I’ve got technical jackets on the mind right now, but I’ll up more on that here another day. Let’s cast our mind back to a time when the raised collar and extra visibility of a HH design was the stuff of dreams. I think the sheer nostalgia a Helly-Hansen jacket instigates makes folks forget how hardcore they were in the face of inclement weather. I imagine that they were pretty good for sailing in too, but anyone who remembers their reign in hip-hop and jungle, just after Nautica and Tommy seemed to boom, will get all emotional at memories of cigarette/spliff burns and un-fixable synthetic materials. Helly Hansen’s popularity wasn’t just down to aspirational cost and a degree of inner-city functionality — Loud-founder Steve Rifkind was paid to promote the brand and its sales boomed as a result, with the jackets defining the late 1994 to late 1996 rap video. It never fails to amuse me what difference a decade made — from the whitest ad of all time in 1984 to a former member of Brand Nubian as the frontman for a 1996 campaign (here’s another image from the Wild Cowboys and Hansen ads). After we all moved on, I don’t recall returning to Helly for more and I’ve always wondered whether the mansion and a yacht (rap nerds will clock the connection) brigade were alienated by the company’s courtship of hip-hop. I’m sure I recall it being sold in JD Sports for a minute, but I spotted it on a recent episode of The Deadliest Catch too, and I’m fairly certain that those guys weren’t wearing it because they paid close attention to Flex’s 60 Minutes of Funk.
We see so many things prior to its release that the sudden appearance of a Mo’Wax Supreme box logo tee at the Saatchi Gallery on Monday night was too fast for blogs to even register. 50 shirts, 38 quid each, all gone. Seeing as Mr. Lavelle was rocking the Supreme shirt on the Champion blank back in the 1990s and he’s tight with employee #1, artist Gio Estevez, whose work is on this shirt, it’s not too unusual that these entities met. A nice throwback to the days when things were gone before you knew that they existed.
I’m already thinking about resolutions for early 2015. One is to drag the look of this blog and the clumsy URL out of 2009 and the other is to chuck more interviews up here. This site probably wouldn’t be here without Mo’ Wax’s influence and, seeing as I chucked up some Converse press bits a few weeks back (and discussed the MW bulletin board a couple of years ago), here’s a longer version of a chat with James Lavelle on the subject of shoes for the build-up to the Nike project that dropped today. He was very gracious with his time and particularly talkative on the subject of collaborations, answering a few questions I’ve always wanted to ask. That Mo’ Wax Manga project was a significant opportunity missed.
How did the Converse project begin?
JAMES: Once the book started and was on social media right at the beginning, there were a couple of interviews right at the start of the book and it started this wave of re-interest with Mo’ Wax and I wanted to do a series of collaborations around the Mo’ Wax thing, with people who we’d worked with in the past — we did a few things with Bathing Ape again and there’s other collaborations coming as well from people we worked with in Japan. For some reason it came through that Converse would potentially be interested in doing something and I know Ian [Ginoza] from DJing back in the day and I’d done some work with him back in Asia when he was there. We met up in New York when I was there at the end of last year and we talked about doing a possible collaboration that would be a friends and family type project.
Did you pick the Jack Purcell?
To be honest with you, the sneakers that I wear the most are Jack Purcells now. So I was quite keen to be able to work with Converse as a contemporary thing, representing me as a person right now. I buy Converse — it’s the sort of thing I wear and it’s generally a Jack Purcell. I designed it with them basically and the detail was really, really important. Just new ways and new technologies and things that hadn’t necessarily been down before — the idea was to create something that had the Mo’ Wax feel. I really wanted to create a shoe that would stand out as a shoe in its own right and wasn’t gimmicky or over the top and garish. It would fit in with where I was at now and not necessarily where I was at 15 years ago, do you know what I mean? It was with me and Matt [Sleep]. Ian facilitated it and has been very open, like, “Do what you wanna do!”
