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NYC is becoming a playground for (actually cool) sponsored gigs

Written by
Miles Raymer

Like a lot of music snobs, I used to scoff at the mere idea of sponsored gigs. But that was back when “branded experience” was shorthand for “slapping a logo on an indie-rock show’s banner”—and, frankly, when people still believed that selling out was inherently a bad thing. These days, marketers are more sophisticated, and artists don’t worry as much about the backlash that they’ll receive for cashing in. Because of this, an underground world of legitimately cool sponsored events has arrived—in sneaker stores and other off-the-grid locales—and I’m hooked. The best part? Pretty much all yours in exchange for an RSVP.

You can catch buzzy names and promising young talent in relatively intimate settings at branded venues like the tech-heavy Samsung 837. Back in November, Invisible NYC, a pop-up rap club disguised as a phone repair shop (sponsored by mobile service provider Visible) attracted the likes of A$AP Ferg to its tiny Soho digs. Meanwhile, other gigs offer immersive, eccentric experiences, such as last year’s overnight performance of composer Max Richter’s eight-hour SLEEP, which provided a bed for each attendee (supplied by the sponsor, Beautyrest, of course), or the trippy art raves thrown by creative studio Offline Projects and backed by record labels. 

Lately, there’s also been an uptick in music-adjacent events that may be too niche to thrive without a company footing the bill. Take Sonos, which has exhibited the archives of crazy-obscure vintage punk zines at its downtown boutique. The annual Red Bull Music Festival, which goes down each May, always includes intellectually ambitious fare like last year’s conversation with Harry Belafonte or the mind-blowing retrospective of hip-hop icon Rammellzee’s visual art. Movie-centric sneaker boutique Extra Butter hosts silent discos, parties geared to promote hip-hop documentaries and sneaker-geek get-togethers, such as the panel discussion on Nike’s legendary Pigeon Dunk shoe. (And some of these fetes are genuinely lit, I swear, especially if there’s an open bar.)

So, what’s your best bet for getting on the guest list like I do? Give the sponsors the valuable brand engagement they crave: your Instagram follow and your email address. After all, nothing’s really free, is it?

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