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?
Okay, now I understand.
Glad you’re seeing things clearly now douche.
I just needed someone to use the magic words “fuckin” and “douche”. Those words I can understand.
You forgot the apostrophe in Fuckin’. Loses some of the magic. C’mon now.
You’re right, of course. It’s the apostrophe that really opened my eyes. Though sometimes I hate it when I get an apostrophe in my eye.
I think if anything, these two albums are definitely NOT hipster. The whole meaning of being a hipster is to like underground stuff, that most people doesn’t even know to exist. A hipster choice in a year-end list would be Eibon’s II album (which I think is either highly underrated, or nobody listens them, either way I’m disappointed they weren’t mentioned in any list I saw).
Eibon did show up in a couple of our readers’ lists, but so far not in anything we’ve posted so far.
Then I shall read comments more often.
In this instance, it’s a time-consuming commitment — hundreds of albums are listed: 🙂
“The whole meaning of being a hipster is to like underground stuff, that most people doesn’t even know to exist.”
If that’s the case, then I’m a super duper mega ultra hipster. Then again, I don’t care. The only thing I care about is telling people to check out bands they’ve never heard of and to save great bands from the curse of obscurity.
Whenever I see it used disparagingly in the world of metal, I kind of assume it’s what you described as “metal that people who aren’t metal heads like”. Often times it may even be more superficial than that when metalheads complain about the look/dress attire of a band when it doesn’t “fit in” with the image of metal.
Though more true to the actual definition of hipsterdom (as mentioned in another comment here) are those that thrive in the obscure and unknown, and ONLY like those bands. AKA, our “trve kvlt” friends out there are the real hipsters.
All I care about at the end of the day is if I like it or not.
While I agree that “hipster” can pertain to someone who worships bands/music not yet discovered, it’s seemed to have taken a weird turn where it also applies to the opposite. Once popular sources (ex. Rolling Stone, NPR, Pitchfork) smack their acceptance label on an album, it opens the floodgates for others to claim stake to it. It’s more or less a mentality of “Oh hey, Pitchfork really digs Sunbather. Pitchfork knows their stuff so therefore I will force myself to like Sunbather.”
On a side note, Rolling Stone named Sunbather their metal album of the year despite only giving it a 3/5 in their initial review of it. I find that a little strange. That may come down to Rolling Stone sensing the kind of buzz that an album like Sunbather could create, but I digress.
There are two other possibilities.
1. Usually a review is written by a single author, who assigns a rating. The magazine’s official year-end list, however, is probably put together by a more collaborative process. The guy who wrote the review might be in the minority on the editorial staff.
2. Maybe the writer came around to it. OK, it was probably the first possibility.
I don’t know about hipsters, but I don’t like Deafheaven because, quite frankly, they bore the shit out of me. I saw somewhere that they sound like 30 Seconds To Mars sped up, and to be honest, that’s really not all that inaccurate.
Haha, you mean Jared Leto on speed doesn’t appeal to you?!
No, not at all. Like I said… they bore the shit out of me. That goes for both Deafheaven and 30 Seconds To Mars, to be fair.
I tend to become far more interested in anything but the music I’m listeining when I listen to that album. It really is just kinda boring and meh.
It’s not really hipsterism, it’s just that every year there is always one metal album (usually prog or “different” black metal) that the non-metal publications pick to be their token metal album for their year-end lists to show off how diverse their music taste is. This year it’s Deafheaven, last year I think it was Blut Aus Nord. It’s not really the band’s fault, cause when I read all these entries on Sunbather it becomes very obvious that these people don’t listen to or really know anything about metal, cause they’re acting like Sunbather is something completely new when Alcest pretty much beat them to it by like 8 years.
I think last year was Pallbearer’s Sorrow and Extinction, that record was huge in metal and non metal circles!
In Sorrow and Excinction’s defense, that record was/is AWESOME. The token doom metal surprise album of the year last year (this year being Windhand’s stupendous Soma).
Agree — that Pallbearer album blew me away. And I was really surprised at the broad range of places where it ranked high on year-end lists. But I don’t recall anyone claiming that was a hipster album.
I have to agree with you there, I don’t think anyone said “Sorrow and Extinction is a hipster album” but I’m fairly certain it topped Pitchfork’s top heavy metal albums, which a lot of people in the online metal community think is horrible drivel! I’m fairly certain it topped other similar non metal possibly visited by hipster publications.