To be honest, there wasn’t much compromise with what we did. The idea was to take something that was iconic from Mo’ Wax, so the camouflage — it’s a recurring theme in a lot of elements of what we’ve used recently. It’s on the book, it’s on the Nike sneaker, it’s in the Nike garms, it’s on a lot of other collaborations — all these other things, like the Medicom. It’s not a graphic design thing — it has a pattern quality to it. It has something that, in its own right — away from Mo’ Wax — is an interesting image. I didn’t want to do anything where it felt like we were printing images, like when we did the DUNKLE and it was really garish, with lots going on. How can we get the design aesthetic into something really subtle? And with the mids, it was just self-indulgent for me because I really wanted to do something with stingray or something that had an interesting fabric to it. We talked through lots of ideas and I’d just seen the Margiela shoe and was quite jealous of that, with it being such a great idea. They were very much against repeating anything that might have been done in the past or something that was too similar to something that was going on, because I’d suggested about something that involved painting shoes — then I saw the Margiela and was like, “Oh fuck, that one’s done.” So what was interesting with that was keeping subtle themes going, like having Mo’ Wax on the sole of the feet or on the tips of the laces or on the insole or on the little strip on the back — there’s this sort of Mo’ Wax touch. But the stingray was just to try and apply something that would hopefully look pretty cool.
Stingray always looks good — I’ve seen real stingray used on a New Balance before.
The only compromise was that I couldn’t use the real thing. There’s laws about exotic materials. But actually, how it came out was pretty cool because it has a weird, unique feel to it.
Collaboration culture really seems to have become a business model now rather an organic act or logical progression. Do you keep up with the current state of collaborations?
No, I’m pretty out of that world now. I don’t pay masses of attention. Because what I was doing back then was about being part of the culture and reacting to that environment. Once it became a business it changed. I mean, collaborations have been going on forever — it’s the nature of the collaborations that changed and the way that certain companies that were unapproachable that you’ve grown up with, that I’ve grown up with — Nike sneakers, Medicom toys, Major Force…all of these things that, when I was a kid, were the things that you collected and the things that you never dream that you’d ever be able to be a part of, were suddenly something that you had access to. And as those things became cool — most people forget that a lot of the things I did at the time did not do very well, because people weren’t very interested in buying the toys, and they weren’t very interested in buying all the stuff and that’s one of the reasons that Mo’ Wax isn’t around any more — and they were in very, very small circles, because there wasn’t the internet involved back then, so things weren’t like they are. You couldn’t see Japan in that way — you had to go there.
So there was sort of a mythology and there was something very much about a united group of people around the world that were collaborating together and also getting to collaborate on the things that they’d admired or grown up on, so Nike was involved. And in many ways, Nike was the beginning of that, because Nike was a commercial brand. It was adidas and Nike, with Nigo doing Bathing Ape and adidas and Nike doing things like the Dunk and other collaborations with Futura and Stash — they were the first time that companies like that were doing fashion-based collaborations or music-based collaborations generally. Nike never did that before and adidas had a bit of history. And once it opened up, it just became the norm that everybody and every company had a Bearbrick, from Chanel to Gucci. Everything becomes a limited edition, you know? From Top Shop to whatever. It’s just a way of marketing things now, more than anything else. It wasn’t really about marketing back in the day — it wasn’t thought out. It was based around a small community of people.
There seemed to be a lot of collaborations that never dropped with Mo’ Wax. There was a Vans that never dropped, plus a mooted Clarks collaboration.
Yeah. There were so many things I tried to do. You see things in the book like the 3D toy and Vans stuff. Then the LEGO. There was the Glen Friedman poster. There was a lot of stuff that we tried to do — a lot of records and a lot of people that we were going to work with that never happened and to was pre-internet and it was a pretty mad, young hedonistic, lunatics taking over the asylum kind of time, you now? So you’d meet somebody that wanted to do something at a company and maybe by the time you got so far, they would have left, or the company closed down or moved on. There was Manga film — was talking to Manga for a year about making a movie. I was talking to a games company for a while about a game. There was endless stuff that never came out — there was almost more of that than the stuff that came out.
