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For Corporate ‘Campus Reps,’ Marketing to Classmates Is the Name of the Game

This week, 150 Columbia University students are preparing to run in their undies. The plan is simple: Rain, shine, or freezing cold, the students will meet this Thursday evening on the Lehman Lawn of Barnard College. Then they’ll strip down to their underwear—if they haven’t already done so—and jog a two-mile course that will take them through the streets of Morningside Heights.

The students have learned about the event through a Facebook page created by Barnard sophomore Ada Rubin and Columbia junior Laura Selfridge. It calls on participants to bring cowbells, which will call attention to the procession—if the mass display of semi-nudity does not already.

The plan has already caught the attention of Columbia’s administration, which banished the runners from their original meeting place, the steps of Low Library. The problem, though, was not the prospect of all that exposed flesh. The Rebel Underwear Run, as it’s called, is going to be more than an ordinary bare-assed athletic event on an Ivy League campus—part of a lineage that includes Harvard’s Primal Scream streakers and Princeton’s Nude Olympics. It’s going to be a bare-assed athletic event with a corporate sponsor: Nike, which hired Rubin and Selfridge this fall to dream up ways to create buzz for their brand on the Columbia campus. Students who arrive at the Rebel Underwear Run wearing Nike sports bras, underwear, or sneakers are promised a special prize.

In an e-mail, Columbia spokesman Robert Hornsby explained the decision: “This proposed event is not sponsored by a registered student group, nor is there a contract signed with Nike for campus access for a non-affiliate event, and thus, this event will not be taking place as publicized.”

Rubin and Selfridge have the official title of Nike MKTG interns, but they belong to a larger guild of “campus reps”: college students hired by big companies to market to their friends. The arrival of reps on campuses can be traced back to early last decade, when Red Bull began hiring socially active students at schools across the country and giving them personal refrigerators filled with cans of the energy drink.

Since then, more established companies have moved to adapt the model for their own youth-marketing plans. “Facebook really allowed students, for the first time in a way that was quite visible, to create the scale and reach many more students than ones that they were able to physically touch,” says Matt Britton, the CEO of New York–based marketing firm Mr. Youth, which has developed campus rep-centered campaigns for companies including Microsoft, T-Mobile, and JetBlue.

NYU Stern School of Business marketing professor Tulin Erdem views the use of campus reps as just one example of a larger trend of companies “finding more organic ways to do marketing” and thinks the practice will endure. “So many companies are jumping on the bandwagon,” she says, though she adds: “It has to be in an area where the product is meaningful to that group of consumers. Life-insurance companies won’t be doing this.”

But Apple, Google, and Red Bull—all companies that employ campus reps at both Columbia and NYU—will. NYU, whose student body also includes reps hired by Victoria’s Secret’s youth-targeted PINK line, has become a hub of Nike activity as well.

Last November, three campus reps led about 200 NYU students, all wearing red shirts emblazoned with a Nike swoosh, on a flash-mob-style fun run, jogging from Washington Square Park to Nike Stadium, a gallery-style space at 276 Bowery where they crowded in for a sweaty post-run party that featured a band, a film screening, raffles for an iPhone and two pairs of Nike sneakers, and free sunglasses for everyone.

Nike is bidding to make this year’s Rebel Run, set to kick off next Friday night, even bigger.

The campaign’s success will largely depend on the brand’s campus reps, whose ranks have swelled this year to 11: three at Fordham, two at Columbia, and six at NYU.

“They don’t pick any kid,” says Erdem. It’s a statement that Mr. Youth’s Britton echoes: “We’re looking for influencers, students who have large networks.”

Nike, which refused the Voice‘s request for comment on how it selects its campus reps, clearly is, too. At least three of NYU’s Nike reps—sophomore Michelle Roos and juniors Michael Bednarz and Olivia Baackes—have more than a thousand friends each on Facebook, which places them in the top 10 percent of all college students. Two are active in NYU’s relatively small but vibrant Greek life scene—Bednarz, a member of the Pike fraternity, and Lauren Terrien, the public relations chair at Delta Phi Epsilon—giving them access to “already established networks,” as senior Zachary Rezso, a member of Bednarz’s fraternity, puts it. Asked what made him attractive for the position, Bednarz answered, “I’m in a fraternity with a over a hundred brothers.”

Columbia’s Selfridge and NYU’s Roos bring an air of glamour to their Nike work. Both have worked as fashion models: Selfridge is represented by Fusion Model Management, and Roos worked with NY Models the year before she arrived at NYU. It makes them well-suited for showcasing the latest Nike gear the brand requires them to wear at events. It also probably didn’t hurt the count of RSVPs on the Rebel Underwear Run Facebook page, to which Selfridge and Roos have RSVP’d.

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But no rep is better connected than Baackes, president of NYU’s Inter-Residence Hall Council, a powerful student organization that advocates on behalf of NYU students to the administration and organizes major inter-dorm events. It’s a position that links her to resident advisers across campus, something she can tap to promote Nike activities at the school, including a series of fitness classes the brand has created for NYU women at the tony David Barton gym. “I told all my residents about it,” says junior Delaney Simmons, an RA in the first-year residence Third North Hall. “And they all went.”

But even fashion models and Baackes cannot guarantee a large turnout to an event—much less a three-mile fun run on a Friday night in November. That’s why the reps convene weekly in the Chelsea Market offices for status meetings of MKTG, a marketing firm that works in conjunction with Nike. There they regularly check in about the tally of “Likes” for the Rebel Run Facebook page, which features photos of campus reps clad in Nike, occasional Nike promotional videos, and details about upcoming events. At a September meeting, MKTG representatives observed that 230—or virtually all—of the “Likes” belonged to NYU students, after which the Columbia and Fordham campus reps redoubled their efforts to reach out to their friends, helping push the count to more than 500 by the third week in October.

“I felt bad at times, like I was overextending myself to my friends—add this page and whatnot,” says NYU junior Gabrielle Sena, a former roommate of Baackes who worked as a Nike rep last fall.

Bednarz says he feels no qualms about inviting his friends to like the Rebel Run page, which he often does by sending Facebook chat messages and asking them to “take four seconds to just ‘like’ this for me.”

“They feel obligated to,” he says.

Many, like Rezso, say they don’t mind being asked to like the page, which doubles as an invitation to the Rebel Run. An avid runner and friend of Terrien’s as well as Bednarz’s, Rezso says he’s aware that both are being paid by Nike, and he doesn’t care that the Rebel Run is a sponsored event. “Any opportunities I get to run, especially with other people, are great,” he says. “In general, NYU is an incredibly unathletic school.”

But other students say they resent the presence of campus reps, something they view as a commercial intrusion on campus life. A Tisch junior, who asked that his name not be used in this story, recalls working as a production manager for a student show when the play’s producer asked him if NYU’s Red Bull rep, a friend of the producer’s, could distribute the drink at the show. “I said, ‘No, of course not. We’re not allowed to,'” he says, explaining that commercial activity wasn’t allowed by the theater. “I actually ended up showing up on one of the nights of the show, and she was out there handing out Red Bulls. I approached her, and I said, ‘You can’t do this.'”