Im not saying my definition is the correct one, but if you ever see me throw that term out its generally in regards to people or music that comes across in an extremely pretentious manner to my way of thinking. To me Hipsters have always had a sense of self-importance..wanting to look smarter or deeper than other people and thats generally reflected in the styles of metal they tend to glom onto.
They dont like black metal..they like ambient black metal, atmospheric black metal, black metal that mixes elements of shoegaze and post metal. So yeah..something like Deafheaven does scream hipster to me. Ghost on the other hand does not…unless people think bands like Budgie, Blue Cheer, Coven or Blue Oyster Cult are hipster bands as well. To me, Ghost are just old school occult rock with a gimmick.
..and for the record, that dosnt mean everyone who listens to something like Deafheaven is a hipster, it just means hipsters tend to be attracted to this style of music.
…or maybe people just like those variations of black metal over your run-of-the-mill black metal? I still think its kinda shitty to generalize and assume we have delusions of self-importance like that simply because of a difference in musical taste.
…I addressed your point at the very bottom of my post. I dont think everyone who listens to those styles of metal is a hipster, I enjoy ambient and atmospheric black metal myself. I just think hipsters tend to be attracted to those styles more often than not
I guess my question would be: who cares who is attracted to what music? Can’t we just listen to and share what we love and stop pretending the “hipster boogie man” is out to destroy us?
I generally dont care who listens to what and I dont remember ever saying otherwise…I was just pointing to a link between most hipster attitudes, the music they tend to like, and why I use the term the way I do.
As for who cares, I guess that depends on the person. As I said, I couldnt care less as they have no impact on my life. I do think, generally speaking, hipsters are usually seen as outsiders who really have no affinity for the music and it bothers some people that they seem to be co-opting our sub-culture in an effort to appear trendy…I dont think that means theyre seen as being out to get us, but more like unwanted guests who wont go away
I think your definition of the tag “hipster” being more about a perception of pretentiousness is getting much closer to the reason why Deafheaven gets slapped with that tag. Interesting
Where I live, people who are labeled as hipsters are exactly the ones you describe. Art schools are usually the places where you will find them – they are moody, self-absorbed, always going out of their way to put down anything “traditional” and praise really obscure stuff. Usually, the stuff they recommend – books, movies, music, paintings – seem pretentious, without any other real quality except being different for the sake of being different. It’s their idea of what should be praised that labels them as hipsters – because everything they like must be sophisticated and different.
I hope this post makes sense, because English is not my primary language.
Before Colored Sands was released this year, it was receiving advance positive press from some of the bigger news outlets and I saw some commenters online wondering if it would become “hipster metal”, and they made it seem like that was a derogatory thing to happen to it. It’s interesting because musically it seems so far removed from most of what gets classed in with “hipster metal”.
Definitely. I think in the case of Carcass, some people, rather than being critical of the album, are being cynical about its appearance on some general entertainment sites, like it’s those sites’ way of showing the breadth of their tastes (see Tr00 Nate’s comment above).
NPR likes Carcass! Burn my Carcass tee shirts and my signed vinyl copy of Reek of Putrefaction!
Am I the only one who was disappointed with Sunbather? Roads to Judah was much better. What I didn’t like about Sunbather were the instrumental post-whateverthefuck spoken word tracks that seemed ripped off a Godspeed! album.
Maybe my expectations were high…
To comment on the article: I always thought hipsters were pretentious fucks who looked down their nose at anyone who has not heard of a particular band. I don’t know if the meaning has warped to something different, but I would rather point someone in the direction of deafheaven’s earlier releases than Sunbather.
It’s funny because Roads to Judah has been left out of the Deafheaven conversation by pretty much everyone all year.
AND their Mogwai cover: Holy Fuck Wrapped in Gold.
I loved that split, I loved the Bosse-de-Nage half of it as well. Now there’s another band worth mentioning…
Dsmn, I totally forgot about that cover — which is weird because I thought Punk Rock/Cody was excellent.
I loved Roads to Judah — more so than Sunbather. I will also say that one of the reasons I’m a fan comes from seeing the band perform several times. It’s an intense experience, and actually deepened my appreciation for Sunbather after I heard some of those tracks performed live. Like a lot of live performances, it was so much more viscerally powerful when being blasted at ear-bursting volume levels. 🙂
I fear they will never travel to the cold climes of Canada….
