Garage Rockers vs. Hipsters, Part 2

05/27/2010 4:03 PM |

jay banerjee
  • The original Jay Banerjee, hatless.

Last Friday, L Mag music editor Mike Conklin wrote a post about a garage rock/power pop night at Southpaw (which is happening tonight) called Hipster Demolition Night. Mike took umbrage with this particular marketing strategy, and in his umbrage misidentified a photo that appeared in the original Brooklyn Paper article (mistaking the musician Paul Collins, who is playing tonight, for Jay Banerjee, the organizer of the show, also playing tonight). This led to an unholy shitstorm in the comments. By way of clarification (and a bit of conciliation), we reprint here an email Mr. Conklin sent to Mr. Banerjee, along with Mr. Banerjee’s response. And though it’s hard to do, we give Mr. Banerjee the last word on this. *For the record, this isn’t a retraction (I stand by everything Mr. Conklin originally wrote, the stuff about Mr. Collin’s hat excepted), but rather an attempt to wind down this vicious blood feud on a note of civility.

MIKE CONKLIN’S EMAIL TO JAY BANERJEE:

Hey Jay,

Things have gotten pretty out of hand over there in the comments, so I wanted to email you in private to at least attempt clearing things up a bit.

I’ve been pretty clear in my opinion of how you’re presenting your event, and I continue to stand by it. I think what you’re doing is a gimmick, and I don’t begrudge you the right to do whatever you can to get attention, of course, but at the same time, I’m not sure how, as an adult, you think you can say the type of things you’ve said about a group of people and not expect to be taken to task for it a little bit, to not have someone retaliate on the very same terms you set. Your friends in the comments keep insisting that I’m not doing my job because I made fun of Paul Collins’ hat, and because I’m not willing to talk about the music. My entire original post was meant, frankly, as a bitchy way to stoop to the same level I felt you started out on with all the talk of beards and sunglasses.

But anyway, the hipster thing: I think you’re railing against the idea of a hipster as a demographic that’s marketed to, this tidy batch of stereotypes that add up to a person that barely exists in real life. Even me—everyone over there has decided that I’m whatever this thing is that they hate so much, and while I don’t have any interest in launching the “I’m not a hipster!” defense, well, I’m 31 years old, I live in suburban Queens, I’m married, I have a 6-week old kid, and I’m currently watching the Golf Channel and drinking a Bud Light. What’s all that mean? I don’t know. I don’t think any of us at The L are exactly what a lot of people probably think we are, and I think a little bit of close reading of the stuff we’ve written over the past seven years will make that pretty clear. Lots of us do have beards, though, and we are definitely protective of the idea of the hipster as a young person who is culturally curious, intellectually playful and interested in making art that they think is exciting and new. We don’t delude ourselves that every bit of music or art that comes out of the borough actually is exciting and new, of course, and god knows I’ve been quite critical of much of it, especially of late, but we will always defend the pursuit of innovation and the spirit and community it entails.

As for your comments, from the press release, about “quote-unquote music which is really just noise,” I mean, hasn’t history taught us that, “Man oh man, can you believe kids these days?!” is basically the silliest position one can take? You talk about this desire to do away with “hipster culture,” and I can’t help but think you’re ignoring the fact that some form of “hipster culture” has been responsible for basically every cool thing ever: punk rock, the Situationist International, the Velvets, the Beat writers… the list goes on and on. You can argue that you’re not seeing any of that stuff come from here at the moment, from this particular group of people with their particular hipster signifiers (beards, skinny jeans, whatever), and that’s fine—I’d politely disagree. I’d also argue that looking for that one thing that really clicks, the thing that becomes sort of a big deal, is half the fun.

I know it’s different when you’re actually making music, as opposed to writing about it or simply being a fan of it, and I’m certainly sympathetic to the feeling that bookers at a lot of the old-guard independent venues around town are clueless, greedy idiots. It’s exactly the reason you get all these DIY shows popping up all over Brooklyn. I get that you’re not into those, though, or that you think you’re not into those, and I genuinely have a great deal of respect for your drive to book your own shows and build your own community. I simply think that the schtick you chose to adopt, and the language you used to draw attention to yourself, does you a grave disservice.

I appreciate the offer for the guest spots, and I really would like to check it out. With the new baby, though, I haven’t been going out a whole lot — and I have a brand new policy as a father to stay away from places where half the people in attendance want to beat me up.

Anyway, I hope this does a little to clear up my stance on things. Good luck with the show.

JAY BANERJEE’S RESPONSE:

Hello Mike,

Thank you very much for your thoughtful e-mail. First of all, I’m happy that the two of us can have an intelligent, respectful discussion about this rather than an extended internet name-calling fest (although those are fun, too).

I fully expected to be taken to task for “Hipster Demolition Night”, but at the same time, there are certain aspects of your article that missed the point, and you were duly taken to task for those.

