In the decade since Turnstile—a Carhartt-dripped five-piece hardcore-dance-punk band, the perfect lovechild of 311 and Bad Brains—emerged from the Baltimore DIY scene, they’ve steadily made their way to the top of the buzz band heap, as evidenced by this year’s widely sold-out five-band headlining tour with Citizen, Ceremony, Ekulu, and Truth Cult. What makes Turnstile an interesting phenomenon is not just that they are a good band—which they are—but that they are a quintessentially cool band, occupying a unique intersection of punk, streetwear and skateboarding subcultures, in some ways making them the quintessentially cool band.
Two months ago, the band posted a carousel of film photos of fans sporting their merch encaptioned “T.L.C. Runway” on Instagram. I was intrigued. I dug deep into the world of their resale market, where I found that Turnstile merchandise sells at a unique mark-up—even for items still available for sale on their own website.
For example, the pink GLOW ON hoodie, named after their critically acclaimed 2021 album, is available for $50 through Turnstile’s official webstore. It also sells for as much as $250 on Depop, the peer-to-peer digital resale platform—a 400% mark-up.
The crown jewel is this Turnstile disposable camera—originally available only at the Sweet Chick NYC pop-up before the record release show on August 24, 2021, according to Turnstile’s label—is priced at $999 or best offer.
There is even a bootleg Turnstile merch website, where, for just forty clams, you can be the proud owner of a Turnstile nightlight displaying Jeremy Bolm of post-hardocre band Touche Amore (?). He might be my favorite member of Turnstile, too, and he’s not even in the band.
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear: I have no hate in my heart for Turnstile’s apparently unrivaled ability to sell sought-after merch. (Even after they failed to accept my request to be interviewed for this article.) Artists earn as little as $0.0033 per stream on their songs, according to a 2020 Business Insider report, which means that at nearly 16 million plays, GLOW ON’s lead track “MYSTERY” would have theoretically netted the band maybe $52,800. After everyone else gets their cut, who knows how much of that the five-piece actually takes home. We’re living in the decline of the empire and everyone’s gotta eat. And before anyone gets their limited edition swag in a bunch, I don’t mean to gate-keep either. The genre-bending that Turnstile is frequently celebrated for is, in many ways, inevitable, and if that brings new bodies into the pit, that isn’t a bad thing.
But it sure does inspire a few existential questions. Why would a fan pay $250 for a hoodie they could get directly from the band, therefore directly supporting the artist, for only $50? In this Instagram-fueled hypebeast digital space where we all coexist, where does the band stop and the brand begin?
In this Instagram-fueled hypebeast digital space where we all coexist, where does the band stop and the brand begin?
The band merch resale space is nothing new. It has existed at least as long as kids have stood around parking lots outside DIY music venues, trading seven inches for back patches. As one expert (some guy who grew up with crust punk but works at one of the most quintessential streetwear brands that specializes in small batch drops, who also ran his own band shirt Depop store, and has requested anonymity, so we’ll call him Aaron) explained, what has changed is the amount people are willing to pay and who has access to the parking lot, also known as the internet.
But even more specifically, it’s Depop that has changed the game. “I think it is a good thing because fashion is burning the fucking world up, like we just create so much waste,” he says. “But it also did create this insane, bizarro world where, you know, the prices are outrageous.”
That isn’t a Turnstile-specific phenomenon. Before the band reissued it (it doesn’t appear to be available anymore, you snooze you lose), the Slipknot windbreaker that nu-metal superfan Anthony Soprano sported in Season 3 of The Sopranos would regularly sell for several hundred dollars. That makes a little more sense, given that Slipknot is a legacy act (shut up) and the jacket was released a decade or two before the youngsters started trying to cop it on the internet. That, and it was heavily featured in a revered television show.
There are endless examples. Even modern day contemporaries like Santa Cruz, Cali. hardcore band Gulch found themselves in the middle of a resale frenzy when they created a limited-edition Sanrio hoodie for FYA Fest back in 2020. Demand for their merchandise has gotten to the point where it is not uncommon to see something, anything, that says “Gulch” on it go for hundreds of dollars on a resale site.
“Every time we put merch up online, it sells out within minutes. It’s insane,” guitarist Cole Kakimoto told local Santa Cruz blog Good Times. “It almost feels like we’re a band and then we’re also some kind of clothing brand—not because we want to be, because that’s what people made us.”
Aaron believes the Turnstile-Gulch resale trend is the latest step in a slow march that started with the Pennsylvania hardcore outfit Cold World. “They’re really [the band] who got this fashion connection going in hardcore,” he says. “If Cold World was coming to your town, you wore fucking Dunks, you got two shirts, one in each size of everything they had, you know what I mean? They started doing [merch] with the Bape logo on it, they started making these associations with hip-hop culture.”
