Sneakers and music make for a gloriously complimentary pairing. And on our shores, the experiences we’ve had with both worlds have been so much the richer thanks to the existence of Sole Superior SG and Moonbeats Asia. One traffics in the interest and dialogue that surrounds sneaker culture and the other consistently throws some of the best gigs and parties anyone who loves music can attend here. This Saturday, both will link up for Moonbeats Asia Presents Sole Superior 2017 Afterparty – which will undoubtedly be as swagged-out as it is musically next level. So, instead of us interviewing them, we thought it best to have the founders of each entity, Jonathan Fong and Dexter Tan of Sole Superior, and Moonbeats Asia’s Tim Kek, have a conversation with each other.
It was lit.
Tim: Since Sole Superior is doing its first ever afterparty, Jon and Dexter, can you tell me more about your favourite artists of all time?
Jon: I’m a very melancholic person. So my favourite artist of all time would be The Smiths. Morrissey is as a horrible human being and he does have pretty whacked-out thoughts. He just seems very outright these days, like hating on immigrants and calling Chinese people a ‘subspecies’. With that said, I think I’m okay to separate the person’s disposition from their art, in this respect.
Dexter: I’m a bit different from Jon. I’m lean more towards hip-hop. To be honest, I can’t really pinpoint an all-time favourite artist. These are artists that I thought made me look cooler than I was back in school, but what I really stuck with at the end of the day was hip-hop. Sneakers are also an element of hip-hop, so it’s the two things that I love most in one. It cannot be beaten. To me, the best regional hip-hop artist is Too Phat. They even collaborated with Warren G and I thought that was a masterpiece. I also think that Sheikh Haikel is really cool too. Local talents that I really admire as well are ShiGGa Shay, THELIONCITYBOY, and Tosh Rock.
Tim: Mean is one of my favourite rappers now. I like rappers that tell a story. When rappers rap about something that means something to them, it really conveys the raw energy, the passion, and the pain that they went through. That’s what I look for in music – I really need to feel the connection between the artist and the lyrics. When Kendrick Lamar released his music video for “ELEMENT.”, which is a condensation of his dreams of 40 years into four minutes, I thought it was sublime.
J: Moonbeats Asia organises a lot of gigs. How is that process like?
T: There are certain elements that you need to take care of when it comes to organising a party or gig, regardless of its scale. You need to make sure that the artist is happy with the show that you’re putting on for them and you got to ensure that the audience will have a good time.
At the backend, there’s actually a lot of boring admin work that normal folks won’t see. Applying for licenses; applying for permits through the government. Especially with hip-hop, the government might not adopt an understanding position on it. A lot of rappers rap about non-PG issues but drugs, alcohol, and sex. So, even if we want to bring overseas rappers here, it’s actually a very big challenge because of the restrictions. Beyond that, you’ve got to book hotels, make sure that the live stage is prim and proper, prepare the schedule, and just hope there will be a good turn-up.
“If you’re trying to create something bigger, don’t think too much about what you’re expected to do. Self-doubt will always be there but you have to remind yourself that things need to be done.”
JUICE: Dexter, out of all the local bookers and promoters, why did you pick Moonbeats Asia to partner with for the afterparty?
D: I see a lot of parallels between Sole Superior and Moonbeats Asia. First and foremost, Tim is a music fan. I’ve been to his Symmetry shows and he always brings in artists that he likes and believes in, and for me, it’s the same. We didn’t hesitate when Jon pitched the idea of us doing the afterparty with Moonbeats Asia because the storyline of Moonbeats and Symmetry is very similar to Sole Superior. We started out with no one supporting the vision we had.
T: What goes into organising Sole Superior every year?
J: There was no such event around when we started planning it. The only similar one was a small event that circulated around four years ago. We were lucky because I worked with Zouk before and I understood how they were able to get the venue-related aspects covered. We had a lot of leeway in planning what we wanted to do. Essentially, it could be anything. It could even be at a public garden. Things just really fell into place by themselves. We reached out to friends and retailers and they believed in the event as well. The first year was definitely the toughest. There was a lot of luck, effort and trail and error involved. Actual things like the music programming were just extra flourishes that we thought would make a better festival.
D: The critical period is usually six months before event when we start pulling everyone together. Most of the people who are featured at Sole Superior are mostly brands and labels that we personally enjoy. Some people signed up and expressed their interest in participating in the event, but majority of the vendors there are brands that we have bought sneakers or apparel from and we really liked their backend story.
Like Jon said, the first year was actually terrible. Brands didn’t know who we were and some were so stingy. But at the end of the day, them being there added more credibility to our event and as a result, most people enjoyed it. We were rejected and talked down to many times before. But five years into this, we have the luxury of switching roles now.
JUICE: And in this social media age, how do you deal with criticism?
