SCARY COOL SAD GOODBYE 22
SCARY COOL SAD GOODBYE is a 'meaningful' vibes-based newsletter.
“What does ‘ALT’ mean 2 u? (There is a right answer.)”
- Carles, Hipsterrunoff.com
I wasn’t gonna write about ‘indie sleaze,’ because when the media people start getting all NYC-brained about some totally made up shit, it’s best to just let them spin their wheels in peace. And this is coming from someone who very nearly wrote the book on all this (about bloghouse, that is) up until being thwarted by my estranged co-author’s folly and ineptitude… but that’s a story for another time, or more likely for never! In any case, I guess I’m to understand that 2007 is imminently back because the TikTokers have discovered ‘vintage’ American Apparel, and because people online won’t scold you for party rocking anymore, except this time around, there are implications against (you’ll never believe it) late capitalism. Alright, whatever, have fun!
Why this phrasing, ‘indie sleaze,’ seems to go out of its way to avoid using the word ‘hipster’ I could not tell you, though I’d guess it has something to do with ‘unwoke connotations.’ Not like it wasn’t pejorative back then, too; to be a hipster was okay, but to be called one, yikes. The contemporary hipster, as identified by Mark Grief in 2010’s “What Was the Hipster?”, took two forms across a decade: first the Vice hipster, who wore trucker hats and porno ‘staches and drank American beers in cans, archly reinvesting in the totems of white trash; then the Pitchfork hipster, a soft creature of the Seth Cohen variety, who liked ‘80s computer electronics and bands named for woodland critters. In either case, to be one was to be some kind of fraud, united in the role of ‘rebel consumer,’ as Grief put it: “the person who, adopting the rhetoric but not the politics of the counterculture, convinces himself that buying the right mass products individualizes him as transgressive.”
There was another kind of hipster, though. The one who wore shutter shades and galaxy-print leggings and headbands across their scene bangs, with Last Night’s Party and the Hype Machine bookmarked to their browsers and baile funk remixes of MGMT songs on their iPod shuffles. Their sock drawers overflowed with free crap from parties sponsored by Scion. They shed tears, rolling their face off, at the Daft Punk pyramid tour. It’s this hipster they’re talking about when they talk about ‘indie sleaze,’ and I was one of them. Look:
And you know what, no regrets. What had happened was I had dropped out of college, which freed up my days to very seriously diddle around the Adobe Creative Suite with my friend Dave, to me the coolest person in the world, what with being half of a production duo that sounded like Danger and heavily implemented triangles into their visual iconography for reasons (vaguely Christian…) that made a lot of sense the way he explained it during our weekend-long hippie-flip sessions in his basement, which he shared with a vegan who deviated his septum via ‘doing 2 much blow.’ We designed ‘cool fonts’—that’s right, FONTS—and worked intently on our fledgling line of graphic tees, which included a shirt that said ‘NOBODY LISTENS TO TECHNO’ with little pictures of Moby’s face for the ‘O’s. We’d make trips to the west suburbs of Chicago to buy ecstasy pills from a Polish guido who lived with his parents, blasting Digitalism’s Idealism (IYKYK…) down I-90 back to Indiana. And every day, I mean every day, we’d pull up Hipster Runoff to see what was up in the endless war of ‘lamestream’ versus ‘alt.’
I wrote about HRO before, seven years back, around the time the site was sold to investors by Carles, its pseudonymous mastermind. (And around the time of my own little existential crisis about my part in the ‘online discourse economy.’) “In his prime, Carles posed as a painfully self-conscious hipster, desperately seeking what he perceived as authenticity and relevance in a world of ‘lamestreamers’ (aka basics),” I wrote at the time. “Carles sought meaning in consumerism—thoroughly-branded festival experiences, or the ‘alt’ new novelty drink, or the latest Urban Outfitters-core buzz band—with driveling pseudo-sincerity.” On a very basic level, HRO was a ‘music and lifestyle blog,’ like the kind me and all my friends ran at the time. But the ‘value’ of a song (or a concert, or shoe brand, etc.) had very little to do with how it made you feel, and everything to do with how it could advance your personal brand or justify your ‘alternative’ identity. In a post about Animal Collective in 2009 (when the band formerly regarded as ‘some weird bros’ began ‘having a cultural moment’) Carles wrote: “I listen to the Animal Collectives on a weekly basis. I think I ‘like’ them because they are differentiated from ‘traditional music’ and ‘modern indie music.’ When I listen to them, I exist on a higher plane of musical appreciation and consume products for ‘all the right reasons.’”
