The hipster invasion of heavy metal
In the 1980s, the term “poseur” or “poser” was used to near-death by people trying to describe those who were involved with the music simply to make themselves look cool.
In the 1990s, we had “scenesters” who were people who hung around a musical scene to use it as a justification for their lifestyle. If someone questioned their lack of success or purpose in life, they pointed to the “scene” that they were part of.
And now, as the hands of time have run down further, we have hipsters: people who use music as a form of lifestyle adornment to explain why their life is better than yours. Generally they do this from a position of outsiderness, and by proving to be more obscure in their tastes than you, make you look like a herd-sheep in contrast.
What all these definitions have in common is that they reflect people who are using music in a backward thought process. Most people listen to music because they like it, and use their social life as a means to that music. Insincere people use the music as a means to the end of having a social life, and eventually drag down the community by forcing it in irrelevant directions. Entropy, in other words, caused by social need.
Recently No Clean Singing entered the fray with their analysis of the hipster gradient to Deafhaven:
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 hope this author allows me to respectfully dissent here. The problem isn’t that these albums are popular; it’s that they’re not metal. Metal like most outsider genres has a strict sense of identity and purpose, and it fears adulteration for good reason. If metal starts admitting regular music into its inner sanctum, then metal will become assimilated by mainstream music.
We think of mainstream music as some bold direction but, if you look at history, it’s not. Pentatonic music appeared in Europe and Asia as a way to create popular music without having to wrangle with key or mode. The song form we now know as the pop song came from English drinking songs, the percussion from German waltzes, and the call-response format from gospel churches. This music isn’t a single direction; it’s what was compatible between many different directions, a lowest common denominator.
Metal broke away from this and went in its own direction. Part of being an outsider genre is to police your own borders. The only thing that gives you integrity is that spirit that allowed you to break away and have a different vision of reality. The problem is that you are constantly under assault. To the majority, you’re a threat because you’re doing things differently. And yet they wish they could be you, or at least be as seemingly cool as you are.
Hipsters are what happens when a social scene invades a musical movement. Instead of people working toward the music, people are using the music to justify their lifestyles, show off their outsider status (which is a raised status), or give themselves a unique purpose in life that others do not have. When people call Deafhaven a hipster band, they’re acknowledging the obvious: musically, Deafhaven has more in common with emo and indie rock than it ever will in metal, and we want the traitors out.