Jonathan Olivares sitting on a daybed in his library, reading a large art book.
Photo: Sam Frost

Designer Jonathan Olivares’s All-Time Favorite Skateboarding Soundtrack

By Aileen Kwun
June 20, 2020
7 minute read

The Los Angeles–based industrial designer Jonathan Olivares produces works with a profound understanding and observation of how the human body sits and moves through space. But his first passion, before discovering design, was skateboarding. Ahead of national Go Skateboarding Day tomorrow, here he shares a playlist of his favorite skateboarding songs, and the legendary video parts that feature them. “This is a selection of songs that have been paired with some of my favorite skate-video parts,” Olivares says. “I continue to watch these videos and skate with these songs in my headphones. They conjure an attitude and aesthetic that influence and inspire my work as a designer.”

“Know the Ledge,” Eric B. & Rakim Juice (featured in: Eric Koston, H-Street – Next Generation, 1992)

“Cuz It’s Wrong,” Slick Rick (featured in: Eric Koston, Goldfish, 1993)

“I was first exposed to new school–style street skating at my middle school, in 1992. While I had messed around with an old-school board in the eighties, it was the new-school, hip-hop–influenced skateboarding aesthetic that really captivated my attention and turned me into a lifelong skater. These two video parts capture all the raw energy and potential exhibited in Eric Koston’s early years of professional skating.”

“Lose In the End,” Casual (featured in: Mike Carroll, Plan B Virtual Reality, 1993)

“Mike Carroll was unstoppable in this era, which was an intense period of innovation for street skating. The Bay Area hip-hop that Carroll and his peers introduced to the skateboarding world through their video parts changed the sound of skate culture. Carroll and Casual’s laid-back styles are a perfect match for each other, and the part and song are just as motivating today as they were in 1993. Two of Carroll’s other parts from this period include the De La Soul songs ‘I Am I Be’ and ‘Oodles of O’s’.”

“007 (Shanty Town),” Desmond Dekker & The Aces (featured in: Keenan Milton, Las Nueve Vidas de Paco, 1995)

“Worldwide (Instrumental),” Royal Flush (featured in: Keenan Milton & Gino Iannucci, Mouse, 1996)

“Keenan Milton and Gino Iannucci’s skating in these video parts set a standard for quality and execution that I try to follow in my work: Do it fast, do it big, do it with style—ride away clean. When Milton’s part in Mouse came out, it was before the app Shazam existed, and also before all skate videos credited songs. It took me a couple years to identify this song as the instrumental [version] of Royal Flush’s ‘Worldwide,’ and, in the meantime, I figured out how to dub an audio cassette from a VHS tape so I could play the song on my Walkman. The sounds of skateboarding, running on top of my bootleg copy, made it even better.”

“Watermelon Man,” Herbie Hancock (featured in Guy Mariano, Mouse, 1996)

“Like many skaters of the mid-’90s, I watched this video hundreds of times, and often in slow motion so as to better observe it. In this part, Mariano elevated skateboarding beyond what was thought to be possible, and the use of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Watermelon Man’ helped fashion a new kind of atmosphere for skateboarding.”

“Bounce, Rock, Skate Roll,” Vaughn Mason (featured in: Montage, Zoo York’s Mixtape, 1997)

“The first skateboards were made in the 1950s, using trucks and wheels from roller skates, so a skateboard is essentially a stretch roller-skate. In the seventies and eighties, roller disco—another evolution of roller-skating—was born, so roller-disco and skateboarding are like cousins. I was introduced to roller-disco music—one of my favorite genres—through this montage in Zoo York’s 1997 video Mixtape.”

“9 Little Millimeta Boys,” 8ball & MJG (featured in: Ishod Wair’s Sabotage 3, 2013)

“Shots to Tha Double Glock,” Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (featured in: Ishod Wair, Told Ya, 2015)

“Great skateboarding, like great hip-hop or basketball, requires a high degree of bravado and panache, and Ishod Wair has the most of any skater in his generation. His style, sense of humor, technical skill, the symmetry of his skating (regular and goofy), and his other four-wheeled hobbies (Carreras and E30s) make him a tremendous pleasure to watch.”

“Night Moves,” Bob Seger (featured in: Cory Kennedy, Pretty Sweet, 2012)

“Old School,” 2Pac (featured in: Cory Kennedy, Pump on This, 2019)

“Riding around on a wooden board with wheels is inherently carefree and light-hearted. Giving advice to young skaters seeking sponsorship, a recent issue of Thrasher states that ‘taking yourself too seriously can be a drag,’ that you can blow it by ‘not try[ing] hard enough or try[ing] too hard,’ and that teams look for ‘multi-faceted, interesting people who are fun-loving.’ While being good, or great, at skateboarding requires hard work, the best skaters make it look effortless and, more importantly, they make it look fun. Cory Kennedy is one of these figures, and the fun he has while he skates is highly contagious.”

“Playground Love,” Air Featuring Gordon Tracks

“Sphynx,” La Femme (both featured in: Mark Suciu, Verso, 2019)

“Throughout my career as a designer, I have searched to find the right analogy between skateboarding and design. In a 2020 Thrasher interview, where he discusses his video part Verso, Mark Suciu says, ‘There are certain photographs by photographers from the seventies of certain buildings of modernist architecture that I look at as being perfectly composed—perfection in every sense—and I felt the same way when I watched Ishod do that noseblunt. What I think I’m looking for are instances of just complete unity with your board. When you achieve that kind of perfection, there’s an absence of technique that is pure skating.’ Then, at the 4:27 mark of Verso, in one of my favorite sequences ever, Suciu switch heelflips over one of Enzo Mari’s Mobile Street blocks at Stazione Centrale in Milan—a perfect trick over a perfect object. In this moment, I understood mastery in skateboarding and mastery in design as being perfection, unity and purity.”