T: I’d like to believe that I tried my best for all my events. If I do come across criticism, I always try to take it as a learning point for my next event. I just feel that everyone will have an opinion and I can’t please everyone, I just need to stay true to what I believe in and find the people that appreciate what I’m trying to push out. On a more big-picture scale, I’ve really learnt to pay attention to every single detail, down to the smallest.
As for people who think that ticket prices are too expensive, we try to keep our ticket prices as affordable as we can. If you look back and compare it with other shows, it’s already pretty affordable. We are trying to build a community. We are attracting a new set of audience who are mostly still schooling, so we price our tickets according to their budget. Money is important to have, but it’s not the main focus.
D: We do get a lot of it. We even put out surveys to ask for input. But we draw a line between constructive criticism and petty complaints. Though an admission ticket is $10, people still complain. Even vendors complain that vendor rentals are too expensive. They need to understand that as times change, the prices can’t possibly remain the same.
J: The surveys are to see how we can improve and what people would like to see more of. They do have many requests for many celebrities and high-end brands to come down, and naturally the ticket prices will be higher. Suggestions are great, and we really try to live up to consumer’s requests. But we also have to think of the subsequent investments and profits.
Also, there isn’t a University of Nike to study and research about fakes. Everybody is entitled to their opinions. If authenticity is the main issue of theirs, then I think they will overlook a lot of other elements at the event. And our end, we do our best to ensure that the merchandise is authentic.
D: Jon, what is your favourite moment so far of all the Sole Superiors you’ve done?
J: It still goes back to the first year where 13 and 14 year old teens who were very excited to be at Zouk because they can’t go in on normal days. They were like exploring a new world, being in a club.
J: Dexter, somebody posted a picture with you winning a prize at a pop-up event last year. The caption was “Me with future me”. What are your thoughts on that?
D: That dude was cool! He was actually just a Secondary 4 student. He basically worn a pair of NMDs and at that time, we were selling raffle tickets for $2, and he only bought one. So he actually paid $2 for a pair of NMDs. He was super happy because it was his size and something he actually wanted. For the first time ever, I got asked to take a picture with someone. The caption was even sweeter. That, to me, is such a high compliment.
On the topic of favourite moments, just a couple weeks ago, I was at another vintage pop-up selling Sole Superior tickets and these kids actually came up and asked if I was Dexter from Sole Superior. I was so shocked that they knew my name and even asked for a picture. That was my first time taking a picture and it made me feel shy as hell!
D: Tim, what is your favourite show amongst all that you’ve organised ?
T: That would have to be Camp Symmetry, which happened about four years ago. I was 21 at that time. I was literally a clueless kid who stumbled into this music/events business, grabbing friends and managed to put together an event at Gardens by the Bay. Looking back now, I had no idea how we pulled that off. Standing in the crowd of about 3000 people and watching Explosions in the Sky play a set and seeing the faces of the people being in the moment was unforgettable. If someone were to say that our event is the best event, that will be the best feeling ever. Also, when people happen to just stumble upon events that we have and end up leaving with a smile, they’re also nice memories.
JUICE: Everybody is a fan of something, but both Moonbeats Asia and Sole Superior have built something bigger around the things that its members like. At what point did you decide to make the jump from appreciation to execution?
T: For me, it was actually not thinking so much and actually doing it. If you’re trying to create something bigger, don’t think too much about what you’re expected to do. I definitely have doubts in my head but I just shut that off and make it happen instead of worrying. Self-doubt will always be there but you have to remind yourself that things need to be done.
J: We started out as enthusiasts. Dexter and I met while queuing for sneakers. It was a New Balance launch at LeftFoot. I went there early and a small group of us where just hanging out. Him and I started talking about sneaker conventions around the world and the idea of Southeast Asia not having one popped into our minds. The idea to bring a sneaker convention into Singapore came from there.It was difficult, but achievable. The money came from our own pockets.
D: There’s always been a community around sneakers. How important is the scene element to Moonbeats Asia?
T: Moonbeats Asia is part of a community that we’re also building and we make it a point to connect with it. Getting feedback for our events is very important. After all, everyone comes to the event to have a good time.
When dealing with artists, we accept that some of them will have big egos, but some of them are still really nice and laidback people. I would say finding a balance between the two ends and keeping everyone as happy as possible is the most important aspect.
D: In the sneaker community, a lot of people are just impassive. Even if they win a ballot and got a prize, they just collect it expressionless. I think they problem with them is they don’t see that free prize as a treasure and that people want. They just see it as another shoe, whereas someone else may treat it as a gem.
Though they diss us on the Internet, they still will come every year because it’s where they feel comfortable wearing whatever the hell they want to. If they were to wear a different coloured shoe somewhere else, it would be super weird. But here, they are able to feel at home.