Sneaker Guru Bobbito Garcia Brings Pro-Keds Back

You had a streetball / Hip Hop show on an Ivy league jazz radio station. That’s not really a question, more of an observation. And a good one. I had the world’s first-ever talk radio program discussing playground basketball on WKCR 89.9FM. It was called On the Fence, and came on earlier in the evening every Thursday before me and Stretch Armstrong’s hip hop show. I also wrote the first article on sneaker culture in media history, titled “Confessions of a Sneaker Addict.” It ran in Source magazine in 1991. I also hosted the first TV series ever dedicated to sneaker culture, called It’s the Shoes, which ran for two seasons on ESPN. I could go on but I’ll stop there!

What kicks do you have on permanent ice? There is no pair on permanent ice in my closet — everything gets worn at some point! There are definitely joints that only come out on special occasion when they’ll be a good amount of heads that will understand what’s on the feet and can appreciate it.

What’s the illest pair of kicks you ever owned? The illest kicks I might’ve ever owned were the Nike Air Force 1s that I painted circa 1990. I made a white/chocolate store-bought pair and customized them into a pumpkin/white/chocolate creation. Cats were offering me money on the block to do theirs after that! I was years ahead of any brand in terms of doing three-color combos that were off-beat and not team related. It was a good moment. As a kid, my transition shoe from wearing skippies to something official was the Super Pro-Ked. That was in 1975 when I was nine years old. Before that, I was a scrub in the sneaker world!

How do you feel about clubs that frown on sneakers? I don’t feel any kind of way about clubs that frown on sneakers. I just don’t patronize them! Every venue is entitled to their own rules though, I guess. I’ve never been bounced from a club for wearing sneakers, but I’ve been spinning at APT for almost nine years, and I can tell you that the security may at times not let dudes in who are in a suit and wearing shoes! For real! It’s a real chill vibe, and I play soulful dance music, so you kind of have to wear kicks to get your groove on proper and be comfortable, I guess.

What spots do you like to eat and drink at in New York? I don’t drink alcohol, but I love to get my eat on, and there are a plethora of ridiculously yummilicious spots I frequent, including Il Bagatto, Camarada’s, Café Latte, Kiosk, and Strictly Roots.

What’s the most you’d pay for a pair of sneakers? I’ve never spent more than $140 for a pair of sneakers (Lebron VI U. of Akron exclusives), and that was just this year. Before that, my highest was $110 (Asic Gel Nimbus VII). Luckily, most of the brands send me shoes for review in my Bounce magazine “Let’Em Marinate” column.

Best sneaker store in the world? Wow. You’re gonna get me in trouble! That’s hard to say. For me, it’s about stores with friendly, knowledgeable service and a selection that challenges the customer. Sure, there are the tier-zero accounts that get all the exclusives, but then everyone knows about them and there is no surprise factor. I like to take chances, always have, and that’s how I earned my rep in the playground basketball and hip hop worlds for having sneakers that no one else knows. So why do you think I’d tell you where I shop? Hahaha! Goliath on 105th Street, Training Camp on 116th Street off Lenox, and Paragon’s are amongst the stores I currently check up on inventory. The Vault on 8th Avenue between 133rd and 134th streets, too.

You ever think sneakerheads take the shit too seriously? C’mon, man! Read my book Where’d You Get Those? New York City’s Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987 for an in-depth exploration of your question. I can’t retell what I wrote in it any better.

Why should people cop your limited edition Pro-Keds Royal Flash? You give Keds love in your book, but certain heads might think of them as “those kids’ shoes.” Was that perception a pro or a con? I’ve already done collabs, including Adidas for the Superstar model 35th anniversary as well as with Nike for their Air Force 1 25th anniversary. I don’t think I can work with more recognized brands or iconic shoes more than that. I love challenges, and when Pro-Keds approached me about jumping in on the 30th anniversary of the Royal Flash, man … I was more energized about it than the previous ones because I could’ve done the worst color combos and fabrics on my “shell toe” and AF1, respectively, and it still would’ve sold out. Everyone buys those with their eyes closed, they are two of the biggest sellers in the history of the industry. But to do a Royal Flash by Bobbito, and freak it well enough that it would turns heads to want to wear them? Now that’s interesting! Keds were perceived as kids and women’s shoes; however Pro-Keds were absolutely the brand of choice here in NYC during the glory period of playground basketball and hip hop in the ‘70s. When I wear them now, it’s only adults of my generation or older who stop me on the street and say, “What! Where can I cop those? I used to rock those back in the days!” So it will be rewarding to reintroduce a model originally was released in ‘79, but hasn’t been seen since. And my hope, and belief, is that young kids will take to the Royal Flash the same way my crew did. We didn’t see some NBA player endorsing it. It was simply a beautifully designed shoe that had high performance ranks to play in as well. And that’s what sold it. And heads in Harlem ate those up. In all the annals of Pro-Ked basketball history, the Royal Flash was their most flavorful, and functional, sneaker. I professed that in my book when it was released in 2003, way before I knew I was gonna wind up doing a collab!