NYU first-year student Stephanie Bow was surprised to learn that NYU’s Victoria’s Secret PINK representatives had hosted a free Zumba class in the basement dance studio of Third North, her dorm. “They didn’t have any posters up about it,” she says.

That might be because of an NYU housing guideline that states that “salespersons, advertising distributors, or other persons not members of the University community are prohibited from soliciting or distributing literature in University facilities at any time.”

And what about salespersons and advertising distributors who are also students? Campus reps weren’t around in 1977, the year the guideline was last revised.

“It sounds cool, but then when you start to think about it, if companies start doing that frequently, using our space—I don’t like the idea,” Bow says.

Adds Bow’s friend and fellow Third North resident first-year student Stephanie Habib: “It’s one thing if it’s on the street, but this is where we live, and to have a company coming in to where live and try to inundate us with advertising, even in the basement—I think it’s inappropriate.”

“There is a rule that might have been broken,” says Delaney Simmons, the same RA who helped promote the Nike classes. “It’s a little bit of a gray area.”

It’s a gray area that, in other areas, NYU is allowing companies to exploit. Victoria’s Secret uses the iconic NYU torch in the NYU VS PINK logo on its Facebook page, and Nike freely uses the school’s initials in its name of its new NYU Nike Run Club.

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That’s fine by Audrey White, who took part last spring in a Nike-sponsored event for NYU students at a venue on Union Square West that featured a workout led by Rihanna’s personal trainer.

“I don’t really know how to explain it,” says White, a former NYU cheerleader, of the appeal of the Rihanna event and other sponsored events she has attended—including the Nike-run David Barton classes—which she says have “most definitely” enriched her experience of campus life. She contrasts brand-sponsored events with NYU’s Tear It Up! events, which aim to bring together students to cheer on NYU athletes. “When you get there, most of the people, they aren’t there for the game,” she says. “They’re just there to be there. You don’t meet people. You don’t really make friends. You don’t really feel any type of connection to any of the other people there.”

At the Rihanna event, White received a Nike shirt, a towel, a water bottle, and a pair of Nike shoes, and she admits that product giveaways like that sweeten the deal.

NYU senior John Cintolo, who ran three miles with the Nike reps at the first meeting of the NYU Nike Run Club, says the brand’s sponsorship of the group and the Rebel Run “kind of adds legitimacy to it. I don’t think Nike would sponsor something that wasn’t legitimate.”

Asked whether his contact with the reps will have any effect on his consumer behavior, Cintolo says, “It won’t affect my purchasing decisions,” before quickly adding: “It definitely won’t hurt, though, that’s for sure. I actually need a new pair of shoes. If I run this event, I’m going to have to buy Nikes before then.”

White agrees. “Now, whenever I buy athletic gear, it’s strictly Nike,” she says. “I never buy anything else. They kind of bought my loyalty.”

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Tyler, the Creator’s Boy’s Club

For an album so undeniably 2011, Tyler, the Creator’s Goblin sure starts off sounding a lot like 1993. The first words we hear him spit on Goblin are “I’m not a fuckin’ role model”—a slightly altered version of Charles Barkley’s notorious Nike commercial from Clinton’s first year in office, as well as the driving discourse of Tupac Shakur’s fiery second album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.

It’s a strangely out of time way for Tyler to introduce himself, and it’s not a look the fashion-conscious 20-year-old wears particularly well. In part, that’s because the censorship battles accompanying rap’s extended entrance into American pop culture seem quaint in 2011. But it’s also because Tyler’s fighting a handful of well-intentioned people who chatter about music (including yours truly) who are uneasy about gleefully granting Next Big Thing status to a kid with a Tumblr and fantasies about punching pregnant women.

Tyler’s not sure who he’s supposed to be yet, this much is clear. As a result, Goblin is much more understandable not as a statement of purpose, but as a therapy session. The kid born Tyler Okonma is a fatherless, gawky digital native who came up in a world where it’s harder than ever for a confused kid to get a proper sense of scale, let alone decorum. For every thousand retweets he’s received, you get the feeling he’s spent hours k-holing in messageboard hell. Not once, but twice, he lashes out at those critics and bloggers who dare call his music—and its uniformly gothic, cavernous beats, fascination with the number 666, guttural croak and penchant for detailed rape narratives—”horrorcore.” Fair enough, you don’t want to be lumped in with Gravediggaz. But the devil’s in the details, dude.

Inherent in Tyler’s aesthetic is a lack of impulse control, and at 74 minutes Goblin is far too long by half, a fact not helped by his (and engineer/mixer Syd the Kid’s) fondness for the dark, dreamlike synth pads that underscore nearly every moment. His lyrics are compelling, but in a way that often mirrors his Twitter feed, and there’s a reason the microblogging service isn’t meant as an archive. It’s worth getting to the end of the album, but he doesn’t make it easy. Even with Tyler’s dramatic Taxi Driver-biting ending, the dreary eight-minute posse cut “Window” plays like a dark Hieroglyphics studio goof, and that’s followed by the throwaway instrumental “AU79,” which makes for about two minutes worth of interesting material out of nearly 12.

Those two minutes feature Tyler, of course, and when he’s on—as he is on about half of Goblin—he’s nothing short of remarkable. The still-stunning “Yonkers,” with its opening line of the year “I’m a fucking walking paradox/No I’m not,” feels more polished than much of Goblin‘s material, although it certainly fits well with it. There’s no doubt that Tyler can rap his ass off and switch registers seamlessly, that he has a knack for narrative arcs and theatrical flourishes (no spoilers, but when “Golden” finally arrives, we get a goofy-but-gripping psychodramatic twist), and his production work, while draining in bulk, sets an effectively ominous mood. Goblin is an auteur’s coming-out party, and dozens of kids are going to try–and fail–to imitate it in the next few months.

Yet on a record full of shocks, Goblin‘s biggest surprise is Tyler’s maturity and range, showcased best on the quietly stunning “Her.” His own “Passin’ Me By,” the track is a heart-wrenchingly specific tale of unrequited teen love communicated entirely through the banal distance of digital technologies, epitomized by the sweet/creepy lyric “her name is my password.” (Jesus.) The sinuous Frank Ocean feature “She” ramps up the voyeurism (the hook: “blinds wide open, so we can/see you in the dark when you’re sleepin'”) but keeps things within a Rear Window framework. He admits he’s going through the dating motions strictly to get laid, but he also says that his violent front is just a show for his boys.

But at the same time, fuck that, you know? Because the repugnant misogynistic bullshit on Goblin sort of cancels any goodwill I have toward the guy. Particularly because it feels more like search engine optimization; Tyler makes no bones about his desire to hit the pop charts, and on too much of Goblin, he’s doing it in the tawdriest way possible. There’s the repellent “Bitch Suck Dick,” the aesthetic equivalent of a pop-up window advertising a snuff flick shot in an abandoned Van Nuys condo. The gang-bang fantasy comprising the second half of “Fish”—the girl gives Tyler VD, he goes to find his gun. The previously available “Sandwitches,” on which Hodgy Beats revels in the notion of assaulting a pregnant woman. The Dracula drag of “Transylvania.”

