We are good, bad and ugly: Embracing free artistic spirit and consumerism at ComplexCon

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 - 5:59pm

ComplexCon. Part of speech: noun. Language of origin: the youth’s English. Definition: uh, well ...

Definition? That’s a great question.

From Nov. 5 to Nov. 6 at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center in California, Complex magazine hosted ComplexCon, its inaugural … convention? Festival? Hypebeast cooperative? What are we to label this weekend of clothing releases, food, art, music and guest speakers? Its website calls it the first ever cultural World’s Fair.

After experiencing ComplexCon for myself, I think I’m ready to give you an answer.

Before I go any further, here’s what you should know about the events that ensued over those two days: Picture a warehouse-like convention center full of pop-up shops selling the most in-demand streetwear brands out there (think Adidas, A Bathing Ape and everything in between). Add a myriad of food trucks, art exhibitions, guest speakers and musicians to the mix and you’ve got yourself a ComplexCon sandwich.

Now, let’s get analytical.

ComplexCon represents consumerism. Nearly every featured clothing brand designed a capsule collection to be sold exclusively at the event, making pre-existing Hypebeast undertones wildly potent. Every shop opened simultaneously at 10 a.m. both days. By 9:55, young boys and grown men alike could be seen darting from vendor to vendor, hoping to secure a pair of Nike Special Field Air Force Ones while still finding time to cop the latest tee from Vlone. And what for? Why, all in the name of money, of course.

“Even if you wear a piece and then resell it, you’ll still make double what you spent,” explained a wiry tween from his place in the Nike line. “Me and my friend came to do that, and we’ll make $1,500 to $10,000 easily. It’s really that simple.”

Though it was fascinating to watch people fawn over overpriced Gildan shirts emblazoned with particular symbols, I couldn’t help but wonder whether ComplexCon was promoting fashion or pure business. One of the weekend’s most popular affairs was a series of ongoing raffles that offered winners the opportunity to buy a pair of shoes. You read that correctly. Hundreds of entrants paid for the chance to be able to buy $180 sneakers. As one attendee noted, “It’s consumerism disguised as culture. It’s trying to sell you this idea of what’s cool and what’s happening, but really, it’s just capitalism.”

That weekend, consumerism existed not only as a means of commerce, but as a means of worship. Celebrities unveiled clothing collaborations left and right, from Pharrell at G-Star to Metro Boomin at Puma. At one point, I found myself inside a mass of adolescents crowded outside Urban Outfitters. We were waiting the arrival of our dear leader, none other than Lil Yachty, who happened to be running more than 40 minutes late to his own meet-and-greet.

When the red-haired sensation did arrive to the hub of his sweaty young fan base, their reactions felt practically spiritual. Dozens of young boys rushed from spot to spot, testing out the view from their tiptoes, all in the hopes of getting a glance at their trendy patron saint.

The weekend’s female presence was minimal. Technically speaking, every part of ComplexCon could be considered gender-neutral, but it’s the man we tend to think of when custom sports cars are placed on display to advertise a clothing brand (I’m looking at you, Bape, and your purple-camo Lamborghini).

The only overtly feminine aspect of the event was an activation curated by women’s lifestyle site MissBish in conjunction with Colourpop, an up-and-coming makeup brand taking Instagram and YouTube by storm. Hair styling, makeup application and free samples were all offered within the marble-lined space. I could think of no better way to escape from a testosterone-heavy weekend than sipping on a free coffee from Alfred Coffee (provided by online retailer Five Four) while a sweet young woman twisted my hair into the most impeccable French braids ever to have graced my scalp.

In spite of the lack of estrogen involved, the convention center felt like a remarkably inclusive space. No race seemed to overpower the others; Black, white, Latino and Asian co-existed in a harmonious rhythm accompanied by hip hop. Walking from vendor to vendor, activation to activation, I heard as wide a variety of languages as one would on a typical New York City street. Sure, the Hypebeast phenomenon is rooted in commercial value, but that value is one understood across a color wheel of nationalities, cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities.

ComplexCon may have benefited many corporations, but it also fostered a free-flowing artistic spirit unlike any I have ever seen. Thought-provoking installations by mixed media artist Patrick Martinez, a Culver City-based gallery called Think Space and a multitude of other art-world favorites provided a much-needed breath of fresh air to an otherwise stuffy, and alarmingly fluorescent, space. My personal favorite was an exhibition featuring a giant interactive ball that, when touched, displayed a variety of designs by Takashi Murakami, the mastermind behind ComplexCon’s graphics and much of Kanye West’s album art. It was largely thanks to his efforts that the weekend felt artistic to the core.

The food trucks outside the venue were, actually, the icing on the cake. Churros, tacos and coffee of every variety I could imagine (if we’ve ever met, you know that’s a lot) were available for the buying. Coolhaus’s ice cream truck got me through both days, for better or worse.

Oh, right! There was also music, and a wide variety, at that. The weekend kicked off with Instagram star and DJ Chantel Jeffries, progressing to performances by a diverse variety of artists as the day went on. Though I was not granted night access, the word on the street Sunday morning was that Kid Cudi’s show the night before had changed lives. Sunday’s lineup held the same level of versatility, featuring artists such as DJ Virgil Abloh, Lil Yachty and the ubiquitous face of both hip hop and marijuana, none other than Snoop Dogg.

“It was amazing to perform here,” Jeffries exclaimed after her set. “It’s a great venue and a great event. I’m super happy to be here.”

Let’s ride this wave of positivity a little while longer, shall we? If ComplexCon’s backbone was made of money, its soul was built upon the wisdom of its Complex Conversations panelists. Twitter sensation and self-proclaimed “Based God” Lil B proved, among a series of enthusiastic head-nods, that activism can take many forms in “The Future of Activism, Mobilization and Making a Difference.” Throughout “The Music Generation Gap Debate,” contemporary rapper Vince Staples defended today’s youth in a heated debate with Raekwon, Scarface, French Montana, DJ Mustard and Pete Rock, moderated by none other than radio personality Angie Martinez.

Most astounding to me were Ice Cube and Tony Hawk successfully showing that there is no one viable life path in a panel entitled “Achieving Longevity in the Game.” The two spoke like old friends, capitalizing on their different experiences to produce a guidebook of life advice from the World’s Coolest Dads. Caps intended.

“You have to make up your mind on your vision of success,” Ice Cube concluded toward the panel’s end. “Some people think it’s money, some people think it’s fame. I’d rather have somebody come up to me and say ‘I like what you did there, I like that.’ That’s what I get off on.” Nodding in agreement, Hawk added his two cents: “If you’ve really got that heart and that passion, you’re going to rise up.”

So how, exactly, would I define ComplexCon?

Part of speech and language of origin aside, it is a movement. It stands for a generation’s addiction to consumerism, our yearning for fame. It presents an opportunity to make something of this modern disposition. It signifies a tolerant new form of masculinity. It is creativity. It is appreciation. It represents the youth’s desire to learn from those they look up to.

Our generation defines ComplexCon. We are good, we are bad and we are ugly, and we are willing to own every bit of it.

Put that in your book, Merriam-Webster.