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Complexcon is a guy in a devil horned baseball cap arguing with guards that he can smoke weed indoors. It’s an OG from the LBC playing three-card Monte on the walkway to the food trucks. It’s suburban sneakerheads, short skirts, high heels, eyelash extensions, guys showing guns, selfie poses in funky clothes, overweight lovers in fly kicks, basketball glitter glam Andy Warhol thieves.

Old Spice sneaker spa.

It’s finding common ground; gay, straight, gender fluid, beer, booze, hip-hop, LatinX, chola, Japan-pop, skaters, dreds, ganja, ganja, ganja. It’s 130-dollar tickets, 15-dollar Hennessy, bars everywhere. Music everywhere. Brands, brands motherfucking brands everywhere, trying to outdo themselves for you, to get you to undo your connection to your wallet. It’s hurry up and wait your ass off. Unless you paid for the $600 VIP pass. Then you don’t have to wait for shit… except to shit.

The line to the gift shop.

Complexcon is a cultural festival. The first whiff of marijuana hits you three steps out of your car. You pick up your wristband at will call, go through security check-in, wave it at a white pad that lights up green, and you’re in. The first thing you see are two bars. You grab a drink, then follow the happiness seeking missiles to the convention floor doors. As you walk through, you’re greeted by an epic, psychedelic, fun, weird, welcoming billboard. Beyond that LED dreamscape lie the sneakers, speakers, influencers, musicians, athletes, celebrities and designers. You take a deep breath and walk in.

Remember what the dormouse said, feed your head, feed your head.

At its core Complexcon is a convention. Conventions are meccas for true believers. These pilgrims travelled across the globe to the Long Beach Convention Center to spend money, dance and party. The god at Complexcon is street wear. The demigod is Mark Ecko. The spiritual text is Complex — a website, magazine, social media presence with a focus on music, sneakers, pop culture and news. To one-stop-shop the pilgrims travel to Complexcon Long Beach and hit up the booths. Here the designers, AKA high priests/priestesses, have their products displayed. These products project their beliefs. They can be worn, eaten, drank, used, abused, placed on a wall, bed, ceiling or floor. The booths range from closet-sized to mansion-pimptastic and some defy the space itself.

Steve Aoki breaking shit down.

Beyond the convention floor are rooms where you can listen to speakers discuss their careers, cultural beliefs or how-tos, so you too, can be a brand, activist, YouTube star, rapper or designer. There’s also a large theater for a gaming exhibition. Outside you’ll find a skatepark with a DJ, a place to lounge on benches that look like art, an amphitheater, and after a walk along a trail that wraps around a man-made pond — a food truck area. There you can buy a Beyond Burger, fries and water for $27, thanks to a two-dollar coupon.

Skater bro in Budweiser tee.

At Complexcon a shirt is not a shirt, a hat is not a hat and a beer is not a beer. It’s an idea, a memory, an emotion. It’s no longer THIS BUD’S FOR YOU. Now it’s:

These products are not in search of narratives. They have their own bio, identity, heart and soul. Some, like Budweiser, were created by marketing execs in Jordan elevens. Others were birthed by the designers who also act as the CEO, self-perpetuator, hustler, and activist. Some don’t even need a narrative to be created. They’re built into the brand.

Dumbgood booth.

Like at Dumbgood where they were selling Blockbuster gear in a booth that resembled a Blockbuster store. You put on their rugby and now you’re holding hands with your high school girlfriend, browsing new releases, suggesting comedies, settling on romances, budgeting enough for candy, all the while worrying about returning the tapes on-time so you don’t pay the late fees like you did last time.

Back in the days when I was a teenager, before I had status and before I had a pager.

If you think you’re immune to being persuaded by a narrative marketing campaign, check yourself. Ever get the warm and fuzzies when you hear a John Williams Star Wars jam? Or look at a cheesy print of a hippy on a piece of wood and call him Jesus? Why did you rock Levi’s in sixth grade and not Wranglers? Why aren’t you wearing Lee Jeans right now? Suspenders? High waters? Bell bottoms? From food, to cars, to where you live and what you do for a living — everything is driven by a narrative.

Me looking hard in the Equihua “De La Rosa” Blanket Jacket. A model in a “Devotion” Blanket Hoodie Coat.

At Complexcon these narratives create new boundaries. What was once an icon of Mexican Catholics is now on the back of an Equihua blanket turned hoodie coat. Why not be down with a little help from above? If you‘re worried about the environment, buy a tee made from recycled cotton that has an organic, cosmic feel. I mean, shit, you gotta do something about global warming, right?

Esper from Come Back as a Flower. 100 % recycled cotton hand died in L.A..

Dismissing these beliefs because they’re not your own doesn’t threaten the growth of Complexcon. It strengthens it. The power doesn’t come from mass acceptance, but rather a faithful following. Think of concentrated orange juice. Malls and mass popularity are too much water, while pop-ups and handcrafted, unique limited editions make it extra sweet. At the exact same time—don’t buy the hype. Investors want a return on their investment. No matter how well crafted the gear and narrative, it’s ultimately all about the Benny’s. That’s the dilemma that these brands face; grow or vanish like the eight of hearts in a game of three-card Monte.

Who’s next?

(JP Lavin is a movie and TV writer. You haven’t seen anything he’s written because nothing has been made… yet. You can follow him on Twitter @jplavincubs.)

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