7 min read

Nerding Out: Rock Sneakers

Nerding Out: Rock Sneakers

It’s probably not a big secret but I’m a bit of a collector. When I was 16, I got a very cool pair of Nike Dunks that I still can’t find on the internet but I swear they were real: Brownish-grey with baby blue and yellow. Very much a “2005 Denver Nuggets with Carmelo Anthony on the squad” vibe. I liked them a lot and while I don’t think I was the first person to ever wear cool shoes to my school, I hadn’t seen anyone break necks like I did. I was getting compliments from people I’d never met. I wasn’t cool but I was at least getting some attention for showing off my taste, which felt cool at the time. And so I took that bump of brain chemicals and bought more Dunks throughout high school and college. Slowly, the focus on shoes turned into an obsession with records, which turned into vintage tees. The bite from the collecting bug isn’t something that goes away. You scratch the itch and it just appears somewhere else on your body. You look crazy to any observer watching you contort yourself and your wallet to scratch that itch. 

Size 12 - Nike SB Dunk Low Pro Gold Rail 2008 for sale online | eBay
a pair of SB Dunk Low "Gold Rail". These aren't mine, I wore my pair into the ground and now they sell for like $400+. Oh well!

I find myself saying, “I don’t want to be the old guy here,” quite a lot. I’m 32 and straight up, I’m not that old. I’m not “with it” but that’s mostly because things move way faster than they used to. The average kid wants to be a TikToker or YouTuber professionally, and that wasn’t even a possibility four years ago. The other thing that everyone wants to do is make streetwear or design sneakers. When a friend told me he wanted to do this when we were 20, I was shocked I found someone who cared about the craft like I did. This felt like a niche thing when I was getting into the game, and I wasn’t even early to it. By the time I started buying SB Dunks (Gold Box era), they were already coveted by collectors but you could buy many pairs at retail price and the less ostentatious ones would go on sale, where I scooped up most of my pairs. The draw of the shoes, for me, was that each colorway had a different story behind it and they all became a reflection of the wearer. 

Collaborative shoes with different outlets were the ultimate reflection of your taste, of course. If you were an Iron Maiden fan, they had a collaboration with Nike SB. If you lived in NYC, maybe you got a pair of the Pigeon Dunks before the riot at their release. There were plenty of local releases and this was before every store had an online shop, so you couldn’t get certain shoes if you didn’t live near certain skate shops. It’s an honor as a store, and I can only imagine how cool it would feel to get a pair of shoes personalized for your taste or the story you want to tell. There are still some stories behind collaborations and the product can be used to tell a tale, but a lot of collaborations today are with clothing designers, people who do this kind of thing for a living and are supposed to make things look cool. There’s not a whole lot that runs deeper than that these days. Sure, it looks cool, but there’s not a story or lore behind it. Last year I got a pair of Dunks from a collaboration with a Chinese streetwear store, and I love them but they’re not local to me. There’s not a story about their acquisition other than, “I saw them on SNKRS and used my card to buy them.”

Nike dunk high deftones | eBay
Deftones Dunks were a Friends+Family exclusive that have become a white whale for sneakerheads. There were maybe 40 pairs made, and they were for friends and family of the band. Nobody knew about these until like four or five years ago and now they're one of the most expensive Dunks money can buy. I like the shoes but that's a lil dorky imo

Last week, Turnstile and Converse released a collaboration featuring two designs on classic silhouettes. There’s a “Blackout” pair of Chuck 70s with the spotlight from the “Blackout” single artwork on the side and an “Only One Star” version of the One Star as a reference to the band’s song, “Alien Love Call.” Ironically, the “Only One Star” has two stars on the shoe as a reference to the lyrics of the song (“Can’t be the only one...”). It’s the first time I can think of where a modern rock band got a real widespread collaboration with their name on it. Collabs with bands tend to rely on legacy acts and their old visual material. Turnstile definitely isn’t among the Bad Brains and Clash in terms of their art, but the recognition of a modern band as something big enough culturally to get the nod is certainly unprecedented. MF Doom had a pair of Dunks that have become grails, and so did Dinosaur Jr. after they reunited. It feels like a serious endorsement once a company says, “Let’s put your name on something so we can sell this item.” I know it’s not cool or punk to care about consumerism like this, especially validation from a company like Nike, but it is a little cool in the grand scheme of things. If you’re like me and you saw Turnstile play small venues or you’re cooler than me and saw them when they were even smaller, this feels like such a far cry from it all. It is undoubtedly a little cool to have a widespread acknowledgment of their current status alongside legacy acts. Do I think these are going to be as coveted as a Doom Dunk or the Deftones Dunks? No. Did I buy a pair? I didn’t. Do I think there’s something here? Absolutely.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the Turnstile shoes and some of the more fun examples of rock music collabs over the history of sneakers.

Here’s the Turnstile collab. I do think the second star on the One Stars is kind of a cool addition in that most people do not play with the construction of the shoe when making a collaboration for whatever reason. The translucent outsoles on both shoes are a cool touch even if I cannot stand wearing that kind of outsole. It gets dirty and ugly so fast. That’s the main gripe I have about these shoes: I don’t think they’ll look as cool when they’re beat up. If you wore them to a punk show or got in the pit with the One Stars, they’d just look gross in an un-fun way. For a new collab, it's a solid couple pairs of shoes.

Vans Sk8-Hi by Bad Brains and Supreme: A really great collaboration, especially by 2008 standards. Each shoe has “Coptic Times” on the back as a reference to the song off Rock For Light (1983). In terms of design, I love that the iconic Capitol Strike art is only a logo on the tongue. In 2009, Vans made a wider-release collab with Bad Brains and they plastered that art on the side of a Sk8-Hi like a billboard that says “HEY EVERYONE I LIKE BAD BRAINS!!!” No subtlety, no taste. Now that being said, these would look cool as hell if they got beat up at a show.

Sub Pop Nike Blazers from 2009. Yo how ugly are these? What a mess. Real life clown shoes for clowns. I don’t think anyone has ever pulled these off. What’s the inspiration here? Bowling? Good lord. I do like the catalog release number on the back, though. That’s a very fun touch.

Iron Maiden Dunk Highs from 2006. The Eddie on the side is very cool, yes, but I think the better design incorporation was the Iron Maiden logos on the back of the shoes made to look like patches on your battle vest. That’s enough of a nod to the culture that it makes the shoe a lot cooler from a collaborative perspective.

The Dinosaur Jr. Dunks are pretty well-known, but I still find them charming. The purple accents won’t shock anyone that knows J Mascis’ taste, but the big silver shoe was kind of a shock at first. I think the reference point is the big silver boots that glam rockers or Kiss used to wear. They go hard to this day.

Korn Adidas from 2023: Really great throwback to when this was all the rage. I think the fat laces really set it off but I also think that if you wear these shoes, you’re clearly in costume. I couldn’t wear these with my usual pants and jacket. I’d look like a clown (derogatory).

Perhaps the best example of everything I like about sneaker collabs: Nike SB by Brooklyn Projects “Reign In Blood.” It was not cleared by Slayer, the skate shop just used them as a theme (that’s punk as hell). Denim on the back and tongue for the metalheads, oxblood and black everywhere else as a reference to the album art. It’s a subtle(-ish) colorway with a cool story and a local, small release of 666 pairs. They’ve been highly sought after for years and command a pretty penny, but that’s not why they’re cool. They’re cool because I think they look sick. That’s all that matters.

Back to music on Friday, but thanks for taking a look at some cool shoes.