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Exploring Boom Town with Noah Heath

Reader discretion advised: Boom Town offers a richly wild and grungy perspective on the issues faced by communities across the USA. Noah Heath aka North Street Boogie sat down with me to discuss Boom Town, and the conversation was insightful. However, Boom Town can’t be discussed in its entirety without also touching on psychedelic drugs and experimentation.

Interviewing Noah Heath:

Meeting Noah for the first time was interesting considering how much of his content I had watched in the past couple of years. After exchanging pleasantries, we dove into the nitty gritty of the interview. 

Me: So first, can you give me the elevator pitch for what Boom Town is?

Noah: I’ll try my best, because it’s really complicated. But I’ll start with the definition of boom town, because there’s an actual definition to that word. And while we were looking for a title for the video, we wanted the definition of whatever word we used to kind of align with the project. The definition of Boom Town is: a town undergoing rapid growth due to sudden prosperity. So it’s like, in Minneapolis, where I currently live, there’s gentrification everywhere. Everything is under construction, it’s just new apartments going up left and right. And it’s because the midwestern U.S. is a very safe place to live, so we’re experiencing rapid population growth from people outside of the state. Also, this has been a very affordable city to live in. But people who were already here are being pushed out because the people who are coming here from California and other wealthy places bring their wealth. So the housing prices are skyrocketing and homelessness is going up like crazy. So the word boom town perfectly describes the environment we do parkour in. And that aligns with spot choice. We specifically chose to train in very artificial spots in the video. We love brutalism in parkour, you know? And while brutalism exists in some places in the U.S. it’s really from Europe. So it doesn’t necessarily hit home with training parkour in the U.S. because those spots are harder to find here, and what speaks more to us is like construction sites. We’re a newer country, and our cities, I would assume, are under far more development. I got lost a little bit there, but Boom Town is really about spot choice, and it correlates with drug use as well, but we can get into that.

Me: That’s really interesting, we’re having similar developments here in Salt Lake City, people being priced out of their own neighborhoods, rapid gentrification and homelessness abound. It sounds like Boom Town is all-encompassing. Can you tell me more about who all is involved with the project?

Noah: Sure, so it’s Ethan Rud, Myles Ross, Niko Selski, those are like “The Norf Kids,” my girlfriend Sierra who just helps us out with so much stuff, and then Alec Reduker, who is one of the brains behind The Commons. Then Pawlus, from Colorado, made music for the film. And Drew Taylor from Public, he’s the one who sponsored us and made it happen.

Me: For those unfamiliar, what is Public, and how did they get involved?

Noah: Well Drew basically saw some of our stuff, liked our movement, and thought we had aligned interests, and so he just hit me up and asked if we’d like to make something. I’ll do the best I can to describe (Public) but Drew is the better person for sure. But basically, it’s all about using… ugh, I want to say this right, I want to represent his company right… It’s an adaptation to a privatised environment, if that makes sense. That’s also what parkour is basically.

Me: Yeah, it’s trespassing.

Noah: Exactly. So Public is an idea that we can have a future where the world isn’t so privatised. It’s also about parkour history, and the projects in France where parkour was developed. Those projects have the brutalist architecture we were talking about, which can seem oppressive. But sometimes that oppression forces people to make something out of it. What came of those oppressive structures is parkour, a way to overcome the challenge of the environment that we’re living in. 

Me: So it’s almost a social commentary with parkour as a backdrop, that’s awesome. (At this point it seemed as though the socio-political impacts of parkour might derail the conversation, so I made a dynamic change in subject. However, I hope to have another conversation surrounding this subject soon.) So, from what we’ve seen on Instagram, Boom Town seems tied to mushroom culture, even the name is suggestive. What made you decide to move in this direction stylistically?

Noah: So it’s actually a story. My roommate Niko Selski, I call him “The Shaman,” because he’s really into psychedelics. He’s also a really talented artist, and his art is psychedelic as well. When I moved in with him, I realized how psychedelics are tools to explore, and see the world in a perspective of being able to relate your trauma to the way that you maneuver through the world. If that makes sense. In the past couple of months, as it’s been getting colder, we’ve been taking mushrooms and then going out exploring. A month or two ago, while we were already working on the video, we each took these mushroom chocolates measured at like one gram each, which isn’t that high. Anyway, we came across this bridge with all of these lights under it. I’ve always known that bridge was there, but I always saw it as this concrete structure, not much of a parkour spot, it’s just not that special. But we went down there, and I noticed there was all this construction equipment. So we were just walking through the construction area, tripping haha. Then, we came across a rabbit. Niko’s mom is a talented painter who’s obsessed with Alice in Wonderland, so he was like, “We have to follow that rabbit.” We decided to follow the rabbit through the construction site, and it led us to this huge, like this absolutely massive pipeline that was being dug up. It might have been a new sewer system, it could have been for anything, but it was just this giant hole in the ground. And we were looking at it like, “Geez, this is insane. This is here because of consumption. The city is like a hub of like, consumerist culture. It’s literally destroying our Earth," and I was so emotional in the moment, just looking at it. It was like a physical representation of the video. This is all happening because of consumption. People want to live downtown, people want convenience, I don’t know, I wish I had a better way of explaining it. 

