In the first of the series, we take a moment to explore the lives of some inspirational Londoners and dig a little deeper into the stories behind their success. From DJs, to Special Forces Operatives, to Olympians, each of the interviewees have one thing in common; a love of London Town and being on two wheels. We’ll be releasing one each day throughout December, don’t say we don’t spoil you.
Charlie Dark is a man of many talents; Beat Maker, Writer, Poet, and founder of the now infamous Run Dem Crew. We talk with Charlie (virtually known as @daddydarkrdc, check him on Instagram) about how an idea amongst friends exploded into an international running community and his plans to shake-up London cycling culture.
For those that aren’t aware, tell us a little bit about Run Dem Crew and how the idea came about.
Run Dem Crew is a community of people drawn from all over the world who meet on a regular basis to run and explore London generally under the cover of darkness. In a nutshell a running group remixed for people who thought they didn’t like running. A family first, community second and a running group third. We always say that running is the least important part of what we do.
I started running around 9 years ago as a way of getting in shape for a theatre role and basically never stopped. I guess at that time in my life I really needed a new escape and running became a way of exploring London in a new way. I never imagined that people would want to join me on this adventure but my little Friday night running group with friends has grown into an international movement with affiliates in many different cities across the planet.
You must have witnessed some amazing success stories from people in the group who have used running to change the way they live their lives. Do you have one story in particular that stands out?
There are so many stories that have resonated since our inception but I guess the progression made by our Younger members is what sticks in the mind most. Seeing young boys go from a very negative and suspicious view of the world to embracing every opportunity given to them is a beautiful thing to see. At the beginning of the year we started a Swim Dem project where we gathered a group of non swimmers and challenged them to swim a mile in six months, not only did they conquer that challenge but they then went on to complete triathlons and become swimming instructors all in the space of nine months. The power of a positive community around the unknown can really help those who can benefit from it most but are initially the most difficult to reach.
You have recently launched Bike Dem Crew, great idea. Can you tell us your plans for the group?
Bike Dem has been brewing for a long while now and we’ve finally found the time to begin really exploring the possibilities of what we can achieve with the project. I’m really interested in linking the roadman mountain bike wheelie boy culture with the road and fixed wheel scene. Whenever I’m out on my bike particularly in East London I always see teens whizzing through traffic on mountain bikes in packs with a complete disregard for traffic laws and some type of guardian angel on their shoulders. I see an energy in that subculture that could prove interesting when sprinkled over the mass cycling movement. We’ve got plans for an exhibition around the idea and some interesting collaborations ahead.
In the same way we built a community around running and swimming it’s now time for us to open cycling up to a new energy. There is a tremendous amount of freedom that comes from riding a bike and it’s a skill that many young kids are unable to do. If you don't have someone in your life to teach you then how can you learn? I still find the cycling world slightly intimidating and very male and feel opening it up to some strong female energy could also hopefully encourage more women to get on the road and start riding.
It’s about creating access points for people to get involved so look out for some big Bike Dem rides in the future.
What do you love about cycling in London (aside from riding your gorgeous Bianchi fixed gear)?
It wasn’t until I started riding fixed that I started to really enjoy cycling in London. I was a late adaptor but people kept telling me about the energy and flow of riding a fixed wheel bike and then quite a few of my running friends switched over and eventually I gave in. That very first ride on my Bianchi through Victoria Park and down Hackney Road will stay with me forever. It just felt like running at high speed in the middle of the traffic and it made me feel alive. There is a particular ebb and flow that is unique to London that you only really feel when you cycle.
What I love about cycling in London is the way you can dip off a busy road and wind your way through the back streets at any time. Sometimes the long way around is the most satisfying way to reach your destination.
You’re starting a record label next year. Tell us a bit more about your background in music.
I’ve been involved in the music industry for 30 years now and every day is a new adventure. I started as a Dj in the mid 80’s and moved into production and remixing with my band Attica blues in the 90’s. We were signed to Mo Wax and Sony Records releasing two albums and numerous remixes along the way. Since I first started playing records I’ve been playing in clubs around the world and currently am part of a Hip Hop Vs Dancehall night and a really fun kids and parents party called Fun DMC. I’m just spreading the positive musical energy across the generations.
The record label is a natural extension of Run Dem as we are connected to so many people who either sing, make, play or produce music. There is this Grime MC called Jammz who is currently blowing up who has been running with the crew since he was 15. Now he’s in his mid 20’s and a rising star and it only makes sense to begin putting out music from our talent pool.
I’ve always said that sport without music is just a game and movement and music go hand in hand so it’s exploration time.
Do you find running and creativity complement each other?
The routine of following a training plan can bring a tremendous amount of order to a disorganised but creative mind. It’s taught me how to focus my thoughts and to realise that a little bit of excellence every day is better than hours of being average. Running is a great metaphor for life and allows me time to incubate creative ideas away from the confines of the desk. My best ideas have come on long runs in the early hours with the phone on silent.
Describe your personal style.
Sharp, fitted, classic and tailored. As my body has changed through all the training so my style has changed from a baggy Hip Hop style to something with slimmer silhouettes. I’ve finally learnt how to dress for my body shape and as I’ve grown up and become more comfortable in myself I’ve become less of a walking bill board with big logos, it’s funny how your tastes change as times goes on. The hardest part of being an athlete and trying to find clothes is trying to find trousers that will fit around my tree trunk running thighs but still fit my slim waist. It’s a constant battle