I have been called by myself and others a ‘hipster’ a lot. Occasionally because I like 50s Jazz, but almost entirely because I like other music. Strange music. Intellectual music. Well, that’s rarely true. And rather than say these terms are subjective – an annoying demeaning of opinions by making them all equal, but rootless and undefined – I prefer to consider the classifications of what makes art ‘strange’, ‘intellectual’, or even ‘pretentious’ to be relative. Your quirky is someone else’ commonplace. This can even be the case to the same person at different times in their life. So it’s ‘just weird for the sake of shock-factor’ today, but in a decade or two, you might be used to it. You might be whatever it is’ biggest fan.
The problem with the hipster mentality that I and apparently thousands of others share is that we don’t mean it. And we pretend to like things to seem cool… Or something. Tell me, have you ever had to say ‘You should really listen to this band, they’re a husband-and-wife songwriter pair with three other great musicians based out of Montreal, and most of their songs have a prog. feel but with a definite kind of cowboy tone to some of their guitar licks’? No? Believe me, it doesn’t feel cool.
So maybe we want to be the only ones we know to like the album, the band, the scene. Well, it is nice, feeling like part of an exclusive club. And that may indeed be the case for some introverted hipsters, I don’t presume to speak on behalf of… well anyone but me really. But if it were entirely true, we’d never even talk about with the uninitiated, right? And we don’t keep quiet, do we? We keep rubbing everyone’s faces in how underground our taste is… apparently.
Okay, so here’s the hardest part for me to say in this trying-to-get-empathy article. My music taste is better than yours. That’s what you wanted to hear, isn’t it? (God, I’ve got to stop asking rhetorical questions, I sound really defensive.) Well my taste is, just statistically speaking, better than liking things in the Top 40. Because… well yeah, the usual about how plastic, hollow, and greedy the mainstream music industry is, but also because it has to be. You know the phrase ‘lowest common denominator’? We all hate Michael Bay films but they keep making huge amounts of money. If you create ‘art’ that is bland and inoffensive enough for lots of people to latch onto in just liking it, then that’s enough. It’s easier to manufacture, and if you play it enough (back to specifically music here), people will start to love it. Because music is weird like that. Or our brains are.
But there’s a weird flip-side to all this. Because the music I listen to varies so much, and isn’t directed by as clear and defined trends, when I listen to any ‘normal’ music (again, massively relative. Your Kerrang is my Radio 1,) it all sounds really flat and similar. For a while, I thought there was only one real type of female singer in the charts, and no one else sounded any different. I literally couldn’t tell them apart, and I’m good with accents. Every time I played my more mainstream-loving friends the singers I felt were doing cool and interesting things, I was lambasted with ‘horrible voice’, ‘why can’t s/he sing properly’ et cet. And I know they weren’t singing out of tune. But for them, Pop was a diverse enough world of unending fractal nuance. And my larger fish to fry was so wildly different, that my opinion felt ham-fisted in comparison.
What more can I say? I don’t know many people who like being called a ‘hipster’, and I don’t really either. Being told that I’d hate it if my favourite bands got signed to major labels and started being played on Radios 1 and 2 instead of 6, that sucks. It’s just not true. So right now, this is an official petition for any big-time DJ, or anyone high up in the music business – please check out the following artists: Streetlight Manifesto, the Besnard Lakes, Dirty Projectors, Menomena, Russian Circles, Deafheaven…
(Featured image credit: Music vector designed by Zirconicusso – Freepik.com. Used under the Creative Commons Licence.