Mo’ Wax never really seemed to end for me — I only called off the search on the Friedman poster five years ago. I forget how young you were then — it makes me feel lazy.
I dunno man. It’s hard to look at yourself then. It was a long time ago and I was a different person really. I think one of the fundamental things was that I was very young but so were many of the people who were the fabric of the label — Shadow, Ben, Will, Charlie — everybody was young. Most music that you hear now that’s big is from young people, whether it’s the XX or Young Turks. There’s always that spark in music that creates a lot of people who are successful. With design and art it’s happened more in the last twenty years because of the nature of information and how we look at things. But back in the day, if you were a designer or whatever, it was just before Lee McQueen and that new generation. Most people would work in that world honing their skills for a long time so you know? Your image was based around older, more successful designers and people that had quite a long history of learning their craft.
With the whole friends and family nature of the Converse project it feels like a celebration — has the Southbank project and book allowed you to just back at what you did in a fonder way and see the influence?
It’s funny. I was with Michèle Lamy, who’s Rick Owens’ wife, at Meltdown. It was mad seeing her read the book because she was just fascinated and she said, “Oh, I thought Kanye and Pharrell invented all this — I can’t believe this is 10 years earlier!” So in that way, it’s great. It’s a mixed emotional experience for me because there’s a lot of regret and emotional history and time but there’s also a lot of joy and it’s been really good working with Ben — and that’s been a very consistent relationship — and how we went through it and achieved that process. It’s great that sort of came together and Meltdown came together and could be celebrated in that way and the opening of the exhibition was a very wonderful evening. Going back to your last question, it’s about that environment you’re in as well. Mo’ Wax was a product of its environment and that success was when the environment was really thriving and there was an amazing amount of imagination and creativity, you know? And so looking at this room and seeing all these people that were there…also, a lot of these people at that period in time had a lot of politics. Part of what I did was bring people together who wouldn’t necessarily work together, so we were trying to weave around the politics to achieve something. So that made it quite difficult and quite volatile at times — seeing all these people in one room, and some hadn’t spoken in 10 or 15 years, or fallen out, and them leaving that behind was very joyous. I think, by being in a public space like the Southbank, we all just looked at ourselves and went, “Oh fuck! We’re all part of this.” That was an amazing time and how brilliant it is that it’s being celebrated.
The record as a tangible, beautifully packaged thing seems like a thing of the past now.
It was an amazing time, but you’re young and your priorities are different. There was an infrastructure and there were successes. There was just this will to create and to do — we did a lot of stuff. It was a different time. In many ways the internet has changed a lot of how creativity works — some for the good and some for the bad. With record labels it totally changed because of the fact that there’s free digital records. People would buy records and there was money to spend on making them because they had an economic value. There are still a lot of interesting, creative labels that do unique things — I think that it’s more boutique now. Mo’ Wax was actually quite successful and well-known — it was a successful brand in that we were selling a million Shadow records and we weren’t selling 500 limited edition 180-gram, hand printed records.
As far as the relationship between Nike and Mo’ Wax, how did that begin? I recall a CD back in early 1997…
Yeah, yeah, the running thing that we did. That was weird. I can’t remember what the hell was going on there — that was a really strange project that was. It really did not connect — I wouldn’t connect the dots between that project and creating a sneaker. To be honest with you, that Nike project, and if my memory serves me right because it was a fucking long time ago, it was done through a marketing company — an ad agency. We were always interested in doing things like that — I think the mad thing with that was that it had to be all new music and there couldn’t be any samples. That’s why it ended up being Richard File and Ils doing it.
How did the real Nike relationship begin?
