This guest post is by the elusive but brilliant Hardcore For Nerds. As well as his primary residence, he has a special year-end Tumblr, and a semi-defunct blogspot with some archives you can peruse. The post is an introduction to Hipster Runoff.
This thematic post about music in the year 2k9 naturally attracts me to Hipster Runoff, as the most zeitgeisty source of cultural commentary around today. This year’s music criticism on the site is perfectly bookended by two posts: ‘Animal Collective is a band created by/for/on the internet’ in January, and ‘The Beach House theory of 2k10’ in November. Shortly before the latter, list-making was addressed in ‘Which indie artists will be selected as ‘The Best ______ of the Year’?’, a sort of meta-hegemony of the critical choices available to indie fans. And shortly afterwards, HRO underwent a transitional period with the ‘disappearance’ of author Carles and the emergence of Mike’s ultra-pedestrian top 15 albums of the decade. So the theoretical and the teleological are both represented in one blog’s view of indie music this year, an ‘annum worth analysing’. First, however, we have to turn the analysis on HRO itself.
The indie fan is but one aspect of Hipster Runoff’s wider sociological universe, populated by ‘alts’ or ‘altbros’ (because for the most part this universe really is startlingly misogynistic, with only a peripheral role for ‘altbaguettes’) who view music in an extraordinarily influential, in marketing and ‘success’ terms, yet utterly shallow manner. Musical taste, and experience, is very important to constructing an ‘alt’ identity, but so is a myriad of other cultural signifiers. The change in their taste, that is to say in the criticism of music, is fickle and dominated by groupthink but at the same time not without its own set of rules and logic. Hipster Runoff, a ‘blog worth blogging about’, deconstructs that world of ‘indie’ music by isolating and working through the processes involved, while presenting this in the medium of a blog post. Every phrase (and frequently, components of phrases) with an actual or potential meaning to the topic involved is put in quotation marks, as if there is no part of the communication between blog author and reader – addressed at the end by a series of rhetorical questions – which is not connected to a highly contingent, circumscribed view of reality.
Hipster Runoff is satire of the highest order, because it is entirely wrapped up in the worldview which it is satirising, even to the extent that it shapes the ideas and structures which it in turn draws upon. Or, at least, so it appears to do for someone who enters from one side of the indie divide, experiences Carles’s deconstruction of the Animal Collective hype, and emerges on the other fully appreciating the deliciousness of the ‘alt’ meme that is AnCo without ever having liked the band. This is my own situation: as someone who mainly listens to what can be generally considered punk of the post-hardcore variety, but who eventually got into to indie rock so as to have somewhere to go of a Saturday night, gig-wise.
Which brings me to the central point I wish to make about Hipster Runoff on this blog (that could be characterised as being indie/’alt’ of a personal critical variety). HRO has been an education about indie in a way that Pitchfork – itself a protean version of Hipster Runoff in some critical aspects – couldn’t be. Even though ‘Animal Collective is a band created by/for/on the internet’ might be considered more serious in its content than some of Pitchfork’s most ironic reviews, a certain evidence of blurring of lines. Some bands I know more about through the jokes on HRO than their music; some bands, like AnCo, probably a fifty-fifty split; some bands/artists I genuinely like (e.g. Dan Deacon, Papercuts) get the odd mention from Carles or, in the case of the Dirty Projectors, the complete works (via deconstruction):
“I feel like the people who select the Dirt Projjies as #1 probably ‘believe in their decision’ the most. They think that there is a ‘right answer’ to “Who is the Best _____ of 2k9?” and they are the only bros to truly understand the criteria and have the critical thinking skills to come to this decision. But it seems like it is ‘easier to enjoy’ AnCo than it is to enjoy the Dirt Projjies, so you don’t want people 2 h8 ur alt website/magazine if they buy the album, and it is just these people ‘wailing’ over complex guitar stuff. It still seems plausible to describe/pan the DirProjjies as ‘a Jack Johnson-sounding bro with broads wailing in the background.”
(via Which indie artists will be selected as ‘The Best _____ of the Year’?)
The other key thing about Hipster Runoff is that it’s made up of layers of irony; perhaps like an onion that you have to peel back the outer skin, but there’s no guarantee of truth in the lower layers. Instead, I prefer an analogy of the sea (via chillwave), with deeper and deeper layers spread out over a profound abyss of cultural vacuity, from whence a too rapid ascent might cause the bends (via Radiohead), yet it also contains shallows against a rising shore of the reality that exists outside of, and surrounding, our ocean of pop culture. In fact, the first HRO article that I read wasn’t about music at all, but on ‘Generation Y and the Mainstream Workplace’, a subtitle for ‘My job/career does not align with my true personal brand’. HRO is about identity, and interrogating the expectations, (mis)understanding, and sense of entitlement that make up the idea of the modern ‘hipster’, but more generally the 21st century, privileged, educated, internet-enhanced youth. The post-materialist (to borrow a phrase from late 20th century political science) materialists. These contradictions are so profound that the satire is infuriating in its hipster-ness, but at the same time so pervasive that we can’t afford to ignore it.
On a certain level, Hipster Runoff can be explained as someone with an applied knowledge of some critical discipline (probably a marketing degree) turned loose on the profoundly uncritical aspects of blog culture, hyped-up music, etc. However, it’s not a commentary on but rather within that world, and for people like me at a halfway point where they can’t fully commit to the world of indie music but can’t, or won’t, exist outside it, HRO is perfect. We are all of us ‘alts’, because however much we can take the objective view from outside, we still to whatever degree enjoy the artistry and the memes inside. 2k9 marks a new high point in ironic appreciation, because there’s plenty to be genuinely appreciated in music (as ever) and, for all the bullshit surrounding it, myriad new ways of making fun of it (via internet).