Me: It feels very much like you’re saying that society is a monster, greedily stuffing its face. That’s one hell of a story. 

Noah: Yeah, I mean, it maybe wasn’t too crazy in hindsight, but it was cool because we were working on the Public project at the time, and we were tripping and found that location. It felt like it really tied back into our message that we wanted for the video. And it helped us move forward more with our filming, because it felt like we knew what we were looking for. 

Me: You went so far as to suggest that to get the most out of watching this video, one should be on mushrooms. How does this affect the viewing experience for you?

Noah: The video is really about creativity and adapting to your environment, obviously that’s what parkour is. But I feel if you’re on mushrooms while you watch the video, you’re able to have a more emotional experience with the video. I feel like watching it completely sober, it’s just as cool, but you can’t connect as emotionally with it, and that’s what I feel like psychedelics allow you to do. You can put down your walls emotionally, sacrifice your judgments and everything and take it in for what it is. And that’s what I want people to do, because the video isn’t about the movement necessarily, it’s about the message. I feel like people will appreciate that more on a psychedelic rather than completely sober. Of course, I’m sure people will still appreciate the film sober. 

Me: What would you say to those in the parkour community who might be uncomfortable with the psychedelic aspect of this piece?

Noah: I don’t think there will be a problem, because there’s no actual drug use in the video, but if people saw my Instagram story where I suggested mushroom use and have a problem with that, then that's okay. We’re all different people. It’s not like parkour is going to get to the point where everyone is just okay with drugs. So what I would say to a person, is that the film isn’t about drug use, there isn’t any drug use in the film, it just so happens that the theme of the video correlates to something you can experience while under the influence of psychedelics. But you can have the experience completely sober as well. I think that you’re wrong if you say psychedelics are bad, but it’s okay to not be fully educated on the subject. 

Me: How has drug use affected your parkour?

Noah: Well I always train sober. I don’t know that psychedelics have influenced my movement, but I do think that using psychedelics in the past has helped me think about a spot differently. Psychedelics help me think, “How can I mold myself to this spot, rather than force something on the spot, based on what I’m good at.”

Me: That’s cool, it feels like that circles back around to what you were saying about spot choice. 

Noah: Exactly, it really affects spot choice. When you’re tripping and you aren’t training, but you’re just walking around the city, you’ll see things that you wouldn’t otherwise consider. You’ll find spots that suddenly seem like a really interesting place to do parkour, even if it seemed bland before. 

Me: How would you describe your use of psychedelics, now that so much has come out about them and their effects on mental health?

Noah: I would say mostly recreational. If I’m doing psychedelics, it’s because I’m looking for a new experience or perspective, not that I'm trying to escape or anything like that, but experimenting for sure. And I think it can be beneficial, even recreationally. When I’m with my friends and we’re tripping, we tend to discuss things like personal trauma, frustrations, and it can be really healing to have those conversations. But it always starts out just taking psychedelics with my friends. 

Me: So you think that experimentation can be beneficial?

Noah: Absolutely. But I do think that it needs to be approached with precaution, and you need to understand your family history, in case there is a history of mental health issues. Also your age plays a role. As beautiful as psychedelics are, and as much as I think of them as a tool, I don’t think anyone should do them until they’ve reached a point where their brain is developed. Teenagers shouldn’t be taking psychedelics in my opinion. I mean, people do, and they turn out just fine, so who am I to say what someone can or can’t do. But you need to wait until you’re ready. 

Me: I agree wholeheartedly, as someone who self medicates. 

Noah: Do you micro-dose?

Me: I do, I micro-dose mushrooms primarily, and I smoke cannabis. I never take enough to bring on hallucination or anything like that, but there’s a point where you reach a floating feeling of overwhelming love. 

Noah: You feel like a butterfly right?

Me: Yes exactly! Like a butterfly, that’s a good way to describe it. Have you had any negative experiences?

Noah: Actually, a few days ago I had a friend in town who I hadn’t spoken to in a long time. We have very different values politically and religiously, but he tried mushrooms with me. So we went outside at night, and it was really, really cold. And some homeless people came up to us and asked us for spare change, and I just breezed them off, and one asked me, “Do you know of anywhere warm I can stay.” And I thought to myself, I could help this person right now. I have the room, I could offer them a place in my apartment to stay. But I don’t know this person, or trust this person. I was having an emotional explosion of awful feelings over not wanting to say yes to helping them. It made me fall into a bad trip because I was stuck on these thoughts about how so many of us are in our houses, comfortable and warm every night, while people are sleeping at bus stops in the Minneapolis cold. That’s probably the worst experience I’ve had, but it wasn’t even a bad trip really. I don’t know if I’ve ever really had a bad trip. 

Me: How often do you take mushrooms?

Noah: I don’t have a set schedule or anything. I take mushrooms when I feel like it’s the right time and place for me. If I have nothing to do that day, which is rare, but if I have nothing to do and I’m looking for some inspiration or something, that’s when I’ll dose. I don’t take very much usually, and I don’t have any insane trip stories or anything like that. 