He doesn’t stop at mere descriptions, though: he tries to tell us how to take it by 1) denying his fans an aspirational approach to his celebrity status (“not a role model”), 2) ascribing his worst impulses to his alter-ego “Tron Cat,” and 3) playing us for dupes (“I’m not a rapist”/ “I’m not a homophobe”). Each of these excuses falls flat, because the only way this sort of angry-boy/killin’ bitches/fuck faggots rhetoric works—to the degree that it ever actually should—is by presenting it without remorse or any sort of explanation.

Instead, Tyler keeps talking. He tacks an awkward PSA to the front of “Radicals,” Goblin‘s straight-up hilarious “Break Shit” moment, which he caps with the empty provocation “fuck Bill O’Reilly.” “Radicals” empties the political connotations of that term but keeps the shell, filling it with the more flexible signifier drawn from skate culture. It’s like Tyler saw how “Fuck you/I won’t do what you tell me” devolved in a flash from molotovs to Jager bombs, and thought it the perfect branding opportunity. (If only “Kill People/Burn Shit/Fuck School” hadn’t already been perfected—with a catchy tune, no less—by Alice Cooper nearly 40 years ago.) When the meds kick in at song’s end, you can almost see him drowsily punching the air as he conks out after his tantrum.

Goblin‘s highest points and most infuriating moments come from the fact that it’s a vérité depiction of the worst aspects of American boy culture. You know, hating girls because they don’t like you because you’re a weirdo, hating any and all authority figures because they try to tell you how not to be such a weirdo. But most importantly (and scarily), there’s the part that involves lashing out about being viewed as a weirdo, and being summarily rewarded—i.e. seen as normal—for doing so. (It probably goes without saying that girls don’t have the same luxury.) Nobody cares about Tyler the Creator being someone’s role model in 2011. Which in a way, is the scariest thing about Goblin—too much of his scary fantasizing, for too many boys, is all too normal.

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‘Turbotax Presents Mosca & Matt Shadetek’

Mosca has one of the most glorious dance tracks of 2010: “Nike” is 10 minutes of time changes, bass, bleeps, and pitchbending. Dutty Artz’s Matt Shadetek has followed up his DJ/Rupture collaboration, the Solar Life Raft mix, with his solo debut, Flowers; it feels like the dubstep continuum’s international travelogue or an LP-length “Nike.” Not coincidentally—the magazine sponsors this event—XLR8R has recent podcasts available from both of them, showing off a mutual love of cumbia, dancehall, hip hop, garage, and more. With residents Rem Koolhaus, Contakt, Mayster, Video City, and C-Sick.

Fri., July 2, 10 p.m., 2010

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The Mayor of Sneakerdom

Mark Farese is a man with two feet and 1,400 pairs of sneakers. In his New Jersey basement, plastic shoeboxes line the floor in rows and stack up in six-foot-high walls. The boxes, custom-made for him in Japan, bear his nickname: “The Mayor.”

There’s a similar consistency inside the boxes. Almost every one contains a variation on the same product: Nike’s Air Force 1, the basketball shoe that the company introduced in 1982.

“My friends call me the Imelda Marcos of the ‘hood,” Farese says.

At age 10, living in the tough Michelangelo housing project in the Bronx, Farese stole $150 from his grandfather to buy his first pair. Today, at 36, he lives with his girlfriend and stepson in a duplex in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, and drives a white 2008 Mercedes SUV with a tan-and-pink Air Force 1 pendant fastened to the dashboard. “People are put in this world for one thing,” he says. “I was put in this world for sneakers.” His shoe collection, he estimates, is worth about $300,000.

On a recent evening, wearing an 18-karat white-gold Air Force 1 chain necklace over his usual XXXL white T-shirt, Farese pulls out some of his most treasured possessions. There are the two white pairs on which Chinese characters are stitched in red thread that were manufactured for athletes at the 2008 Beijing Olympics but never sold commercially. (He won’t say how he obtained them.) There are handmade pairs covered in real crocodile and anaconda skin and dyed in rich shades of red, orange, and black, that include lace tags with gold trim (Nike’s price: $2,000). Protests by animal rights’ activists are rumored to have persuaded Nike to pull the special-edition varieties before they reached store shelves, but Farese says he still managed to get his hands on nine sample pairs. Again, he won’t say how.

Farese has Air Force 1s that are (purposely) covered in colorful graffiti. Some are made of suede or fake fur; others glow in the dark. He had one pair encrusted with real diamonds. Others have his name engraved in gold. Some have an image of his face that he commissioned an artist to design.

And although he’s not an Adidas man, Farese does have one pair of Roc-a-Fella sneakers with the record label’s logo on the sole. (He made an exception in this case, he says, because the shoe was associated with Jay-Z.) That pair was Bloomingdale’s last in Farese’s size (9 1/2), and he says he grabbed a Japanese collector by the neck to pry them out of his hands. (Farese can display a very sincere air of menace: His nickname comes from his reputation for handling disputes in the projects, and he once spent a year in Rikers for possession of a firearm.)

Farese’s shoes are the sort manufactured in small batches by companies like Nike and Adidas for sneaker fanatics, who fight like hell to get them at stores and then go on to sell them on the Internet for two to four times their original price. It’s a craze that began around 2003, a few years after the companies started making “collaborations”—shoes designed for celebrities or musicians. The collectors’ market exploded on the Internet, and lines outside of stores have been known to spark mini-riots. Some collectors have many more shoes than Farese, and some have many different brands. But Farese is noted for having such a complete collection of one type of shoe—and for having an uncanny knack of getting his hands on the most coveted models. Younger men in the game of buying and selling (and nearly all of them are men) envy the depth of his catalog.

In a world where shoes on the Internet go through NASDAQ-style price swings, Farese has never sold a pair of shoes. In fact, fully aware that it will actually diminish the value of his collection, he says he intends to wear every single pair eventually—which would take almost four years, at this point, if he wore a different pair every day—and he keeps adding more to his inventory.

“People call me a collector,” he says, “But I’m a sneaker wearer. I wear my sneakers. It takes me a long time, ’cause I have an abundance, but I wear them.”

After Farese began posting pictures of his Air Force 1s online, sneaker websites began to write about him, and Nike itself took notice. The company started sending him shoes directly. The company has sent him about 50 pairs—usually weeks before others can get them—and has also crafted him a special pair, he says, with his name engraved on the lace locks in honor of his 1,000th purchase. (The tan leather Air Force 1 had 1,000 golden 1s printed on it.)

Farese won’t allow himself to be seen with a new shoe until the date that it’s going to be released to the general public. “I respect the embargo date,” he says, to drive home his special relationship with Nike.

