In the 1980s, young people were passionately pursuing various forms of artistic expression. It was at this time when rock music first emerged in China. Rock culture thrived in city centers like Beijing, imbuing listeners with a unique ethos of freedom and independence. Mei Yong, the founder of Liberaiders, was in high school at this time of rock’s uprising and came into contact with the genre through cassette tape exchanges. In interviews, Yong has previously shared that “everything for me started with rock music.”

After studying abroad in Japan and spending a considerable amount of time in the metropolis’ rock hub of Harajuku, he founded his seminal streetwear label, Liberaiders. While he was engaging in the rock scene, he met Gao Qi, who shared his passion for cassette tape exchanges. Qi later formed Overload, a pioneering rock group in China, and became the first-generation rock musician in the country.

Now, the two legends reunite. In collaboration with PUMA, Yong enlists Qi in his “BAND OF LIBERAIDERS.” Along with two other trailblazing rockstars—Ouyang and Huang Shaofeng—Yong captures the artists in PUMA x Liberaiders partnership, which reimagines one of the sportswear brand’s most timeless sneakers, the SUEDE. The “one-day-only” band and accompanying campaign pays homage to a generation of music leaders who helped form the brand’s design aesthetics.

Ahead of the launch, Hypebeast chatted with Yong about his infatuation with rock music, lifelong friendship with Qi, and the creative process behind this PUMA collaboration

How did this collaboration with PUMA come about?

I’ve actually been a fan of PUMA since I was a child. I was very fond of football back then—and you know, having a pair of PUMA football shoes in China in the 1970s and 1980s was a big deal. For us, PUMA was synonymous with football at that time.

After founding Liberaiders, I made friends with someone from the PUMA brand through a chance encounter. What made me very happy was that he was also a fan of Liberaiders. At that time, we didn’t immediately discuss a collaboration. We chatted more about common interests and hobbies. It was probably after the pandemic stabilized that the brand officially invited us to collaborate. Everything progressed naturally, step by step, and has led to the creation of the SUEDE shoes you see now. Collaborating with PUMA is something I never imagined in my younger days—after all, this brand was such a force in popular culture growing up.

You were born and raised in Beijing, the epicenter of Chinese rock. What unforgettable experiences did you have while living in Beijing? And how did you become familiar with Gao Qi, Ouyang, and Huang Shaofeng?

As everyone knows, I am a true Beijinger. For me, Beijing is my foundation. Before going to Japan at the age of 20, Beijing left me with many memories. I started to get familiar with rock music during high school. At that time, the only way to access foreign rock music in Beijing was through cassette tapes brought by international students or reading international music news.

After entering university, I became good friends with Gao Qi because we had a common passion for rock music. I remember we used to just play rock music and hang out. When I returned to China from Japan, I met Ouyang. At that time, their band, Overload, was already very established. The rock circle was relatively small, so everyone knew each other. Huang Shaofeng is from the younger generation and although we haven’t known each other for long, I really appreciate his musical talent and his dedication to music.

Liberaiders’ iconic “Destination Unknown” text is incorporated into the new sneaker’s design. What does the phrase mean to you?

“Destination Unknown” signifies the ongoing pursuit of what one loves without a clear endpoint. Pursuing what one loves is a source of happiness that cannot be measured by money or effort. For instance, traveling to challenging places like Nepal and Bangladesh for photography requires extensive preparation and may encounter unexpected situations, but the satisfaction of creating good work makes it all worthwhile. Especially for young people, it’s important to maintain this adventurous spirit and prepare for challenges in various unknown fields. This is what it means to embody the essence of “Destination Unknown.”

Can you talk about the inspiration behind the campaign imagery? Have you ever considered forming a rock band under the Liberaiders’ brand name?

This photoshoot was very spontaneous. There was no plan or specific agenda that advertising or PR companies may have. We relied entirely on our friendship and the relationship we had cultivated since childhood. It felt like we were having a jam session, rather than a photoshoot. That day, it was like we were young again—just a bunch of kids hanging out.

As for whether Liberaiders will establish a band—we formed one on the day of the shoot and disbanded right after. Our band doesn’t care about having a name or even performing. After all these years, getting together with my brothers and doing what we love is more important than anything else.

And finally, how would you describe the state of street culture in Beijing and China today?

To be honest, I envy the kids nowadays. I think right now is the best period of street culture we’ve ever seen in China. Streetwear has penetrated practically every corner of culture in the country. Back then, I remember we had to ride our bicycles across Beijing just to buy a cassette tape or a t-shirt. Now, we live in an era of advanced technology and social media, where you can access information easily and shop online. I also think China’s street culture industry has evolved from merely “imitating” to now forming its own distinct style. Of course, we still have a way to go, but it’s crucial that we hold onto this passion and enthusiasm for streetwear.

The PUMA x Liberaiders SUEDE sneakers will be available on June 8 in select PUMA, SOULGOODS, and INVINCIBLE stores. You can learn more about the collaboration here.

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