At the beginning we all went out for dinner with Sandy [Bodecker], Mark [Parker] and various others — it was me, Michael Kopelman, Fraser, Giorgio and the guys from Nike. I remember that I had to leave very quickly because I was going to a Queens of the Stone Age gig. I was like, “Hi, nice to meet you!” And they were like, “What would you do?” and I just said, “An UNKLE shoe or something like that…” and it just seemed to happen. So Fraser and I met them at the same time —he wasn’t working with Nike then. Fraser was at Footpatrol then — that’s when the collaborations with them started.
So how did the new project come about?
I spoke to Fraser and spoke about the book and originally asked if we could reissue or do something with the Dunk — I was put in contact with SB and for some reason we didn’t connect. I was meant to have a meeting with some guy and that never happened. Then Fraser asked if I wanted to do something with him and he asked me if I liked the Blazer. I really like the Blazer — I like what Supreme have done with the Blazer. And he showed me the Destroyer jacket and we went from there. And with that collaboration, what I really wanted to do was not use too much of the old graphics.There’s camo in part of the shoe design but it’s done subtly. There’s inner-linings and embossing again. I like repeat graphic patterns — buying into that and repeating imagery in a classic sort of Warhol-esque way. So the Converse and Nike are linked but they don’t look the same — there’s recurring theme and the history’s there. There’s a bit of Ben and there’s a bit of me and a bit of Futura — a bit of Mo’ Wax in general. But the thing with Gio is that when we looking at placing logos on the Destroyer that has patches and stuff, we found the original ideas garish and it wasn’t something that you would want to wear. While this is a Mo’ Wax collaboration, I want these to be wearable. things — I don’t just want it to be for Mo’ Wax people and I wanted to wear it myself, you know?
What’s the concept behind the Nike project?
What is it about Mo’ Wax that we’re trying to translate in a shoe? It’s this kind of sample culture idea of Mo’ Wax being part of this generation and why people made the records they did. It was this sample collage generation. We’re trying to look at how to use these elements and do something different. So I thought it would be good to take this idea of sample culture and collage and build and destroy and all of these words that were asserted with Mo’ Wax, because there was a lot of wording on Mo’ Wax records and were on the advertising — I took the classic titling like “Headz”, “sample culture”, “build and destroy” and “our past is your future” and asked Gio to basically write them out and because he also writes backwards, again it’s sort of something where it’s not in your face — it just becomes textual but there’s a historical and a wording concept to it — so yeah, it was just trying to play with how you how you make a record and apply that to something else. The whole thing with the shoe was that there’s lots of different fabrics so there’s it has this sample and collage feel to it.
How did you meet Gio? That’s a relationship that goes back a long way, right?
I met him 19 years ago. He did work on UNKLE stuff and Mo’ Wax stuff. There’s a toy with him that never came out that’s in the book. It’s a skateboarder toy of one of his characters. He is one of my closest, most dear, best, best friends. He’s like my brother. I have of some of his work that he did for me on my arm. When you’re designing the thing I want a certain amount of connection to what we’re doing so it connects you in a way that’s subtle and justifies the work to me by giving it context.
Is the orange lining an MA-1 reference?
Yes. It’s very classic of that era.
Were you a big Blazer fan when it came to that model? You mentioned the Supreme collaboration but it also stretches back to the Glen Friedman images of Tony Alva wearing a pair. It has subcultural relevance.
Yeah. I’ve worn Blazers back in the day — I’m a fan and a I really liked what Supreme had done and I liked it because it was classic. I didn’t want a new tech shoe. I wanted something that I’d wear. I’d do a Dunk because it reflects the time or an Air Force 1 because those were the trainers that we generally wore but I wouldn’t really wear them now so I wanted something a bit more subtle. Build and Destroy repeats on both the Nike and Converse so there’s little links.
Do you follow the build and destroy ethos to some degree?