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When that date comes, he enjoys showing up at a store where a line of buyers is waiting to get the new release. “Hey, look, I already got on what you want!” he smirks.

Farese has outright scorn for the younger guys, the ones who wait days in line so they can be the first to post a new pair onto eBay to turn a quick profit. “Maybe you sell that $150 shoe for $500,” he says. “But do the math. You’re waiting in line for days. You smell like asshole casserole. Divide the time, and that nigger is waiting on line for $3.75 an hour. I’m not knocking their passion. I’m not knocking their hustle. But to me, that’s hustling backwards.”

And the hustlers, he says, are actually ruining things for the true lovers of sneakers—the kids who, today, are like his younger self and just want to get their hands on some footwear that inspires them. “Now, because you bought it for $150 and flipped it,” he says, “there’s a kid who has to spend $400 to $500 just to get a shoe that he really wants. And that really bothers me.”

So Farese does what he can to wield the power of his “mayoralty” to set things right in the sneaker universe, where he sits somewhere above the largely teenage capitalists and somewhere below the Nike gods themselves. It’s a power relationship that is always in flux and mixes connoisseurship, obsession, gamesmanship, and the commercial desires of a Fortune 500 company.

And lots of footwear.

THREE WEEKS AGO, Farese received a note on an Internet message board from Jake Bronner, a fan who said he was traveling from Chicago to New York on vacation and wanted to meet his sneaker hero. Farese supplied his phone number, and Jake called when he got to town.

And that’s when Farese realized that his admirer was only 14 years old.

“I don’t mess with 14-year-olds,” he says. Fortunately, the boy had brought along his mother, Stacey, who assured him that meeting him would be the highlight of her son’s trip. Farese relented, driving his white Mercedes to the Nike store in Soho, 21 Mercer, where everyone knows the Mayor.

“It was his dream to meet me, and I made his dream come true,” Farese says. No exaggeration: Jake describes his meeting with the Mayor as “amazing.” “He’s, like, the king of all sneakerheads,” Jake tells the Voice. “I expected him to be a little cocky, but he blew me away ’cause of how respectful he was of everyone else’s shoes. And he told me not to just focus on sneakers, but to focus on, like, college and stuff, too.”

Jake’s mom was also thrilled: “Mayor was such a gentleman, such a gentleman. And for Jake, it was like meeting a rock star. ‘Cause he is a rock star in their little world.”

And the reality is this: As much as the Mayor privately disdains the young capitalists, without them, he wouldn’t be famous for having one of the most extensive Air Force 1 collections around.

21 Mercer is a shrine to Air Force 1. A timeline on the wall memorializes Nike’s best-known footwear designer, Tinker Hatfield. Bruce Kilgore is credited with the original design of the Air Force 1—a shoe with an ankle strap and an air-packed insole—while Hatfield is celebrated for turning that air-packed insole into the see-through bubble recognizable in many Nike shoes. That idea came from a visit Hatfield took to the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris in the early eighties. (He was inspired by the way the skeleton of the museum is visible from the outside.)

Farese hangs out a lot at 21 Mercer, spending much of his time in a private room in the back that has an automated skylight. Sometimes, he comes with a friend, DJ Clark Kent, who has produced songs for Mariah Carey, Notorious B.I.G., Lil’ Kim, and Jay-Z. The two men have known each other since the early ’90s, when Farese was running a club in midtown. After too many shootings, the club was shut down, and Farese started a business installing high-end car stereos for the likes of Alicia Keys. He closed his business last year, due to the economic downturn.

Kent’s own collection—the 2,800 pairs he has left after giving 3,000 to charity—is one of the largest in the country, Nike says. Nike pays him to design his own limited releases, and though Farese won’t admit it, it’s obvious the Mayor envies his friend.

The room in the back of the store is called the “bespoke” room—a 17th-century term describing custom-made clothing, but one that is now a Nike buzzword. Part design studio and part gentlemen’s club, the room is filled with reams of designer leather and suede (think: leopard prints, polka dots, ribs), shoelaces of every hue, rubber shoe parts, and model rubber feet in various sizes (all for men). To obtain a bespoke shoe, a customer pays $820 for a two-hour session with a “design consultant,” who records the customer’s specifications in a canvas logbook given to the customer as a keepsake. A customer can choose just about anything, from the inner lining to the color of the rubber sole. The choices are simulated on a computer screen, and then the specifications are sent to a factory in China for manufacturing. Since November, when Nike launched the bespoke program, Farese, Kent, and four others regularly use the back room at the store. They create bespoke shoes competitively, arguing in a collegial fashion about who thought of which design first. (Farese begrudgingly admits that it was Kent who first thought of a look he’s now very fond of: flipping the leather fabric so that the backside is on the outside of the shoe.)

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“Bespoke” is only one of many special terms that Nike uses and that its followers have religiously adopted. Another is “dubre” (doo-BRAY), which describes a small metal badge at the bottom of the laces—called a lace lock by the uninitiated. (Farese has had his name engraved on many dubres—on one pair, with diamonds.)

The reverence for Nike is palpable. “Nike is like the cartel,” one sneaker collector says, asking not to be identified for fear of damaging his relationship with the company. “Something that we, in the sneaker community, tend to forget,” says Farese, “is that Nike is not a sneaker company. It’s a Fortune 500 company that makes sneakers.”

Nike earns an estimated $10 billion annually on footwear. Although the crazy collectors’ market accounts for only about 10 percent of that revenue, every line in front of a store provides the company with an inestimable amount of free advertising, explains Jean-Philippe Lalonde, a marketing and anthropology student at HEC Montréal, who is writing a master’s thesis on sneakers.

Farese calls himself a Nike “influencer,” which sounds like an actual position with the company. But Nike spokeswoman Demetria White says that, though the term is freely used by the company to describe the handful of people like the Mayor, it’s not an official title. “Who is or is not an ‘influencer’ is not something that we determine,” she says. “An ‘influencer’ is someone who people aspire to be, someone they wish to emulate, someone they want to be around. . . . It is not that we label Mayor an ‘influencer,’ but it is the community who gives him the honor.”

SURAJ KAUFMAN, a 36-year-old sneaker-store owner in New Jersey, who cleans his own shoes with baby wipes every night, says there’s a huge distinction between collectors and sneakerheads. “A lot of these kids in high school who camp outside the stores for two nights just so they can flip them online the next day—yeah, they’re collectors, but I don’t consider them true sneakerheads,” he says. ” ‘Cause the whole point is: You buy them, you love them, you wear them.” Kaufman estimates that he has spent around $70,000 on shoes. (His favorite is a Jordan Bordeaux that he bought in 1992. His most expensive is a $2,000 pair of Entourage Air Force 1s, which the company made after a character on the HBO show attempted to buy a pair of limited sneakers, but was shut out after waiting on a long line.)

Paul Rosenberg, president of Shady Records and manager of Eminem, admits to owning 400 pairs of Air Force 1s, and says, “It’s totally ridiculous. I have more sneakers than I can wear every day for a year. Who needs that?” Why only Air Force 1s? “It’s an iconic silhouette,” explains Rosenberg. (To the Mayor, it’s the “perfect shoe.”)

