Corner Shops and Arcade Games

In hoods in 1980s South Africa, 20-cent pieces were used to play the old bootleg arcade games at corner stores. It also inspired a clothing label.

Anthony Smith and Bradley Abraham of 2BOP Image by Antoinette Engel.

Cape Town based Anthony Smith and Bradley Abrahams’ 2 BOP (above) videogame clothing label is inspired by corner shop arcade games and video game culture. They produce intriguing retro videogame references on understated but stylish street wear garments. Choosing often-obscure characters and typography that only real game koppe (game heads) and old schoolers will recognize (such as the blue fireball from Street Fighter,) they are building legions of followers globally. I chatted to Anthony about corner shops, gaming culture and creating imaginary friends.

The phrase “two bop” is Afrikaans slang for twenty cents. Why this particular name?

You used to use 20-cent pieces to play the old bootleg arcade games at corner stores in the hood here. So a 2 bop was a valuable thing, depending on how good you were, a 2 bop could mean hours of entertainment. It’s also about being proud of our local language and culture.

How did the label come about?

I wanted to do a clothing label when I was at university but never had a strong enough concept and was too busy having fun to ever be productive. Thinking back, I used to make my own one off bootleg skate tee shirts (H-street, Powell Peralta) and hip hop (Public Enemy) shirts when I was growing up as it was tough getting nice stuff in South Africa back in the day so it’s always been a part of me. I also used to hustle selling skateboards and accessories as a kid, so maybe that’s where the business side comes from. 2 BOP also grew out of wanting to create a local brand that people would feel proud about, and that referenced their culture in some way. Also, I wanted to create stuff that I wanted to see people wearing. The label is almost like an imaginary friend, creating something that you wish existed, like what would blow your mind if you walked into a store and then on top of that you find out it’s made locally by somebody just like you, not some multinational corporation. And of course, the video game obsession.

Was gaming a big part of your life, growing up?

Yeah it’s been a huge part of my life growing up. As a little kid during the apartheid days we didn’t have access to lots of comic books or cartoon shows or great public spaces to play in; so these corner store games became our playgrounds and windows into imaginary worlds. It was great getting access to this cutting edge game design, sound and graphics in a landscape that was quite bleak in terms of art and design. A bunch of my friends and I were equally obsessed with computer, console and arcade games but I remember feeling disappointed when I realized that the average kid wasn’t as crazy about games as I was. Street Fighter 2 was a HUGE part of my life, that game was a full time not even extra mural but mural activity, spawning friendships, rivalries, crews, legends, champions and contenders. I don’t know how many 2 boppe I dropped into that game. I stopped playing games seriously for a long time but always kept my eye on the industry and would play the odd highly acclaimed title but got back into playing a lot recently when Capcom did a great job by rejuvenating the fighting game scene with Street Fighter IV in 2009.

The corner café or “caffee” as we used to call it, with its game cabinets were very much a staple in South Africa over the past few decades, but with bigger shops and supermarkets swallowing the small “ma and pa” corner shop, do you see this kind of gaming culture dying out?

I honestly don’t know, I thought that these machines would have died away by now but they seem to persist with companies maintaining these bootleg games. A lot of the machines don’t run the original arcade hardware anymore but use PCs emulating the games but you wouldn’t be able to tell. So as long as it’s viable, I guess the stores will keep maintaining them. I think corner store culture in South Africa wouldn’t be the same without them.

How would you describe the street wear/ fashion coming out of South Africa at the moment?

Young. I don’t really follow what too many people are doing. I do see a few brands that are trying to find their voice, but also a lot of brands that are just doing the obvious stuff, following international trends, not really telling any stories. I’m in denial about being in the fashion industry as I’m self-taught and maybe that’s why I don’t follow that world too closely. There are some amazing South African designers though, my favorite being Shukrie Joel.

What’s the best reaction you’ve had to a design/ garment thus far?

Ha ha, I’ve had some kids asking for autographs when they met us at a street wear convention. My business partner Brad is emotionally challenged so his response was to want to lie down on the ground and ignore them. We just had a laugh and spoke to them.

Two Bop Australia has just recently launched, what’s next for you guys?

We’re looking to get more international distribution. We sell a lot to North America and Europe through our online store but the shipping from the Southernmost tip of Africa for single items is pricey so we’d like to get some good distribution over there.

For all things 2BOP (and to buy merchandise) visit their site.

  • This marks the beginning of Cape Town-based Dylan Valley‘s collaboration with AIAC.

Further Reading

An unfinished project

Christian theology was appropriated to play an integral role in the justifying apartheid’s racist ideology. Black theologians resisted through a theology of the oppressed.

Writing while black

The film adaptation of Percival Everett’s novel ‘Erasure’ leaves little room to explore Black middle-class complicity in commodifying the traumas of Black working-class lives.