How Kamp Seedorf Creates Culture in a Town Without History
"You can talk about it, but not with us"
Hands slick with gobs of glue, we suddenly need to turn a corner on the steep slope going down into the canal. “It’s the cops!” our lookout says as we lie down flat in the grass, looking at an old ‘ACAB’ tag, hoping to stay out of sight. Half of Eazy-E’s face sticks to a foot of the bridge above us, with a bucket of glue that has just been left there below him. Two officers on bikes roll past, totally oblivious to our presence and happily cycling in the direction of Yanmar Stadion, the humble stadium where Almere City FC is playing a home game tonight. We’ll be visiting that match soon, but not before we get the rest of Eazy’s face up, and wash this glue off our hands in the canal he’ll soon be watching over. This is how I’ve been inducted into the world of Kamp Seedorf.
Almere, or “Ally,” as it’s lovingly known by many of its younger residents, is a town without history. Bordering on Amsterdam, it’s in one of the northern tips of Flevoland, an artificial province in the middle of The Netherlands, constructed in the late ’60s and early ’70s, furthering the plans originally concocted by an ambitious 19th-century engineer named Cornelis Lely. If this sounds like the plot to a comic book, I assure you, it’s all very real.
Despite it seemingly sci-fi origins, Almere is also the butt of an onslaught of tedious jokes in The Netherlands. Its dearth of historical sites and wealth of modern architecture is—depending on who you ask outside of its city limits—an eyesore at worst, a huge bore at best. If, however, you stand on the soil of Almere itself, where half a century ago there was only seawater, and dare to walk around your supposedly snore-inducing surroundings, you will quickly find Ally has a lot to offer. The city’s overwhelmingly young population grabs bits and pieces from everything that sparks their imagination, and all that cultural flotsam is coalescing into a style wholly its own. While Amsterdam rests on the laurels of its rich history, much of its most vibrant current culture actually originates from its little brother to the southeast, Almere. This town without history is hard at work forging an identity, and manning that furnace is its most famous street art crew: Kamp Seedorf.
They take their name after legendary footballer Clarence Seedorf, one of The Netherlands’ most successful players of all time. He played for Ajax Amsterdam’s glorious 1990s team, and for one of the best ever iterations of the national orange squad. The crew’s name not only hints at their strong ties to football culture and the neighboring city of Amsterdam, but also their love for people who dare to go against the grain. “He’s very business-minded,” Eus says, referring to their namesake. “But in a different way than others are,” Mike adds. “’I demand respect,’ he stated when he was around 18. He was thinking like 35-year-old already, back when he was fifteen, which is beautiful,” Clyde remembers. “But where our fascination with him springs from?” “He’s not boring,” Mike answers. “A colorful character. Outspoken. There’s not a dull moment around him.”
Of course, Clyde, Mike and Eus aren’t the trio’s real names. They’re pseudonyms they’ve adopted to hide their identity as the core of what makes up Kamp Seedorf. “I started around five years ago,” Clyde explains, sitting in their workshop, surrounded by reams of paper, works in progress, paint, inks, buckets of glue and a dusty rack of ’90s rap CDs. “I came out of the graffiti scene originally, and when you get older you tend to get a bit tired of lugging around those spray cans every night… I really got inspired by what Banksy was doing, to be totally honest with you.”
After drawing a portrait of Clarence Seedorf and pasting it up, Mike, a buddy who frequented the same bar in Amsterdam as Clyde did, got wind of what he was doing and wanted to help. Two years later, Eus took one of their portraits with him on a trip to Portugal, to visit his beloved football team Benfica, and pasted it up on their stadium. He was brought into the fold as Kamp Seedorf’s third member shortly thereafter.
“We always try to find the edge of what’s acceptable”
“Simply put, I make all the artwork and Mike and Eus help cut and color it, while all three of us think up ideas,” Clyde explains. “All of us work together in pasting, Mike does the merchandising, website and online store, while Eus runs the social media accounts.” “And the business aspects,” he quickly adds.
“The youngest of us runs the business,” says Clyde.“That’s our division of roles. A good one, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Three generations,” Mike notes. “One in his twenties, one in his thirties and one in his forties.”
“We get together weekly to come up with new ideas,” says Clyde. “Usually combined with plenty of beers.”
“We always try to find the edge of what’s acceptable,” Clyde adds. Every piece they put up he draws by hand, usually outlined in India ink with a brush, and colored with acrylic paint. The works they sell are spray-painted with stencils, in runs of 25 to 50 pieces. “That’s how we pay our rent,” Eus says. Their work consists of portraits of people they find interesting, but that doesn’t mean they personally support all of them.
Clyde: “We’ve also pasted up Khadafi.” Eus: “And Berlusconi.” They’ve painted The Netherlands’ king Willem-Alexander as well, referencing a photo of him as a student pulling on a cigarette, accompanied by the text “Young Lex.” His wife, queen Maxíma of the house of Orange, was portrayed in orange scrubs, surrounded by the cast of the popular Netflix show Orange is the New Black.
