Sneaker Pimps

Moby, Q-Tip, and a bunch of a dudes on a bench bring a little bit of L.A. to the LES

Alife Sessions, the private concert series that kicked off last year with a counterintuitive pairing of John Mayer and Just Blaze, once again filled the Lower East Side haunt Alife Rivington Club's courtyard over the weekend for Sound Clash—three hours of Moby and Q-Tip on dueling turntables. There were sneakerheads. And booze. And a lotta smoke. Turtle would not have been out of place.

Actually, Entourage similarities aside, it did feel a little bit L.A., due in part to the perfect 75-degree weather and all the smiling—this was one happy bunch of trainspotters. The crowd quickly formed a circle around Little Brooklyn designer Brad Digital when he briefly broke out his b-boy moves. Cheers went up when neighbors, perched on roofs and fire escapes, sent down paper airplanes. New York's urban tastemakers—Jeff Staple, Futura, Ace Boon Kunle, nitro:licious's Wendy L.—happily mugged for the cameras.

The Rivington Club taps into the same air of exclusivity as many of the city's hot spots, but its wares are kicks, not cocktails. The front door has a buzzer but not a sign; the tiny foyer gives way to a posh interior with red carpeting, black leather banquettes, and a chandelier. The new, vintage, and rare shoes are exhibited in a grid of individually lighted cubbyholes and a locked glass display box, and customers are perfectly willing to drop entire paychecks on the latest limited-edition Nikes. On Saturday, though, there was no mistaking the appropriate door at Rivington and Clinton: Carefully dressed kids peppered the storefront for a chance to get in—they couldn't—while two huge bouncers stood appointed on either side of a minidressed glam girl. (She was sosorry but I just wasn'ton the list; she was less apologetic when I pointed to my name. "Oh," she said. "Well, I thought you said Amy.")

The party started at 5 p.m., and an hour later it was nearly impossible to navigate the crush. Downtown fixture Moby was positioned on the right side of the stage, while Q-Tip—whose long-awaited The Renaissance is set to drop in October—manned the turns to the left. Snoop's "Who Am I" led into the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams"; the crowd mingled in an orbit spinning out from the 10 Cane–sponsored open bar (also stocked with Teany, natch). Sometime after seven, Q-Tip introduced to the stage Juice Crew's Craig G, the freestyler who penned most of the battle rhymes from 8 Mile. Filling out a "Queens Reigns Supreme" T-shirt, the rapper took to the mic with demands for "real hip-hop" and debuted "The Day Music Died" (I think?), a rhyme with enough name-dropping to rival Page Six (Mick Jagger, Barbra Streisand, "Jessica and Ashlee," and Fall-Out Boy).

The highlight, though, came soon after, when Q-Tip rejoined Craig G for a freestyle battle—"off-the-top shit," Q-Tip promised. Craig G set it off, taking in his environs ("Let me pose for the man with the man on his shirt," in reference to one of the two billion photogs swarming the stage); Q-Tip defended those photogs, then sent it back ("Explain to them how to be a real MC"), garnering a few fist-to-mouth ohhhhhs along the way. Back and forth they went, rapping about the World Trade Center, George Bush, and Murry Bergtraum High, Q-Tip's alma mater. They finished to great applause, posed for still more pics, then headed inside. Behind me a girl was stumbling through the crowd, supported on either side by her nervously grinning friends. It was only eight.

As people filtered from the courtyard back into the shop—and then out the door, for lack of space—adorable pocket-sized staffer Dice buzzed around excitedly, boasting of the party's success, evidenced by the fact that the T-shirts had sold out. The show had been papered with flyers for sneaker mag Kicksclusive's issue release party at Studio B later that night, but I suspect a number of Alife Sessions attendees instead hit up "The Bench," the anti-scene scene at, yeah, the bench at the corner of East Houston and Orchard. For two months now, a group led by DJs Big Black Matt Goias, Ari Forman, Fancy, and Max Glazer have congregated in front of the American Apparel there to "talk shit," "look at girls," and "sit around," according to the Bench's MySpace page. In recent weeks, jazz musician Alex Toth received a G-rated lap dance while performing on the Bench, and Grammy winner Dante Ross attended with his award in tow. If it sounds ridiculous, know that the founders are at least self-aware; the whole thing started as kind of a joke, complete with fake press release.

On this night, DJ Cipha Sounds was slated to bring MTV cameras to shoot a segment for Sucker Free, the hip-hop video show that he hosts. Alife even printed a special-edition T-shirt to mark the occasion. The logo? "Abench," of course.

 
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