It was just something that me and Shadow used to talk about a lot when making records. Make something and build it up then move onto something new. It was always about trying to be new — it’s not about being negative.
If my kids or grandchildren ever ask me what 1992 looked like, I’ll try to find them some footage from Dance Energy in whatever the format of choice is. There has been some great footage uploaded before, but shouts to Ian Powell for uploading some late 1992 episodes of the short-lived Dance Energy House Party dating back almost exactly 22 years — it had a Vas Blackwood-assisted comedy element back then and some of the music picks were just crap (just to dispel the revisionist depictions of this as some kind of flawless glory time), but there’s too many great moments to list right here. The brief boots in clubs trend segment with TLC, a Happy Mondays performance and the Essex dance music feature with Suburban Base had me having to have a sit down. Part of me finds a cathartic warmth from watching this kind of thing, but it also reminds me of my mortality when I realise just how long ago it was since I kicked back with some Turkey Drummers and Kia-Ora at 6:25pm on a Monday to see it the first time around.
The Manchester exhibition has finished now (but it’s heading to Paris), but the SPEZIAL project gave me a welcome excuse to chat with Gary Aspden — a man who bleeds adidas blue — on record, because I always fail to document our discussions. It was heartening to see the project succeed, because it’s a perfect case study in distilling a brand’s appeal and giving the diehards what they want rather than shape shifting the offerings to cater to a fickle customer. This interview ran on 032c.com (an appropriately Germanic outpost) a few days ago. Alongside the unveiling of the unreleased John Carpenter soundtrack compilation (complete with an excellent-looking website) and the trailer for the Music Nation Open Mic documentary by Ewen Spencer (based on his adidas-affiliated book), plenty of labours of love seem to be coming to life. It’s a good time to be a nerd.
Was the trip to a store in Argentina in the film more than just a video opportunity?
GARY: I was just beginning the look for the second season of SPEZIAL when we went to Argentina. Now I buy vintage pieces and archive them — there’s pieces I’m sitting on now that might not make an appearance for another four seasons — and I don’t know how long SPEZIAL’s going to run for either because the decision isn’t in my hands — but what Argentina was about was amassing products for research purposes, but also for finding interesting footwear to enhance what we were doing with SPEZIAL Manchester. What it does is enhance context — it helps to communicate the philosophy of the collection. It says a lot about the person curating the collection because, let’s face it, for anyone that’s a hardcore adidas fanatic, that trip is something we dream about. It shows that the collection has genuine roots, speaks for our mindset and if you’re going to say something’s archive-inspired, show me how you got from A to B. I wanna know! I don’t like to see stories attached to products unless they’re authentic. It starts and ends with product. The marketing stuff is the icing on the cake — the magic dust — but if the product isn’t fundamentally right, it’s unnecessary.
adidas was still broken into some rogue regional licenses until relatively recently — was Argentina the the last adidas license holder?
I think it was either Argentina or South Korea. Japan’s license ended in 1998. In Argentina the license holder held on to the death and when adidas started its three divisional structure in 2001, they needed to clear up adidas Originals. In 1999, when I started, there was no trefoil clothing available over here. They’d rinsed it out in the mid 1990s with Britpop so they just weren’t doing it at all, but they were doing it in America for some reason. So I was doing swaps. I’d go to adidas global marketing meetings looking out for people from licensee countries so I’d send them something signed by a band and they might send me a box of adidas New York made under license for Argentina.There was no system internally and you couldn’t order from the licensed countries so I used to do this bartering and trading.
Now you can buy the same thing everywhere. Those differences had a certain charm.