“It causes a lot of confusion”
The most common denominators in their work though, are football and hip hop. “Everything we do needs to have a certain cool factor,” Clyde sums up. “The artists we reference run from EPMD to very young guys. We’re all hip hop heads though, and I personally love to keep up with it.” That’s evidenced by paste-ups of artists like JME and A$AP Ferg, and one of the famous street name signs they’ve created, marking a place in Almere were Lil Fame and Billy Danze once performed as the “M.O.P. Promenade.”
Those wooden signs, painted in the same blue hue as official Dutch street signs, and utilizing the same white lettering, are glued in places where a street sign might be placed but isn’t. Usually in broad daylight. “It’s done in ten seconds flat, so you can get hard to reach places,” Eus reveals. “And Mike is tall.”
“It causes a lot of confusion,” Clyde says between laughs. “It really does a number on the city council. We’ve pasted a ‘Mr. Shakesplein’ [Mr. Shakes Square] in Amsterdam, where there never was a street sign. Total confusion. They’d removed the sign, but replaced it later on with a real sign, on the exact same spot where ours used to be.”
“You can still see the smudges of glue there,” Mike says proudly. Their street sign marking the ‘Hipstergracht’ [Hipster Canal] was also removed because it confused local postmen, but according to Eus, you can still find reviews left by tourists on hotel websites, that describe their visit to the “Hipstergracht area”. “That really cracks me up,” Clyde bellows.
“We’re trying to remain anonymous, G”
Despite guarding their identities and the joy they take in annoying municipalities, their relationship with the authorities isn’t always fraught. When Amsterdam’s esteemed mayor Eberhard van der Laan revealed himself to be suffering from lung cancer, they put up a portrait of him in the city’s center, with the words “Damsko Strijder”—a slang term meaning “Amsterdam’s warrior”— tagged next to him. (Strijder is a term used in Dutch rap lingo to describe someone who reps for you and your movement.) The piece portrayed him, then, as a warrior for the city, and against cancer. The official Twitter account of Amsterdam’s police department RT’d their photo of the work, and the mayor himself managed to send them a personal letter of thanks. The work won an award for ‘Best Message’ at the annual Dutch Street Awards, but even though Eus was in attendance, they didn’t pick up their award, nor gave an acceptance speech. “We’re trying to remain anonymous, G,” he explains.
Walking around the town with Eus, I find that there’s varying levels of how secretive they are. They may slightly let down their guard in their beloved Ally. Almere contains an impressive arts center, placed alluringly near the vast waters on the outskirts of the city’s center. The building named KAF (Kunstlinie Almere Flevoland), contains a theater and museum, and a wall with plush upholstery, “suitable for a pimp’s mansion,” according to Eus. Kamp Seedorf has an exposition there, and while Eus guides us through it, two young girls admiring the art work overhear him talking about the particulars of creating certain works in it. “Excuse me, did you make this?” one of them dares to ask. “Yeah, but keep it on the down low,” he answers them with an affable smirk.
The entryway to the exposition has a wall filled with tags and images they created referencing spots around town in their local slang, as well as pictures illustrating the history of the city’s football club. The rest of the country might be ignorant of Almere, but its inhabitants are repping hard for their hometown. This becomes even more obvious when we attend Almere City FC’s match of the day. Many songs fans sing at football matches focus on deriding their opponent, especially those caught up in classic rivalries. Due to its short history, however, Almere is devoid of such a nemesis to rally around. Instead, they just loudly rally around their team itself, and take pride in their city, no matter what’s happening on the pitch. “Oh Almere, is wonderful / And at the end of the season it will be full / the grand market, the city square / the championship party this year will be there,” they proudly sing.
Kamp Seedorf is a source of pride to Ally as well, and appreciated by many, with a following steadily growing throughout Europe. Still, its three members remain insistent on their anonymity. Though they don’t cause much damage —besides glue residue and the occasional spray-painted tag— what they’re doing is still technically illegal. “For us to be prosecuted, someone would have to register a crime being committed, but whatever,” Mike says. “If you let that stop you, you can never do anything.”
“We just like the sense of mystery,” says Clyde. “I don’t want people to know it’s me doing this.”
“You can do whatever you want. Depict whoever you want, say what you want,” Eus figures.
“Without the need to explain it,” Mike adds.
“That’s absolutely true,” says Clyde. “It buys us creative freedom.”
“Like when we did the ‘Je Moeders Kutstraat’ [roughly translated: ‘Ya Momma’s Cunt Street’],” Mike remarks. “You don’t want people running up to you the next day asking ‘but what’s the point you’re making with it? What does it mean?’ We just pasted it there. Period. You can talk about it, but not with us.”
— Kamp Seedorf (@kampseedorf) March 5, 2017