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Wednesday, April 17, 2013
On the record with The Blackouts

By Robin Fleming
XGames.com

You know those people who just seem to have it made, like they were born under a lucky star, or maybe made a pact with the devil later in life? Multiply that rarified good fortune by two and you've got skateboarding's favorite twin brothers, Ako and Atiba Jefferson. They've loosely orchestrated their lives into a continuous party, surrounding themselves with friends both day and night and parlaying their love of good times and great music into a secondary career as DJs.

Basically, everything that the brothers Jefferson are interested in becomes a huge part of their lives. They both love skateboarding and grew up battling each other at games of S.K.A.T.E., so naturally they both found their niche in the skateboarding industry. For more than a decade, Atiba has photographed the best skateboarders in the world, with a style so unique that he changed the look of skateboard photography. The perfect complement to his brother's work, Ako is an art director and graphic designer. The two set the tone and visual style of the recently defunct footwear brand ÚS, helped define the look of Transworld Skateboading magazine and are co-founders of The Skateboard Mag.

In addition to their gigs within the skate industry, the pair has managed to pull secondary jobs that rival their first. Atiba is an avid basketball fan who found his way onto the court assisting an NBA lensman and has maneuvered his love of the game into photographing his home team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Ako is called upon by some of the biggest brands in the world to inject a little bit of authenticity and flair into their global campaigns.

That takes care of their day jobs, but when the twins really come alive is after the sun has set. Atiba, who plays keyboards in the skate-rock band The Goat & The Occasional Others, and Ako, who spends his free time searching the Internet for music, have become skateboarding's most popular DJs: the dynamic duo known as The Blackouts.

Looking back at their childhood, it's easy to see where their rich and eclectic tastes for music come from: Their mom exposed them to everything from Weather Report to Led Zeppelin to The Specials. One of Atiba's earliest memories is seeing Peter Tosh live in concert. Ako remembers how he spent his first paycheck: "I worked in a car garage and I had enough money to get some records, so it was Black Flag 'My War,' Bad Religion 'Suffer' and Eazy-E 'Eazy Duz It.'"

Twenty years later, Ako's early record selections sound like a typical set-list for a Thursday night at the Cha Cha Lounge, a neighborhood bar that The Blackouts have helped turn into Los Angeles' best-known skate watering hole. Since 2008 The Blackouts have been manning the wheels of steel (which in their case are actually two iPads). They've set the tone at parties and events for companies like StŘssy, Vans, Nike, Shake Junt, Emerica and Altamont. Believe it: These two know how to move the crowd.

Watching them DJ, early in the set it's clear there's some twin telepathy going on as they flow from track to track, stoking out the crowd. They'll cut each other off in mid-song, flipping from R. Kelly to Bad Brains without a fade.

"Ako is always showing off the new music he has. He DJs to play music that people haven't heard; I DJ for people to have fun," Atiba explains. Ako concurs: "Atiba is a crowd pleaser, me not so much, but it's a good balance -- yin and yang."

When they spin, the crowd shows up to party with them, not to be entertained. After all, you can't spell "brothers" without "bros." Atiba breaks it down, stating, "We're terrible DJs, for the record, but it's more about having fun and partying. DJing is the aspect, but it's a party that's the whole vibe of The Blackouts."

Although the Jeffersons don't take themselves too seriously, brands have caught on to the high energy and good vibes the brothers are generating. In 2010 The Blackouts were the first advocates for the Vans OTW footwear line and were given the chance to design their own shoe. During that same year, in support of the launch of OTW, The Blackouts got to perform with hip-hop royalty like RZA and Pete Rock.

In 2011 their ongoing OTW partnership provided The Blackouts with another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to make a limited-edition vinyl compilation for reggae label VP Records. The Jefferson brothers packed up their gear and headed to Jamaica. While they worked on the album, they got to meet some of the biggest reggae producers and dancehall artists and, like a musical homecoming, they were returned to the reggae roots instilled in them as little kids.

The Blackouts project also provides an avenue for Ako and Atiba to work with their friends. They partnered up with Animal Collective, creating an online mix on the band's website. They were immortalized on pro skateboarder Jerry Hsu's skateboard graphic for enjoi. Recently they played at Eric Koston's Nike shoe-release party, surrounded by their friends.

Although The Blackouts would be stoked to have a weekly radio show, with their busy schedules, even Thursday night at the Cha Cha is hard to pull off. Ako, the elder twin, will bring in a ringer, like Avey Tare from Animal Collective or skater Tino Razo, to sub in if Atiba's out of town. Partygoers don't know who of the identical twins is whom. Atiba laughs, explaining, "Through social media I'll get posts saying @atibaphoto is DJing and no one knows I'm on the other side of the world."

More than 15 years ago the Jeffersons had a master plan when they moved from Colorado to Southern California. "We were moving out here to be like the movie 'Men At Work' with Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez, where they had their day job and they were both trash men and then just kicked it and had fun at night," Atiba explains. "It seemed like the perfect lifestyle."

Dream realized.