Drifting as a community space: alumnus Tee Byford on his Channel 4 series “Driving Sideways”

Whether you take an interest in the motorsport of drifting or not, the Channel 4 series of short films “Driving Sideways” is well worth a watch. Its ostensible focus is drifting itself, a driving style in which the driver keeps the car in a state of oversteer; the real stars, though, are not cars but the humans who thrive in this fringe community.

The director and creator of the series is Goldsmiths Design alumnus and visiting tutor Tearlach (also known as Tee) Byford, who found out about drifting after a friend he’d stumbled upon by chance in a pub invited him to observe an event:  “I went with my little camera, just to see if it’s interesting. And I did realise that what they were doing was far beyond just driving a car. Actually, it was a community centre, and the car was the architecture, the device that allowed those people to come together and have this sort of common sense of place and belonging.”

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From then on, Tee was hooked and decided to follow and film more drifting events, alongside Alex Layton, a friend who eventually became director of photography for the series. Together they explored different visual approaches to the subject, as well as the “community space” theory which attracted Tee to the project. “We live in an age where we don’t have communities around jobs so much anymore, we don’t have communities around the places where we live so much anymore, so for me this is a real celebration of a group of people coming together and having a sort of one-ness through this vehicle”, Tee says.

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The journey from idea to finished product was not an easy one. Tee and his team approached Channel 4 with a pitch early on, but after an initial positive response it seemed that interest had cooled down and the project was put on hold. As time passed, Tee became involved with other projects, one of which involved building his own houseboat (“I’ve wanted to live on a boat for a long time”, he declares). However, a production company showed interest in the drifting films and came onboard, and Channel 4 themselves returned to the idea eventually, out of the blue. Thus “Driving Sideways” was finally born, at the end of an intense process of filming and postproduction, which Tee describes as “an amazing experience, very-very full on”.

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Jodie in “Driving Sideways” episode 4

“Driving Sideways” makes excellent use of its short running time (six episodes of three and a half minutes each), showcasing the diversity of the drifting community: ” you have the professionals, you have the party characters, then you have the grassroots guys – you know, they’re not doing it for money- and then you have the sort of odd characters, like Jodie (nb- from Episode 4, “Driving like a girl“), there aren’t many girls in this sport, and she’s a great character, she really wanted to make her way, she doesn’t want to be treated differently.” You can watch the entire series on the Channel 4 website.

"The Social Mining Union", Tee's 2014 graduation project
“The Social Mining Union”, Tee’s 2014 graduation project

Tee sees his work as growing around “communities that exist on the edge”, and how social infrastructure works in creating communities,  a theme that was already visible in his 2014 graduation project from the BA Design course at Goldsmiths, “The Social Mining Union”. He believes his current work as a filmmaker is staying true to his background and training as a designer while allowing him to reach a larger, more diverse audience:  “I find film very accessible as a tool, for the types of audiences that I want to expose to my ideas. […] I think film is very provocative, because it brings together so many different disciplines, it brings design thinking, it brings music, it brings image- whatever you can imagine, it can bring into that space. I would still call myself a designer, but also a filmmaker and an artist.” (Find out more about Tee’s work from his website)