What disappointed me about the spoken word stuff is they got Neige to do it. To get a guy with such vocal talent like that in the studio, and then just have him do spoken word, seems like a complete waste of talent. Maybe they thought having him just talk would be….ironic?
December 17, 2013 at 2:04 pm
While I agree that “hipster” can pertain to someone who worships bands/music not yet discovered, it’s seemed to have taken a weird turn where it also applies to the opposite.
This is how I choose to use it myself. If anything is popular or seems to be the “it” thing at the moment or what the mindless masses think is “hip”, I will jokingly throw out the hipster tag.
Whether that is technically wrong, I’m not too concerned with, cause I like it that way. I rarely if ever run into actual “hipsters”, so I need to be able to use the term somehow. And part of the fun/joke is using the term in a slightly WRONG manner 🙂
And even though I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest, I imagine it’s riddled with cafe latte drinking Seattle Seahawk hipsters. LOL
It’s true that Seattle is riddled with hipsters — but hipsters are not allowed to be Seahawks fans. That’s an offense punishable by imprisonment. Also, fuck you.
Speaking as a person who has been jabbed at with this word, I’m past the point of even hating it. As far as I can see, Hipster seems to be a jab at an embrace of new-media music journalist tastemakers (in which case, I’d say everyone who downloads an album recommended on NCS is a ‘hipster’). At the very least, it seems to have some distaste of eclecticism, as if liking anything other than a single style of art is some kind of treason. I’m sorry, I see no issue in rocking Devo and Devourment back to back.
I too have moved past “hating” the word, but I’m endlessly curious about why others choose to use it, particularly disparagingly. Or why they care so much about certain albums getting praise (or scorn) from random people on the internet, as if that somehow is affecting the enjoyment of their own favorite music.
I think what is most often really meant by it is a combination of “outsider” and “dilettante.” Underground metalheads are very insular as a community, and they bristle at the encroachment of dabblers and hobbyists into the stronghold.
It’s especially galling (even to me personally, though I don’t use the term hipster usually) when a particular album is latched onto by tastemakers like Pitchfork and the AV Club (and even Rolling Stone’s website, now) as not just exemplary music, but also exemplary METAL – and worse, the future of metal. I think that’s the thing that bothers many, and certainly the thing that bothers me. I don’t care if any individual enjoys listening to Deafheaven – I could take or leave the band, but even if I hated them, more power to you. I just don’t need someone who only listens to metal occasionally, and hasn’t heard most of the foundational bands and records, telling me that the future of my favorite genre is something not great and/or not all that forward-thinking and/or basically just a regular record with more indie-friendly aesthetics grafted on.
For a lot of people, it probably is just caveman xenophobia of a sort, but for some, there’s a very real (and I think justified) irritation underlying it.
Yeah, but why? This still doesn’t answer my question at all. Why should anyone care what some guy at Pitchfork, NPR, or the AV Club says about an album, no matter how flippant or ignorant? How does that at all affect or change anybody’s enjoyment of metal? And weren’t we all “dabblers” at first? Why would anybody be hostile to people showing interest in the genre we love, even if it’s on the “softer” fringes, ignorant of what lies below? We all had our gateway band(s) at one point or another, many of which would probably be considered tame compared to those of us entrenched in extreme metal.
It’s just fucking stupid is what it is. This genre is now more “ours” than it is to some average Joe listening to it for the first time. There’s no justification for it unless the writer is telling outright, factual lies. You can’t be “wrong” when it comes to subjective taste.
OK, let me try to dive a little deeper. You keep asking how it affects our “enjoyment of metal” or how it impacts our ability to go on liking what we like, I suppose. The answer is that it doesn’t (or shouldn’t). But that’s not all I am concerned with. I do actually take an interest in, and give a damn about, the critical appraisal of the genre. Again, not on an individual listener basis, but the voices – particularly the collective and accumulated voice – of sympatico critics, online and off. And since critics are largely incapable of just writing about a record in terms of “This is why I like or don’t like this,” and instead try to position everything within a narrative of the evolution of the genre and even music as a whole, it’s grating to me intellectually to read things that are way off the mark. Or worse, when they become ON the mark simply by virtue of being stated and re-stated, and then followed as a sort of directive by a generation of upcoming musicians. Tastemakers make tastes and they make bands; they help shape the direction a genre takes. So why do I want a genre I love shaped by people who don’t really love it or listen to it? That’s the sum of it.
