The PUMA States… Ollie Teeba interview

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Normski caught up with DJ and Producer Ollie Teeba to talk about the PUMA States ahead of their upcoming re-release this Friday, 14th March…

Tell us who you are, what you do and how long you’ve been doing it for?

I’m Ollie Teeba, I’m a DJ and a hip-hop producer from the groups, The Herbaliser and Soundsci. I’ve been DJ-ing since 1985, and before that I was doing a bit of graffiti-writing and like many, b-boying, because all you need to get started for that is a bit of cardboard! I really got into hip-hop culture around 1983. When I first saw Wildstyle, I think that’s what cemented it for me and made me realise that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Everything about the culture felt like it was for me. I love the sounds, I love the graffiti and I love the clothes. I used to OBSESS about these shoes in particular.

What are your earliest memories of PUMA?

The PUMA Suede. It was elusive; the only dudes in the UK that had a pair, you’d see walking around Covent Garden, and they’d most likely new someone in the US to get a pair for them. I have a memory that people used to call them PUMA ‘Joints’ at the time. This is my first recollection of seeing these shoes and falling in love with them. There were slight differences to this shoe if you compare it to the newer versions you see nowadays: Today the form stripe curves much more and the sole is a little thinner and not quite as flat. These are the things I love about the original. The soles are really thick and really flat and everything about it is just super streamline. It’s a perfect shoe!

Something I always remember but haven’t seen for such a long time is the distance between the front of the shoe and where the laces start…

Yeah, that’s one of the things that is dope about the original shoes. I call them ‘Yugo’s’ because they’re made in Yugoslavia as oppose to the made in China or Taiwan editions. They are super wide which is good for me because I have wide feet, and you can rock those fat laces nice and open.

I do sometimes have to stick things in my shoe to keep them on my feet – it’s a loose shoe, you know! Even though they look good for b-boying, in a way they weren’t that practical for breaking because they could quite possibly fly off your feet when you bust a windmill! I had to buy these a whole size down!

PUMA Clyde, made in Yugoslavia, 1973

Do you remember when you got your first pair and what colour were they?

I got my first pair of States in 1985. They were powdery cobalt blue. Once I’d gone out to do some graffiti and stuff, I messed them up in no time! As an original b-boy I like my stuff to look fresh out the box. Nice and clean. A lot of people think sneakers don’t look right until they’re all bashed up, but I don’t subscribe to that at all. But when I rock my s**t, I like it to look immaculate. I remember, a little later, owning a pair that had a yellow form stripe on purple, and it was when everyone was out raving so I matched a pair of purple jogging bottoms that I had at the time. Once I stopped raving I ended up dying them black, keeping the yellow form stripe.

What would you have worn with them back in the day?

As far as I can remember at 15 or whatever, I used to have a canvas bomber jacket with fur which was the closest thing I could get to a goose down bomber. We had to make do; we were British and you just couldn’t get this s**t! It’s not like today where you can just go on eBay. That’s why I’ve now got a collection of gooses in my wardrobe upstairs in a selection of colours and multiple PUMA green box originals. 10-12 years ago when I first started buying sneakers on eBay, I was picking some of them up for like $30 in all sorts of mad colours, so that was dope!

How precious are you about keeping your PUMA’s fresh?

I learnt a lesson in my younger years when I never used to keep shit in the boxes. I never paid attention to my dad and how he used to keep his shoes. All of his shoes he use to keep in boxes with tissue paper, and the shoes filled with tissue paper and stuffed. I never paid attention and instead, I used to have all of my sneakers shoved into a big pile in a wardrobe all on top of each other. But if you want to keep them looking fresh, you’ve got to keep everything in boxes; and if it doesn’t come in a box, find a box to keep them in! The thing with boxes is, you need more storage space. I went a bit mad the last 15 years or so. I’ve always had a lot of sneakers. I mean, when I first signed to Ninja Tune, they were like ‘hey Ollie he’s like the Imelda Marcos of sneakers, he’s got like 60 pairs.’ It’s ridiculous, now I’ve got about 300 or more pairs (I never counted them all)

What is your favourite ever PUMA footwear and why?

