MS Electricity – Team Sterling x Daniel Rogge x Benji Blunt

Many may not have heard of the inflammatory disease known as MS (multiple sclerosis) but since its first description in ’68, it has disrupted the lives of (mostly) young to middle-aged adults. While it’s typically not considered a fatal disease, the symptoms are vast and range from blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, or even paralysis and blindness. One of the scariest parts of the disease is that the symptoms can be temporary or permanent, leaving those 2.1 million people diagnosed worldwide entirely uncertain about how MS can effect their lives, now, and in the future.

Typical charities push to show the negative aspects of a disease and all too frequently – though they certainly mean well – forget that hope is restored via the success stories and ‘heroes’ surrounding a sufferer’s worries. That’s where Daniel Rogge and Michael Sterling come into play. Forming Team Sterling to support the cause, one man runs to raise money, while the other, well, does the robot.

Blown away by the video (embedded to the right) we had to jump after these lads and get them to shine some light onto the issue, the struggle, their involvement, and ultimately their success with MS. And of course, what’s a charity without UK-based sneaker customizer Benji Blunt involved, right?

Michael, welcome man, thanks for taking the time out to talk with us. So tell us, what’s this video all about?

I created this short video to educate people about MS, which I was diagnosed with in 2006. It was also designed to be a fundraiser to coincide with the New York City Marathon, which my brother-in-law [Daniel Rogge] is running in to support The National MS Society. I wanted to do something both fun and educational, and I went through a few different concepts before I landed on something that I really liked. Ultimately, using the track, “Electricity”, by Midnight Star, inspired the final concept of relating MS and electricity to a robot.

It’s a really cool concept Mike. Being a director, this type of project must be a piece of cake for you. Can you describe the creation process for those of us who’ve never been on a TV set before?

After I had my concept nailed down I wrote up a quick script. Enlisting the help of my wife and two kids, I shot the video using my Canon 5D Mark II and three different lenses. I had planned on shooting in the playground of the elementary school that is right behind our house, but it was my wife’s idea to try and shoot inside the hallway of a school. We were able to gain access to my daughter’s middle school on a Saturday afternoon, but it took us some time to find an area that was suitable to shoot in as all of the hallways were quite dark. Once we found the perfect location, I put the camera on a tripod and attached the “access panel” to my back. My wife stopped and started recording while my kids and I performed the beginning and end sequences. After those were complete, I played the track on a boombox that we had brought with us and just did some freestyle animation popping for about twelve minutes. There was no air conditioning on in the building so I was soaked with sweat by the time I was finished.

Over the next several days, I shot all of the other footage and recorded the voiceover myself with a recording setup that I have in my house. I edited the entire project on Final Cut Pro. The whole thing was finished in about five days, working just in my spare time.

The effort shines through for sure. We knew you could dance, but never realized you had so much muscle control! Speaking of hip hop, how’d Benji get roped into all this?

Benji Blunt: Mike contacted me after seeing some of my work. He told me he wanted to make some t-shirts and asked if I would get involved.

And it’s not the first time you’ve worked together, correct?

Yep, I’ve done a few things now with Mike, the shoes being one. Mike emailed me saying he was making a tee for some people he was working with, and he wanted a robot image with some legible graffiti. We talked and shared sketches to find the best way to present the words, so that anyone could read it. The fastfoward logo needed to be featured and Mike was also keen to have the robot in Supes! I worked a few sketches and then a few drafts with markers on A3 card. We settled on the three colours we have now, keeping the lettering simple and clean.

So do you also have someone with MS close to you, or in your life (other than Michael)?

Actually, Mike didn’t tell me much about what it was for! I thought it was a little league or something!

[all laugh]

Michael is the only person I know with MS and his fortitude is an inspiration to us all. I quite like his dancing too.

Right, we love it as well! Now, Mike, not to get too personal in this interview, but we’re really curious: when diagnosed, how did you feel?