Lest you think I’m exaggerating, here’s Pitchfork on “Sunbather”: “Like Weakling, Deafheaven have changed things with this record– black metal won’t be the same now that it’s been released.” The AV Club actually got it right in their (glowing) review by pointing out the band was much more derived from hardcore than black metal, but then in their best of 2013 list: “[B]lack metal was never pure—and that impurity has resulted in some of the genre’s greatest records. Deafheaven’s Sunbather is one of them.” These are sentiments that I disagree with, yes. But more importantly, they make me wince to think that A) people will read them, take them to heart, and incorporate them into their understanding of black metal, whether playing or listening to it; and B) “Sunbather” will become a “landmark album,” having been hailed as such; will have popularity it otherwise could not have expected; and particularly since it was marked on these sites and others as a Black Metal Record, it will become an influence on young “black metal musicians” (mostly ones in the US) who don’t know any better (yet).
I don’t have a problem with dabblers on an individual basis. Like I said, that’s caveman xenophobia and I don’t participate in it. We all have to start somewhere and I’d never turn anyone away from metal just because I disagree with their developing taste. I wouldn’t even turn away someone who – being older and listening mostly to other music – seems likely to STAY a dabbler; I’d just recommend them some good records and let them do with it what they will, and maybe nudgingly correct a few of their misperceptions or holes in their knowledge. All of that is fine with me. Unlike many, I don’t see the encroachment, in and of itself, as a problem. Really, that encroachment is just a symptom of an actual issue – critics taking an interest in metal without understanding it. I feel much the same when indie critics start talking about their favorite rap albums of the year, because most of them quickly display the truth that they don’t engage with that music more than a few times a year (maybe when another critic in their circle recommends something). In both cases it’s critical tokenism – “Look how broad my tastes are!” – and I could entirely live without it, especially if they’re going to keep claiming superlative and influential status for records that are, or should be, neither.
Sorry for length, I just didn’t want my explanation to come off as “fucking stupid.”
Oh – lest that final jab come off as close-minded, my own tastes in music are quite broad. The difference is that I don’t write criticism, and I try to engage as fully as possible with most of the genres I listen to. There are some exceptions. But I make a little time every week (in some cases every day) to dive into a handful of specific genres that I really care about. With a few others, I did something like a 5-year tour of listening to them predominantly and buying hundreds of albums to understand them as much as possible. So if I ever wrote a year-end best-of list for my non-existent site, it would likely include plenty of non-metal. But I wouldn’t throw in one bluegrass/shoegaze album and claim it was one of the greatest ever and the future of bluegrass, because I know fuck-all about bluegrass (except that Flatt & Scruggs put together a pretty listenable best-of CD).
FURTHER CAVEATS AND FOOTNOTES
– The AV Club at least employs Jason Heller, a critic who clearly has listened to a lot of metal. His tastes differ from mine frequently, but I can’t fault him for a thin understanding of the genre. Unfortunately, the regular feature he wrote (LOUD) was pulled due to low popularity/page clicks/comments, and he doesn’t review all the metal albums either – though most of them he does. With a staff of their size, however, it’s a dead certainty that his vote alone didn’t put “Sunbather” where it was on their year-end list. He also didn’t write the original review of it.
– Another factor in why I don’t want these critics and these albums shaping the future of metal is the degree to which they reject what metal is. Sure, make your “metal” album with a pink cover, a plain font instead of a snarling and illegible logo, and call it “Sunbather” instead of “The Morbid Walk Under a Frigid Moon.” Reject the riff (the foundational element of metal as far as I’m concerned) and play shoegaze/screamo style. As an artist you are obliged to do whatever you like. I just don’t want this to become all of metaldom, or at least the popular part of the iceberg that sticks up above the water. I LIKE silly, demonic, painted cover art; I like illegible logos; and above all, I like riffs.
to say that i’m tired of metalheads criticizing anyone else’s listening tastes, let alone other metalhead’s listening tastes, would be a massive understatement.
if i was inclined to do so i could viciously rip into every single metalhead on the planet, regardless of which genre/subgenre they prefer. it doesn’t matter how great or how “true” you think the particular brand of metal you like is, it would be insanely easy to ridicule you for liking it.
