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By the way ... In defense
of the Jakartan hipster

Until recently, being a full-time music snob has been a drag, especially in Jakarta.

Being thousands of kilometers away from the center of the pop industry, fans were treated as pariahs and had to be content with second-grade performers, including the likes of Good Charlotte, Air Supply, Firehouse, or relics from the 1980s’ campy mainstream in the form of Michael Bolton or Kenny G, or even the cartoon versions of the Western classical tradition, like Il Divo or Andrea Bocelli.

Being away from London or New York also means fans get to miss all the action as it happens and only get the replays 30 years after the fact.

Local punk fans got to see The Misfits — without a single original member remaining in the band — more than 30 years after they were still considered relevant.

Heavy metal devotees could finally commune and worship at the altar of Iron Maiden more than three decades after the British band sent shivers down the spines of worried parents due to their not-so-subtle satanic imagery.

But now things are looking up.

Yes, we still have the dinosaurs coming to town: bands like Yes (yes, they are still around), Anthrax and Roxette.

Now that Europe is going belly-up and America is struggling with recession, big names are coming to Asia — and that means serious music snobs can finally see the action as it happens.

Only last year, one of the hottest rock bands from the American indie scene, the New York-based Vampire Weekend, delivered one of the most memorable gigs in recent times, shortly after the Scottish indie darlings Belle & Sebastian made the wildest dream of fans a reality.

During the first three months of 2012 alone, fans got the chance to catch gigs by Feist, Mogwai and The Horrors and Pains of Being Pure at Heart. These are, of course, names too obscure for fans of mainstream music: the crowd who has long been spoon-fed only with familiar names like Rihanna, Coldplay and Adele by the PR machine of the music industry.

And you could be forgiven for not knowing those bands because they belong to a small community, a tightly-knit club that has long been referred to with the oft-quoted derogatory term, “hipster”. Hipsters from this community speak about the bands in a hushed tone so that the Coldplay-loving masses would not steal it from them.

It was due to members of this hipster community — who gather around a handful of vinyl-trading music stores in downtown Jakarta, who read cool music webzines like pitchforkmedia.com or brooklynvegan.com and may or may not be wearing skinny jeans — that Vampire Weekend and Belle & Sebastian made their stops in town.

The majority of Jakarta’s inhabitants may be living in poverty, but there is a substantial upper-middle class whose youth can afford to shop at specialist stores catering to really narrow Europhile or Anglophile music tastes.

Their music selection is so narrow that they only listen to new music from bands like Wye Oak, Beach House, Yuck, Real Estate (yes, you should Google these bands) on vinyl records procured in a handful of such specialist stores.

Music critic Simon Reynolds, in his seminal work Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past, calls these music fans Hipster International because they have more in common with like-minded fans in Chicago, Brooklyn, Sydney or London, than with their physical-world neighbors. You can see them boarding the Jabodetabek train, but they think they are in Brooklyn or London.

A hipster has long been viewed with suspicion, the type of person who is easy to hate for their record-collecting snobbery and contrarian opinions on whatever mainstream has to offer.

But Jakarta should be more grateful for its Hipster International class, not least because they are responsible for bringing different types of entertainment to the city, which in many ways lends Jakarta
a slightly-edgy charm.

In 20 years, the country will likely have a sizeable middle class who could not subsist solely on mass entertainment offered by the mainstream pop industry (tune in to any local channel and be very afraid).

Members of the Hipster International — mostly in their late twenties and/or early thirties, working in the creative industries — are our last bastion against the dumbing-down of the mainstream.

So ,until the moment comes, allow them to indulge in their vinyl collections and give them the freedom to look down on the Glee-loving and Adele-worshipping crowds.

— T. Verlaine

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