We had arranged to meet up with a member of the S.O.T crew, an elusive collective of graffiti writers, musicians, and self-taught tattooists who come from Vienna, Dresden and Berlin respectively.
We came across their tumblr a couple of weeks before we left for Berlin and decided that we had to track them down. Their tattoo flashes included a cat with a paintbrush in its mouth, a ‘love dog’ smoking a joint, death on the toilet reading LIFE mag, and a carp smoking a fag with a beanie on, to name but a few.
We had tentative arrangements of where to meet but his lack of fixed address, arranged meeting time and extremely thin email thread left us doubtful. We obediently followed google maps from the U-Bahn to our supposed meeting spot and found ourselves outside a large estate of tenement tower blocks, each a different shade of pale pink. As we debated which block it was we were looking for, the door in front of us swung open and a tall, thin man stepped out. He asked if we were the Out Here guys, we nodded, and he said he needed to get a coffee.
We visited several coffee shops before finding the right one, the first few were too expensive, he said, before returning to his friends apartment where he was staying whilst in Berlin. The walls and windowsills were decorated with hand printed gig posters, sketchy illustrations and platform toys. I inquired about where the tattooing might take place, ‘right here’ he replied without any hint of uncertainty. We were sat in his friends bedroom at the time and, on reflection, we could have reacted cooler, failing to hide our surprise and confusion at the same time.
Ricaletto still uses the same basic tattoo gun he started with some years ago, shared with other self taught tattooist from Dresden.
Although only having been recently accepted as a fully fledge member of S.O.T, Ricaletto had been tattooing his friends for several years. Together with a few other self taught tattooists from Dresden, where he is based, he bought a basic tattoo gun to learn with, sketching out designs and trying them out on each other. That was some years ago but still they use the same gun, and it was with this aged tattoo gun that Louis was to get his Karate fighting Berlin Bear. S.O.T. only started around two/three years ago and not even Ricaletto knows how many members there are or even what it stands for, “I think its Sick Of Tribals, but I don’t really know”. They started for kicks, as just another way to create what they like to draw, just instead of paper or canvas its skin.
There was a makeshift feel about this tattoo studio, but then the very nature of S.O.T. and its members felt makeshift. Their tattoos are basic, single needle designs that require a certain sense of humour. They can be as mundane as a 2D outline of a cocktail glass or as psychedelic as a dolphin with human legs being ensnared by the spiderweb of a smiling skull. But the striking thing about these guys and their tattoos, and what sums up our experience of the people of Berlin, is the lack of self consciousness, how they don’t take themselves too seriously.
We took Ricaletto out for some lunch to say thanks for the tattoo. He talked about how living in Berlin had changed even in the short time he had been coming here. That increasing rent prices are driving the artists out of the city, making it way more difficult for them to create work. He talked with enthusiasm about his punk band Pisse (no need to translate) who were playing an EP launch party that Friday. To advertise the show, they designed, hand printed and pasted up their own posters around Berlin. He said their label couldn’t understand why they didn’t just make a facebook group. “I think the web has changed everything, even with our punk shows. When we do posters in the streets its for the last three kids in town without facebook. And for ourselves. Because even if it looks like a lot of posters in the streets, fewer people come to the show if its not on facebook”.
When we asked Ricaletto about how he manages to make enough money from his artwork and tattooing, he spoke plainly about how he struggles to find a balance between selling and selling out. “Its the stereotypical conflict of artists, to fight the hand that feeds you. The art industry is no lifestyle to me. Art is maybe a lifestyle but I’m not even sure of that. It all comes down to compromises for me. You might find yourself open to great opportunities for trips and money, but it comes with a price. Only you know whether it is worth it”.