So Carles was ticking all of the boxes of that what made a hipster, as laid out in that Mark Grief essay: one who “aligns himself both with rebel subculture and with the dominant class” (and “thus opens up a poisonous conduit between the two”), who accumulates knowledge as a means of social leverage, who has an “obsessive interest in the conflict between knowingness and naiveté, guilty self-awareness and absolved self-absorption.” This idea of knowingness arches over basically the entirety of online discourse, a requirement for fluency in the language of bits and memes just as much as in Pitchfork nerd debates, and it was the hill Carles was fixing to die on. Nitsuh Abebe touched on the subject in a 2010 essay, “A Brief History of Knowingness and Irony”:
“Right now, one of the internet's most successful bastions of knowingness is a blog called Hipster Runoff, a performance that's almost nothing but knowing: It shrugs, it takes an arch, pseudo-scientific tone, it puts every other word in scare quotes. Here you go, it seems to say: Here is your weird market of hipness and cool. The end. You can take it as withering satire, if you want to, because its skewers are dead on target. Of course, if its pseudonymous author really thought the market of cool were that pointless and vacuous, why spend so much time thinking about it—why know it well enough to be savvy? It's not so much a satire as a whole performance of knowingness. And even if I don't often have the stomach for it, I can't pretend the performance isn't an immaculate one: it’s knowingness raised to the level of poetry, free of the burden of ‘intent’ or sincerity or any point beyond what the reader reflects out of it. It goes beyond ‘the author is dead’ and turns the author into some kind of zombie.”
And here’s what Carles had to say about that: "Not even sure what the message of this article is about, just feeling ‘incredibly culturally relevant’ after reading the HRO blog name in Pitchfork. Feel like a bro in the 1970s who got blurbed about in Rolling Stone magazine… Kept scanning the page everywhere searching 4 a 'rating.' From what I understand, Pitchfork is famous for giving ratings, so feeling disappointed that I didn't get a 10.0. Not even a 1.0.”
Being young and deranged and one of maybe six ‘alts’ in my particular corner of Northwest Indiana, I probably took this all a tad more seriously than intended. (“People who read too many blogs will enjoy its place in the blogosphere as ‘something different,’ while I can imagine some teen coming to it as a bible/justification for their alternative lifestyle and attitude problems,” Carles said in a 2009 interview with the Village Voice, conducted via IM.) Looking back, there’s a lot to cringe at, particularly when it came to the Alt Report, the vaguely ironic celebrity gossip vertical Carles launched in 2010; it was the site’s lamest long-running gimmick, generating by far its highest page views. (Presumably, it was an Alt Report post which prompted Grimes to hit the site with a DDoS attack in 2012, which she for whatever reason admitted to last week. Indie sleaze is BACK, babyyy!)
[Some credit is due, though, for basically predicting ‘the influencer’ as it would come to exist in the 2010s. “Alternative lifestyle brands are the present and the future of the arts & entertainment industry,” he deadpanned in one of his more memorable 2008 posts, two years before Instagram’s launch. “Bands will no longer be bands; they will be lifestyle brands. Designers are lifestyle brands. Films must exists as lifestyle brands. Blogs and Websites are lifestyle brands. Humans will be lifestyle brands.” Pretty much, yeah.]
What holds up, I think, is the shame. Coursing just beneath Carles’ layers of irony ran a stream of pure existential mortification. Shame at having painstakingly constructed an ‘alternative’ identity that was just as hollow and wildly more cynical than the mainstreamers who listened to Coldplay and ate at Chili’s; shame at feeling as though he deserved a life that was more special than others, for really no reason at all. There’s a sort of haunting quote from Carles in a 2015 Vice feature that chronicled HRO’s rise and fall (by way of the death of blogging more generally) and revealed Carles’ identity as a 29-year old with an accounting degree named Carlos Perez: “I think my failure in certain personal relationships and friendships do illustrate the creation of a self that is not functional in the real world, which is the result of being validated for seeing the world [via the HRO lens], so I'm not sure if I need to go to therapy to ‘undo’ it or if it is ‘me.’” Or as he put it in a grim little poem from 2013, the year the site went dark:
What Hipster Runoff is probably best remembered for, other than accidentally inventing the term ‘chillwave,’ is ‘going down in flames in unhinged guerilla warfare against mainstream/alt double agent Lana Del Rey’ in the site’s last wheezing gasp. To Carles, Lana was an industry plant cloaked in an ‘indie’ aesthetic, weaponized to sell flower crowns, and her rise from obscurity to SNL-level fame exposed something rotten in the world of tastemaking, a betrayal of a value system that allegedly existed before. He was wrong about Lana, like a lot of us were, but the disillusion he was experiencing in the form of an ugly, drawn-out meltdown wasn’t really about Lana anyway. There’s a post from 2012 that kind of says it all, under the title “Lana & Me: Our Dark, Abusive, Co-Dependent Relationship on the Content Farm.” (I’ve condensed it a little, for the sake of this post’s word count, but you can read the whole thing here.)