I was pretty wrecked. I really didn’t know that much about the disease and, from the information I was finding, there was a massive range with regard to how well people could live with MS. I knew people that were doing extremely well with very few symptoms but my wife also had two friends whose mothers died from complications from the disease. So, until I wrapped my head around the diagnosis, and talked to doctors and the people who actually had it, every day of those first few weeks was up or down, emotionally.

We can only imagine… for those out there who are now being diagnosed, what advice or encouragement can you give beyond the scope of your video?

I’d say just keep moving in any way that you can and start taking really good care of yourself. All of the people that I know that have done poorly with the disease have just kind of given up. You also need to strike a balance – do your research about MS but don’t get so involved that it consumes your life. If you go looking for those “what if” worst case scenarios I promise you, you will definitely find them. Rest, a healthy diet, and low stress are also extremely important.

Solid advice. Regarding details, it’s a cool coincidence that your name, as well as the electro-funk group’s name (Midnight Star), are both abbreviated MS. What other overlaps did you plan or notice in this project?

[Michael laughs]

I’m glad that you noticed my initials but I totally missed the Midnight Star connection! In the beginning my wife and I used to joke about it all the time. We started playing a game where we would take our friends’ and relatives’ initials and make up some pretty disgusting and hilarious sounding disease names.

Sounds like you guys were having fun with it, once you made it past the scarier stages. And what does ‘electricity’ have to do with MS (for those readers who don’t know)?

MS is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks itself creating scarring, or “plaqing”, as it is called, on the myelin sheaths surrounding the nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord. Myelin is very important because that’s what connects all of those cells together so that they can send electrical signals back and forth to each other. If they lose that connection it’s like a short circuit that can cause all kids of issues around the body. The severity or progression of the disease is dictated by how much of this plaqing is present.

Right, so it’s really all about connections flowing freely. Well symptoms aside, onto the fun stuff: where’d you learn to bust a move like that?

I learned to pop back in the 80s. There are so many different forms of popping but I was always kind of drawn to that animation style so that’s what I’ve always focused on. “Taco” (Bruno Falcon) was always one of those guys whose moves I would to try to emulate.

Yo, Pop N Taco is a beast, and one not to be forgotten, no doubt, even in his old age! Do you ever feel like a middle-aged man still clinging to your youth?

Hell yes, I am clinging to my youth! But in a good way! I use popping as part of a regimen to stay in shape. I make sure to “woodshed” at least once a week and I am still adding new stuff all the time, which is great. Besides, I once auditioned for a commercial where they wanted some “middle aged” poppers and I didn’t get the part because I looked too young!

Man that’s hilarious. How does your fam react to your obvious hip hop influences and fresh street style?

My family really dig it but they’re also used to me doing it all the time so it’s become something that they don’t really pay much attention to anymore. I perform at a fundraiser every year for my kids’ school and the crowd just goes crazy. I have done free popping lessons for groups of kids because so many of them have asked me how to learn.

You truly are a success story Mike! As for support: how can people help the cause? Where can they buy these tees or sweatshirts that you’ve created with Mr. Blunt?

Of course they can support the cause by donating to their local MS Society. If they would like to support my fundraiser, they can purchase a Benji Blunt t-shirt or sweatshirt by emailing their size and address to me directly and then sending payment via PayPal. The t-shirts are $25 and the hoodies are $40. All profits go to the National MS Society of the US. They can send orders to:

So Mike, after seeing it all complete, how do you feel about the final product?

All too often charities raise money by highlighting the worst case scenarios. I was glad to put a positive, hopeful face on MS by showing how you can still thrive after you have been diagnosed with the disease.

Well you two, we really appreciate you coming, and we’re sorry Daniel wasn’t here for the sit-down, but please pass on our best wishes for his run. For everyone out there that wants to donate to Daniel’s strides, jump on over to the National MS Society website to show some support. Lastly, if anything, what messages would you pass on to the readers, viewers, sufferers, and supporters of MS?

Never. Stop. Moving.

written by Dylan Cromwell

video by Michael Sterling