When it comes to sportswear, there are two different kinds of consumers: The hardcore athletes and the sneakerhead types. And while there isn't a ton of overlap between these two camps, what unites them is a tendency towards the snobbish and self-serious, meaning that most wouldn't be caught dead in anything that could be considered "kiddy stuff."
However, this kind of attitude gets old pretty fast, and someone who knows this well is creative Kerwin Frost, a.k.a. the man behind a bonkers new Adidas collection that thumbs its nose at any gatekeeping or pretension. And with an anthropomorphic shoe called the Human Chive to colorful shirts featuring a cast of characters known as the "Benchmates," Frost's collection is a refreshingly fun take on traditional athletic gear that lies somewhere in between an acid trip and a kindergarten class.
That said, such a wonderfully wonky collection deserves an equally jaunty theme song, which is where Kero Kero Bonito and "The Sneaker Dance" come in. Accompanied by an Industry Plant-directed music video that's just as playful, colorful and bright as Frost's designs, the visual matches the energy of KKB's buoyant jingle, all while bringing the Benchmates' Miss Crocodile, Mr. Squirrel and LaKeith to life.
So in honor of the music video's premiere, PAPER sat down with Frost and KKB's Sarah Midori Perry and Gus Lobban to talk about the collection, the Benchmates and the importance of children's media, even for adults.
Read our Q&A below.
How did the collection come to be?
Kerwin Frost: I've wanted to work with Adidas for a long time and John Wexler — who had signed Kanye and was like Mr. Adidas — was always tapped into the kids who were doing things in New York. I was super adamant about getting a deal, though, so I would see him and just be like, "Hey, this is what I want to do." So, eventually, we got the chance right as [Wexler was] leaving Adidas. He kind of shoved us in the door and then left Adidas.
What inspirations and references influenced the collection's aesthetic?
Kerwin: Just a lot of stuff I grew up with… For example, the Benchmates were directly inspired by the types of characters you'd see painted on the walls of daycare center playrooms. If you ever go by a daycare, there will be all these characters and some bootleg ones they'll make to just throw in there, and they're always kind of stoic but friendly and, also, a little eerie. I love that juxtaposition… But the collection was also my twist on how I grew up and of the things that took me out of the dark world I was coming from.
What do you mean by "dark"?
Kerwin: I grew up in these projects in Harlem in public housing. It was a great community, but a lot of people come from these projects and feel like they're indebted to them, so everything is kind of just a hamster wheel. And then two blocks over from me was Central Park, so this fucking treacherous neighborhood right across the street from the sunny Central Park path and the lake, but nobody would cross over it. It was so weird, like an invisible line that would just hold people back, but I think that that line always made me want to go further… I was also an internet kid, so I'd be taking it all in, but I think pop culture and everything was always kind of my escape.
So what made KKB the perfect band to do this jingle?
Kerwin: I had listened to a lot of Kero Kero Bonito working on the collection, and I've always wanted to work with them. They're pioneers… sonically, aesthetic-wise, everything, It's just always been so original and so them. [Their music] always took me to this place that I really appreciated because it felt genuine.
I asked them in 2019, when my daughter was going to be born, if they could make a children's song, which a lot of people would kind of expect from them. But I also just love kid's music in general. I'm a big fan of Yo Gabba Gabba and things like that. Not to say that their music is children's music, but I just thought it would be sweet for my daughter.
How does your daughter like the song?
Kerwin: She's a huge fan of the song. It's grown on her so much, like she knows all the words now. Before we go to bed, she'll ask if we can watch "Sneaker Dance," and we'll literally just sit through the whole thing and sing it… and she'll be like, "I want to go to 'Sneaker Dance.'"
How collaborative was the songwriting and production process?
Gus Lobban: It was pretty collaborative. Kerwin and I were chatting for quite a while about this thing, but it came together quite quickly. In the end, we just traded [a bunch of stuff], like we sent over a demo beat that was the initial seed, and it was just that arpeggiated Okinawan scale thing with the drums. And I think we also sent the melody of what became the chorus and talked about that for a little bit. But once you have that little seed, it's just a case of fleshing out the verses and lyrics, and making sure all the production bells and whistles are there.
[KKB's Jamie Bulled] also did some writing on the song. In fact, one of Jamie's trademark contributions was the countermelody in the second chorus. I mean, we changed the notes together, but the idea, he wrote it, basically.
Sarah Midori Perry: We ended up cutting it in just a few sessions at Gus's place in Bromley, and it was like one of the first ones we did face-to-face after the lockdown. During lockdown, I would record it in my place and send it to Gus, but doing this in real life was nice.
Sarah, what sort of elements did you want to bring to the song in terms of the lyrics and vocal performance?
Sarah: When we were doing the vocal takes I was trying to be this person introducing the characters, like the Benchmates. It was really fun during the recording because it felt like I was narrating this awesome world... And what also really helped when we were recording the track was actually having the sneakers in front of us.
Gus: We also wanted to make sure all the right references were in it. Because Kerwin gave us a lot of background information to write the lyrics, and I almost memorized it all like I was doing a school project or something, and the song is the result of that studying.
When you think of the world of athletic wear and sneakerhead culture, you tend to think of people who take themselves very seriously. Meanwhile, everything about this project is so playful, colorful and bouncy, which is quite the 180. Were there any concerns about how it would be received, whether it be feedback from Adidas or flat-out criticism from consumers?
Gus: I think that the world of media for children is a really interesting one. I mean, arguably, things like video games fit into that zone, and that's something that's shaped our worldview greatly. But also the way a piece of media like The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Yo Gabba Gabba can actually kind of communicate concepts and ideas that more standard, template pop music can't. It's trying to communicate something that actually is really important because this media is shaping our perceptions of everything, like relationships, taste and personality, so I think it's a really important thing to get right. And I think that people who are snobbish about children's media are kind of in danger of falling into a bit of a trap.
Check out the Kerwin Frost x Adidas collection here.
Photo via YouTube
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