but yet we all seem to think our own musical tastes should be on a pedestal above all others.
my son and i have attended countless concerts together, from Shinedown and Five Finger Death Punch to Slayer and Lamb Of God to Kvelertak and Six Feet Under to Decrepit Birth and The Acacia Strain. sometimes he’s more excited to be there than i am, sometimes i’m more excited to be there than he is. but neither of us puts up a fuss about sitting through a band we’re not crazy about, because it’s just music. and there’s infinitely more important things to get worked up about.
personally i don’t care for Sunbather or Infestissumam, at all. but why should it matter to me if anyone else does? or even if everyone else does? in my 43 years i have yet to see any evidence whatsoever that the existence of music i don’t like prohibits me in any way from enjoying the music that i do like. to the contrary, there’s actually not enough time in my day to listen to all the music i like. so why waste a single minute of it complaining about what other people are listening too?
To apply some psychology to this (I was in the middle of reading my psych homework when I saw this), a lot of it seems like a case of the defense mechanism projection. When I see what most definitions of “hipster” have been, both in this post and elsewhere, they many times give me an image not of the classic hipster but of the “trve kvlt” fan. Yet in many cases, it is these “trve kvlt” fans who wantonly toss around “hipster” allegations. It seems to me that they are projecting their hipster qualities, which they find distressing, onto innocent passers-by who are interested in checking out some metal that happens to be able to cross-over to a wider audience.
I would consider “Hipster Metal” to be music from bands containing dudes who look like hipsters. I remember seeing a picture of Becoming The Archetype where they all looked like total Hipster Douchebags. It made it impossible for me to listen to their music.
So how does it feeling being as shallow as your average pop culture fanatic?
“How does it feeling” being illiterate?
I humbly offer this analogy (although it’s probably only valid in the U.S.–I’ll try to think of a more global one):
“hipster” : music discussions :: “libtard” : political discussions
Although I agree that “hipster” is often used to put groups down, I’ve found that, in the Pacific Northwest anyway, plenty of metalheads also use it unashamedly for both themselves and the bands they associate with the “scene,” simply as a sort of classification. I’m honestly not quite sure what exactly it means either, but I know several people who consider themselves to be into “hipster black metal,” and they never seem to use it as a put-down.
That’s a new one to me. I suspect we travel in different circles, because the people I associate with would never use the word “hipster” to describe themselves or the kind of metal they like — even if someone else might call it hipster metal It’s just a bad, bad word.
I feel like the defining trait of “hipster” is liking things *because* they are “obscure”. Note my choice of words…I didn’t say “liking things *that* are obscure”. Hipsters want to be “different”, “intellectual”, etc. so they try to latch onto things that the mainstream has not, but not exclusively because they actually like those things. I love all kinds of non-mainstream music, but that doesn’t make me a hipster because I like it for reasons other than it’s state of “obscurity”.
This hits the nail on the head. But it might pertain more to people who *call* themselves hipster, whom in (seemingly) overwhelming majority are trying to distinguish themselves from the crowd. In doing so, they end up in the trap of the “mainstream subculture”, where they effectively follow what is “mainstream for hipsters”.
It is very tempting to flame these people for their claims of intellectualism and independence, but it’s too easy. The truly intellectual and independent won’t need to label themselves as such anyway — because they have grown beyond caring about shallow critiques and have strong internal motivation.
So what does “hipster metal” mean? I’d personally never use this term, but it seems to apply to music that has been mass adopted by the “mainstream hipsters”, so that stating that one likes it might provoke others to label one among this group. What this labelling means to one will then affect whether one likes it, likes it but says to dislike, or dislikes it, or finally, dislikes it but says to like, will vary from person to person.
Oddly enough, I was thinking about this this morning before I was fully awake.
What I have concluded is that “hipster” is essentially a reactionary, conservative response to modernity and a corresponding set of poses and attitudes.
For example, an airplane hipster would be nerding out over biplanes. He’d do so as a reaction against the modernity and his perceived awfulness of current air technology and travel. He flees headlong into an imagined, smaller, simpler and most essentially, self-curated, past. He’d wax eloquently about the engineering beauty of airplanes, he’d buy or recreate (probably by hand) the proper biplaning costume. He’d collect elements of biplane culture. Art, posters, postcards, novels. He’d be able to tutor you on the intricacy of the wood frame, of how the canvas would be woven and hand placed about such a frame, he’d be able to go into detail about propellor designs and the engines and how they were mounted onto the wooden plane frames.