The name was chosen to be amusing, infectious, and, yes, controversial and attention-catching. However, as I made clear in my press release and equally clear in my interview with The Courier/The Brooklyn Paper (who reached out to me on their own accord), the “Demolition” is first and foremost about music, about a return away from “hipster noodling” to stripped-down, no-nonsense, irony-free guitar-pop. There is exactly one line in The Courier’s write-up—ostensibly the basis for your article—that does not have to do with music: the (admit it, kinda funny) “Day-Glo orange ones” jab. Everything else is about music, whether my own, Paul Collins’s, or the kind I don’t like. In short, I’m not the one who made the debate “not about music”.

As others have pointed out, the fact that you, in your capacity as a music critic, didn’t even listen to the music before writing the article is staggering. I understand that you weren’t inclined to “give me what I want”, and naturally what I want is to draw attention to my music. That said, if you’re not going to deign to talk about the music, why should you bother talking about the night at all?

Hey, wait a minute, what am I saying? I’m thrilled that you did! The response has been overwhelming. My “friends”—who don’t speak for me, by the way, and I apologize for the particularly rude ones—aren’t even all my friends anymore. I did send out the link in an e-mail blast and encourage people to comment, and I do recognize many of those early contributors, but, to my delight, the link soon got passed along beyond my direct reach. Paul Collins and WFMU DJ Terre T (a long-time supporter of all four acts) both posted it to their Facebook accounts, which helped catapult your story to quasi-viral status.

Back to the article itself, though. When I discussed hipsters, both in the interview and in the press release, I made it clear that my distaste for the (stereotypical) trappings of the culture—anorexic jeans, patchy facial hair, botched Flock of Seagulls haircuts, dubious hygiene, and so on—is secondary to my distaste for the music. Had you said something along the lines of, “Shame on Southpaw for booking this no-talent goof with terrible songs and a stupid freaking hat,” that would have been a fair equivalent to my “gimmickry”.

(That is, it would have been a fair equivalent had I been the one in the hat. Come on, Mike, that caption was clear, and Paul Collins does not look 27. You’re not the first journalist who’s ever made a mistake, but that was a lazy one, and it reinforces the notion that the article was not the most conscientious ever written.)

Any reference that I may make to those trappings of the culture is nothing more than a joke, all intended to draw attention to the real villain of hipsterdom (to my humble ears): the “music”. So, I’m not sure why I should even discuss the (North)side effects any further, but let me just point out that although those are stereotypes, I can’t walk down N. 7th without running into an embodiment or twelve.

I chuckled at “‘Man oh man, can you believe kids these days?!'”, but that’s the whole point: I want to be the new kids. OK, maybe I’m a few years late on this, but hey, if Paul Collins passes for 27, do I look a day over 16? Despite my overt ’60s and ’70s influences, I’d like to think that my songwriting is distinctive, smart, relevant, fresh, and new, and can be the next “thing” (as would every other songwriter, of course, but I’ve always been self-aware of my talents and my un-talents). Maybe you think that’s laughable…but if so, you should have restricted your attacks to the music in the first place.

Subcultures, trends, styles, and fads are routinely displaced by new ones. Well, I want to displace hipsters, much in the same way the punks very consciously displaced the hippies. (Yes, lauding Lydon while criticizing me was a bit hypocritical, as others noted.) It’s not about a personal and/or violent hatred for hipsters, it’s about (yet again) a distaste for the music, and less importantly and at least partially by extension, the other elements of their culture.

Am I going to do this single-handedly? Maybe not, but I have some traits that will at least grant me some headway. Please pardon the egomania of this sentence, but not only am I a talented songwriter, I’m also a talented (self-)promoter. I got Southpaw to book this bullshit, after all. Most musicians I know are good at one or the other, if either. Oh, sure, my face ain’t pretty and my voice ain’t much better, but I think I’ll be fine as long as I stay away from shorts and berets.

This e-mail has quickly become almost as silly as some of those comments, so I’d better wrap this up. Congratulations on being a new father! If you can somehow get away for the evening, you’re still welcome to attend, and with two guests. I can assure you that you’ll come out alive. (Clean shaven, maybe, but alive.) If not this time, well…there’s always Hipster Demolition Night II at Glasslands on Thursday, July 15th.

All the best and take care,

—Jay.

14 Comment

  • To the L Magazine music section and self proclaimed

  • You realize (you don’t realize) that you sound just like an old hippie who was confused by the “balls-y” (read: narrowly-influenced guitar thrash) brand of early eighties music that you now lionize as the utmost pinnacle of musical achievement? It never got better than seeing Canned Heat in ’68, man! I wasn’t there (and neither were you) but the books I’ve read make me think that punk didn’t use to be about burying your head in a hole and refusing to come out, or acknowledge the moment, like at all.

