Since these hipster blog posts are generating so much great discussion I thought I would bring you another example of the subculture. I came across this website after my girlfriend attempted to get me to listen to some folk bands or something that she liked. I can’t exactly recall how it happened, but I do recall her sending this website to me.
Plan-It-X records in an independent, DIY record label started in 1994 by Chris Johnston and Sam Dorsett. They have had many notable releases, including such punk, folk, and indie bands as Against Me!, Antsy Pants, Defiance, Ohio, Ghost Mice, Japanther, and This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, among others. They are widely recognized as one of the premiere DIY labels operating today, made famous by their mail-in $5 cassettes and CDs.
I focus on Plan-It-X only as an exemplary case, not because they were the first or last to use the DIY ethic for music distribution. After all, the punk movement and musical genre largely emerged through such channels, eschewing the more mainstream and popular channels of distribution (O’Connor 2008). For punks, this was a mark of authenticity, just as it is now is for hipsters.
I wrote a few weeks back about technological regression as a source of authenticity for members of the contemporary hipster subculture (I say “contemporary” because hipsters emerged out of the 1950s beatniks, the original hipster subculture). So lets apply that logic to the case of Plan-It-X and take it a bit further.
In the case of Plan-It-X (and other DIY record labels), technological regression serves as a source of distinction (Bourdieu 1984), a way to partition oneself off from the “masses” pejoratively decried (Thornton 1996). The advent of Web 2.0 sites like Myspace and LastFM have given new meaning to the concept of “the long tail” (Anderson 2008), increasing the accessibility of many of the most “underground” musical acts and thereby destroying any semblance of subcultural distinction. So in this sense, it is all about status. The status of being “underground” or “in-the-know.” Displaying knowledge and appreciation for particular musical acts becomes a source of subcultural capital for hipsters (Thornton 1996), who are often so keen on recounting their “first” experience with any particular band or genre [Eg: “I liked them before they were cool.”] These personalized “founding narratives” (as I like to call them) serve to establish the individual hipster with the subcultural capital (ie: the cultural authority) to be the creative taste arbiter over those around them. It also serves as a micro-level form of symbolic violence (Bourdieu 1991), essentially putting others down and discounting their views.
Don’t like the hipsters who now attend the shows you enjoy? Why not cut them down with some “I liked them when they were underground” logic? In this way, the hipster accomplishes several things: 1) Establishing oneself as a taste arbiter or cultural authority on some given topic, band, or object of interest, 2) Securing the subcultural capital of being the “in-the-know” and thereby securing the requisite status amongst one’s peers, and 3) Maintaining an air of elitism and superiority over those less “culturally-refined” as oneself. And all three of these provide subcultural status to the bearer.
And this is the nature of most subcultural groups, is it not? When local means “real” and “authentic,” that which is mass produced and/or distributed almost be nature becomes tainted or stigmatized, a lesser form reserved for the passive. And this is antithetical to hipsters, who privilege the existential, the journey of self-discovery, the creation of a unique identity and sense of self, and the collection of rare or antiquated knick-knacks and memories in the process.
But some words need to be said regarding the hipster-indie relationship. Although these two “scenes” are not entirely equatable, they often correlate together quite nicely in practice. Not all hipsters like indie, and not everyone who likes indie is a hipster (especially given the mainstream acceptance of formerly “indie” bands and labels). For instance, Arsel and Thompson (2011) recently published a paper describing the hipster as a devaluing marketplace myth that individual consumers of “indie” must continually confront, decry, and deny in order to protect their identity investments in the field of indie consumption.
The anonymous WordPress blogger “the girl” distinguishes between “hipsters” and “indie” people this way:
To summarise rather crudely, ‘indies’ are the genuine product, whereas ‘hipsters’ are just elitist posers. Interestingly, ‘indies’ who level these very accusations risk being themselves being accused of possessing elitist, poser traits for caring enough to comment, and for being judgemental (an intrinsically ‘hipster’ quality). In this sense, if the ‘indie’ is engaging in genuine indie subcultural traits such as listening to independent and lesser known artists, wearing recycled clothes, and consuming ethically all because they harbour anti-capitalist, counter-culture ideals, then it could be argued that they validate the notion of subcultures as empowering and generally ‘good’. On the other hand, if the ‘hipster’ only attends the gigs of indie bands (and later brags about it) for the sake of being accepted into the scene, and buys expensive American Apparel reproductions of vintage clothing in an attempt to look the part, then this version of a subculture appears to subscribe more to ideals surrounding dominant culture; that which is oppressive and generally ‘bad’.
However, hipsters and indie certainly do seem to have a lot in common. For instance, an emphasis on aesthetics (think form over content), a predilection towards nostalgic revivalism, and a desire for all things “authentic” serve to draw these two groups together, often lending towards conceptual confusion (I myself am not entirely sure where the line can be drawn). What do you all think?