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Consider synthwave and Bonnie Tyler’s Aquanet blow-out

Casually skimming, not carefully scrutinizing

More ‘80s than the ‘80s!
More ‘80s than the ‘80s!

Dear Hipster:

One thing I have gleaned from casually skimming this column over the years is that there’s a hipster version of everything. There’s beer, and then there’s hipster beer. There’s coffee, and then there’s hipster coffee. Usually, the hipster version of everything is more expensive, but I have to give credit where credit is due and say that it’s also usually better. I mean, not to sound too snobby, but fancy ice cream made with organic milk and cool, obscure flavors is way tastier than the Brand Z vanilla you get at the supermarket. That’s a fact. Is the hipster version of everything the best version of anything?

— Terrence

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I appreciate you being upfront about “casually skimming” this column. Honestly, if you had said “carefully scrutinizing,” or even “avidly reading,” I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Casual skimmers are probably my main audience, truth be told. Now: to answer your question in a phrase, the hipster version of everything isn’t necessarily better, so much as it is always simply more.

Look at your ice cream metaphor. Boring store-brand vanilla technically counts as ice cream, but the hipster ice cream takes the ice creamness level and turns it all the way up to eleven, so you end up with something that is the most ice cream it can possibly be, perhaps even an unreasonable level of ice cream.

For another analogy, consider synthwave. In case you’ve never heard the term before, “synthwave” has become a catchall for a subset of musical genres that gradually evolved over the past decade. It’s hipster AF, and you’re going to have to trust me on that. The sine qua non of the synthwave sound is an emulation of film scores and video game soundtracks from the 1980s. If that doesn’t make immediate sense, go listen to some Lazerhawk, then come back and read the rest of this column. Now that you’ve gone and familiarized yourself, make an important note of how we aren’t talking about music that sounds like 1980s music. Synthwave tracks do not sound like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” or “Billie Jean,” which is what the 1980s actually sounded like, at least if you tuned into top 40 radio at any point during that decade.

You’re probably thinking, “But I went and listened to that Lazerhawk album, and it’s the most 1980s thing I have ever heard.” Movie scores and video game soundtracks actually create a more palpable connection to the past, because of the visual element involved. Sure, when you listen to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” you can probably conjure up a vision of Bonnie Tyler’s Aquanet blow-out, but the purely auditory experience doesn’t give you the same sense of place you get from watching a movie. When you watch an old movie, you get to see more or less what the world used to look like, which gives you a stronger sense of “being there” than simply listening to some old music.

So when synthwave artists create music that evokes the soundtracks of old movies and videogames, it’s almost as if they are trying to create something that sounds like what the 1980s looked like. That sounds like it should be impossible, but we don’t live in a logical world, and the whole thing somehow adds up to a result that manages to be more ’80s than the actual ’80s ever were. That’s the quintessential hipster touch at work. Not better, but definitely more.

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More ‘80s than the ‘80s!
More ‘80s than the ‘80s!

Dear Hipster:

One thing I have gleaned from casually skimming this column over the years is that there’s a hipster version of everything. There’s beer, and then there’s hipster beer. There’s coffee, and then there’s hipster coffee. Usually, the hipster version of everything is more expensive, but I have to give credit where credit is due and say that it’s also usually better. I mean, not to sound too snobby, but fancy ice cream made with organic milk and cool, obscure flavors is way tastier than the Brand Z vanilla you get at the supermarket. That’s a fact. Is the hipster version of everything the best version of anything?

— Terrence

Sponsored
Sponsored

I appreciate you being upfront about “casually skimming” this column. Honestly, if you had said “carefully scrutinizing,” or even “avidly reading,” I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Casual skimmers are probably my main audience, truth be told. Now: to answer your question in a phrase, the hipster version of everything isn’t necessarily better, so much as it is always simply more.

Look at your ice cream metaphor. Boring store-brand vanilla technically counts as ice cream, but the hipster ice cream takes the ice creamness level and turns it all the way up to eleven, so you end up with something that is the most ice cream it can possibly be, perhaps even an unreasonable level of ice cream.

For another analogy, consider synthwave. In case you’ve never heard the term before, “synthwave” has become a catchall for a subset of musical genres that gradually evolved over the past decade. It’s hipster AF, and you’re going to have to trust me on that. The sine qua non of the synthwave sound is an emulation of film scores and video game soundtracks from the 1980s. If that doesn’t make immediate sense, go listen to some Lazerhawk, then come back and read the rest of this column. Now that you’ve gone and familiarized yourself, make an important note of how we aren’t talking about music that sounds like 1980s music. Synthwave tracks do not sound like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” or “Billie Jean,” which is what the 1980s actually sounded like, at least if you tuned into top 40 radio at any point during that decade.

You’re probably thinking, “But I went and listened to that Lazerhawk album, and it’s the most 1980s thing I have ever heard.” Movie scores and video game soundtracks actually create a more palpable connection to the past, because of the visual element involved. Sure, when you listen to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” you can probably conjure up a vision of Bonnie Tyler’s Aquanet blow-out, but the purely auditory experience doesn’t give you the same sense of place you get from watching a movie. When you watch an old movie, you get to see more or less what the world used to look like, which gives you a stronger sense of “being there” than simply listening to some old music.

So when synthwave artists create music that evokes the soundtracks of old movies and videogames, it’s almost as if they are trying to create something that sounds like what the 1980s looked like. That sounds like it should be impossible, but we don’t live in a logical world, and the whole thing somehow adds up to a result that manages to be more ’80s than the actual ’80s ever were. That’s the quintessential hipster touch at work. Not better, but definitely more.

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