I have a blog called HIPSTER RUNOFF. Every day, I wake up, open my laptop, and type words that are stored in the internet as ‘content.’ My goal is to ‘get as many hits’ as possible because I metaphorically ‘have mouths to feed.’ I realize that at this point, it doesn’t matter if my content is ‘premium’, pseudo-brilliantly written web_prose or just ‘link-bait-wave,’ I was fortunate enough to not have gotten lost in the ‘long tail’ of indie music + Gen-Y-opinion-driven coverage blogs. Every day, I prey upon different buzz topics, exploiting my voice, but more importantly, my position as a ‘recognized outlet 4 buzz’ to try to trick people into thinking I am ‘relevant’, which basically just means that I am trying to make ppl talk abt my blog and get them addicted to my web brand even if they hate it because even when they are like ‘OMG THAT’S TOTAL BULLSHIT’ it is just some sort of post-grassroots-h8-wave-warketing.
Lana Del Rey is the perfect buzz topic, and I’ll never forget the times we shared in late 2k11 and early 2k12. I honestly do wish the best for her career, not because I have a rooting interest in her/care about her as a person, but because Lana Del Rey is an important search term to refer viewers to my website.
In no way is the ‘conversion of blogs to content farms’ and ‘the secret corporate nature of indie blogs’ a fresh, relevant, or innovative ‘take’. I am just trying to share my view from inside the meme prison with you. Lana Del Rey and I are on this content farm together sort of like we are the last and only two humans left on Earth. We hate eachother, but at the same time we need eachother to stay alive. There will never be any sort of cathartic epiphany where we admit wrong-doing, nor will there ever be a genuine reconciliation. We will never have what feels like a ‘real’ relationship with Lana Del Rey.
It is interesting to think that there is a generation who even finds these memes to be ‘interesting’ enough to think that they want to be a part of the indiesphere discussion. Do they think the can ‘save’ it by showing us cool, new bands? Do they think they can save us from the content farming doom? Do they think that they can reverse the impact of social media on the speedy, link-baiting nature of all websites, designed to ‘get a good jump on’ SEO?
The indie blogosphere is over the hill. There is nothing worth saving. Everything is COMPLETELY EFFED, but it will keep going, and we will keep writing that it is COMPLETELY EFFED, but no1 really cares and there isn’t really anything to fix so I guess maybe we should act like it is a beautiful indie film and find ‘happiness and peace’ with that truth. It is all just sort of just ‘funnie’ but also ‘sad.’
In the post-LDR blogging era, I feel free to openly admit that I don’t care about honoring ‘bands that sound good’. The opinions that I have on bands are not actually my own, and my goal is not to preserve a relationship with readers or bands/artists based on editorial pandering. All I can do is ‘go down in flames’ with my sweet, Princess LanaBB. My demented online personality that motivates me to type these words in order to accumulate hits, empathy, praise, and controversy does not have much time left.
I am not a writer. I am not a blogger. I am a content farmer. These words mean more to the Google robot than they do 2 u. There is nothing exciting about writing, tweeting, or sharing opinions. I do not want to inspire any one to follow me into this dark prison, surrounded by a pile of memes, while I must sort thru them and spin them as ‘meaningful’, ‘interesting’, or whatever else will generate a pageview.
I can relate to all of that, and at the same time it also feels ridiculously quaint, wigging out over the ‘codes of authenticity’ of one subculture or another. Now music writers unpack TikTok memes and write essays about how the music of Phoebe Bridgers taught them to embrace their rheumatoid arthritis, and meanwhile tabloid celebrities dress like 14-year old mall punks, and whatever the ‘alternative’ is to all that is no longer really my business. The culture we consume no longer tells us where we fall on the spectrum of ‘mainstream’ to ‘alt’; it tells us whether or not we’re a good person, whether we deserve good or bad things to come our way.
But anyway, a song by Alan Braxe, DJ Falcon and Panda Bear was released today… a true ‘indie sleaze’ miracle, y’all.
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