Dec 172013

I’ve sure been seeing a lot of “hipster” the last few weeks, as year-end lists of metal have been rolling out and people have been commenting on them. There are certain albums, mainly Deafheaven’s Sunbather, that routinely get blasted with the “hipster” label. Earlier today we even got a “hipster” comment on one of the lists we posted at NCS — applied to Ghost BC’s Infestissumam.

“Hipster” is a word I almost never use, mainly because I’m not sure what it means. I do know that it’s a disparaging, belittling, derogatory label of some kind. As used in the metal community, maybe it’s supposed to mean “not true metal” or “not good metal”. But the sense I get is that it’s used most often to mean “metal that people who aren’t metal heads like” — and apparently, the more non-metalheads who like a metal album, the worse it must be.

I definitely get the sense that Deafheaven have been victimized by that latter situation. The album is showing up on all sorts of year-end lists at big entertainment web sites, often mixed together with music from other genres such as indie and hip-hop. For some people, that seems to be enough to brand Deafheaven’s music “hipster metal”. I suspect something similar has happened to Ghost BC (I even wrote about the phenomenon here). This bothers me.

Don’t get me wrong — I understand that some people just plain don’t like either Sunbather or Infestissumam, or other metal albums that non-metalheads seem to like this year, and that’s fine. What bothers me is that some people seem to be judging albums (and labeling the music “hipster”) mainly because they’ve become very popular, to the point of becoming “crossover” hits. We all know that the more successful, the more popular, the less “underground” a metal album becomes, the more it’s going to be put down within the community of metal. It’s a kind of perverse streak that our community seems to have.

I happen to like both of those albums quite a bit. I also happen to like albums such as Inquisition’s and Ulcerate’s 2013 releases even more, just to pick two random examples of music that no one in their right mind would ever label “hipster”, despite the fact that places like NPR have praised them. Am I a “hipster” for liking Sunbather and Infestissumam? Do I feel guilty for proclaiming my admiration for both albums? Nope, I don’t.

So, what the hell does “hipster” mean? And are people who throw the word around misusing it? The Font of All Human Knowledge has an exhaustive article about what the word signifies. I waded through it, and I really didn’t see anything in there that made much sense as applied to the kind of metal albums that are getting stuck with the label this season. I had the same reaction to a longer-than-usual definition at the Urban Dictionary.

So what the hell does “hipster” mean in the context of its use by metalheads to put down a metal album? And if you think Sunbather and Infestissumam — or any other heralded 2013 metal album — is “hipster” metal, can you explain why?

Finally, would it be too much to ask that we stop using the label as a put-down until we can figure out what the fuck it means?

83 Responses to “HIPSTER?”

  1. mattias says:

    “Hipster” both seem to refer to a attitude and a group of people.

    I live in a university town, and thus with a huge percentage of people that just in terms of fashion resemble the mental idea that most have of how a “hipster” look. But it’s just how people look in that social class of people, in their generation. It doesn’t really signify any particular attitude towards music (or other forms of art). You probably know what I mean, there are people in those groups who have a certain taste because they want to fulfill some immature image of “how they should be”, and some who just love what they love.

    It’s really the same everywhere. Metal circles included.

  2. VyceVictus says:

    Not related to metal, but I found this article pretty insightful as it starts from a somewhat etymological discussion of the word’s history to its present various uses and applications:

    • Islander says:

      Now THAT is some good learning. Of course, I especially appreciated these early paragraphs:

      “A key myth repeated about the hipster, by both the innocent and the underhanded, is that it has no definition. In August, after noting that the New York Times had printed hipster as a noun or an adjective more than 250 times in the previous year, Philip Corbett, the paper’s grammarian, wrote an open letter to the newsroom warning against its use. He certainly could have objected that it made for lazy headline copy, or that a derogatory term was being misused as praise. Instead, he objected that it wasn’t clear enough what the word means.