There weren’t global brands then like you see now. You don’t see so much branded clothing on people in the 1960s and 1970s. adidas was an early global brand, so licensees was probably a good way of getting out there. Then the money men realised that it wasn’t that cost-effective, so they wanted to centralise. I’m sure money men would see me as a hopeless romantic. There’s a generation who think that 1980s adidas was the ultimate sportswear — you had the ZX series, the city series…in adidas’s history it’s seen as a difficult time for the company. Karl-Heinz Lang, who worked as a developer for Adi Dassler, used to roll his eyes when you mentioned the city series. He worked on the development of the Marathon TR in the late 1970s and those city series shoes were just done to make money for licensees. adidas’s commitment to performance was way ahead of those gum-soled city shoes.Things like the adidas Waterproof and Zelda were pushing the envelope.
The rest of the interview is OVER HERE.
I’m such a company man. Actually, I’ve got love for Mo’Wax, Matt Sleep and Jack Purcells, plus I wrote the press release for this project. So the anti copy-paste law is OVERRULED. I got a good Q&A out of this too, which may or may not end up on this blog. I’ve been after those stingray mids since I saw a pair on Acyde’s Instagram. As friend and family projects go, the detail on this one is crazy.
“From its debut in 1992, the London-based Mo’Wax organisation was the pioneering meeting point for an array of subcultures to merge organically – multiple musical styles met art, with painstaking attention-to-detail when it came to design. Founder James Lavelle brought his obsessions behind the sonic side to the forefront with photography, sleeve art, toys, books, exhibitions, sought-after streetwear and a connection to the collectible all celebrating the hunt for the next thing.
Coinciding with this summer’s London-based Urban Archaeology exhibition and tie-in book, Lavelle and Converse created these appropriately limited edition sneakers based on the notion of taking a collage of influences and re-appropriating them like music samples. The Jack Purcell made sense as the base model, because it’s Lavelle’s personal choice, “The sneakers that I wear the most are Jack Purcells. So I was keen to be able to work with Converse in a contemporary way, representing me as a person right now.”
“The detail was really, really important. Just new ways and new technologies and things that hadn’t necessarily been done before – the idea was to create something that had the Mo’Wax feel. I really wanted to create a sneaker that would stand out in its own right but wasn’t gimmicky, or over the top and garish. It would fit in with where I am now and not necessarily where I was 15 years ago.”
The Converse Jack Purcell Mo’Wax Ox has a unique white debossed leather upper, while the mid-top version is embellished with premium stingray effect leather. Both re-workings of this staple masterpiece bring an appropriately obsessive level of detail to this silhouette, despite its apparent simplicity. Custom “Build & Destroy” logos on the familiar moulded rubber toecaps and classic Ben Drury/James Lavelle Mo’Wax camo screen-print graphics on a cotton base, with metallic gold logos, are used for the sockliners and heel stay.
For Lavelle, the end goal was subtlety, “How can we get the Mo’Wax design aesthetic into something really subtle? It was about keeping certain themes going, like having Mo’Wax on the sole of the feet or on the tips of the laces or on the insole or on the little heel strip on the back — there’s this sort of Mo’Wax touch. But the stingray was just to try and apply something that would hopefully look pretty cool.”
A semi-transparent, ice blue version of the familiar smile and heel license plate, a semi-transparent ice blue outsole with the Mo’Wax logo cut between the left and right foot, and branding that even extends to the ice blue lace aglets all capture the spirit of the label. Naturally, packaging is paramount and the box design also channels that emphasis.
That boundary-blurring vision that brought skateboarding, artists, DJs, fashion and filmmakers into the same space is echoed in the Converse Jack Purcell’s ability to resonate with any style. Strictly for a chosen handful of Mo’Wax affiliates, this commemorative project adds to the mythology of the company that help define the way culture is curated and presented.”
(Speaking to James, I got to clear up the mystery of the Mo’Wax x Nike CD — with music by Richard File — from early 1997 too: given the nature of that project, no samples were allowed, which made it difficult — he conceded that it was a strange project and explained that it was one facilitated via an external agency).
