illegal civilization is more than just an l.a. skate crew
Meet founder Mikey Alfred, as he tells i-D about touring with Tyler, the Creator, producing 'Mid90s' with Jonah Hill, and organizing IC's first music festival.
Photo by Nobody Photography.
Like most 23-year olds, Mikey Alfred demonstrates a voracious hunger for all things pop culture, with, as of late, a particular interest in true crime documentaries. In fact, when I arrive to his apartment in Century City, he’s watching Jordan Peele’s Lorena, the docuseries about Lorena Bobbitt, the woman who made headlines for cutting off her husband's penis in self-defense in 1993. However, unlike most 23-year olds, Mikey Alfred is the founder of his own company, Illegal Civilization, which he describes as “A skate company where we make clothes and videos. And we use our platform to tell kids they can do anything they want as long as they work hard, be positive, and be nice to people.”
He’s not wrong, but Illegal Civ has become much more than that over the past couple years. Not only is IC a skate team founded in North Hollywood, whose name and brightly-colored merch has quickly infiltrated other neighborhoods of Los Angeles, but Mikey co-produced Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, Mid90s, casting friends and Illegal Civ family on screen. And IC recently teamed up with Red Bull, to host their first music festival last month, where they took over the Pink Motel in Sun Valley, featuring performances from Na-Kel Smith, Show Me the Body, Tommy Genesis, and Tierra Whack.
Mikey first fell in loving with skateboarding at a young age, as it gave him his first taste of freedom and a new way to see the world — beyond his cul-de-sac. But as his friends began attempting tricks at near-professional levels, Mikey turned to film, which he’s always been passionate about, to stay ingrained in the community and expand his skills. He considers Robert Evans a mentor, and posters of the films he’s produced like Rosemary’s Baby and The Godfather, hang triumphantly on the walls of Mikey’s nice apartment, alongside cartoonish Illegal Civ designs he's drawn. Illegal Civ has released countless skate films, including the latest IC3 and the third episode of Summer of 17 is set to drop March 28, but Mikey has his eyes set on a directorial debut of his own — a feature film called North Hollywood. He’s already hard at work on it.
A few days after the “Illegal Civ Movie Motel,” part of Red Bull Music Festival LA, i-D sat down with Mikey Alfred to hear all about the skate company’s upcoming projects from starting their own record label to the exciting plot of North Hollywood.
How did Illegal Civ get started?
I was twelve when we started our company, and we would do skate videos and t-shirts. We'd pass them out in North Hollywood and in our neighborhood. It became super popular. Every time you would go to the North Hollywood skate park, kids would be wearing the shirts. Everyone would be talking about the videos. And when I was fifteen, I met Tyler, the Creator. Couple months after we met, he started touring and became sort of famous. He brought me on tour to be his personal videographer. That led to going on tour with Frank Ocean, then with Kendrick Lamar, YG, and Mac Miller. And in every city, I would pass out the shirts and pass out skate videos. Fast forward to now, and we're in stores and got to produce this movie with Jonah Hill called Mid90s and work with HBO on Ballers. And it's super exciting.
What’s the skating community like in North Hollywood?
When I go to the skate park, I know everybody. We've known each other since we were little kids. But back in the day, there was no skate park in North Hollywood. There was only one in Burbank, which is one city over. And at that park, you have to wear a helmet and full pads, and you have to have an ID to get in. It sucks.
This was not cool.
Not cool at all. But we would all go because it was the only option. And then I think it was in 2010 or 2011, they opened the skate park in North Hollywood, and we all threw our IDs away, threw our helmets away, and we would hang out there every day. And that was the place to be. Yeah.
What was it about filming skateboarding that you were so into?
Well, at first, it was skateboarding. It was just the act of skating. Then maybe after six months, all my friends started to jump like 10 stairs, 11 stairs, and 12 stairs. And I would try it, and just fall and get scars and be like, ‘This is not what I want to do. But I still love this. I want to be involved.’ And because of Robert Evans, I was into film. I've always loved film. So, I thought maybe that could be my way to still hang around, but I don't have to kill myself, basically.
Your latest film, IC3 just came out. Tell me a little bit about the process of making that.
It took four years. And making a skate video is really hard. You have to go out every day. People try tricks. They don't land them. Sometimes that goes for months where you don't land anything and you don't get any good clips. There's a lot of traveling. We went to Australia, went to Spain. We went all over the US. But at the end of the day, it was just really fun. We had a good time.
How is the style different from conventional skating videos?