Sneakerheads and conspiracies go together like stoops and White Owls: That said, why did Bush knock down the towers? We’ll all find out a decade from now when the government papers get released to the public and the agencies continue their path towards just transparency …

Sound Ideas: Daniel Agne of Funktion One

What clubs offer that bars and lounges generally don’t is sound and DJs. There are a few guys at the top of the heap in the sound world, and Daniel Agne is one of those guys. If the sound is crisp and clear, chances are that the club owner spent a great deal of cash to make that happen. As a designer, sound considerations are a day-one thing. The open entrance to the mezzanine level at Marquee with no apparent break to stop the bleed from the main floor was a major design move. The padded ceiling and columns and front of the bar at Home overcame the tremendous bounce from the hardwood floors, brick walls, and concrete ceilings. Joe Lodi hid bass speakers behind banquettes and added a scoop that pushed the sound where it needed to be. The club world is never as easy as people think, and I hope this interview with Daniel gives you insight on the process of sound installation

You do the sound at premier nightclubs, putting in DJ booths, speaker placements, etc., making the room sound great. What’s the name of your company? The company is called Sound Investment and Divine Lab, and we’re often regarded as Funktion One in the US. We do sound, video, lighting, and entertainment technology

People say places like 1Oak have a great sound system because it has a Funktion One system. What is the history of Funktion One? We have access to essentially every type of loudspeaker, amplifier, and processor in the market. We’ve done many AB tests over the years and continually do them when new products are released. We base our company on the confidence that we are designing using the highest-performing equipment possible within the design budget allowed. Funktion One loudspeakers are the core of our systems because we feel that they are the best possible speaker available. Period. They are the result of a holistic design process that prioritizes overall system integrity as apposed to monetarily based design directives. In Funktion One, we found a philosophical approach that runs congruent with that of our own. Tony Andrews and John Newsham at Funktion One have achieved audio excellence by combining decades of technical experience in cabinet and speaker design with a passion for fidelity. By fabricating the speaker drivers in-house, Funktion One is able to precisely tailor the response of each loudspeaker model, using mechanical adjustments to cure mechanical problems instead of leaving it to electronic equalization after the fact, which does not address the root cause of the problem.

In the last ten years, we’ve seen a breakout of DJs and talent, so instead of getting $5,000 to $10,000 a night, DJs are now getting about $40,000 to $50,000. How is sound technology keeping up with the DJs, and how do inventions like Serato and the fade away from vinyl affect what you do? It makes it much more difficult to produce a quality result because technology was once difficult for the common man to obtain. You used to go to a recording studio as a privilege because it was an expensive and exclusive process. You would be there with trained professionals with standards and experience, so you had great quality equipment in experienced hands, and only the best of the best got there. Now, every busboy and their brother is a DJ because the cost of producing music at home is cheap, since they’ve found ways to make the products inexpensive. With all of these mass-produced, lower quality products, on the professional end we have more availability with producing higher quality and better sound systems. But we’ve also been crippled because with this highly accurate, super-loud system that can reproduce whatever comes into it accurately, we have loud distortion and poor-sounding tracks.

What’s the solution? The solution is education, as with any sort of technology. New technology can come in and dilute the waters, but there will also be a backlash — a purist approach that promotes the philosophy of “Well, okay, that’s great that you all started downloading and transferring diseased tracks everywhere.” It’s an education process, but it is starting to be socialized and realized, so there is common knowledge now that when you’re downloading the tracks at low bit rate and you’re paying less for it, that’s not a good thing. That’s like being a race car driver and buying a cheap engine.

What places have you done sound for in New York? Cielo, 1Oak, we just finished the Griffin with you and Marc Dizon, and we did the Crobar system when it became Mansion (M2). We work with Sean McPherson and Eric Goode. We do a lot of their hotel work; we just did the Jane Hotel with them, The Bowery Hotel, The Maritime Hotel; we worked on Mr. West, and we did the basement for APT.

