Can you Introduce yourself?
Jesse Villanueva and Manny Sanchez of Alife.
Tell us a bit about Alife and how you started the brand?
JV - Alife actually started in 1999 as a platform for artists and creative people that needed to be magnified and noticed. It wasn’t really a brand at first, it was just a way for us to magnify stuff that that was important, cool and dope. It was just a way for us to present the shit we love.
Why the name Alife?
JV - Artificial life, the A Life, there’s a few different meanings. It’s just a good name.
You’ve recently released the second drop of your PUMA collaboration. How important is the brand the USA?
JV - It’s a real heritage brand, something you grew up wearing. The first time I got a pair I asked my mum for some ‘fuzzy PUMA’s’ as I didn’t know what the name of the actual shoe was. I got them for $20 at the time but my mum was only used to spending $15 so it was a little bit of a stretch, I got good grades though!
MS - My first were a pair of G. Vilas, a slightly different silhouette but this was a different time to when the Suede first came out. They were white and Carolina blue - I tore them to the ground and I loved them as a classic tennis shoe.
What’s your favourite PUMA Silhouette?
JV – The Clyde as it’s so New York. He was the last basketball champion in New York so we both love Clyde, it’s cool.
You’ve worked with PUMA on past collaborations, how did this one come about?
JV – It was through a mutual friend called Ari from the Foundation, he reached out to us as and asked if we’d be interested so we said of course we are! You open a sneaker boutique because you love sneakers, it’s like a memory thing, you remember all these cool sneakers from being young, wearing and wanting things you couldn’t have that were unattainable. The Suede and the Clyde were so a part of that fabric. So like do you wanna work on a PUMA collection, yeah of course we do! That’s kinda our stuff you know, the Clyde is a New York shoe.
MS – Yeah PUMA are so classic, if you weren’t wearing PUMA’s on the streets you weren’t cool.
What was the inspiration behind the recent drop of your collaboration?
JV – We wanted to touch on aspects of Alife over the last 15 years so when you walk into the store the fish tank is directly to the left. It was actually made by the dudes who do the dioramas for the Natural History Museum in New York so it’s pretty special to have that there. It’s such a part of the store and we wanted to pull from that, pull from the palette and the concept.
MS - And then the Sessions shoe was, you know, we’ve been putting on these Sessions for like eight years now and it was a way for us to touch on the old palette from the old Sessions shows. The leather and the mesh on the Blaze of Glory mimic the old amplifier leather and mesh.
JV - The R698 was just a play on the Alife pattern and the stickers we’ve made. I have so many friends that tell me they were down a random street and spotted an Alife sticker. It’s like part of the landscape so it was just a way to play into the different aspects of Alife, the brand and the movement.
Can we expect anything from both Alife and PUMA in the future?
JV – For sure, we’ve got some good bits coming for 2016 that I’m super psych’d up for. There’s so much to come and we’ll keep working on things with PUMA as long as they want us to.
How did the Alife Sessions start, they seemed to be ahead of their time?
MS – John Mayer and Just Blaze were the first. John was a customer of the shop and he was always buying stuff and wanted to do something in the store something a bit different. He’d just got his Grammy Award and everything was so commercialised and wanted to do something tapered down like we were doing at the store. We wanted to curate little imitate little things that resonated to the niche crowd that we were working with.
JV – Yeah John Mayer had a DJ but whoever that was at the time couldn’t make it down so at the last minute we reached out to Just Blaze who was also a customer and friend. We asked him if you wanna do something with John Mayer and he was like hell yeah. There’s a little bit of footage on Youtube of that first Sessions.
JV - We weren’t set up with a proper camera guy or anything like that and we didn’t know what was going to happen as it was the first time they’d met that night. Same as the Ghostface and Bad Bad gig we put on last year, they’d never even met before either. For us we like to give people a special performance, something a little different that you wouldn’t typically get. Again like Living Colour and Scarface last year - we had Scarface playing guitar and playing Nirvana, if you wanted to see Scarface play a Fender Stratocaster and singing Nirvana songs you’ve got to check us out because they’re not going to do that ever again.
MS - I heard him playing guitar and we were bugging out. Next thing we know we’re in the backyard and Scarface is playing Jimi Hendrix. The Sessions are just a way of presenting something special in a different way than we’re used to.
What’s been your favourite Alife Sessions so far?
MS – Yikes man
JV – Dude that’s tough, tough, tough.
JV – I mean Bad Bad Not Good & Ghostface Killah was stupid because the energy on stage transferred to the crowd. Bad Bad are such an amazing band and Ghost was apprehensive at first because he had his beats already. After spending a little time working things out Ghost finally said yes to giving it a shot. You could see by the end of the show that Ghost was having so much fucking fun. When you constantly use the same beat it becomes a routine but the energy that night was electric with a band, it felt like I was 15 years old again at that show, I was screaming and having the time of my life. I could see Ghost and Bad Bad loving every minute. They’ve actually both dropped an album together recently too.
MS – King Krule was amazing, Dev Hynes was amazing, he was walking through the crowd, I didn’t expect him to be such a shredder.
JV - Moby in the backyard was stupid, that guy doesn’t turn up for shit and Nas was amazing because he wasn’t supposed to perform but he was feeling the energy and just started rapping. He was a little tipsy and kept forgetting words but the crowd were buzzing off it. When we’re finished the Sessions we all go eat with these guys and we can’t believe it’s happening because we’re just fans at the end of the day. It‘s the hardest shit to pick a winner.
Do you plan to take them to other parts of the world?
JV - Absolutely yeah, this the best place to start (UK) because musically over the last 50/60 years we’ve both feed off each other. Blues, rock, soul, Britpop, our hip hop, it’s such a back and forth thing so it made sense. It’s the two like minded regions musically and when you used to pick up a Melody Maker magazine in ’95 it was all hip-hip and britpop so it just made sense like that.
So what’s next for Alife?
JV - Just keeping it moving and working with people that we love and keep having these moments where I can’t believe I’m still doing this. There’s a lot of people walking around super arrogant because they think they’re the best ever, but really everyone was better before us.
Well that moves onto the next question, how do you think the streetwear scene has changed over the last 15 years?
JV - Everyone has got arrogant; it’s a different generation. 15 years ago people were more themselves; there was a better sense of self-identity. If you look at the old crew, nobody was the same dude, everyone was different but there was a common thread where they loved sneakers, music, art, skateboarding, graffiti, etc but there was always that common thread. I feel like now it’s just a little more homogenised. You see six dudes walking towards you and they’re all wearing the same things – like where’s their sense of identity?
I feel there’s a little too much arrogance, you’re not really that dope, people before us were always better than us because they did it first.
MS – I don’t like these people who start a T-Shirt brand and think they invented the wheel, you make T-Shirts and clothes, it’s not really any deeper than that. This is fan culture and it’s a nice way to amplify that, we’re all fans and you get into this because you love it. Someone has already done it before you though and people need to keep that in mind. It is what it is though, we can’t change it.
JV - Attention spans are shorter now and you’ve constantly got to remind people who you are, some kids don’t know what Alife is and ask us what is this thing? We have to say we’ve been here the whole time! I’ve been selling shoes since ’93 and it’s funny to see these reissues which people lose their mind about that we couldn’t give away in ’95. Why is everyone excited now, because they like it or because someone told them to like it – that’s getting back to the self identity thing again, less people are deciding for themselves that they love something and are being told what to love.