Released in 1990, the Air Max 90 has become a mainstay in everyday life for sneaker collectors and general consumers alike. With a mass array of iterations and colourways, the AM90 is deemed as one of the most important silhouettes along the Air Max line. Said to be the ‘London Shoe’, the Tinker Hatfield designed model has influenced many cultures, in particular music.
In the 90’s, UK Garage was ever-present and in the early 2000’s the extension of Garage was birthed in the form of Grime music. Grime in comparison to Garage formed a faster, darker and heavy hitting sound birthed new fans and listeners. Pirate radio was seen as its only outlet in the brand new wave of music and transcended in the way of life around the UK. However, as years went on, Grime slowly became accepted with the likes of Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Ghetts and Skepta becoming pioneers to genre.
With the Air Max 90 being celebrated, in 2009 Dizzee Rascal created his own iteration with artist Ben Drury dubbed ‘Tongue & Cheek’ to coincide with his album of the same name. This epitomised the influence of the Air Max 90.
In 2021, Nike takes inspiration from pirate radio stations, and the subcultures they formed, to create this version of the iconic Air Max 90. It’s understated — much like the stations themselves to not bring unwanted attention — with premium white leather uppers and a golden jewel Swoosh on the sidewall. But the nods to the music scene are there if you look closer; there’s a radio frequency graphic on the heel plaque and a shock-like graphic beneath the icy outsole.
The contrasting pair features a navy and red combination in leather material, with a stitched Swoosh in white. Further white details include on the midsole, the laces and frequency wave. A gold hangtag and Pirate radio station on the outsole completes the homage.
Launching online on Saturday 13th February, priced at £125.
To celebrate the launch of the Nike Garage & Grime pack we partnered with Garage DJ and Producer DJ Champion and Grime scene legend Sir Spyro to talk about what this Air Max means to them and how they came through the music industry.
Interview words by @rudeboysandrollups
Do you remember your first pair of Air Max 90?
Champion: My first experience of the Air Max 90 would have been during school. The outfit of choice was a black school blazer, black trousers and white shirt with triple black Air Maxes. Everyone in school had them.
Sir Spyro: Those were the only trainers you could actually wear in school, the shape allowed you to get away with it. They were the most comfortable trainers ever! Plus they were affordable.
When did you first become aware of the link between style and music?
C: Grime was a real turning point for me. When footage started to appear on DVDs like Lord of the Mics, I started seeing my favourite MCs wearing certain clothing and that’s when I realised the link between style and music. Before that, my dad had a sound system and that was where I first shaped my craft, I was around 12 years old. I think it gave me even more of a sense of style and individuality. I was representing my generation in comparison to everyone else who was at the rave, simply because they were much older. I was always the youngest in the room. That’s when I realised the importance of what we wore.
SS: Buying trainers back in the day was similar to buying records; it was an important part of growing up, you felt like you were part of something that was happening to the culture. I had older siblings who had already started to get into wearing certain trainers, so I was able to get a lot of inspiration from them first. You didn’t understand what you were creating at the time; you just knew it was important.
C: There was the soundtrack, then there was the look to that soundtrack. When I became fully immersed in grime music, my favourite producers and MCs were more visible through watching those DVDs. You could get an idea of what they looked like, that’s when the penny dropped, and that’s what we wanted to look like. It was something we identified with in a big way. It gave us a sense of belonging because up until that point you may have had older cousins, or maybe even parents to look up to. My thing was what I saw online and before that it would have been publications like RWD magazine.
What would have been a typical fit for you at that time?
SS: A typical fit at that time would have been my Nike USA tracksuit with a pair of AM90. I would be in Stratford Rex watching So Solid, Pay As You Go or Heartless Crew. It was like a uniform, I knew the industry that I wanted to go into and this represented it.
C: For me it was the Akademiks A9 tracksuits, or the Starter jackets. Style and music go hand in hand, growing up in the ‘00s all of the people I admired wore the same thing.
Avirex jackets and Nokia phones more or less shaped that culture, but we didn’t realise it at the time. Everything comes back around again and we’re seeing that now.
How have each of these cultural elements helped to define you as artists?
SS: Heartless Crew, Wiley and Terror Danjah were some of my biggest influences. I remember being too young to go to the raves and we didn’t have social media so when listening to the music I would literally have to imagine what was going on.
C: Definitely, got to big up Terror Danjah, he levelled me up as a producer, taught me how to mix and just taught me about the industry as a whole. Another one for me would have to be Sticky. I feel like he did something that no one else did at that time. He bridged the gap between the sounds I knew growing up like dancehall and reggae and fused them with the UK sound. ‘Booo!’ was an absolute game changer for me.
SS: I can remember being at Notting Hill Carnival when that first came on.
C: I can remember every detail about the first time I heard that tune. As soon as I heard the b-line I was sold, the way Sticky was cutting it up, the way Ms Dynamite was bouncing in between flows, that has stuck with until this day.
*All backdrop imagery courtesy of the personal archive of Touch Magazine clippings provided by Rudeboys and Rollups.