You did Cielo, which is one of the premium dance clubs, and you did 1Oak, which is a different type of club — it’s a lot of mash-up, hip hop, and not as house-heavy as Cielo. Are there any adjustments you make for a club like 1Oak as opposed to Cielo? For Cielo, I have the luxury of tuning for complete accuracy and that’s what my approach was with it. With a venue where you are going to have a more eclectic DJ pool and format, you have to tune your systems to take out some of the things that would be adverse depending on what they are going to play. So if I knew on a system that everyone was going to play good music, I would tune it a little bit differently.

What do you mean by “good music”? I’m talking about the quality. When you get into mash-up and stuff like that, it’s absolutely highly diseased tracks that are being transferred. It’s like the plague — this person now has it and 37 people have transferred it — it just doesn’t sound great. It’s compressed, and it’s cheap downloads in the first place. To a certain point, there’s nothing you can do; we are working on a certain proxy to reintroduce and grab elements that are salvageable, but it’s difficult. 1Oak is more consistent than other places with having good DJs, and obviously Cielo is also because Nicholas Matar had a rhyme and a reason when he set out to do that and he did it. My design firm Lewis & Dizon just did Griffin with you, and when they brought you in, there was a conversation about how the sound was going to work within the design of the room. I’m sure that Nicolas Matar of Cielo was designing the shape of the room and seating with sound in mind from day one. Was it the same with 1Oak? Ronnie Madra, Jeffrey Jah, Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva were both very very adamant that it had to have a great sound system. I think that our company takes a tremendous amount of pride in working with designers. We appreciate the aesthetics of a room, and we’ll go to great lengths to try not to violate that. Sometimes it’s a wrestling match, but we try to come up with custom and unique solutions that would not violate what the design and functionality of a room needs to be. With 1Oak it was actually quite a process with the design to get to where we were, but they did the things they should have done; there were a couple things we were fortunate about, and they did allow me to put things where I needed.

1Oak has a vibrant social scene, and the seating area generally has less sound so that people can speak, while a place like Cielo has great sound in every spot of the room. How do you do that — is it a challenge for you? What you do is have your main focus area, and then off of that you’re doing fills and trying to timeline it to be coming off of the main system. It’s a delay, when you timeline something — you have a system that is going to be your main system, it’s going to be the loudest area, and you’re just trying to accent that.

So what you’re saying is that even in a small room, if the sound is not properly balanced, you’ll hear echoes? Yeah, shorter distances show up as confusion because your brain doesn’t process it accurately, and it’s a disruption instead. At greater distances it’s actually referred to as the Haas effect, but you start to then discern that there are different starting points, or it’ll be like an echo, or it has its own beat to it because it literally starts to get disruptive.

You hear this in a lot of big spaces like Capitale, where you have high ceilings and hard surfaces. Yeah, that’s a room slap echo, where it bounces of the walls.

Clubs are being built everywhere in the city, residents are moving into club districts, and the co-existence of clubs with communities is becoming a big issue. How much consideration is given to the leaking of the sound to the street? It’s important for every single job, and the earlier on in the process that we can get involved with the design and the layout, it really benefits the project. It is obviously a really heavily weighted factor, and every club owner does know that because it is an Achilles’ heel. It can put a club out of business sometimes — does so even if they are running it properly. There’s an issue of how you can achieve that unless you’ve really painstakingly designed the space, or if you have the luxury of sound space within the venue.

You fortunately work for good people; do you turn down a lot of jobs? I do, more often today than I used to, because I’ve learned that despite your best intentions, your efforts are going to end up being inhibited by the personality of the owner. You have quite a reputation; there are two or three people in the city who are talked about in the same breath as you, but sometimes people buy you only because they want your brand, for the vanity of having it. There will be pitfalls. I’ve learned that through Spirit. I was promised a lot when we started that I never got. He [Spirit owner Robbie Wooton] didn’t accept our input, and I should’ve turned that job down. He made a promise that he didn’t keep as well. When I said, “This isn’t enough sound,” he said, okay, “I’ll tell you what, when we turn it on, we’ll have some time and if it’s not right, we’ll get the rest of the parts.” And then when it got to that point, he didn’t do what he said he was going to do, and none of those factors come up when people talk about it or. People don’t consider that part; it’s just your reputation.

When people come in and they hear you did the sound, they’re expecting value, and if you can’t give it to them, you shouldn’t be doing the job. Yes, he turned around and spent three times as much for a different sound engineer and also used the equipment that I already had in there. So he had mine, plus three times as much, so I thought, okay … that’s fair. So, in that I learned a valuable lesson, which is to understand what the result is going to be for the risk you are incurring and figure out if it’s really worth it. Because it took me a lot of time to repair what the impression was of that work.

