Today it was announced that Converse are releasing a sneaker that is "an exclusive collaboration" with recently reunited grunge pioneers Soundgarden.
The shoe, which is a variation on the Chuck Taylor All Star design, is branded with decals from the band's latest King Animal album. The production run is limited to 60 pairs, and is available at Converse's Santa Monica store or from the brand's official website. Suggested retail is 65 bucks.
10 years ago, the announcement of band branded trainers would have been met with surprise, perhaps even disdain. Yet recently, we've seen shoes featuring Metallica, Iron Maiden and Slipknot branding, and, based on the success of these examples, we'll no doubt be seeing more rock themed foot ware in the future.
Band branded merchandise has become big business. While it used to be that you could only display your appreciation for a particular group by buying their t-shirt or putting their poster on your wall, the chances are that your favorite band's image is now on everything from playing cards to condoms. In fact, Ultimate-Guitar recently compiled a list of the most ridiculous band merch ever, featuring such absurd examples as Kiss breakfast cereal and dildos cast from Rammstein members' uh members (for that authentic "shagged by Rammstein" experience that fans are apparently craving...). As I'm writing this, I've noticed that I'm drinking my tea, which was brewed in a Beatles tea pot, from a Rolling Stones mug, perhaps testament to just how pervasive band branded merchandise can be.
In many respects, given the current developments in the record industry, the increased prominence of branded merchandise is an inevitability. Records, which were a cash cow back in the day, certainly don't generate the revenue that they used to, and artists are having to find new ways to make money from audiences. Branding, for many artists, has become a way to stay afloat in the increasingly choppy waters of the music business. But is there a limit to what products you're willing to see artists slap their likeness or logo over? Should there be? A few years ago, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley sparked controversy when they announced the release of the Kiss Kasket, a move which many considered the ultimate in tasteless product branding. And, while that product is clearly an extreme, there are many other examples of licensed band goods that have produced similarly scornful reactions from disgruntled fans.
In the 1960s, people believed in the somewhat naive ideal that the rock community could be an anti-commercial one, producing rock as art-for-arts sake and creating a utopian scene in the process. Now, anyone who has heard of a thing called the Altamont Speedway Free Festival will know that it didn't exactly pan out like that. You've got to wonder, though, if a bit of that commerce-cautious sixties spirit wouldn't go amiss in the rock world of the 21st century. I mean, sure, rock is a business, there's no getting around that. But is it a business that needs to reduce itself to flogging Bob Marley branded incense or Misfits slippers? Perhaps not.