Me: So what would you say to the moms out there who are worried about subcultures like this one existing in extreme sports? 

Noah: I’ve never really thought about that to be honest. Just because so much of the audience of the videos I make aren’t like little kids, you know?

Me: Well I have a mom.

Noah: Hahaha, what would I say to your mom? What would I say to my mom? I would tell my mom everything I told you. One, I would try to educate her on psychedelics, and explain that these are medicines and tools to be used at the right time and place. I would also say that there’s no drug use in the film because I don’t want people to think that I’m promoting drug use. I obviously don’t want kids to do drugs. But I want people who are of an age to have an experience that relates to an adult lifestyle.

Me: So mostly just to approach this with an open mind?

Noah: Yeah, approach it with an open mind.

Me: Do you think that people’s preconceived notions of what a parkour video can be will be challenged by this project? 

Noah: Maybe? I don’t know exactly how to answer. I think what it will help people understand is, parkour doesn’t always have to be an amazing skill level. You don’t need the craziest spots, this film is, I mean, I call it a “textural conquest.” I think it will challenge the ideas of where you can train, where you can make something interesting. It’s a very raw video, not really too much crazy editing or anything. 

Me: It feels like you’re using parkour to inform your message, which is innovative compared to a more standard action edit.

Noah: 100 percent, yeah. And it is an action edit, it’s just an action edit with a broader message behind it. When you watch there will be flashes of words across the screen, which are messages that I don’t want you to necessarily see, I want you to have to pause and go back to those and read; and if you read all of them, you get a clearer image of the concept of the video. So if you want to search for meaning in the video, you can. But if you just want to enjoy the movement, you can also do that. To be honest I’m nervous about releasing it.

Me: Why are you nervous?

Noah: Drew wanted us to hype it up a lot, and make infographics and a trailer for it. I want to do that, but I don’t feel like it’s Sole Destroyer, or this amazing feat of a video, that it’s this groundbreaking thing. It’s just like an artistic video is all it really is, and I have a feeling that there are people out there who expect it to be this crazy edit with insane movement. I mean it’s cool, but Verky isn’t in it or anything. 

Me: Haha I don’t think you need Verky to make a great video.

Noah: Me either, but I think that a lot of people in the parkour community aren’t always open-minded about this kind of stuff. We’re just getting to a point where people are like, “Hey we need to hire an artist to make clothes,” and “We need to not have a parkour video just be about parkour, we need an art direction,” there needs to be all these different things. I hope people are able to take the film as it is and pull a positive message from it. 

Me: I think they will. It sounds like you guys approached this with real passion and an eye towards putting your artistic direction forward. 

Noah: Absolutely. Niko’s an artist, I’m a photographer, Ethan’s an artist in his own way with his movement, Myles is a photographer, and also very talented at drawing. We’re all artists. We can only do parkour for so long, but we’ll always be able to make art. So we might as well develop that with the movement. 

Me: Well thank you for your time and your conversation man. I’m so excited for the video.

Noah: Of course man, thank you for giving me a platform to speak, I’m really glad we could do this.


Boom Town Proper:

Having now seen Boom Town multiple times, I think that Noah and the team’s message came through vividly. Dystopian images of bigwigs exchanging money while the kids play in construction sites and beneath overpasses really drives home the point of the effects of capitalism, consumerism, and wealth on communities. 

The movement of these athletes through a dynamically changing commercial wasteland showcases the limitless potential of parkour, but also elicits concern for the community undergoing this constant spiral of change that’s supposedly for the better. The importance of spot choice was apparent in this piece, from what looks like an empty mall, to construction projects, to the industrial back alleys of Minneapolis. Many times the spots in parkour videos enhance the movement. In this case, the movement showcased the spots, many of which may have been “non-spots” to any other discerning athlete. It felt almost akin to a skate or snowboarding part, where the movement performed on those locations could only have been done there, at that moment; because the spots are either different now that construction has moved along, or because of the “artificial” nature of the obstacles. Things like porta-potties and construction cones become fixtures of impressive movement and percussive instruments, rather than the temporary, dull signs of human expansion they are. 

The whole project is a commentary on the ever shifting landscape of American values and culture through the tinted lenses of psychedelics. Boom Town says unflattering things about the American approach to civilized life, about who gives and who takes, and about the struggles endured by communities everywhere. This film is what I would go so far as to call art. In my opinion this challenges the norm of parkour videos in a refreshing and welcome way. I hope that Public and the Norf Kids continue to make projects showcasing the grimy realism of parkour in an ever-privatised America. 

We at Motus don’t condone drug use, but we understand that people will do as they wish regardless. It’s important that, as a community, we take a stance of respect for people’s personal choices, and err on the side of caution and responsibility regarding intoxicants of any kind. Ultimately, just love and respect one another.  

 

Media Credit- All photos courtesy of The Norf Kids: Ethan Rud, Niko Selski, Noah Heath, and Myles Ross

Public Logo and righteous anger courtesy of publicfuture.com

Art by Niko Selski