Front Row at Tyler, The Creator’s Camp Flog Gnaw

Even with the loss of daylight savings time, the sun seemed to set exceptionally early over downtown Los Angeles, glowing cranberry red in the hazy, palpable ash of a fiery sky.

Just a day earlier, due to increasingly dry California weather and a late seasonal burst of hot Santa Ana winds, non-discriminating flames burst from the landscape in both northern and southern areas of the state. Los Angeles’ neighbouring communities of Thousand Oaks, Malibu, and Calabasas were evacuating as the hillsides burned, the wildfires living up to their name and remaining zero per cent contained when the next day rolled around. In the parking lot of Dodgers Stadium, however, containment was the name of the game, as 35,000 attendees shuffled through a half-mile long corral to attend Day 1 of Camp Flog Gnaw—Tyler, the Creator’s music festival.

I was in attendance with Converse, one of the event’s sponsors, and a group of hand-picked cool kids from around the world; artists, models, musicians, journalists, editors, bloggers, and any other faction of media “micro-influencers.” This was the last stop on a three-city global campaign which began in February in London, when Converse relaunched their iconic One Star silhouette with campaign #ratedonestar—the ethos being that it’s okay to be rated one star.

With so much social media advertising and influencing, it’s hard to differentiate between good products and bad products. Simply because someone with 100,000 followers has supported a product, it doesn’t mean they relate to it. It seems as if no one is being critical – companies now choose to bypass the roads of actual evaluation for the cheap approval boost of someone with the appropriate level of web visibility. But these numbers don’t matter much to Converse. For them, it’s okay to get support from someone with under 1,000 followers, as long as their story is authentic.

For many in the group, it was their first visit to the United States. The excitement was palpable for young tastemakers like Macaulay, a model/engineering student from the Philippines; Pongsang Kunrasop, a creative/editor from Thailand; and Isabel Margarita, an aspiring Chilean actress. Over a fixed-menu meal of crispy rice and long beans at the welcome dinner at trendy West Hollywood hotspot, Night + Market, the clique buzzed about the events of the weekend: media previews, talks, exclusive releases, and, of course, Camp Flog Gnaw itself.

In Los Angeles especially, Tyler has been creating something of a subculture of his own. Along with his partners in the rap collective Odd Future, he has amassed a following built around his eerie, gothic, and increasingly sincere tracks. This sound is coupled with a propensity for bright colours and the streetwear reappropriation of country club garments and materials. Tyler’s own clothing brand, Golf, can be seen on kids all over town. He’s been working with Converse for the past two years and together they have released six collections. For the occasion of the seventh and largest Camp Flog Gnaw, Tyler reimagined the One Star and Chuck 70 silhouettes, made from burlap canvas, a clever twist on the streetwear propensity for unconventional fabrics.

The whole crew piled into private party buses and blasted over to the Golf store on Fairfax Avenue to obtain exclusive shopping access to the new line before the store opened. While people queued up outside to the order of hundreds, the influencers inside shopped before the frenzy began. Already wide-eyed, gasps echoed through the room when, unplanned, Tyler himself popped his head out of the back, grinning ear-to-ear at the sight of a group of his peers, fans, and spiritual collaborators. Humbly, he stuck around to shake hands and exchange a few words as everyone filed out the back before the store opened to the public.

The hype continued as the group took their exclusive purchases to a lunch block-party up the street, whipped to Echo Park for an intimate conversation with Converse designers Lee Spielman and Curtis Jackson, and then settled in back at the hotel for the afternoon to regroup before dinner. It was a long day but the trip was really just beginning. The festival was tomorrow.

Camp Flog Gnaw has become the second-largest festival in Southern California. Over the course of two days, some 70,000 people would flow through Dodger Stadium’s parking lot to attend the carnival-themed event. In addition to three stages of music, it came complete with rides, games, food stalls, and a giant, triple-sized Golf pop-up store. The lineup included a who’s-who of Tyler’s collaborators and contemporaries: a quick-witted Earl Sweatshirt, a surprisingly gracious Post Malone, a gushing and charming Jaden Smith, and an assiduous Kali Uchis all made the most of their short set times. Acts like Lauryn Hill helped provide historical context, and mayhem was injected by performers like A$AP Rocky.

Rocking their new Golf purchases, the young and diverse crowd mirrored the bright colours I had experienced lined up outside of the store on Fairfax the day before. That there was an air quality advisory due to the fires lent an extra sense of Mad Max-level apocalyptic style to the whole thing. The Golf store was even selling face masks with their logo printed over the mouth. I could see this integration of branding and utility, style and function, and music and fashion creating exactly the kind of authenticity Converse wanted. Their group of influencers fit right in with the festival, dispersing amongst the crowd to get the full experience of the day.

All of this amounts to what felt like the spiritual, if not literal culmination, of Converse’s strategy. They’re one of the festival’s few sponsors, yet there are no logos on display, leaving the stark, stadium-sized, illuminated “GOLF” billboard to be the only branding outside the ubiquitous festival signage. But this lack of logos didn’t mean Converse’s presence wasn’t there. Instead, they were represented by the fans, a majority donning their own bright sneakers—the newly released One Star was by far the most common silhouette.

Though image conscious in a way only a generation who grew up with personal screens can be, the crowd still felt extremely discerning, choosing to hit record on not only their favourite songs, but the interludes between them; when artists spoke of the need for community, thanked those who helped them along the way, or stressed the importance of self-love. Everyone attending the festival had brought their stories to the table, rather than being spoon-fed one from Converse. And when, halfway through his set, the music cut out and Tyler bellowed out the line “Conversations with Converse finalised, ’cause Vans fucked up,” from the song ‘I Ain’t Got Time,’ it was clear that they didn’t need any branding. Through Tyler, the entire crowd of attendees was already on board, ready to disseminate their message through social media, art, and whatever other method they could find. Converse’s story was their story.

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