It’s these. PUMA Suede’s or ‘States’ as they were called in the UK. Honestly, my interest in PUMA begins and ends with this shoe. It’s the beauty and the simplicity to it. It’s like a Porsche – there’s nothing about it that you’d change or improve! The design details have been tinkered with over the years, but this is the original s**t. These outsoles are perfectly straight, completely flat. Perfect.

PUMA States, 1980

PUMA, street culture, and the whole b-boy thing all go hand-in-hand don’t they? What do you think ‘street culture’ means?

For me, I identify these shoes directly with hip-hop. Nowadays you’ve got ‘ready to wear’ hip-hop clothes but back in the day nothing was ‘made’ for hip-hop people. Everything was made for something else and you had to flip it and make it your own. In fact, I remember when you couldn’t get the proper fat laces and I used to go to some department store haberdashery and get this fabric stuff that was proper thick, and just run it through the shoe! It wasn’t the proper laces that had the tips on the end, it was just sticky tape! With hip-hop, we’d make s**t do stuff it wasn’t designed to do. Like make record on a turntable go backwards as well as just forwards!

That’s kind of what hip-hop is. It’s like an expression, isn’t it? Whether it be in sound or art or whether it be in the style you’re expressing. It’s kind of an ‘outward’ attitude…

Yeah exactly, it’s taking stuff and re-fashioning it for your own purposes. I mean what is sampling if it isn’t exactly that. Back in the day we were the opposite to whatever else was happening. That’s why I feel quite sad today about the stuff in the mainstream that is being promoted as hip-hop culture. For the most part I don’t identify with it. I mean, you listen to the sort of hip-hop that they play on the radio now… I’m not saying that all hip-hop has to have sampling in it, because The Roots are a great band who play it live, and there are some great producers using plugins etc. There’s plenty of room for experimentation. With my group The Herbaliser we experimented and did different things with the genre. I think hip-hop used to sound different to regular music because our method and attitude was different but you listen to a lot of the stuff now and it just sounds like everything else because producers are using sample packs and presets instead of digging for new sounds. The trouble is, that to some extent, the mainstream popular youth culture of today is largely derived from the image and attitude of hip-hop but hasn’t inherited much of its core values.

How did the b-boy scene arrive upon you and what were you doing before it got you?

I’m basically the next generation version of my dad, who was a teddy-boy and later, a mod. He was into rock ‘n’ roll and blues. But as I was growing up, he seemed to be working his way further back. He was massively into black American culture. In fact both my parents were interested in hip-hop since they went out to New York in 1982 and saw all the graffiti and b-boying. So when my brother and I were getting exposed to it and started to get interested in it, they actively encouraged us. They took us to Convent Garden every weekend and they also took us to the Albany Empire in Depford. I went to something somewhere in East London where Sidewalk were doing a breaking workshop where they teach you b-boying. We used to go to Southbank and go skating and there was a bit of chat from some of those guys about stuff going on in Covent Garden. I guess we heard the chatter and went there to see some street performances, and once I realised the b-boys were congregating there, I started going more and more.

Anyway, my dad was into music and films – he wasn’t particularly into football. Lots of boys are massively into football because that’s an experience they shared with their father. Their dad took them to see the football at the weekend so it means a lot to them. It means nothing to me because my Dad never took me to the football. We’d watch films together, and he’d play music to me. I was into comics and science fiction movies etc, but all this stuff feeds back into hip-hop.

That’s the thing, I can still have all these interests, because hip-hop IS like ‘The Thing’. It just absorbs things and makes them part of itself.