Rosenberg is that rare sneakerhead who says he doesn’t like the term because it’s “pejorative.” Like a number of high-end collectors, and unlike the Mayor, Rosenberg is pretty hush-hush about his collector’s habit. But it’s safe to consider him a sneakerhead, and here’s how the three generations of sneakerheads break down: First, there are the old cats—guys like Rosenberg and Farese, in their late twenties and thirties and even forties—who were old enough to buy their first pair of Nike Air Force 1s in 1982.

The second group is typically those between the ages of 19 and 25. They’re the real hustlers, manning tables at live trading events. Most sneaker-exchanging happens online, but in recent years, trading events have sprung up to try to combat the huge counterfeit problem that occurs in online sales. More mature collectors, they’ve come to realize they have more shoes than they can use, and, at live events, they deal to the younger kids, who make up the third tier: 14-year-olds just trying to hustle up enough allowance money for shoes they really can’t afford.

[

All three cohorts are in full force one afternoon in June, as the Mayor strolls through Crash Mansion, a basement nightclub on the Bowery. He’s sporting a pair of rare 2003 limited-edition “Mr. Cartoon” Livestrong Air Force 1s, designed for the Lance Armstrong Foundation by Mr. Cartoon, a well-known character in the sneaker community. The yellow-and-black shoes have cobweb designs at the toe and renderings of New York City skyscrapers on the sides. (On release day, they were priced at $150, but you can’t find them on the Internet now for less than $500.)

Crash Mansion is packed with about 1,000 boys, who all look to be between 14 and 17, milling about while hip-hop thumps in the background. Everyone is in uniform: crisp T-shirts, baseball caps with prominent logo stickers, super-slouchy jeans, eyeglasses with fashionable rims.

And sneakers everywhere. Dunks (another Nike model), Adidas, Nike Jordans, Air Maxes, and Air Force 1s are displayed on card tables and cushy VIP lounge chairs. They’re stuffed into backpacks. Boys carry them around with their hands full.

They’ve paid either $100 to rent a table or the $11 at the door that allows them to bring in just three pairs of shoes to sell or trade. The sneakerheads walk around carrying pairs of shoes on their heads, calling out shoe sizes seemingly at random. The room is filled with shouts of “Nine! Nine and a half!”—if you can hear them above the blasting hip-hop.

A typical limited-edition pair is going for about $250—but pairs are selling for more than $800. Traders have come from as far away as Canada to schmooze and sell shoes.

The Mayor, as he later recalls, wasn’t really looking for shoes this particular day—what could a 14-year-old offer him that he doesn’t have already? But then he saw something he wanted: a rare pair of PlayStation Air Force 1s—shoes that were given out only to Sony and Nike employees and never appeared in stores. Farese says he couldn’t believe the kid’s $1,800 asking price, so he countered with $1,400. When the kid turned him down, Farese recalls, he found himself muttering, “I hope they lose their fingers.”

Unlike at the previous Dunk Exchange, which was in March, a lot of boys seem to be having trouble selling their shoes. Alfredo Moses, a skinny ninth-grader from Bronx Science, and his friend, whom he met in elementary school, have a rare pair of OG Concords; original black-patent-leather-and-white Air Jordans from 1995; and neon-green Lucha Libres—an Air Force 1 pair designed by a Mexican graffiti crew and covered with images of wrestlers. But that rich loot was finding no takers. “I’m broke. He’s broke,” Moses says. A few hours later, they’re still milling about and having no luck.

In another dark corner, five boys, led by 12-year-old Noah Drysdale, are trying to get their capitalist hustle on. The six middle-schoolers—some of them had met on a sneaker group on Facebook—had pooled together about 70 pairs of shoes.

A potential buyer approaches their table and holds up a shoe. He gives a nod, indicating that he’s ready to hear a price. All eyes turn to Drysdale: “I’d do $120,” he says confidently.

The customer makes another barely perceptible nod with his head. The sneakerheads understand that this means no, and the boy moves on to another table. “These freakin’ people,” Drysdale exclaims a little while later. “They come, and they don’t buy shit.” Drysdale’s pals nod in agreement. A minute later, another boy approaches the booth and holds up a 2001 Cement Jordan—a “retro” shoe with an asphalt-like design on the rubber lining that Nike has been releasing every year since 1994.

“$250,” Drysdale says.

“$225,” the boy snaps back.

“$225. Fine,” Drysdale replies. He takes the money without counting it.

Drysdale knows what he’s doing. His business strategy? “Basically, we just want money.” He spends hours online shopping for sneakers every week, but he proudly claims that he has never borrowed money from his parents to buy shoes. “I’m 12—I started when I was 10,” he says. “Lately, I’ve been getting out of sneakers. But I’m starting to get back in.”

Equally excited are Cheryl and her son, David, standing side by side with big grins on their faces after a long day. They had driven down from Connecticut and were celebrating David’s big score.

“You should see him on YouTube—he talks about his collection,” says the beaming mom. David’s sneaker passion is teaching him valuable business skills, she says, and they now have the evidence. David, she explains, had been trying to buy Heineken Dunks: Nikes emblazoned with the beer brand’s logo. “He tried three different times online,” she says, shaking her head, “but they were fakes.” The trip to the city has been worth it. The particular pair normally cost from $600 and $900. “But today, he got them for $450,” she says. And that wasn’t his only score. David is also carrying another treasure: the 2005 Tiffany’s dunks, powder-blue shoes inlaid with fake diamonds. “You wanna see them?” asks David. He holds up the pair. “Everyone wants these, ’cause they come in a pink box.”

[

Far less starry-eyed than David’s mom, Amira Gobrial of Queens is leaning against a wall, a respectful but vigilant five feet away from her 14-year-old son. “It’s a craze with these kids,” Gobrial exclaims in a forceful whisper. “These kids live and breathe sneakers. They are always on the Internet searching for sneakers.” And she’s concerned: “The manufacturers hype these kids up to buy them. I don’t understand. It wasn’t like this when I was growing up. There are other things you can get involved in.”

Like dealing crack and spending time in Rikers. That was once the life of 26-year-old Pedro Genao, a marketing exec at Shady Records and one of the organizers of the Dunk Exchange. He says he isn’t concerned that an obsession with collecting an $800 pair of Dunks might not be healthy for kids as young as 12. “This whole thing got me off the street,” says Genao.

THESE T-SHIRT WEARING young capitalists haven’t escaped the recession. The Mayor says that some longtime sneakerheads have been forced to liquidate their collections in Internet fire sales. Still strictly a buyer, not a seller, the Mayor doesn’t fault them for it: “If I gotta pay my rent, I’m gonna let a shoe go,” he says. “If I gotta feed my family, I’m gonna sell a shoe.”

But it’s not easy for him to like those who re-sell shoes. Of his friends in the business, he says, “I have to separate the fact that I associate with them from the fact that they are re-sellers.”

