Monday, August 27, 2012

LA Weekly's Lists, "Hipster" as a Genre and Why Music Doesn't Need Negativity

For those of you unfamiliar with LA Weekly, it's kind of an alternative-internet-tabloid-blog concerned with LA. Simple enough, right? Well, what the website is more known for is their lists concerning The Top 20 Worst Bands of all Time, The Top 20 Whitest Musicians of all Time, or The Top 20 Musicians of all Time, in any Genre. And while these lists are obviously constructed with tongue in cheek - their grandiose best of all time, in any genre list has William Hung as its number one - the most recent list calls out a whole group of music admirers, "hipsters," polarizing the interwebz.

The Top 20 Worst Hipster Bands of all Time, a list detailing "hipsters" "lemming-like" ability to follow trends blindly, sees the ilk of bands like MGMT, Sleigh Bells, and TV on the Radio, all of which are primarily associated with the generalized branding of "hipster" -- I will continue to put that title in quotes because I still have no idea what it means or intends to mean -- all thrown under the flexfuel tourbus. It's not that I disagree that some bands can, or will be, labeled as "hipster" bands, but I can't help to think of how this affects music.

From 2004-2005, I experienced a shift in what I considered to be music. Good News for People Who Love Bad News, Franz Ferdinand, and Silent Alarm comprised what I consider to be the albums that took indie rock mainstream. These were the albums, accompanied by excellent singles, that opened everyone's eyes to a different brand of music not clouded by major label interference. "Indie" was the term coined, a term of endearment. Now, we have a "hipster" brand of music. "Hipster" is identified with trust fund babies, poor fashion taste, and fixed gear bicycles. It doesn't come off too nicely. Anything can now be dismissed as "hipster" and ignored. But what it so different about "Indie" and "Hipster?"

Here's where the surprising bands on the list come to play. Bright Eyes, The Black Keys, and Death Cab for Cutie are all bands who were well established before I ever heard the term "hipster" to identify a kind of music. Ben Westhoff, the list's editor, described the term as such:
On its surface hipsterdom seems to be an individuality-grab, but most of today's 20 and 30-something bands from Silver Lake and Williamsburg sound shockingly similar. They're all playing variations of retro garage and soul music -- or bringing glockenspiels and choirs on incestuous nationwide tours -- all the while clad in vintage garb likely infested with lice. We're not saying that they should be outlawed by, like, Congress or something. Just that they should be avoided. Here then, is our field guide to the worst offenders.
"Variations of retro garage and soul" seems like something a "hipster" would describe his band as, but how different and vague these references are makes it seem like a spontaneous, uninspired insult. I'm not saying the list isn't funny or entertaining, I just don't see the need for it.

Much like Spin's "Worst New Music" section, I can't seem to justify publishing such a negative attack on music. I might say something along the lines of "That band suck," but I would never go through the process of insulting someone's art, then broadcasting it. I understand the irony of publishing this piece - it's not lost on me - but it doesn't take an editor years of practice and performing to put out a shitty list. And to Spin, assign a letter grade or a badge of honor, don't admonish and brand.

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