatives Are Targeting Everyone’ t-shirt. I met him as a customer in my last shop. The billboards are a bit of fun, looking forward to everyone getting back out there and on with life. It’s been a mad couple of years. I hope the billboards make people smile or piss people off. All the emotions.
How do you feel about seeing your work in a street setting? What do you want people to get from it?
Jonny Banger: I’ve had quite a few billboards before but I nicked them all and made the adverts my own for the cost of £10 at the printers and a bit of paste. I stole quite a few from BUILDHOLLYWOOD including the big Oatly one, so it’s nice they’ve given me a load free for this collab. I see bootlegging as people reclaiming the logos that have been shoved in their faces. I have the same attitude to billboards.