Gregk Foley talks us through why the Supreme x Slayer collaboration actually makes perfect sense.
When you try to summarize what exactly it is that makes Supreme such a solid hit season to season, it’s pretty difficult to pin the formula down on paper. On the one hand, you’ve got consistency – the knowledge that, whatever happens, the fabrics, cuts and fits won’t change too much. This is the reason so many people use Supreme sizing as the control when selling clothing by other brands – we all know our size in Supreme, and we know it’s almost as certain as death and taxes.
On the other hand, the brand’s other strongest card is its unpredictability. We all know what the collection is going to “look like” each season, but nailing down the smaller details is much more complicated. Who could have predicted a sherpa fleece jacket with roses this season, for example, or a capsule of pieces inspired by hip-hop duo Capone-N-Noreaga? Even if you’re not a Supreme fanboy, chances are you’ll still head over to the website on the day the preview releases, because you know you’re going be surprised.
It’s that same yin and yang of familiar and unexpected that underpins Supreme’s collaborations. For the past few seasons, we’ve been pretty much guaranteed collaborations with Vans, Nike, The North Face, Timberland and Levis. But then they throw in those wildcard collabs that take you by surprise.
Last season it was Sasquatchfabrix. and Black Sabbath; before that it was Toshio Maeda and Air Jordan®; and years previous you’ve had White Castle hamburgers, Campbell’s Soup, John Coltrane, Bad Brains, Rammellzee and countless other collaborations that leave the already-initiated celebrating Supreme’s seemingly endless grasp on youth culture, and those with less insight digging into the archives for a better understanding.
And perhaps that’s the point. We’re all familiar with the dialogue that emerges every time Supreme does one of those collabs – “Get ready for loads of kids who’ve never listened to X before wearing the T-shirts” – but anyone who tells you they’ve never been introduced to something through a Supreme collaboration is bound to be lying.
So what about Supreme’s latest musical collaboration with Slayer? The west coast thrash metal band, probably best known for their 1986 album Reign in Blood and its infamous track "Raining Blood," is the latest in a long list of artists from across the musical spectrum to be celebrated by the New York skate brand. So what’s the road map for Supreme x Slayer?
Let’s start with the basics. For starters, the ties between Slayer and skateboarding run deep. Their music has appeared on the soundtracks of countless skate videos: Wade Speyer’s opening segment on Powell Peralta’s 1992 video Hot Batch is set to "Mandatory Suicide"; in ’97, on Plan B’s The Revolution, Pat Duffy switches his segment up halfway through from big band doo-wop swing into "Spiritual Law"; and, arguably most iconic of all, the absolute face-tearer of a track that is "South of Heaven" forms the backdrop to Erik Ellington’s segment on Zero’s Misled Youth tape of 1999, a video that remains, in this writer’s opinion, one of the most important skate videos of its time.
Now note the South of Heaven T-shirt in the collaboration line-up, and then note that other bands on the Misled Youth soundtrack include Black Sabbath, The Doors and Black Flag, all of whom have been referenced in Supreme releases either directly or indirectly.
This is before you get into the wealth of board and T-shirt graphics that have riffed on classic Slayer iconography over the years, or the 2007 deck series of classic Slayer artwork courtesy of Danny Way’s Plan B. As with all cultural artifacts that skateboarding brings into its sphere, Slayer’s inimitable aesthetic quickly found its way onto T-shirts and deck graphics, celebrating the symbology and incorporating it into skateboarding’s own identity.
Away from the skateboarding connotations, it’s well-known that Supreme is fascinated with rebellion and anti-authoritarianism in all its forms. In the Supreme universe, where elements as disparate as Neil Young and the Chapman Brothers can exist in one sphere, the spirit of disruption and rejection of the norm is often the only thing that can tie everything together, and in this light, Slayer makes perfect sense.
In 1983, two years before Judas Priest were taken to court for the alleged suicidal subliminal messages in their music, Slayer released Show No Mercy, home to tracks such as "The Antichrist," "Die by the Sword" and "The Final Command." Later albums would include songs like "Serenity in Murder," "Necrophiliac," "Dead Skin Mask" and, in 1988, "Mandatory Suicide." If you had a problem with subliminal messages, it was probably best to avoid Slayer altogether.
Controversy has followed Slayer through every element of the band’s life: lyrics about Josef Mengele’s experiments at Auschwitz; artwork featuring the decomposing body of Christ; incorporation of SS runes and nazi-esque eagles into the band’s insignia; and lawsuits related to a murder, not unlike the aforementioned Judas Priest case.
In every instance, Slayer has acknowledged the controversy, but never backed down. When your brand has made jackets adorned with obscenities, and incorporated phrases like "Born Alone, Die Alone" and "Fuck the World" into its graphics, you’ve surely got to look at Slayer’s handling of any arising controversies as a point of inspiration.
That being said, Slayer get the edge over Supreme in this area after Gary Holt responded to images of Kendall Jenner in a Slayer T-shirt by performing in a T-shirt that simply read, "Kill the Kardashians." To be honest, it would be nice to see Supreme take a bit more of a belligerent stance against some of its celebrity customers, but I won’t hold my breath.
Then you’ve got the depth of Slayer’s symbology as a truly iconic band. With every Supreme collaboration, be it with a brand, artist, painter, band or whoever else, they’re all icons who fundamentally created something, or encapsulated their particular craft: Morrissey, Damien Hirst, Comme des Garçons, Jun Takahashi and even Kermit the Frog.
Supreme will always be a skate brand first and foremost, but secondarily, it’s a curation of culture itself – a documentation of these strange and distinctive elements that underpin our understanding of what music, art, film and fashion really is.
It’s easy to watch The Godfather these days and think it looks just like any other gangster film if you don’t consider that The Godfather is the film that essentially created all the cinematic tropes of a gangster film. By the same token, it’s easy to go back and listen to South of Heaven or Hell Awaits – to hear the blast beats, the dramatic, doom-laden melodies, the rapid-fire triplets and aggressive, grunted vocals – and think it sounds like any other metal album.
But Slayer, along with a handful of other bands of the era, laid the groundwork for arguably every single metal band that would form in the following decades. And that influence is still going. Sure, they might not have been the first to do it, but did they leave their mark? Fuck yes.
Plus, all that aside, we all know the score when you go to a Supreme store. Immaculately presented clothes, disengaged store workers and skate videos on big screens and loud music. At the London store, that last point is always a guarantee, and you never know what’s going to be on the speakers each time you go in, from Waka Flocka to Prince; Black Flag to Slayer.
All you really know is that it’s going to be loud and you’re going to feel pumped. And, let’s be clear: Slayer is meant to be played loud. Really fucking loud. After all, you can’t be belligerent at a reasonable volume.
These days I’m a guy of varied tastes, and I’m just as likely to spend my afternoon listening to a Black Moon album as I am Tom Petty or Crazy Titch. But the moment this collaboration was announced I cleared my playlist and put Show No Mercy on, on repeat, very loud. I suggest you do the same.
On that note, here's every single piece from the Supreme x Slayer collab.