Industry Insiders: Nick Cohen, DJ Sneaker Pimp

Nick Cohen, DJ and owner of Upper Echelon Shoes, punches the club clock, DJs sans shirt for the downtown celebs, and builds his upscale sneaker brand — all to avoid those dreaded fluorescent office lights.

How was Los Angeles? Really good. We Just did press and celebrity seating and met with stylists and editors [for Upper Echelon Shoes].

You’re the resident DJ Thursday nights at Southside. Other than Southside, what other spots do you like to hit up? Because I have spent so many hours in nightclubs, if I am going out, I am going out. I like 1Oak, Tuesdays especially. I’ll go in and do a small guest [DJing] set. Just with a couple of friends, I’ll do something there. The music is always pretty good. And then Beatrice Inn. I logged many hours in the Beatrice Inn, smoke in my eyes.

Punching the clock at Beatrice. [Laughing] Basically that’s how I look at it: How many hours you have disposable and how many timecards you have in the city. You have your Beatrice timecard, 1Oak timecard, and now my Southside timecard. My favorite place in New York will always be Bungalow 8 just because I have more fun there than anywhere else in the city. I still think that. We did my opening party there, and it was like sick fun. It was like old school Bungalow 8. And then I did my friend’s birthday party there. I was DJing, we just had a huge crew come down. It was really sort of fun, interesting.

What other DJs or nightlife people do you hang out with or admire? I mean there is sort of like a core group of DJs that you hear, like my boy Todd Malice who’s been around for a while. He’s a couple years older … these sort of people who are like chips off the Mark Ronson block. Like early, when Mark was steady working in New York, these were people who were opening for him or around the same sort of timeframe, but I mean you know I get stuff from them … I’ve really been enjoying these electro DJs. My friend, this kid Julio [Santo Domingo], puts together these big sort of parties with all the best DJs and they come in from all over. He’s doing one on Halloween in Brooklyn that should be pretty sick. I’ll probably head over there after I finish this Halloween gig at the Hudson Hotel.

You’re doing a gig for the Hudson Hotel? Yeah I’m doing the Hudson Hotel for Halloween for my friend Al from Sky New York, who I’ve been working with since I’ve started. I don’t do as much work with him anymore, but whenever he has good events I’ll come out and not charge him too much.

Anyone or anything you’re not feeling? Hipster DJs with iPods sort of ruined DJing, because they drive the prices down. They’ll play off iPods for $150 bucks [a night]. So it kinda fucked up the market for DJs, but at the same time it also gives you a bit more exposure to people who don’t know how to DJ but might have good musical taste.

What do you think it is about the Thursday night at Southside that makes it good? Well basically they changed the whole concept up. Obviously they had a cash cow around that sort of like downtown Dorrian’s preppy make me wanna choke-you-and-stick a-plunger-up-your-ass kind of scene. It wasn’t really my thing. When [Southside owner] James Willis came in he’d invite me down, and I’d be like, “Listen you know I’ll support you and I’ll come here but normally I wouldn’t be caught dead.” But James sort of changed the culture a little and would bring the Australians and also the models and everything and tried to make it a lot more hip than the previous crowd — wankers and shit. And then obviously when they did the close down and re-open, they gave the place an underground look. It reminds me … I call it underground Bungalow 8.

It sort of has that look. It’s like an underground Bungalow 8, and the crowd has gotten a million times better. I was there this Friday and this Saturday DJing, and it was beautiful fucking girls, cool people, everyone’s showing love and support. And my new thing is that I take my shirt off every single night I’m djing there. So people now instead of asking me for music, they ask me when I’m gonna take my shirt off.

That’s the peak of the night? Basically.

So your sneaker line Upper Echelon Shoes sells rather expensive shoes with real gold laces. The acronym is U.E.S., as in Upper East Side. But you’ve got this chill little store here in Chinatown on a very mellow block … My partner Seth Campbell and I have been friends since the 4th grade, and we grew up on the Upper East Side, so U.E.S. is a funny acronym. We needed to centralize our operations. We were working out of home, and I had a storage bin, but it was so annoying going all around the city. Everything was overpriced or in the Garment District. I hate Midtown. When I go to Midtown I want to kill myself. I found a bunch of different office spaces, and they were fucking expensive. Everything was tiny and had fluorescent lights. I’m doing this because I don’t want to work under fluorescent lights. So I went on Craigslist and found this space, and it was a café and …

It’s got a bit of a clubhouse vibe. I’m not very concerned with foot traffic. It’s my showroom and my central base. People are always hanging out here … they’ll come in and chat and bullshit. Some random people will come in off the street, and I sit out here and smoke a cig and watch the fucking soccer [at the field across the street]. It’s amazing.

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