He’d have the pose that “true” airplane flying – that with beauty and artistic merit – was done in biplanes.
The fact that he/she is separated from the real experience and context of biplane flying is lost on them. The stuff that made biplanes utterly inefficient and dangerous and the drive of the earlier age to get past biplanes wouldn’t even show up on their radar. Because they are romanticizing – fetishizing – a small part of the past they seek to control and use as an identity.
What he wouldn’t be about is understanding what flying is for, why it progresses, and why it’s important that it does in fact progress.
Now this is how I think about it in metal as well.
I get tired of the year end “hipster” metal lists that seem to suddenly rate these obscure, unknown one man bedroom trve black metal bands as ..well…metal. It utterly misses the point of metal as community, as culture, as tribe, as an art form that is in essence progressive – metal is nothing if it isn’t about “more”. More speed. More loud. More intricate. More brutal. Metal is progressive in nature, fundamentally.
Sure, it has it’s forms. Metal IS what it is. And as fans and musicians of the genre we know them like we know our blood. But we’re not afraid to progress metal from generation to generation. In fact we are compelled to by our very love of it.
Hipster metal seems, like my biplane analogy above, to focus on some obscure bit(s) of metals past or a particular aesthetic, seeks to draw a circle around it and says “Here is the Real Thing.” for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the context, history, currents and essence of metal as a music genre. It’s a reactionary response to a dynamic, progressive art.
It has no place in metal.
That said, of course their are revivals of form, sound, style, etc. in metal. And their are embracing new sounds, new experiments. These aren’t “hipster” per se, but can be branded as such.
I don’t see Ghost or Deafheaven as hipster responses to metal, although I can see why they could be.
Brian, I was thinking the exact same thing. Thank you for this post! I’ll go back to the whiskey now.
Really enjoyed reading this. It’s not what I assumed “hipster metal” referred to, but I do see your point.
In any review or article I’ve read about Ihsahn’s last two albums, Eremita and Das Seelenbrechen, I think I’ve seen the hipster label at some point in their respective comment sections. It’s sad to see that people are so hostile towards the evolution of music. What would we listen to today if everything stayed the same? No artform deserves to stagnate.
I’ll agree with this, with there being some noted exceptions in metal (Motorhead being the most-cited). Stagnation is never a good thing, especially in metal. As a band, you must always strive to evolve and focus your sound down into a science.
Yes, but the problem is when the essence of the music is lost and the evolution is more of a ironic joke.
I think this is what most people don’t get: not all change is good (but since this is art, whether something is good or bad depends on what standard you subscribe to, and if you do not subscribe to any standard, I’d call you an anarchist, haha).
In fact, taking into account the huge number of possibilities that change can manifest in and the
reasonable assumption that a minority of permutations actually lead to something that makes sense, and
an even smaller number of those result in an actual “evolution” and not a “devolution” (so to speak).
For example, the so-called Melodic Death Metal, in most of its manifestations is anything BUT evolution.
Take CoB’s Follow the Reaper (an album that I actually dig), for instance. It’s power metal and some
80s Heavy/Speed Metal with Death Metal (henceforth DM) – like vocals. Musically, there is no progress,
but a direct return to (ancient) origins and making the vocals a little different (if you want to call THIS
evolution… I would guess you are being short-sighted, but that is only my opinion).
One of the biggest problems is people only appreciating music superficially (now we are coming to the hipster part). As some people mentioned here before, the hipster wants to take the appearance of counter-culture without actually being part of the counter-culture. When people start taking Black Metal or Death Metal as joke, and just using its aesthetics to encapsulate nothing but its own surface you get completely void music that exists for no other people than to sustain that image. It’s music about nothing, really. This is what I interpret as hipsterism in metal. Then we come to the matter of fact that how you take and interpret music deeply affects HOW you make music too. Good music is much more than just knowing how to put chords together and weaving scales into pretty-sounding patterns.