A few days before a big shoe release, he pulls into his driveway in the white SUV, the floor of the car full of designs on paper for 12 multicolored bespoke sneakers he has ordered at $820 a pair.

In the kitchen, his girlfriend is helping her middle-school-aged son with his homework. The Mayor goes to the basement to check on his collection. Sitting on a top shelf are a pair of Live High “For the Love of Money” Air Force 1s, which were designed for the Lance Armstrong Foundation by the graffiti artist Futura. On the day of the release, he would drive from New Jersey to House of Hoops, a store on 125th Street, to smirk at the kids waiting in line. “I’m going to put these on and cause a frenzy in the city all day,” he says. He’s already preparing himself to be frustrated by the teenage capitalists he will encounter at the door: “I say, Take that entrepreneurial passion and go put it toward something else.”

Before going upstairs, he pulls a 1991 Air Force 1 from among the stacks. The shoe is black with a wine-colored swoosh. He lost his original pair from 1982, so this is the oldest pair he has got. “Tinker made these,” he says, gazing admiringly. “I’m afraid to wear them.”

Correction: the article originally stated that Tinker Hatfield designed the Air Force 1. While Tinker Hatfield is Nike’s most well-known shoe designer, it was Bruce Kilgore who designed the Air Force 1.

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KAWS HE SAID SO

Even though he’s making major loot through Nike deals and his own clothing line, you’ll still find Brooklyn-based graffiti artist KAWS (a/k/a Brian Donnelly) dressed in his signature black cap and T-shirt. Famous for his “X”-eyed cartoon characters, he’s made an international name for himself for imposing his street art and graphics onto consumer-culture products and reinterpreting them whichever way he pleases. Tonight is the kick-off of his latest exhibition at the Gering & López Gallery, which features his newest paintings and sculpture. Expect to see large-scale geometrically shaped chaotic works dripping in bold colors on acrylic canvas as well as monochromatic pieces that focus on lines and abstract emotional expressions. His other project is a little severed: A lineup of 33 life-sized bronze sculptures of his own head, colored in his own unique eye-popping way.

Nov. 6-Dec. 23, 2008

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IN THE BUFF

Buff Monster is the Hawaiian-born, L.A.-based street artist known for his pastel critters with mousey ears—and heavy on the pink—that show up on posters plastered on random buildings. Despite (or perhaps because of) the illegal nature of many of his projects, his designs have been commandeered by Nike, Vans, and Hurley. The monster is now coming inside for a new show, Born of the Abyss, that will show off his love of hair-metal music, Japanese culture, and geometry. The new works on display—framed, unframed, and on wooden panels—also include hand-painted kaiju toys.

Mon., May 12, 2008

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Time Waits for One Man

For a guy who bemoaned the demands and expectations of increased exposure on his last album, Aesop Rock has since been one surprisingly ambitious dude, releasing new EPs, dabbling in book publishing, composing film scores, and participating in that completely weird project where Nike hires you to make a 45-minute instrumental track for joggers. And now here’s his third Def Jux LP, a thematically focused album that belies the fact that he made it over the last two years when he was doing all that other stuff. Taking a similar approach to 2001’s work-obsessed Labor Days, None Shall Pass forgoes hip-hop’s favorite subject—hip-hop itself, and one’s proclivity to excel at practicing it—and instead examines the concept of time, how memory operates to create a blurred, impressionistic view of the past, and how it’s going to catch up to us all on Judgment Day. While “Fumes” is an ugly story of a relationship hollowed out by drug use, “39 Thieves” and “Catacomb Kids” both relate lighter tales of Long Island delinquency: “Garbage Pail Kids unite at the mall food court/And chase cheese fries with Binaca/They had to shut the school down early/There were bombs inside the lockers” goes the latter.

In typical Aesop Rock fashion, his barrage of lyrics creates moments of nimble genius that make you forgive his more willfully obtuse stream-of- consciousness blather—you can’t decipher most of what he’s saying, and sometimes you’re better off. And the beats, provided variously by Blockhead, El-P, and Aesop himself, are rarely more than serviceable. Still, when things come together, as on the title track, we’re reminded why many consider this guy the reigning champ of indie rap. As the album’s best beat swaggers along, our hero drops a triumphant Evel Knievel reference: “Woke to a grocery list/It goes like this: duty and death/Anyone object, come stand in the way/You could be my little Snake River Canyon today.”


Aesop Rock performs September 9 at the Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza, irvingplaza.com

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Single White Females

German director Andreas Dresen (Grill Point, Willenbrock) has made an oddly buoyant little film about loneliness: Part Sex in der City, part Dogme doldrums, Summer in Berlin is most affecting as a character study of two women in their late thirties, at the precise moment in their lives when, with middle age on the march, the fritterings and posturings of youth offer respite even as they throw its loss into relief.

Nike (Nadja Uhl) is a reasonably pretty blonde with the body of an Olympian; she dresses like a pop tart—candy-colored bra and thong-strap on perpetual display—and uses her strength to change the diapers of the elderly invalids whose houses she cleans. Barely humoring their stubborn whims and wistful incantations of past lives and loves, Nike works for the weekend, but will settle for the evening, when she can get sauced on her balcony and make prank phone calls with downstairs neighbor Katrin (Inka Friedrich), a divorced single mom suffering through job-interview workshops in her attempt to re-enter the workforce as a window dresser. Katrin’s 12-year-old son, Max (Lil Oggeson), nurses a crush on a wispy classmate, along with his mom’s frequent hangovers; a pair of expensive running shoes are Max’s imagined answer to life’s problems.

When Katrin and Nike run into Ronald (Andreas Schmidt), a truck driver who nearly ran Katrin down in the street, at the local bar, the two friends delicately jockey for the dubious award of his attention. There is something drearily routine in the way Nike eventually picks up the reedy stranger (Roland, Ronald, whatever) and the joke is compounded when the one-night stand mutates into a relationship maintained by force of habit and not much else. In a contrived reaction to Nike’s sudden unavailability, Katrin’s wine habit spirals into a breakdown and a trip to the psych ward.

Dresen canvasses the city’s summer bloom—the streets and rooftops of Berlin captured in handheld 16mm—as the working-class characters negotiate urban spaces that seem like obstacles (Nike strains to catch her reflection in a bar’s ill-placed bathroom mirror; a temp agency rejects Katrin for her age). Both women face impending choices with varying degrees of bravery, and the film’s loose, forgiving rhythm suggests a final summer, passed in fits and starts. On Berlin’s river Spree, loneliness too finds it own level; sometimes it’s manageable, at other times you go under, and always a friend is the ultimate life preserver.

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Get in the Ring

It’s late on a freezing February afternoon, and James Murphy, the rumpled, bearlike frontman of the New York itchy-disco band LCD Soundsystem, has spent several hours getting his picture taken for
Rolling Stone. He’s leaving for a European tour in a few days. Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler is calling his cell phone. But none of that seems to matter to Murphy, at least not as long as he’s talking about his newest love: Ultimate Fighting.