I may have gone on record here telling those who won’t stop talking about 1993 as the cut off point for great rap to shut up — and I stand by that sentiment — because I loathe the “this is the real hip-hop, not commercial pop bullshit like Drake and Lil Wayne” repetition in the comments of every great rap video as well as cheap promos for the anonymous throwback crap that seems to believe it’s keeping some torch aflame for those who want things to sound like they’re on Grooveattack circa 2001. But I learnt a lot from staring at the fold out covers encased in transparent tape-shaped plastic just over 20 years ago and I’m a fiend when it comes to rap gossip — in fact, gossip far supersedes beatboxing and breakdancing as one of the scene’s key elements. It’s pivotal to skateboarding too, where knowing who dicked over who is some serious message board currency. I’m ravenous for trivia and Brian Coleman’s Check the Technique Volume 2 has a lot of information in it — revelations regarding the real producers of records, beat jacking and beatings abound when it comes to more talkative subjects. I’d never even pondered the genesis of the Beatnuts name, but now I know (though I’d like to have seen them discuss their first album too), that DJ Polo once had 15 prostitutes employed compared to Freddie Foxx’s six and who the girl who enquired as to who the governor of Campania during the Herculonious period was on that Gravediggaz skit. Even in this era of increasingly popular podcasts proving that there a significant market for back in the day tales from cult characters, there’s room for a 500-page book to present it without the small talk — just the facts. Track by track notes are addictive and Coleman’s project seems significantly more likeable than Rap Genius.
It’s been featured here before, but the none-more-early-1990s Funkee Phlavaz cable show that transmitted in the Beverly Hills area has now uploaded been uploaded in its 17-episode entirety. As high school projects go, this one was particularly accomplished and because we’re unlikely to see personal favourites like Y’all So Stupid’s Van Full of Pakistans (also discussed here before) or Illegal’s The Untold Truth explored in a Check the Technique book, both acts on Dallas Austin’s Rowdy label acted as presenters on a 1993 episode of this under seen show — you even get the obscure 85 South promo. Of course, both acts undersold commercially, because there wasn’t room for hyperactive goofs in Vans or murderous kids like there is now. Still, 1993’s idea of poor sales on an album was the kind of numbers that would have an act running to the car showroom in 2014. Ya’ll So Stupid rocked Real tees and dressed in skate gear decades before that seemed to be a thing to do if you weren’t the Beastie Boys or, to some extent, the Pharcyde. The connection between Austin and Andy Howell during their time in Atlanta is documented in the superb Art, Skateboarding and Life, and with Ya’ll So Stupid hailing from that city too and group member H20 working as a designer, the skate connection isn’t too unlikely. Some things are still too geeked-out to get their own chapter in a book.
“I’ve collected Air Jordan sneakers since 1984; there are 23 different pairs in plastic display cases in the living room. I’ve also got cereal boxes and movie posters: good design, you see.”
Ron Mael, ‘It’s the season for art-buying, but who would you buy if you could afford it?‘ The Sunday Times, June 03, 2008
Seeding programmes mean that all but the most keenest and corniest of bloggers and the most undiscerning audiences should care about whether an actor or musician under the age of 35 is wearing Air Jordans. The Hulk Hogan connection is one bad, nostalgic joke, but Ron Mael of Sparks, one of Morrissey’s personal favourites, being a Jordan collector is intriguing, unlikely and brilliant — something that seemed to crop up in interviews since the 1990s. Ron in Concord XIs and Chicago Is is something to behold — you might see hilarious dudes in Instagram trousers with the metre-long ankle cuff wearing these classic designs, and cool guys (especially the ones that use hashtags) just aren’t cool any more. That’s why the uncool guys have become the greatest brand ambassadors — you don’t see a Tinker creation and a toothbrush or pencil moustache in tandem too often. This is why Jerry Seinfeld’s epic stash became so mythical too — the less likely the connoisseur, the more credible the endorsement, and it gets no whiter than Mael. I want to see more pictorial evidence of this fabled horde of original shoes. (Both images jacked from Getty.)
