Creator Download: Jake Warren

Message Heard brings us the story of a very British grudge match between artists

Jake Warren is the man behind Who Robs A Banksy?, the weird and wonderful tale of a street artist, AK47 - also known as Andy Link - who kidnapped a Banksy sculpture and held it to ransom in his back garden. But who on earth robs a Banksy - and why? 

It’s a long story and the kidnapping was just the start - the show takes in years of insanity including a trip through the UK’s oddest subcultures (80s football hooliganism, the 90s illegal rave scene and even fetish parties). What does Banksy make of it all, we wonder…

How would you describe your podcast?

It’s essentially a revenge story between a man who goes by the name of AK47, whose real name is Andy Link, who decided to try to get revenge on the world's most famous, beloved anonymous artist, Banksy. Not for some grandiose reason; there's no big crazy decision by him deciding that he was Banksy's nemesis, other than Banksy slighting him 20 years ago by refusing to sign something for him and accusing him of being… I think it was “a cheap Northern bastard”. 

So basically on one level it's a revenge story between two nemeses, but it’s also kind of a Tiger King/Forrest Gump story, where Andy is this larger-than-life character. And really, he has been at the forefront pioneering most of the craziest, weirdest British subcultures over the last 40 years - from football hooliganism to illegal acid, house raves to fetish parties to porn to gun-running for freedom fighters in Burma. I mean, there's not much he hasn't done. And then obviously eventually reaching the street art-world weight, which put him on a collision course with Banksy. So it's a multi-layered story. Truth is stranger than fiction. A wild caper.

Why did you start your podcast?

Lots of people, I think, would give you polished answers: “I did research for months and months and I found this topic incredibly interesting and I felt there was a desire and a need for us to address this issue in society.” [Whereas] I literally heard someone talking about it at a party. This woman was describing how her crazy neighbour had stolen a Banksy statue that was just living in their garden. And me, being a slightly nosy person, said, “What do you mean?” She told me more and I got sucked in. We did the research as well - I’ll put that caveat in, of course - but in terms of how we discovered it, it fell in our laps.

What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started?

When you're dealing with something at the centre of it like a Banksy, where the entire MO and mystique around Banksy is his anonymity, right? That's basically what his entire shtick is, which means that he's entirely in control of whatever narrative that he puts out. He never compromises for anyone or anything. He just doesn't engage. And so I think maybe we could have been… more deceitful is probably the right way to say it, in trying to get Banksy and the Banksy machine to engage with us. Because they're never going to respect the official channels of trying to get in touch with Banksy and his team; they must get a million inquiries a day, you know? “Hi, Banksy, I love you, will you go on my podcast?” No, of course he's not gonna go on your podcast. 

But we did things slightly more nefariously and slightly more underhanded. We managed to peek behind that Banksy veneer a little more. I wish we'd been a bit more underhanded. I know, that's a strange thing to say. But I think if we had maybe thought about it more from a, “How do we make it so that he can't ignore us and can't just not engage?” We maybe would have had even more of a response.

How many people does it take to create an episode of your show?

Quite a few. It's a proper production with a proper team of different core competencies on it. I'm gonna say probably five or six different people - producers, writers, exec producers, sound engineers, researchers, sound designers… five, six, seven people. It's a proper production with proper specialisations within that, and different people just working on different aspects to it. 

Do you monetise your podcast?

The monetisation of this is slightly different, because we did this in partnership with Podimo UK, a newly launched service, where their global business model is a subscription-based thing. So the way in which they monetise is behind a paywall. You pay per month and you get all of their great content. We partnered with them rather than making it for them; if you make something for someone, then obviously you get paid your money, and you don't necessarily see any upside in terms of sponsorship and advertising. And outside of that paywall, it does give us the opportunity to monetise. 

I think the monetisation for that is a longer game, which is if it's a quality, quality show, and hopefully people will agree that it is, the way you'd monetise it is probably through adaptation into film and TV and things like that. If the show does very, very well, then hopefully people will come knocking to turn that into TV, film books, whatever. 

How do you promote your podcast?

In many different ways. There's a mixture between organic and spending money in terms of how you monetise a podcast, obviously. Podcasting is still one of those things which is mostly or largely discoverable through word of mouth, and through creating something that's good that people can recommend. But we leverage things like, hopefully, getting featured on Apple and Spotify, working with great PR companies, putting advertising and sponsorship of our podcast into other podcasts.

We also have to be clever and think about where the natural audience that would love this show lives, and see how we can take it to them to go, “Hey, look at this new show!” Whether that's through subcultures online, or even in various groups on Reddit or Facebook. You've got to be clever with how you take your high-quality product and make it as easy for the natural audience to find, rather than just putting it up and expecting people to discover it, and then suddenly to have 10 trillion listeners, right? It doesn't quite work like that.

What have you learned about yourself since starting your podcast?

Well, Andy likes to remind me that I am a soft Southerner! For me on a personal level, I don't get to do that many editorial fun things anymore in terms of actually being involved in the production of our podcast - I unfortunately have to do far more boring businessy things now. I learned that I do really, really love my job, which is a nice thing to be able to realise. And I learnt all my colleagues are really quite good at their jobs, which is great. I assumed they were, but I was on the other end of it, in the host seat. It was a real joy to experience what I think the joy of audio is, but also the quality and care and due diligence of my colleagues. 

Who listens to your podcast?

Hopefully everyone, that's the plan. It's one of those things where we try to make this story as interesting and accessible and widely engaging to multiple audiences, multiple demographics. You don't have to have some deep knowledge of street art. You don't have to love or even hate Banksy. It's really just for people that love storytelling that love an interesting, propulsive drama. It's not something that you can neatly compartmentalise and go, “Well, we just did it for the 25-year-old blokes called Derek.”

What was the last podcast that you listened to?

I just finished bingeing one, actually - Jon Ronson’s The Debutante on Audible. I did that in a day. If you're a fan, it has all the hallmarks of Jon Ronson, which is strong, rich, engaging characters at the heart of it in a multi-level layered story - an investigation into the perverse and the absurd. Yet there are always moments of relatability for you as the listener, where everyone knows those kind of crazy characters. And even though aspects of it might have even been quite mundane, the way in which Jon Ronson can tell a story and interview people is just… he's probably the best out there doing it.