“If I didn’t have to go on tour, if I wasn’t wrapped up in the LCD world, I would be training six days a week,” Murphy says excitedly. “That’s all I would do: working on music and learning to fight.”

Murphy is three years away from his 40th birthday, and he’s devoted his entire adult life to music, a relatively peaceful pursuit. But he’s absolutely, completely serious. “I’m just getting started, but I think I’m naturally pretty good at it,” he says. “I used to kickbox, and I’m really flexible for my size. I’m a little over- aggressive. I’m a little cocky, and I take chances that I shouldn’t take. I make a lot of mistakes.
I don’t like learning the basics; I don’t like being a beginner at things. I want to be good, so I rush ahead. We’re learning move one, and I try to do complicated stuff and fail, and that’s just my nature.”

Despite those admitted weaknesses, though, Murphy thinks he has a legitimate shot at competing. “I can properly train,” he insists. “I have the money to train; I don’t have to work some other weird job. [Other aspiring fighters] have kids, and they have limited jobs, mostly. Until they get really big, they can’t train properly. I’m glad the sport’s growing, because more of them can actually get focused, and the sport’ll get a lot better. But I’d be at a certain advantage because I can straight-up train all the time. It’s kind of a fantasy.

“I am aware of how funny it is,” he adds. “But I don’t want to do things halfway. I don’t like the idea of, ‘I’m just doing a little Brazilian jujitsu for fitness.’ I won’t get out of bed for fitness.”

Murphy doesn’t like to do anything halfway. Before LCD Soundsystem released their first single—the cold, sarcastic scenester indictment “Losing My Edge”—he’d already made his mark as half of DFA, the DJ/production team that rebuilt early-21st-century New York underground rock in its own image by injecting an urgent rhythmic pulse. In their production work for the Rapture and Radio 4 and their remixes for Le Tigre and Fischerspooner (among many others), Murphy and DFA partner Tim Goldsworthy pulled ideas from disco and Krautrock and acid house, generating results that often bore little resemblance to guitar-based rock. DFA went on to become a record label, but more than that, it became a lasting signifier for the so-called dance-punk wave that, for a year or two there, had half the indie-rock bands in the country trying to figure out how the whole disco hi-hat thing worked.

This surge of success came as an exhilarating surprise to Murphy, already well into his thirties by the time DFA took off. “I suddenly was cool,” he remembers. “I suddenly was able to fly to the south of France and London and DJ. This was totally crazy. I was in my thirties. I’d been a completely failed teenager and twentysomething, deeply failed, deeply deeply failed. Like ‘live with your rich girlfriend so you don’t have to pay rent’ failed, ‘be homeless in your office on an inflatable bed’ failed, like ‘start going to therapy in your late twenties because you had high hopes for yourself and you realized that you were a complete, total, abject failure at everything’ failed. Like proper failure: not just failure financially, but you’re not doing what you set out to do, not making creative work. You don’t have money and you don’t have a job because you’re a musician, but you’re not making music. That kind of failed. And then all of a sudden to be thirtysomething and be flown to all these places to DJ like you’re the next big thing, but you’re way too old to believe any of this . . . ”

Before LCD Soundsystem, Murphy had played in a number of bands. “I was in bands my whole life,” he says. “I’ve been in bands since ’82. I mean, I was in new-wave bands when new wave was a
new wave. I was in hardcore bands and punk bands and indie-rock bands, and it just drove me crazy”—specifically, the tricky internal dynamics and mind games that came along with functioning as a democratic unit, having to argue or cajole to get his bandmates to do what he wanted. So Murphy spent a number of years as a drummer. “It seemed more reasonable and respectable to be a drummer; it’s like being a rock plumber,” he says. “And I just kind of hid from responsibility and tried to be more democratic. I made it so I didn’t have to negotiate with anybody, and I was suddenly really pleased.”

But Murphy’s success as a DJ and producer allowed him to structure a band completely around his own ideas. Murphy isn’t just the frontman of LCD Soundsystem—he’s the sole
core member. Hot Chip multi-instrumentalist Al Doyle and !!! guitarist Tyler Pope are among his more prominent collaborators, but everyone’s there to help Murphy realize his ideas. “Being a frontman is just a concept I don’t really think about,” he says. “There are these bands, like old big bands, where there’d be a bandleader, and he’d play one of the instruments, and he’d also probably introduce everybody and sing the little one line when not playing trumpet. And that’s what I feel like. In a weird way, James Brown makes more sense to me, even though he was also a dynamic performer. But that role of the guy who’s trying to get the band to
be a piano or trying to get a band to do this weird thing that has nothing to do with playing it right or wrong, that has everything to do with playing it in this really specific way: That’s kind of what I like.”


Murphy insists he isn’t a dictatorial leader—things just run more smoothly his way. “I have really good people in the band, and they’ve been really generous to me to let me be kind of crazy. Like, ‘No, you have to go a little ahead of the beat here, and it needs to feel neurotic. It needs to feel lighter, like a light robot, not like a heavy person.’ I talk about all this esoteric shit, and they roll their eyes at me, but they’ve been really magnanimous and going with it.”

The result is a touring band powerful enough that, after years of apparently cinematic failure, Murphy feels comfortable indulging in a bit of Ultimate Fighter bravado. ” Nobody can play live like us,” he insists disgustedly. “Nobody tries. And there are more talented people that should be better. That’s what I take exception to. I think it’s insulting. It’s like coming into the ring out of shape. Don‘t fucking come into the ring out of shape; it’s disrespectful. Don’t come play a show with us and bring your B-game and phone it in and pose, pull a whole bunch of rock bullshit moves and emote and shit like that with us because I’ll fucking punch you in the face. That’s bullshit.”


On LCD Soundsystem’s early 12-inch singles, Murphy’s excitability manifested itself as equal parts sardonic and ecstatic. In his sneery monotone, he took pointed but funny lyrical shots at his own audience and at himself (famously, for instance, ending “Losing My Edge” with a laundry list of hip musical influences) while canned, claustrophobic synths and drums piled up around him. Over the long running times of tracks like “Beat Connection” and “Yeah,” though, those rigid percussive tics would open up and spread out, spilling gradually into euphoric dancefloor release. On the band’s self-titled 2005 album (packaged with a bonus disc of those early singles), Murphy pushed those alternating tendencies further outward, sharpening his jittery thumps on some tracks and playing with warm, expansive, Eno-derived sonics on others.

Since LCD Soundsystem‘s release, Murphy has kept a frantic schedule. He’s toured the world to promote the album in addition to maintaining a full slate of DJ and production work; DFA Records released two separate compilations of Murphy and Goldsworthy’s remixes last year. But maybe Murphy’s most ambitious project arose after Nike contacted him to create a long, continuous piece of workout music as part of their ongoing Original Run series. Murphy had already been toying with the idea of making a 45-minute track, but he was initially skeptical. “At first I was like, ‘Well, I don’t want to do it,’ ” he remembers. “And then I asked myself: Well, why don’t I want to do it?
And I realized that the reason my knee-jerk reaction was no was a pretty untenable position. It was that it’s not cool. And I have a problem with cool as a means of measuring things.”