Gamal Hennessy Seizes the Night

Gamal Hennessy is writing a book about all the good things nightlife brings to New York City’s bottom line. Very few people work very hard to ensure that the city that never sleeps is not turned into a bedroom community by real estate interests and their special friends. The New York Nightlife Association meets regularly to help keep the world I write about open and vibrant. There are very few others fighting the good fight. Without such efforts, this town could easily become a Boston, with bars shuttered by 2 a.m. Gamal is a regular contributor to comment sections of blogs; he always makes insightful comments and asks great questions, and I’m happy to ask him a few as he starts to promote his book, Seize The Night.

What exactly is the book about? Seize the Night is about the cultural and economic benefits nightlife brings to New York City. The book looks at all the great things that bars and clubs bring to the city as well as the social issues that come out of the industry and suggests what people can do to help protect this important element of our society.

Why are you writing it? I’ve run a site about nightlife trends since 2005, and I often get the feeling that we don’t focus on the big picture when it comes to clubs. Operators and patrons focus on running a business and enjoying themselves from night to night. People outside the industry often see clubs as a crime or a noise issue — a problem to be solved. They don’t stop and think about all the musical genres, celebrities, design trends, and social movements that come out of New York clubs. They don’t know how many people have jobs because of clubs, how much money clubs generate for the city, and how pivotal clubs are to the economic success of the region as a whole. I want this book to help change that perception.

Who are you? What is your connection to nightlife? I see myself as an outspoken advocate of nightlife, but I have probably had every non-glamourous club job you can think of. When I got out of law school, I worked coat check and as a bar back at Webster Hall. I even ran small-scale promotions and party organization for a little while. Now I currently DJ on and off at lounges around the Lower East Side. Professionally, I come from an entertainment and publishing background, and I decided to start New York Nights because I felt like there was a need for a publication that covered nightlife the way Vogue covers fashion or Wired covers technology.

When it the book coming out? I’m hoping to have the book on shelves and on Amazon by November of this year, but I post samples of different chapters in my personal nightlife blog called Prince of the City.

How do you enjoy nightlife? Where do you hang out? When I don’t need to go somewhere for New York Nights, I prefer the lounges — places like Apt, bOb Bar, Gallery, Cielo, Lolita, Glass, and Happy Ending. Going out on a weekday is often the best time for me. The crowds are smaller, the bartenders are less stressed, and there is more variety in the music.

New York: The Hottest Weekend Party Nights

imageAbout damn time.

Friday 1. 1Oak (Chelsea) – Cool rules the door at this lavish new hot spot. 2. Ella (East Village) – Deco blacks and whites glamming up lower Avenue A. 3. GoldBar (Nolita) – Gold is the new black.

4. Mr. West (Chelsea) – Snug, stylish hotness in the middle of gallery-ville from Danny Divine and DJ Jus Ske. 5. Little Branch (West Village) – We’ll go out on a limb and say it’s cocktail heaven.

Saturday 1. Merkato 55 (Meatpacking District) – Crazy-dancing-on-the-tables-brunch at this Addis Ababa market inspiring latest MePa grazing. 2. Santos Party House (Chinatown) – Big, sweaty, hot bi-level boite with sick sound and killer acts for dancing downtown darlings. 3. subMercer (Soho) – Submerce yourself in max exclusivity deep in the bowels of the Mercer Hotel. 4. White Star (Lower East Side) – Chase that flighty Green Fairy thanks to a clever loophole in the trade laws. 5. Cain Luxe (Chelsea) – Revamped hotspot amps up the system, add some design touches, focuses more on electronic music.

Sunday 1. Freeman’s (Lower East Side) – Hunting lodge chic pioneer, newly expanded to better display animal head and stuffed bird collection. Booze-fueled brunches are the best here. 2. Sway (Soho) – Moroccan-themed rocker. Share in the angst with La Lohan on Sunday night Morrissey fests. 3. Le Souk (East Village) – Fezzes, hookahs, belly dancers, hotties, and oglers. Indulge your ADD. 4. APT (Meatpacking District) – Not-so-secret cooly-skooly dancing spot. Likely scene of future iPod playlist war. 5. Socialista (West Village) – Cipriani team brings Cuban hotness behind the handsome face of Bungalow 8 doorman Armin Amiri.