I used to collect movie soundtracks as a kid and I remember particularly around 1981/82 I saw ‘Dirty Harry’ and ‘Enter The Dragon’ and that music….I was like “ahhh! this is incredible” Then I got into hip-hop shortly afterwards. Some years later when there was much more sampling in hip-hop due to the availability of affordable digital sampling tech, I started hearing all these records again that I had owned as a kid, only ‘hip-hop-ified’, so all of these things that I had been interested in outside of hip hop all got sucked into it. Anything you experience can become part of it.

I basically view the world through hip-hop glasses!

Hip-hop is like a kaleidoscope – that’s how many lenses hip-hop has.

It’s not rose tinted spectacles; its hip-hop tinted spectacles! A lot of people don’t really know what it’s about, in its entirety. It’s only really people of a certain age, or younger people who take an active interest in b-boying, graffiti, beat making, rhyming, and how all these things work together.

Live To Break Crew, UK Fresh, 1986 © djjunk

I mean it really was the scene. I remember going to places like the hip-hop alliance in Camden Town hall in ‘86 and you can see in the photographs those kids from Bournemouth were breaking in PUMA and they were wearing the nylon shiny casual shirts…

We used to wear it in a particular way. So when you’re walking down the street and you see a dude, he wouldn’t have his Suede’s pulled all tight, he’d be walking along, probably with some fat laces in them and they’d be laced  perfectly. You wouldn’t even need to speak, you’d know who each other were immediately. We existed in our own universe, relatively unaffected by popular fashion. I remember a brief period in 1986 where some kids were like ‘why are you breaking? That’s out.’ I didn’t really use to pay much attention because before it was fashionable they used to take the piss out of my fat laces. They’d be like “what the hell are those things on your feet”, and then later they were all wearing them because they’re trendy. Then something else becomes fashionable, and they’re like ‘why are you still wearing that’. That’s my whole life – I’m still into this s**t before and after it’s popular. I’m eternally unfashionable.

Going back to the UK scene back in the day and crews and that were wearing PUMA. Can you remember any in particular? Who was big in the UK back in the day for you?

UK crews that wore PUMA… I do remember London All Star Breakers on Blue Peter! They were the first crew I ever was aware of wearing all PUMA. They were on TV and they were rocking the windbreaker suits. Those premiered in ‘Beat Street’ which featured loads of PUMA, so every kid was wearing a pair of PUMA States or Suede’s. Beat Street had those military style white caps and the windbreakers which were basically red and blue or the grey and burgundy. On Blue Peter the London Allstars were decked out in red and blue windbreakers and they all had silver on black PUMA’s. I used to rewind it and watch it all over again for the PUMA’s man, seriously.

What does it mean to be seen wearing a pair of PUMA’s then and now?

Essentially it’s the nuts and bolts of who I am. I don’t identify myself as English or white. My people are hip-hop people of whatever gender or race, and when I meet up with someone of my generation or my era, there’s a connection that’s instant, and all of these things that put up barriers between people through the rest of the world, well at least for me, vanish away and we just stand there admiring our own ‘freshness’.

So as an enthusiast and a fan of course, how do you feel about this re-issue of the PUMA States, what do you think it will do for the fans or the PUMA heads out there?

These are real nice. They seem to be wider than today’s Suede, which is, for me, a good thing. They should be wide rather than narrow. It’s one of the best features about them: if you have a shoe too skinny, you can’t rock fatties with them because they don’t look good. You have to get a bit of width going with fat laces. The shoes need to be wide at the top and stay wide to the toe, so when you rock your laces it’s like the same width all the way down.

Finally, fat or thin laces?

Well as an older guy I find myself wearing fat laces less often, but really… it’s got to be fat.

The PUMA States in red/white, forrest/white and navy/white will be launching on Friday 14th March online at 8.00am GMT via direct links on our Facebook, Twitter and a dedicated e-mail newsletter. It will also be available in all size? stores on the day (from their respective opening hours) priced at £60.


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