It took me a while to finally tune in, but I’ve been enjoying KNOW-WAVE’s transmissions with increasing regularity over the last year and their new site makes navigating their world a little easier. Aaron Bondaroff gets things done when it comes to creating outlets for movements and the addition of a KNOW-WAVE UK transmitting from the Gimme 5 offices makes it extra relevant — some shows are pleasantly shambolic and discussion led (it definitely doesn’t step on the toes of the excellent NTS when it comes to soundtracking my work day), meaning there’s some defiantly British output during the afternoon here. Dependant on the day and time you tune in, you can hear Downtown gossip, rockabilly favourites, some dusty dub rarity, mumbled skate chatter, conversations between legends, Young Thug, obscure house re-edits from personal collections or just a friend of a friend playing whatever iTunes holds. There’s a lot of head scratching regarding ways of engaging communities and where things are meant to go, but there ain’t nothing to it but to do it. Now they’ve put out a magazine to bring a sense of permanence and edit to that mass of one-and-a-bit hour world views. Published by OHWOW, issue 01 provides new material and art, plus an interview transcription for some of the best guest spots so far — Piper Marshall with Julian Schnabel back in April, a colossal conversation between Jason Jules and Jazzie B as part of Michael Kopelman’s output from June and Kembra Pfahler with Lydia Lunch in July. Even if you’ve heard it all before, there’s plenty of extra bits too.
The recent talk of Drake appropriating London slang seems to be wilfully leaving out the fact that he hails from a city which, like this nation’s capital, has a substantial Caribbean community that passed on the dialect to subsequent generations. The whole Stone Island connection is still a mystery to me*, but I asked that question a couple of years ago. Another YouTube miracle occurred recently when Genie Madahar uploaded Fab Five Freddy’s visit to Sting 92 — something that became almost mythological in conversations with a friend for an interview with Supercat as well as a rare chat with the oft-discussed man like Dominick. As a white Londoner, Dominic Kenny was a curious case in outsider acceptance, a close friend of Paul Simenon, taking his love of dancehall to Jamaica as a journalist and becoming a DJ under the Dominick name. There’s a great piece on him here from 2007 here where he tell his story — another case study in this country’s connection to the culture — and the importance of black music, as well as its pillaging and dilution at the hands of white industry folks.
Dominick put out a few memorable records — Cockney & Yardie with Peter Metro in 1987 that follows a similar path to Smiley Culture’s (RIP) seminal Cockney Translation (the Ebonics of its time), complete with live performances where he looks like a taxi driver who seems to have stumbled onstage. Dominick would also record an un-PC track where he’d strenuously deny favouring Boy George over the Fresh Riddim (plus another track called No Shirt Lifter) as part of his self-titled, Sly and Robbie produced debut album — to end up getting produced by both them King Jammy was no mean feat. A second album, Ready for Dominick, followed in 1988 (the same year that he took to the stage with BDP in NYC on Christmas day), before this occasionally Troop-clad whiteboy with skills seemed to vanish. A testament to the power of putting in work and heading right to the centre of the action rather than merely covering it from the distance of a MacBook screen, it’s a shame that the book he promised years ago hasn’t manifested and it’s equally sad that the Junior Reid produced third LP mentioned in the Yo! MTV Raps piece that was set for a 1993 release never dropped either. Respect to Dominick for becoming part of the thing he loved**.
*Glenn just answered the Drake SI mystery by explaining the whole unpaid stylist scandal/Nepenthes/SI connection to me.
**Kish reminded me that there’s a follow-up to this story. Here’s Dominick on a 1994 Underdog remix of a Sabres of Paradise track. In 1999, Apeman Records and Apeman magazine were launched by Dominic Kenny, who’d already got connections to Mo’Wax and Major Force. Those who hoarded cut and paste records or were fans of Spine Magazine back in the day will be aware of some of the label’s output from the likes of DJ Bombjack.