My understanding of “Hipster” as a derogatory term is more about a lack of sincerity. True passion is the antithesis of ironic hipster detachment. I don’t believe that Deafheaven is a “hipster metal” band because I’m from the Bay Area and have seen them working their way up in opening gigs and house shows with “kvlt” bands for years, and they’ve more or less been doing the same shimmering black-gaze thing the entire time. I think if they were a band that heard “Souvenirs Autre Monde” and cynically and calculatingly decided to create a project to capitalize on that sound without a previous love for or understanding of the black metal foundation that Neige took apart piece-by-piece with the trajectory of Alcest, they could be written of as “Hipster metal.” That said I greatly prefer Road to Judah, but I’ve spent more time with it so maybe Sunbather will grow on me.
I was thinking a lot about the tr00 kvlt phenomenon watching Kvelertak a couple weeks ago. Those guys clearly love metal, and just as clearly don’t give a fuck about being true metal – their kitchen-sink approach to genre mash-up comes across live as completely sincere, and I can easily imagine a so-called hipster who doesn’t understand the community and tribal aspects of metal brilliantly articulated by Unspeakable Axe being the one person at that show incapable of joining the party.
And as pointed out earlier, “Sorrow and Extinction” is a terrific example of an album so stellar that it genuinely achieved crossover love by virtue of its brilliance, and is so grim and crushing at times that despite its rankings on NPR and Pitchfork, I can’t imagine how 3 chubby bearded guys from Arkansas (or is it Alabama?) can be dismissed as hipster.
Nicely done, thank you. I’m certainly familiar with the phenomenon of “ironic hipster detachment”, in people if not in music. Pushes me to the edge of murderous rage. I wasn’t sure how that would translate into the topic of the post, but I think the distinction you make between true passion and cynical calculation is a good one. I’ve also never considered Deafheaven to be guilty of that. I’ve been listening to them since Libertine Dissolves and the circulation of their live bootlegs by Cavis, and I agree that they have basically been on this road since the beginning, back when they were playing in closet-sized spaces to crowds of 10-20 people.
What if the band in person is ironically ironic, but actually takes the music kinda seriously? 😛
I’d like to echo JJ’s sentiment about hipsters and cynicism. The only person I’ve ever met that I considered a hipster was this girl at a party who was wearing a Meshuggah shirt. This was around the Obzen era. I asked her about the band, her favorite album, etc (let’s be honest, I was hitting on her) and eventually she just came out and said, “I didn’t even know this was a band. I just like the shirt. Do you want it? I hate heavy metal.”
Another thing I associate with hipsterism is cultural tourism and cultural theft. Liturgy, Hunter Hunt-Hunterson, and his thesis are a perfect example. He couldn’t accept black metal for what it was – angsty, likely mentally ill white boys from Scandinavia who were hateful, racist, homophobic, and misanthropic, making music that happened to be interesting and at times very pretty, but also very ugly. But, he liked the trem riffing and the fast drumming and the shrieking was cathartic and dramatic. So…he tried to rewrite the rules. Suddenly, it’s affirmative, not destructive. The “burst beat” is no longer a musical technique, it’s some grandiloquent symbol of how this new American black metal is different! And so on. He stole the parts he liked, trashed the rest, tried to justify it with pseudo-intellectual jargon, and missed the entire point.
All that said, the hipster backlash is McCarthyite in its reach, perceived threat, and actual threat ( almost none). People trying on bits of culture or stealing it is largely harmless and mostly annoying. This has happened before, and will happen again, and heavy metal will be ok.
Your last paragraph. All the way, man.
If HHH had not been a complete narcissistic jackass and kept to himself, I sometimes wonder if Liturgy would be more widely accepted, maybe even considered great? Say what you will about the man and all the BS he concocted out of thin air, I still think Renihilation and Aesthetica are pretty landmark metal albums in terms of creativity. I personally don’t see anything wrong with deconstructing what was done in the past and re-hashing it into something new/different. I don’t see why tradition should be held sacred (in terms of music/genre). Go out there and make what you will, I say.
Deconstruction is fine as long as it achieves progress. But most bands that just copy the
superficial aspects of a genre and do “what they will” end up producing “cool-sounding”
sections (which most pseudo-thinking people like for its apparent creativity) in an
incoherent mesh. Music tells a story, when you start jumping around “cool” riffs without
thinking about what you are saying, it is all rubbish. Music is not just pretty sounds, although
some people think that’s all it is. A modest and coherent sentence which achieves
communication of a precise thought is better than a string of epic-sounding words which
barely make sense together except for the fact that we consider them epic.
“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.
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:
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.”
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.”
” 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.
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.
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).
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.