The fear of missing out on artist merch

Rainer Turim on the fabric of a New York music scene.

Art by Tyler Farmer.

Believe it or not, our first print magazine is coming together. Ngl I don’t think it’ll feel Real until I’m holding it in my hands, but man I’m feeling so energized by the writing and these artists we’re covering. Consider subbing to the Patreon to support our writers, editors, photographers and designers. It takes a village fr. Now here’s a piece on drip from the great New York archivist Rainer Turim. – Mano

A couple of weeks ago, writer Lei Takanashi wrote an essay on his graffiti merch collection and buying habits. Lei points out in his piece that buying graff-merch feels akin to saving something. He says he can’t “help himself” when some ill graffiti clothing collab drops, and that it’s a “fleeting high”— that despite how big your closet gets, you can’t contain the entire graffiti scene. His article led me back to my relationship with merch in the NYC independent music scene. For every item Lei listed, I was reminded of some artist merch I’d missed out on for my collection. I thought of the clothes I wish I had to remember being 16 and 17, running to and from house shows in the city. At a moment when indie venues were closing, artists were moving up in their careers, and fans would soon be away at college, merchandise offered the opportunity of a permanent relic.

This is a list of artist merch that’s no longer for sale and that I regret not buying when I had the chance. These artists may have moved on from the designs for lack of interest, sales, or change of branding. They are now timestamps in these artists’ careers, revealing how they initially presented and branded themselves. These clothes may pop up on the secondary market but they’ve virtually faded out. 

Even though I’ve never owned them, these clothes have sentimental value for me. They remind me of when I was exposed to artists who have since garnered mainstream attention, and of the local New York music scene when it was about to lose its treasured spaces. In 2017, the Brooklyn indie venue Shea Stadium shut down. In 2018, Silent Barn closed. In 2019, the Glove in Bushwick shuttered.

sLUms beanies, posted on their Facebook in December 2016.

In 2016, on the eve of my 17th birthday, I went to my friend Henry Nye’s childhood brownstone basement to see a show featuring Shunklings, Taharqa, Yabadum, and sLUms. I knew Shunklings because some friends played in it, but beyond that, I wasn’t familiar with the other artists. Later I learned that sLUms was a collective of rappers and producers including Sixpress (Adé Hakim), Jazz Jodi, Darryl Johnson, King Carter, and MIKE. 

I arrived early to an empty basement with a spinning purple disco ball, so I stuck around outside with the people organizing the show. On a quiet brownstone street, I made conversation with a few of the upperclassmen from my high school who organized the show. A car pulled up and I saw a few members of sLUms walk past us downstairs with some cardboard boxes on their shoulders. They pulled out one of these beanies and said they were selling them for maybe $20. At the time, I thought it was too much, and I didn’t know who these guys were. Years later, I’d spend $50 on a silkscreened sLUms Champion-branded t-shirt.

Wiki merch table in 2015 with his signature flag tee. Posted on IG by Letter Racer.

In 2017, I went to see Wiki perform at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe as part of his 5 Borough Tour with Boiler Room to commemorate the release of his debut studio album No Mountains in Manhattan. I fell deep into researching his earlier stuff from the Ratking era, looking up old merch and previous Bigcartel shop items on I learned that in 2015, Wiki had these flag tees for sale. The airbrushed flag design, which ties together his Puerto Rican and Irish background, looked like the handiwork of Arvid Logan, who directed and assisted on Ratking’s music videos and designed the album cover for No Mountains in Manhattan. I found one of these shirts on Depop and Grailed, but the seller was unresponsive.

The design concept for Tony Seltzer’s Vintage Seltzer flip, posted on IG by Letter Racer. (Shoutout Lei for finding this!)

In the summer of 2019, the music collective and crew Corpus set up a weeklong pop-up in the Lower East Side. The space has since become a dispensary and art gallery. For the pop-up, there were DJ sets in the front window space, live silkscreening with the design duo, and clothing brand Aint Wet in the back, and next to them was a clothing rack with various artist merch. I remember flipping through wondering if I should cop a one-of-one Show Me The Body silkscreened repurposed thrifted shirt, jacket, or a commemoratory Tommy Wright III concert shirt with a Times Square sketch-artist drawing of Tommy on the front.

One shirt for sale was by producer Tony Seltzer who had reappropriated the classic deli and grocery store Vintage Seltzer brand bottle to say his name instead. I can’t find any image of it online, but its design stuck with me. I loved the New York-ness of the shirt; if you knew this bottle, your family probably bought it, like mine did. It was about the city, the artist, and my family all in one shirt.

Like all previous items here, I hesitated and thought there would be another time to buy, but I was wrong. These last couple of years, I’ve been trying to find some of these items, messaging people who liked the Facebook and Instagram posts of the merch announcement almost a decade later. In an industry where merch is so often re-sold online, what does it mean for older pieces from emerging artists to go hidden? To not get circulated in the same way? 

For anyone else, this might appear unreasonable, obsessive and honestly a waste of time. But for kids that grew up in New York City, like me and maybe Lei, it’s a way to hold on to a subculture, which in my case, I didn’t fully embrace as it was happening because I was too late to find out and I was at the tail-end of the downtown DIY scene. 

My regrets fold into why I continue to follow these artists. To put it in the words of Lei, “I won’t ever pass up, again.” Items like these are more than fast fashion—they’re a part of a larger scrapbook of the artists they represent and my memories of them.

2 thoughts on “The fear of missing out on artist merch”

  1. Reminds me of the shirts that some delis sell. Feels like delis have gotten more elaborate and competitive with their merch. Would also be a cool thing to collect and also vibes with the idea of “New York-ness”


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