It's different from the music we use. I'm a big music lover. My iTunes, I have, I think, 16,000 songs. I'm into a lot of different types of music — classical, jazz. I love Berlin garage rock. Most skate videos, they just use whatever rap is popular when they put it out. I think the music really sets us apart. And then the use of cartoons. Other people don't use cartoons that much.
As a music lover, it must have been exciting to do Red Bull Music Festival. What was that like?
The main focus for all our events always is just creating a safe space that kids can come to and just have fun, period. And we kind of work backwards from that goal. So, the way we pick out our music is just, ‘What do we like? What are we into? What's gonna be fun?’ So that's why we got 1Take Jay. We got Show Me the Body. Those are fun people to watch. Na-Kel Smith, Tierra Whack.
And what was the significance of having it at Pink Motel?
Pink Motel is right outside of NoHo. It's in Sun Valley. They have a pool there and growing up, I always wanted to skate that pool. We would try to sneak in. We'd try to hop the fence. We just never could. And to be able to have an event there and take the whole place over and skate the pool all these years later, that was incredible.
You got to live out that dream. Any takeaways from working on the festival?
During 1Take Jay's performance, he invited kids on stage, and they danced and just had fun up there with him. And that moment, for some reason, really warmed my heart. Made me go, ‘Wow. That's why we do this.’ Those kids, to them, this was a big moment. They had fun doing that. They're gonna talk about that for the rest of their life.
Are you guys working on any other music projects? I read that you're starting a label.
Exactly. We're finalizing our deals now. We're gonna start working with Na-Kel Smith officially and a couple other artists. I can't wait for that. I think we're gonna have a good time with that.
Tell me about some of the other film projects that you're working on.
We're working on a new movie. It's gonna be called North Hollywood. It's about a kid who wants to be a skater, but then his dad wants him to go to college. And at the core, it's really about when you want to follow your passion, but then your parents want you to do the safer thing. We've all been there in our own way, whether with skating or music or whatever. So I'm very excited about that. We're trying to get Matthew McConaughey to be in it.
I'm also working on a documentary about Aminé. I met him around the time that “Caroline” first dropped, and I just hit him up and was like, ‘I love the video. I think the song is really dope. We should meet up.’ And he replied to me immediately in five minutes. And he's like, ‘I'm super down. Let's go to dinner.’ That same night, we went to dinner together. We just hit it off as friends, and then it was kind of go time from there.
Do you feel like North Hollywood is autobiographical in some way?
Of course. I think the reason for that is just do what you know, and do something that you can bring nuance to, and bring authenticity to. And skateboarding, North Hollywood, these are things I know in a real way. I'll be directing. It's my directorial debut. And then we're working on a TV show idea. I don't want to say too much, but it's basically a variety show. But for our world.
As someone who wants to be a director, what was it like working with Jonah Hill on Mid90s ?
It was great. I got to learn a lot from Jonah. I got to really work out film muscles and learn things, then be able to put them into practice. And that's something that is really valuable because there's some people where they can learn all the info, then they never have the opportunity to put it into practice. I had that opportunity. So I'm really thankful for that.
And you did the casting for it. What was the vibe like on set?
Yeah. It was great. We laughed, we joked, and because Alexa [Demie], Na-Kel [Smith], and Ryder [McLaughlin], and all these people that were friends before were able to be in the movie, it just felt like you were hanging with your friends. And it didn't feel like you were at work.
What's your first skating memory?
I grew up in a cul-de-sac. And [my friend Andrew] lived across the street from me. He got a longboard for Christmas, and I was maybe nine. I wasn't allowed to leave the cul-de-sac before this longboard. So, I was allowed to skate around the block by myself and then come back to the cul-de-sac. And it was really the first moment of liberation for me. I remember falling in love with it at that moment because it's like, ‘Wow. This thing allows me to be free, basically.’
Do you think that skating has influenced your work ethic or the way you approach things?
It does, for sure. Because in skating, you fall and have to get up. In my career and in my life, I've never had a problem with failing. I'm not scared of failing. I'm not scared of doing something and it doesn't work or doesn't hit. I think that comes from skateboarding because in skateboarding, you spend so much time falling, not working, and not hitting, but the only thing that matters is when you land it. And your career's the same way. Quincy Jones produced hundreds of songs, thousands of songs. But we talk about “Thriller,” and we talk about ten of those songs. People always forget that. Every artist is the same way. Drake. Whoever. They made hundreds of songs. But the only ones you talk about are the hits. I think people are scared to fail. That's the biggest thing that holds them back. It's like, ‘Just go.’