      We do know what hipster means—or at least we should. The term has always possessed adequately lucid definitions; they just happen to be multiple. If we refuse to enunciate them, it may be because everyone affiliated with the term has a stake in keeping it murky. Hipster accusation has been, for a decade, the outflanking maneuver par excellence for competitors within a common field of cool. “Two Hipsters Angrily Call Each Other ‘Hipster,’ ” a headline in The Onion put it most succinctly.”

      And then this:

      “Fundamentally, however, the hipster continues to be defined by the same tension faced by those early colonizers of Wicker Park. The hipster is that person, overlapping with the intentional dropout or the unintentionally declassed individual—the neo-bohemian, the vegan or bicyclist or skatepunk, the would-be blue-collar or postracial twentysomething, the starving artist or graduate student—who in fact aligns himself both with rebel subculture and with the dominant class, and thus opens up a poisonous conduit between the two.”

    • Islander says:

      I need to add this from the article, too:

      “The rebel consumer is the person who, adopting the rhetoric but not the politics of the counterculture, convinces himself that buying the right mass products individualizes him as transgressive. Purchasing the products of authority is thus reimagined as a defiance of authority. Usually this requires a fantasized censor who doesn’t want you to have cologne, or booze, or cars. But the censor doesn’t exist, of course, and hipster culture is not a counterculture. On the contrary, the neighborhood organization of hipsters—their tight-knit colonies of similar-looking, slouching people—represents not hostility to authority (as among punks or hippies) but a superior community of status where the game of knowing-in-advance can be played with maximum refinement. The hipster is a savant at picking up the tiny changes of rapidly cycling consumer distinction.

      This in-group competition, more than anything else, is why the term hipster is primarily a pejorative—an insult that belongs to the family of poseur, faker, phony, scenester, and hanger-on. The challenge does not clarify whether the challenger rejects values in common with the hipster—of style, savoir vivre, cool, etc. It just asserts that its target adopts them with the wrong motives. He does not earn them.”

  3. […] of this effect that I saw on our own FB Page a few days ago. I posted an article here at NCS called “Hipster?”. As usual, I posted a link to the article on our FB page. For whatever reason, the post on our FB […]

  4. […] No Clean Singing entered the fray with their analysis of the hipster gradient to Deafhaven: What bothers me is that […]

  5. fenrir says:

    ” some people seem to be judging albums (and labeling the music “hipster”) mainly because they’ve become very popular”

    Some people seem to do that. But this gets confused with correct hipster-labeling, IMO.
    That’s the distinction you are making.
    Periphery is a hipster band. Not because they are popular, not because they combine outside genres into metal (heck, even extremely kvlt bands did this, the issue is actually HOW you are doing it), but because they only bite bits off this and that genre because they think they sound cool, stripping it off its original meaning/context. Now, there is music that is meant to be just that: catchy-happy-dancy music. Even that music tries to be consistent, because it is not pretending at being something else. But Periphery and other hipster bands play at being “serious” and being “Metal”, when they are just making head-banging, party pop rock with metal riffs and fusion solos. You may think this is only an attitude, but the thing is that the way you think and what you make off music itself gets instilled into the music you make yourself.

  6. Deafheaven is stupid says:

    The facts:

    Deafheaven = band that lives together in an efficiency (poverty) = honestly depressed hipsters playing “black metal” (actually screamo) for popularity = their lyrical content suggests mundane reasons for depression (“girl has a big house and I don’t, boohoo”), meaning they’re easily depressed.

    My hypothesis:

    poverty + waning popularity of “black” shoegaze = Deafheaven will lose fan base, get sad, and commit suicide. Party at my place (I’ll buy the booze and prostitutes).

  7. Gargamel says:

    Hipster = Form (usually poor) over substance
    Hipster = Total self-aggrandizement
    Hipster = “Look at meeeeeeeee!”
    Hipster = Appearing as, rather than actually being.
    Hipster = inverse of authentic
    Hipster = ULTIMATE POSER.

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