The more Murphy considered the project, the more sense it made. “I wouldn’t do it just for shits and giggles,” he says. “I need a deadline, and this was a deadline. And [Nike] had rules—they had things they wanted, which really made me happy. I think other artists might get bummed out about doing a seven-minute warm-up and a seven-minute cool-down, but I’m not that precious. I love having boundaries and rules like that. It gives you something to push against and push into. So it just seemed like a good thing to do.”

Released in October, the result was the iTunes-only track 45:33, a layered but propulsive multi-movement work that cycles slowly through its own peaks and valleys, exploring different facets of disco without ever losing its central pulse. “I didn’t think [Nike would] put it out because it was too gay and campy and weird for them,” Murphy admits. “Not that it’s left-field music; it’s just disco. But a company like that is pretty brand-heavy. I thought maybe it wouldn’t fit in with them. But they totally put it out. And I’m very, very proud of it; it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve ever made.”

One part of 45:33—a light, twinkly, melodic interlude of synth plinks and whooshes—found its way onto Sound of Silver (LCD Soundsystem’s proper sophomore album, out this week) after Murphy added a plaintive and melancholy vocal. “While I was working on it, I kept singing things on the subway home while I was listening on my iPod to check the mixes,” he says. “And it started turning into a song.”

That song, “Someone Great,” is a clear highlight of Sound of Silver, an album that finds Murphy easing up slightly on his nervous, clenched groove and easing into prettier, more thoughtful territory. Though tracks like “Us vs. Them” build up frantically rhythmic beds, and the single “North American Scum” gleefully and sarcastically lampoons the guilt and confusion of Americans traveling in Europe, songs like “Someone Great” and the similarly gorgeous “All My Friends” show Murphy in a mellower place, developing new ways to let beauty coexist with his beats.

Murphy doesn’t see this as a move toward tranquility. “I’m still making songs with the same sets of intents, with some minor adjustments,” he says. “I’m not saying that it isn’t different; it’s just really weird how similar the two records are, in a way. I purposefully tried to make a record that was a companion to the first record.”

But major differences exist. On Sound of Silver, for instance, Murphy is more willing than ever to delve into his love-hate relationship with the city where he’s lived since 1989. “New York’s the greatest if you get someone to pay the rent,” he whoops on “North American Scum.” And the downcast, album-closing piano ballad “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” takes a conflicted view of the city’s gentrification: “New York, you’re safer, but you’re wasting my time/Our records all show you were filthy but fine.”


“New York’s the place where weird people have some actual power, and that’s why I love it,” Murphy muses. “You can bitch and piss and moan, but you’re never going to hear ‘Love it or leave it’ here, because being patriotic doesn’t mean being retarded. It’s just an irrelevance. I love New York. I super love New York. It is expensive, and it is retarded and filled with assholes; I just wouldn’t live anywhere else. I don’t see the need to make New York seem like it doesn’t have things that make me want to shoot myself in the fucking face as a way of explaining that I love it. I don’t see the point. I love it. It’s my home.”

For the rest of the year, though, Murphy won’t get to spend much time here. Instead, he’ll be touring the world promoting Sound of Silver, threatening to punch unworthy adversaries in the face. He sees a lack of competitiveness in the indie-rock world, and he isn’t happy
about it. “I feel like all bands could be better if the sense of competition was stronger. Imagine if they saw the Jesus Lizard as many times as I did. What if you were playing with the Jesus Lizard? That band was fucking good live! If you don’t like that macho ’90s Chicago rock style,
fine, but a band like that live, you really had to look in the mirror backstage. You really had to ask yourself if you were willing to go where [penis-waving Lizard frontman] David Yow was willing to go.”

But the Jesus Lizard broke up nearly a decade ago; it’s safe to say that few of Murphy’s tour-circuit peers are old enough to have ever seen the band at their peak. Murphy has been a musician for decades, and he’s still just getting used to the idea of his success coming so late. “I should not be in a band,” he says. “I should not be on tour. I should be laughable. I’m 37 years old. I’m 220 pounds. I’m a producer. I’ve got about as much likelihood of being a fucking frontman as Christopher Cross, for fuck’s sake. I should have my ass wiped off the stage every night.” But that’s not happening. And if Murphy’s as competitive about Ultimate Fighting as he is about music, maybe the idea of a middle-aged dance-music producer entering the octagon won’t be so funny after all.

LCD Soundsystem play Bowery Ballroom March 30–31, sold out as fuck, boweryballroom.com.

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Chubby Joggers of the World Unite

LCD Soundsystem’s 45:33, 45 continuous minutes of original music commissioned by Nike to accompany exercise, may be the best thing the corporation has ever done. Better than wildly inventive labor schemata, better than its tenure as whipping boy at college sociology departments nationwide. The pairing—wry, indie disco saviors and joggers—is weirder than Nike’s new surrealistic Lebron James ads. And sonically it stands up with anything LCD head James Murphy has released previously, proving that a paycheck can be as much of a motor as precious inspiration when it comes to making a good record.

The track itself is a pocket history, a mid-tempo disco-by-numbers exercise that follows the rises and falls of a workout routine. Murphy huffs about love for a few minutes, gets swallowed by a funky Wurlitzer passage, and, as the natural cannabinoids hit, starts crying about space travel while cloaked in a vocoder. Shit invariably gets more spacey as the fabled
zone hits; the tempo is upped from Italo to something more like Chicago, with a few kind words about alien technology thrown in over a heavily echoed bassline, before the whole track dissipates into beatless synth twinkles—cool down, stretch time, etc.

Of course, there are ethical acrobatics—concessions, at least—waiting to be made. Nike is still very much The Man, eternally liable in the eyes of culturally conscious consumers. But really, each routinized gripe deserves a brief acknowledgement that, yeah, a massive company is rewarding a good band with work. What’s even more interesting is that Nike—American economic ingenuity and the marketable spirit of individualism incarnate—has made something as dispassionate and universally functional as science or Soviet art. THIS IS RUNNING MUSIC. THIS IS MUSIC FOR RUNNING. It’s sentiment to echo “mood” records, institutional soundtracks, pill bottles. The single’s “cover”—it’s currently only being sold on iTunes—even has a line graph diagramming the track’s rises and falls. Straight from the lab to you. Furthermore, Murphy, the goon with the beakers, though a professed lover of jujitsu, is generally pictured looking unshaven and slightly chubby.

The various disconnects here are fascinating and, frankly, kinda sexy. The old Macintosh ad that had all the pacified automata being disrupted by the one hammer-wielding iconoclast—a runner, ironically—gets a makeover. Instead of marching, they’re all jogging together listening to disco, and nobody comes to break anything. Suddenly, fears about losing our itty-bitty customizable slot in the Matrix turn to comforts as you stare from your treadmill with an eerie solace in the hope—the knowledge, even—that the person next to you is on the same prescription.