I dislike the idea of anything being hipster. Unfortunately that means I’ve become victim to the hipster virus, where anything gaining popularity demands you to look onto others as hipsters.
Any semi-homogenous crowd, except that on the weekly market, that seems to conform to any fashion/aesthetic standards that are slightly popular is nowadays dubbed hipster. Fashioncore was the equivalent in the hardcore/metalcore corner. It seems to be the origin of the hipster curse for the heavy underground. At first you were fake or real (or trve if you’re more into the black metal section). Hipster sounds slightly better than fake, but no one will ever call themselves a hipster.
The term hipster has been the topic of discussion on many levels. In 2008 one magazine declared this to be the dead end of western civilization (a nice reference to the Spheeris films), by becoming an aesthetic vacuum in the counter culture. Some sources, like NY Mag seemd to have lost the plot totally in 2010 and Rob Horning suggested the death of the hipster in 2009. Around that time, the turning point seems to have arrived: the hipster was a demon, taking away the particular from our favorite elements of counter cultural rebellion. At the same time it became an aesthetic, a way to define what was basically just current fashion and trend when applied to an alternative image. Hipsters still provide an outlet for an alternative-styled elitism (like NOFX even demonstrated) and a scape goat, even by the Guardian.
I certainly don’t feel I’m a hipster, but I do have one of those single-speed bikes, fashionable boots and I tend to wear the flanel shirts, which I guess I’ve been doing since the late nineties (I was too young for the grunge hype). I’m not into the more hip alternative stuff though, don’t go to the right parties and rarely hang out in coffee bars (though I love coffee, but then again, I did for half my life). I did recently figure out that I do listen to some of the wrong bands in the heavy alternative spectrum. Not the fashioncore of hardcore, I listen to the true stuff there and my Black Flag tattoo is big enough to show it ain’t a ‘once upon a time, while sipping my vegan late’ thing. I was listening to hipster metal bands like Wolves In The Throne Room, Krallice, Deafheaven and Altar of Plagues.
The metal subculture has always been obsessed with being genuine, authentic as Kahn-Harris (2007) is keen to point out in his book. There’s an almost fundamentelistic nature to the more extreme genres and for none it’s as strong as that of black metal. Honestly, to describe a genre so remote from anything mainstream as ‘hipster’ seems to be certainly far fetched, but it is true… And it has some definite roots according to black metal scholar Dayal Patterson (2013), who starts the history of post-blackmetal with Lifelover. Bands that take a new approach to the genre and changing it, challenging its norms.
The origins of the term are a bit vague, but to me postrock, post-metal and so even post-blackmetal are styles that take a different approach to the core aesthetics of the respective genres and taking inspiration from others. The focus is more on dynamics, repetition and timbre, moving away from the traditional style. Ironically, the same thing happened when black metal moved towards the SDBM or DSBM style (Depressed Suicidal Black Metal), which has always been accepted. Stylistically, they are not so different. On the other hand, bands like Manes, Fleurety and even Arcturus could be seen as an affront to the conservative element in the scene, but apparently they’re fine.
True Traitor, True Whore
Yes, the Leviathan album title seems to be apt to come to the true traitor of black metal (in the eyes of some). Leviathan is true, though I’m not sure how his (it’s after all Jeff Whitehead’s one man band) ‘Scar Sighted’ goes down with part of the crowd. “Why not?”, you may ask. Well, because the record pushes out the boundaries of the genre, it changes the aesthetic approach and that is exactly why a band like Deafheaven is so reviled by the purists. In an AP article on the hipster metal phenomenon, they are the first band to be mentioned. Now, why are they the great Judas, the Varg Vikernes in the story of true and false black metal? (you know, like the band that did everything wrong, like Burzum, who are now also kinda hip).
- The album cover
Deafheaven in all their infernal badness, their disregard for all that is trve and kvlt, released an album with a pinkish cover. PINK! In a genre that wishes to shock and cause controversy, this is just pushing it one step too far (for the scene itself apparently).
- The music is not grimdark frostbitten cold
There’s a big myth about the early black metal bands and the necro sound. The idea is that this was the true (sorry, trve?) sound, but it basically was due to money and resources. Many current albums have great production, though perhaps retaining more of the cold sound usually. Still, you can hardly call the last two Enslaved albums unaccesible thanks to a more open polish.
- Too many shoegazes and postrocks
Yeah, there is a whole subgenre called eatmospheric black metal, which utilizes the same techniques, just like the ambient black metal genre, but Deafheaven sounds almost pleasant. Anyone ever listened to Woods Of Desolation or A Forest of Stars. Even Winterfylleth retains some warmth and dreamy aspects in their sound. Anyways, the fucking problem is that this album does not sound like either ‘A Blaze In The Northern Sky’, nor as ‘In the Nightside Eclipse’. Shame on you! But seriously, the genre has such a rich range of sounds, why refuse to change?
- The band doesn’t like/isn’t/hates/can’t be metal
The dumbest argument for hating Deafheaven is that somehow they would not be metal. Play this album for your mom and see how she feels about that. Well, my mom probably digs it so I’m not sure if that’s representative, but this band is totally a metal band. The fact that they might listen to other music, as said in this interview, doesn’t take anything away from that.
- They don’t look metal
A lot of bands don’t do. What is looking like metal exactly? Isn’t that the complete form of conformism that metal despises? I have no clue what, apart from the obligatory preference for black (check for Deafheaven) and the bandshirts (check again) would compromise a metal outfit. It sure as hell isn’t spandex and corpse paint any more, who the hell still does that?
So yeah, Deafheaven isn’t like the past five decades of metal, just like any band from the nineties didn’t look like the eighties nor sounded like it. Maybe it’s an entry level band for kids looking for something more dense and mysterious, which you may find in black metal. Does that make them bad? The black metal fans who trade cassettes of which only 5 are released from bands using My First Sony equipment are few and not even touched by this kind of audience. Wouldn’t it be cool though if you could release 10 cassettes?
Kick in the arse of stale elitism
Why all this fuss about an album that came out a year ago? Well, that is true. ‘Sunbather, may its infernal name be wiped from the histories, has been out for a year or so. The thing is that the band just released a new song and the hipster metal debate is in full swing again, because all this progression of the genre, we can’t have it.
The Deafheaven debate is part of a bigger discussion on metal and its health. The articles asking if metal is dead have started popping up and with good reason. What great bands have arisen in recent years that everyone knows and discusses? Very little, we only have bands that are reviled, like Deafheaven. There’s a vacuüm in heavy metal in general, which is illustrated by the fact that Slayer, Iron Maiden and Metallica are still the perpetual headliners. What else sticks? Babymetal?
The elitist conservatism is slowly killing black metal, once one of the most creative, subversive and exciting genres out there. Embrace the changes or leave them be, but stop putting everything down. Metal needs to breathe, develop and be allowed to find new avenues. With even the mighty Lemmy Kilmister slowing down, it’s high time for some growth and renewal. Even Lemmy can’t carry this torch any longer. The elitism in metal is killing it, like it does with the French language.
As for hipsters, how was metal ever a genre for people that are hip and happening? Aren’t hipsters slowly becoming the social outcasts anyways? The outsider position of metal fans is not going to change, not even by Deafheavens ‘Sunbather’ or a new album, which I think might be a very good one.
Kahn-Harris (2007) Extreme Metal
Horning (2009) The Death of the Hipster. Pop Matters
Patterson (2013) Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult
Stewart-Panko (2015) Debunking the ‘hipster metal’ myth. Alternative Press