“It almost feels like we’re a band and then we’re also some kind of clothing brand–not because we want to be, because that’s what people made us.”
Anything in the world of band merch, streetwear, fashion, whatever—it’s the associations that really count. “Whether you’re [a streetwear brand] and your commodity is a T-shirt, or you’re a band like Turnstile and your commodity is the music you’re making, the goal is [the same,]” he continues. “You want to be able to give your audience something that’s more than that specific commodity. So, you know, when people wear a Supreme box logo, it’s not because it’s that T-shirt. You’re aligning yourself with the culture, what it represents to you.”
Nick Woj, Cold World’s drummer and the brain behind many of his band's merch designs, says that he was “inspired by a lot of things—hip-hop, DJ culture, various forms of Japanese pop and underground culture, sneakers, vintage Polo, a little streetwear.” He thinks it’s strange that Cold World is identified as a “merch band,” because they play sparingly and don’t have a webstore, unlike, say, Turnstile.
“I’ve definitely witnessed people buying multiple sizes. They usually say they’re for their partner or friends who couldn’t make it, but who knows?”
“The byproduct of that [scarcity] is people who are at the shows and have that flipper mentality can take advantage of our fans who can’t make it to the show,” Woj says. “I’ve definitely witnessed people buying multiple sizes. They usually say they’re for their partner or friends who couldn’t make it, but who knows?”
Unlike Turnstile, Cold World has never collaborated with a major streetwear brand because “we always kept to our own kind when choosing who to tour and associate with, so we’ve never made those strides that may spark a connection with someone outside the actual underground hardcore/punk world,” Woj says. Still, he decided to start his own clothing line under the name Cold World Authentics, which is scheduled to drop later this summer. “There’s a streetwear brand now with a very similar name and it really rubbed me the wrong way,” he says of the brand. (He also says he's not opposed to collaborating with another brand with his new line, but only on his own terms.)
Aaron believes Turnstile has intentionally positioned themselves within the intersection of music and fashion, noting that he “saw it coming” when bassist Franz Lyons appeared in the 2018 Carhartt WIP lookbook and they started to drop additional collaborations with streetwear brands, like Carhartt (which sold out in two days), but also Brain Dead and Babylon (those shirts go for $100). “It makes sense,” he says. “They’ve gone out of their way and it could be because they personally wear this shit. They think it’s cool. So they have the opportunity to cross over with these things.”
And because streetwear, an avenue of fashion notorious for making “drops” of limited edition product that go quickly and resale at high mark-ups, it makes sense that Turnstile merch does the same thing, unintentionally or otherwise. “If I’m a kid in L.A. who doesn’t listen to hardcore, but I wear Brain Dead, I think it’s the coolest clothing ever, I’m gonna wear that,” Aaron explains. “I see that Turnstile has three T-shirts coming out with Brain Dead and I go, ‘Oh, what’s this?’ It sells out instantly. Now I’m a little upset.”
He thinks, and I agree, that the “gotta get it now!” mindset cultivated by streetwear culture explains why a kid might go for the $250 Depop resale over the $50 webstore purchase—they’re so influenced by scarcity, they don't even think to look at the band’s website.
“Turnstile have become so popular that they’re an entry level band for a lot of kids, so you’re going to have a percentage of kids who may not be familiar with online merch stores and the scene in general," Woj agrees. "Maybe last year those fans had to buy their Travis Scott merch off Stockx, [another clothing resale site], because it sold out online. So they just naturally go to the secondary market from then on by default.”
It tracks. The sole Turnstile merch Depop seller who agreed to examine the intellectual underpinnings of this phenomenon with me (sigh), a 24-year-old Brooklynite with the username @cremaster, didn’t realize the shirt they sold for $45 was available for $25 on the Turnstile webstore. “I’m only selling it because I’m not a fan of the blank [shirt] it was printed on…I guess most people don’t think to check their site. Or [they] think that it’s a tour exclusive or something that’s long sold out. Had I known it was on their site for the same price, I probably wouldn’t even have tried to sell it, assuming I’d only get like $15 for it.”
Nonetheless, it sold. Ironically, @cremaster (he asked to be identified only by his handle) also brought up the Gulch hoodie, saying it was “desirable to the point [that] people that didn’t even listen to the band wanted the hoodie.”
Everyday we wake up and decide how we want the world to perceive us, to find our tribe and associate with it—the band T-shirt we pull on, the shoes we step into, the tattoos we sport, the way we wear our hair. Music merch, to an extent, takes a kid who wants to find their place in the world, and commodifies their desire. Turnstile aren’t the first, they won’t be the last, but they might be the best at it right now. But like I said, we’ve all gotta eat. Turnstile gave that kid their place in the world, and so did the other kid that re-sold it for a 400% mark-up.
(We also have to eat. Cop your CREEM merch here. No Depop necessary.)