    But, at least I think we can all agree that this town would be way better off with more violent crime. Those Scorsese movies looked so romantic didn’t they!? Oh, if only huge swaths of the city were smoldering piles of rubble again, rather than bistros and record stores. If only we could all fight crime and rescue beautiful child hookers again, and then FINALLY, this city would be authentic! Why won’t the music scene depict that gritty, documentary reality (that we remember from movies we saw when we were 13)?

  • Below comment @ El Michelada, not Mr. Banerjee, I should note…

  • The problem most rock fans have with Hipsterism and is that Hipsters(I call em Scenesters, because I actually know hip people who are original even if they *seem* to be hipsters) generally consider it uncool to be seen TRYING HARD or to bother to learn how to play their instruments PROFICIENTLY. Some hipster apologist suggested on here that there was something inherently “wrong” with self-proclaimed rock n roll “lifers”…But consider this: it takes a lifetime commitment to become and stay proficient on an instrument (for most musicians). Not so for hipster/indie/artsy noise makers who can buy a few fancy (or worse, CRAPPY) electronics and play dress-up, then toss away their forgettable music and thrift-store clothes and go live the yuppie life they are destined to live.

    Rock n roll lifers are the people who kick ass on their instruments. But hipsters are SO OVER skilled musicianship. I know I like to watch clumsy nerds ironically “shootin hoops” in a schoolyard instead of seeing a pro Micheal Jordan slam-dunk from half-court.

    And no sour grapes here, I’m not a guitar-obsessed failed musician…I never bothered to learn an instrument because (I am lazy AND) I realized if I wasn’t going to be a “lifer” I shouldn’t waste people’s time with my approximation of music with the label “indie” used to excuse its poor quality.

  • I could care less about the term “hipster”. I’m sure at one point, even Joey Ramone was probably considered to be a total hipster. In fact I don’t care about the whole debate over that label, or any of the silly name calling.

    What I really do wonder is this:

    Why is the L Magazine so completely obsessed with spineless, wimpy music with absolutely no balls, that in no way even begins to rock?

  • @indiewimpsrule
    Well, you could just read the reviews to figure that out. And it’s totally reasonable to disagree.

  • oh, i don’t lionize that shit. there’s some other shit i like a lot more. i just think that vein is a good example of some big city rock! you see, the reason i came here was to get away from cloistered, honky-ville bullshit. now that i’m all up in this, i see that there is an entire magazine and then some dedicated to lame, wuss crap. the good news is though, that what we have here is big enough to eventually consume this pussy crap once it runs it’s course. you will look back, and this will be seen as a momentary uprising of the spineless pussies in the grand scheme of things. if you think the uprising is a good thing, well then hurray for you douche-bag.

  • yikes! mc posted a comment while i was typing…2 of those bands don’t suck my balls! you know what you’re known for, seriously. look, you wanna hear some good shit? record labels man. you know the ones!

  • hey! where’d it go?!!

  • Oh, I deleted it because I decided the conversation wasn’t worth having. But I guess I’ll put it back out there: The problem I have with this debate is the idea that we (The L, Hipsters) don’t like music that quote-unquote rocks. Looking at our very recent archives, I see positive reviews of LCD Soundsystem, Frog Eyes, Male Bonding, Harlem (who some of you people might actually like) and the fucking Hold Steady for christ’s sake — none of which I would consider wimpy. Then I said something about the disconnect between what we like and what people who use “rock” as a verb like, which I mean not entirely as a joke or a dig, but at least partially.

  • “rock as a verb” ha! its humor man. that’s why you write instead of play – too uptight.

  • @e m
    jesus christ you’re a tiresome dogmatic fuckface.

  • Interestingly after reading about the Hipster Demolition Night and reading the blog on L magazine something came to mind, the fact that these cultural situations keep going in cycles. My point is that the same thing that is going on now with the “hipsters” VS the power poppers or garage rockers in Brooklyn is the same exact thing that happened to the band Radio City that I co founded with Gary Feldman in 1977. Then, we were definitely ahead of our time being heavily into Cheap Trick and Big Star, along with Grin and a lot of then unknown bands. We were having trouble getting good gigs at both CBGB’s and Max’s because we weren’t weird enough (like Devo, Teenage Jesus or proto punk like the Dead Boys). We once had an argument with Deer France at Max’s because she said we looked and sounded too “normal” and they wanted more quirky and eccentric (dress all weird and not be able to play your instruments very well, like Teenage Jesus.) Move ahead three decades and we finally get our due (well at least somewhat). A release on Radio Heartbeat Records (a cool retro label that also put out

  • Balls?!?!?!? NYC hasn’t had any balls since the 1920’s, man oh man, the music scene back then was CRRRRAAAZZYYYY. They don’t call it the roaring twenties for nothing. Between all the flappers on my johnson, and all the bootlegging we did just to have booze at all our gigs in the local speakeasy. Although, we never had to worry about booking shows being that we would just set up shop anywhere with four walls and a roof,preferably a basement, what we were doing was illegal anyhoo. We had to avoid the brass you know. WOW. JUST WOW. you youngsters have no idea what balls are!