In Defense of Music Nerddom

by Dillon Riley / Beacon Staff • September 11, 2014

It happened again not too long ago. I was at a friend’s party when, meaning well, she introduced me to her longstanding college group as her “hipster” friend. What a burden. 

Without uttering a word, I’ve immediately morphed into an eternally aloof narcissist whose very personality is wrapped up in knowing things before others and hating them once everyone clues in. Someone whose tastes are so trendy it takes paragraphs to unravel their appeal, or whose omnipresent ironic stance completely derails any credibility he or she may have. OK, I’m taking this too far. I do know this, though: I visibly cringe whenever someone, lovingly or not, slaps the hipster tag on me, and I can’t imagine I’m alone in feeling this way. 

 Part of my discomfort stems from an issue of self-identification. As a music enthusiast and an aspiring journalist, I attend concerts on a regular basis. I certainly don’t dress in my Sunday best and it’s all too common an occurrence for me to catch a few dirty looks for not dressing fully in-line with the given crowd. For the sake of comfort, I’ll choose a T-shirt and jeans over thick leather jackets or floral dress shirts buttoned up to my throat, but to the hipster by the bar in a knit hat in August muttering to his friend, I’m some dude who clearly wandered into the wrong show.

Honestly, I never feel less like a hipster, and more like an outsider, than I do at indie rock shows, where I’m more than likely doing my job and covering the band we both like as a writer. Suffice it to say I don’t fit the description that’s been laid out before us, so obviously I must be out of place. However, the question I always ask myself is, why do I have to subscribe to someone else’s well-scripted idea of counter-culture—which, by the way, goes against the definition of the pillars of independent art, and music? People at shows never actually engage with me on these terms, but the dirty looks still prolong, and I shouldn’t have to feel as though I have to defend my right to appreciate indie rock based on the way I dress.

As it were, some people simply take pride in collecting music, not as part of an affected anti-mainstream stance, but for the simple joy of appreciating new and exciting art. Fans of most other forms are given the benefit of the doubt. They’re film buffs, or art appreciators, or, perhaps least becoming, book nerds. Even then, their dedication to said medium is never questioned—we don’t suspect an ulterior motive when among people who read, at least not at our age. Why then, does anyone with an extensive collection of music who does not consider themselves a hipster face accusations of deception? Is it so unbelievable to think that people out there can put aside the trappings of the too-hip-for-you point of view and just enjoy music, subversive or otherwise, for the sake of being into music?  

Perhaps the root of the issue lies in the misuse of the term “hipster.” Its inherent derogatory nature is disguised by the glorification of the mindset I fear people see in me on first blush. Like I mentioned previously, being a “hipster,” to me at least, is connotated with owning a certain level of undesirable and misplaced ego, but therein lies the problem. To most people, or better yet, the uninitiated, being a hipster is term of endearment. We see college rankings based on hipsterdom, and on popular television shows, and we assume that’s a goal worth reaching. However, pop culture misinterprets the term as well, because it rates taste in underground music and fashion highly while skirting around some of the egregious character flaws that round out the term. 

The truth is, while self-identified hipsters and myself may share similar record collections, I know plenty of people, myself included, who reject most aspects of so-called “hipster” culture. We just really care about the music. Instead of adopting an elitist attitude towards the artistically uneducated, we welcome and encourage those new to the multitude of sub-genres of music mutating in the underground. Needless to say, it’s probably no coincidence that a lot of us are writers.

And so it’s perhaps time we redefine the way we talk about consuming music. Some of us are just quiet people who geek out over bands, and wouldn’t at all mind chatting about music sometime. Just call us music nerds instead.