Culture

We Met The Guy Who Made that Terrifying Crane-Climbing Video

"Why?" we asked him. "Why why why why why why WHY??!"

Last week, Bryce Wilson made national headlines after he went viral on YouTube. The video shows Wilson, who also goes by the alias ‘Drjft’, breaking into Melbourne’s under-construction Prima Pearl skyscraper and scaling its rooftop crane, reaching a height of 304 metres.

UrBex Or Mine?

You’ve probably heard of ‘urban exploration’ and, like me, thought of the awesome/terrifying zombie film 28 Days Later. Or maybe that not-so-awesome television series Worst-Case Scenario, where Bear Grylls demonstrates just how out of place he is in man-made settings. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we generally think of urban exploration as something that can only ever happen in some post-apocalyptic world.

Hence, I was surprised to learn that there are underground urban exploration (urbex) scenes in cities across the globe, made up of competing gangs and crews that vie for top-dog status. Marginal zones, such as construction sites and abandoned buildings, are turned into extreme playgrounds.

These explorers (who are technically trespassers) like to document their travels and end up producing some amazing photographs, which obviously works out well for the less intrepid among us. I mean, check out this incredible photo gallery of abandoned buildings in Detroit, Michigan, or the graffiti-ed interior of this derelict Dunlop Factory in Sydney. These sites bear testament not only to our ability to create such monolithic structures, but also to our ability to neglect and destroy them.

‘Drjft’

But what exactly is it that makes these urban explorers tick? For Bryce Wilson, a 23 year-old marketing consultant from Melbourne, it’s his passion for photography and love of thrills that compels him to take such risks.

“I got my first digital SLR camera in August of last year, it was a Canon 600D and it came with two kit lenses,” he says. “I outgrew that really quickly, I felt like with the content I was producing, the camera could not keep up with what I wanted to do. Now I use a Canon 7D and I have about $3000 worth of good lenses, I feel like that’s sort of what led me into the whole urban exploration scene.”

Bryce -- Glint On The Horizon

Bryce Wilson — Glint On The Horizon

Bryce draws inspiration from the works of Edward Steichen, a fashion photographer best known for his work in Vogue in the 1920s and 1930s; David Guttenfelder, Associated Press’ Chief Photographer in Asia, responsible for some startling pictures of civilian life in North Korea; and Tim Hetherington, the conflict photographer whose life was tragically cut short during the Libyan Civil War in 2011.

“I don’t like to do much retouching or editing with lighting. I like to shoot fast, edit fast and upload or present it in whatever way I want. That’s how I want my life to be, to capture everything I see, because that’s what’s important to me.”

The Climb

“I first started exploring urban settings, mainly high-rise constructions sites, just after I got my first camera,” says Bryce. “The first building that I got into was the Prima Pearl, so that was kind of like a beginning and an end of sorts.”

The Prima Pearl will, once completed, stand at 254 metres, making it Melbourne’s fourth-tallest building. Bryce explains that he got into the building by climbing into the parking complex and then breaking into the emergency fire stairwell.

“By the time I reached the roof, I was buggered and my legs were hurting. I took a couple of minutes to have a look around and compose myself, so that when I put my hand on the crane I was ready, I thought this is it.”

However, this was the first time Bryce had attempted to free-climb a structure — that is, making the climb without any safety harnesses or ropes. The crane, with its crisscrossing steel rungs, is about 60 metres tall itself. “I’ve done a lot of rock-climbing over the years and a lot of abseiling, but the first structure that I ever free-climbed was that crane,” says Bryce. “I guess I was kind of like ‘go big or go home’.”

Bryce attached a video camera to his head to record the whole climb; the video shows him climbing to dizzying heights to give some breathtaking (and nauseating) views of Melbourne’s rooftops.

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Bryce Wilson — The World Is Yours

“Everything was so sharp and crystalline. When I took the first step I was like, ‘this is pretty high up,’ but then I just powered through it. At the very top, I only had a small area to hold on to, but I got my camera out and was just focused on taking my photos.”

The Aftermath

After the video and pictures went viral, it was only a matter of time before the local media networks pounced on the story. A few days after the climb, Channel Nine aired a story titled  ‘Death Wish’ and labeled Bryce a ‘daredevil’ and ‘Spiderman’, names that he laughs off. However, a follow-up story that the station aired four days later did cause Bryce some trouble.

“Channel Nine was running a story with one kids’ mum, about how I had supposedly inspired them with my climb. The mum is blaming me for her kid having a broken arm, but the weird thing is that those kids got arrested the day before my climb, and Channel Nine had already run a story about them.”

Although Bryce is defensive about his own actions, the accusations of his climb causing copycat behaviour has caused some of the excitement to fizzle out. He claims to have written evidence from both the police and the teenager who broke his arm that the two incidents at the Prima Pearl are unrelated, and is looking at options in pursuing a defamation case against Channel Nine.

“I had a strong feeling that all of this was going to blow up like it did. I work in marketing and my job is all about viral and content marketing, understanding how the media works and how to get certain reactions out of people.”

Bryce has also been receiving a lot of abuse and threats from what he thinks to be other crews in Melbourne’s urbex scene. “I started copping a lot of hate from people on social media, mostly Instagram, they were saying that I had sold out and ruined the scene and made it public.” He has even received threats that his ex-girlfriend might be targeted, an incident which he immediately reported to the police. “I got a call from a private number and someone threatening to sexually assault my last girlfriend.”

A Balancing Act

“This so called ‘fame’ has given me a lot of attention, which I love because it means people are more likely to see my work and photography,” says Bryce. He also shakes off any suggestion of being an adrenaline junkie, as he prefers the term ‘thrill seeker’.

“I enjoy the thrill of saying to myself, ‘I’ve never done this before, I’ve never been this high.’ I like pushing myself. This is what I enjoy doing, it’s not about risking my life, it’s about pushing my body so that I don’t ever feel like I’m stagnating.”

When asked about what inspires Bryce to risk his life for what some may see as silly deathly stunts, he pauses for a moment before asking, “Do you watch Seinfeld very much?”

“Have you seen the episode where Jerry says something like ‘My life always just balances out’ and then Elaine throws like a $20 note out of the window, but Jerry just finds another $20?

“That’s how I’ve always felt like life has been for me. I’ve never had anything handed to me, but I’ve always had lots of opportunities open up.”

Kemal Atlay is a young journalist from Melbourne. He likes crime fiction, folk music and 30 Rock, and enjoys writing about the arts and culture. You can find him ranting about politics on Twitter @kemal_atlay