All Hipsters are not created equal

I’ve been thinking about one of my past posts a lot lately. The one attempting to castigate “hipsters” for their limited range of musical interest, especially when it comes to international music. There is a lot of dissing of “hipsters” these days, usually by other hipsters. If I’m going to be criticizing hipsters (no doubt seeming to most as one myself) I don’t want to give in to easy stereotypes and inaccurate generalizations. I tried to define the range of hipster interest in international music. Well, hipsters are not a monolithic group. There are certainly various tribes or sub-groupings. To some, the hipsters (characterized by the Fader writers for instance) are interested in just the sort of music I champion (Balkan beats, Baile Funk, Reggaeton, Bhangra). It must look amusing for someone with this take on hipsters to see me claiming that hipsters aren’t in to the type of music with which I am most associated.

I don’t see a lot of evidence of this sort of hipster in Portland. In fact, our crowd bears little resemblence to the large gatherings of hipsters I see at various musical events in Portland. I think that Portland hipsters are much less interested in contemporary international music than writers based in New York. Portland is the whitest city of its size in the United States. This isolation from any kind of racial, ethnic, or cultural diversity plays an insidious role in some people’s music listening. Believe me, I know ultimate hipsters who are way in to a variety of musics from different ages and spaces. However, if you look at the majority purchasing habits of the white Portland hipster tribe you are looking at a mostly white, white indie landscape. Retro in all things. Even what little passes for international music. If it isn’t explicitly retro than it has a strong hipster pedigree or hipster label presence.

Dengue Fever, good stuff, but so imitative of a golden past. M.I.A., hot, but acceptance by a hipster audience was preceded by her involvement with Peaches, Pulp and Elastica veterans, and Diplo. Hipster record stores will often have an African music section which basically consist of a million Fela Kuti albums. Fela’s great but he gained a great deal of musical inspiration from funk while living in the US and his music is certainly not the African music played and danced to by the vast majority of the world’s African diaspora. Antibalas? Possibly the only band from the US playing African music getting any attention and they imitate Fela’s style. You won’t find any of the rest of the world of African music in Portland record stores outside of places like Timbuktunes and Music Millennium. Konono No 1 and other Congotronics bands? Marketed like Sonic Youth and pitched to white boy record store geeks. (Konono No 1 shared a 12″ with Dead C, for fuck’s sake!)

Often times what little contemporary international music released in the US and marketed to a hipster audience will be a once-removed imitation of a cutting-edge style. Edu K? Feigned Baile Funk from a Punk band veteran available and marketed only OUTSIDE of Brazil. Bondo do Role? Another faux-Baile Funk band that imitates the favela music with art school credentials.

What about contemporary international music available in the US that is not aimed at young white hipsters? There are the stodgily prosaic ethnographic and classical recordings. A purists nose-turning which says that a dialogue between nations, especially technologically-debased Western ones, infects the pure traditions. “Pure” traditions that surely involve much historic mixing and blending over hundreds or thousands of years. Naive music ruined by technological elements? What, we will control access to beats and basslines the way we are gatekeepers of nuclear weapons technology? Stay pure, avoid the tempation of the 808 and Fruity Loops? Aid to your country will be limited by your efforts at keeping your musicians from working with synthesizers and drum machines. Equation of primitiveness with purity. Acceptance and use of technology = Western and debased.

Then there is the infinite world of “chill” comps and “lounge” CDs. Anjali and I are so sick of “Asian Chill” and “Asian Lounge.” When some of the most riotous, jump out of your chair music in the world is coming from the Asian diaspora why does every collection of “Asian” music involve a somnolent posture? Why are all the musician and producer names on these CDs European, even if they hide behind a name like “Buddha Channel” or somesuch?

Leave a Comment