Hipster Runoff Explained (Maybe)

A (possibly) illuminating chat with Carles, the Internet's latest mystery man

Altbros, altbags, blipstaz, "blog house" enthusiasts, Tumblr addicts, and uneasy rock critics alike have for the past two years found themselves in thrall to Hipster Runoff, a sardonic music blog run by "Carles," a mysterious and quite possibly messianic figure whose bizarre mixture of puerile humor, savage satire, goofy nauvete, and profound cultural critique has left everyone enthralled, terrorized, and completely confused.

Whether brutally deconstructing alternative DJs, "personal brands," TV on the Radio, or the concept of Girls' Night Out, Carles mixes juvenile text-speak ("Is it ALT 2 watch the Super Bowl?") with provocative armchair sociology: The epic post "Animal Collective Is a Band Created By/For/On the Internet" attracted a particularly great deal of both deification and derision. Was its blunt assessment of the self-perpetuating and notoriously insecure Internet hype machine-i.e., the "bros who pretend to only care about judging music based on 'how it sounds' but secretly check P4k rankings on a weekly basis to construct what they 'like' based on how they perceive the masses are digesting new content"-a revelatory breakthrough or old news dressed up with new jokes? Did he even mean it? Is he laughing at us? With us? Who the hell is he, and what does he want?

Recently, Carles agreed to an IM interview (his preferred medium) to shed light on these and other salient topics. I'm not quite certain if any light got shed or not.

Who are you?

That's probably the most difficult question you could ask. I have been pretty anonymous up to this point in terms of "who I am" and "my relationship with what I blog about," but I think that is part of the conceptual execution of HRO.

Anything you can reveal? Where do you live? What do you do all day besides . . . this?

I am a pretty standard bro. I grew up in suburbia and recently graduated from business school. I now have a "job that I hate" and doesn't really "allow me to express myself." But my day is pretty much taken up by my "real job." I am hoping that ad money will enable me to quit soon.

What do the scare quotes there signify? Sarcasm?

I think sometimes I just feel disconnected from my own words/world. When I type things out, they seem cliched and/or insignificant. It might just be a bad habit, though.

Do you think people would be surprised by what you're like "in real life," or are you pretty much what they'd probably expect?

I think people would expect me to be "loud" and have a "strong personal brand." Just to be some excessively alternative guy with "a sad life." But I think I probably have "a sad life" in a different way that's a little bit more mainstream and means having a salaried job.

You'd told me you're not in New York, right? Do you get out here at all? Do you interact regularly, or at all, with "altbros" and "altbags"? Or is your study of them mostly confined to the Internet?

I am in a relatively "alt" area, but I think the whole concept of the site is "being able to justify your alternative existence" by monitoring websites that are theoretically on the bleeding edge of culture. So while a tween may be disconnected from "fitting in" at his local high school with kids who shop at the local mall, he can find acceptance on the Internet through alternative websites, blogs, social networks, and e-commerce shops. That's sort of why I feel like the "Carles" part of HRO is insignificant, and it probably makes the site easier to digest without "some dude" attached to it. It's more of a naive, bro-like, third-person omniscient tone.

What percentage of what you do is completely sarcastic, as opposed to mostly sarcastic? Are you basically "playing a character"? Are you "in character" now?

I think that right now, I am "out of character, but guarded, but also feel pressure to perform and not alienate potential new readers who might not be interested in this anonymous asshole." I am not sure if I would describe HRO as "sarcastic"-probably more like "too real." I just like the fact that different types of people can come to the site with very different expectations. 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.

So to what degree did you "mean" that Animal Collective post? A lot of people I know have raved about it-were you surprised at how much attention it got? Did you intend for it to be seen as this epic manifesto?

I think that the "moral fabric" of my site is probably in the musical criticism. I started out as "just another MP3 blog" who eventually got on Hype Machine, but then realized that people can only value a free MP3 so much. When I write about music, I try to write from an identifiable consumer perspective. I think that the Animal Collective post was pretty serious, and maybe just more of a reflection of the era that we have kind of grown into. The post wasn't really even a good post about AnCo, but just more of a timeline of our collective consumer perception since the alternative population started using the Internet to find the "best new music."

Do you, out of character, "like" Animal Collective?

Yeah. I have only liked them since Sung Tongs, though. I am not THAT authentic.

Per that timeline, it's been true for awhile that popularity on the Internet doesn't mean commercial success, and that "branding" and "coolness" are crucial to a band's success. What makes AC different? What makes them the first real "Internet band"?

I think that AnCo is probably a band that maintained the praise of people who formulate the perception of what is "authentic" over an extended period of time. We have now reached a perfect storm where "the blogs/online mags" and "printed magazines" created perfect hype synergy. I guess it also helps to "take a step back" and realize that they actually have a good product. I also like how they have underwhelming personal brands. While their music is "weird," none of the members really had an overt personal brand that overshadowed the music, or became "the bigger news story"/"blurbable music-news-website meme" that overshadowed the band as "legitimate artists." I am not sure if they are spaced out, or probably just care about different things than their fans value, but they sort of transcend "the current state of independent-ish music."

That's gotta be deliberate, though-they take great pains to come across as boring, normal, humble guys. Everyone's seized on that "I don't mean to seem like I care about material things" line. . . . In a sense, that's a "style," too, though, right?

Yeah. It's pretty weird. They sing about family values and their kids, but I just don't see why that is so "identifiable" to who I would generalize as their target market. But maybe that's "what we all want inside," and they have tapped into something that we don't even "realize is inside of us."

It seems like music critics particularly, and apparently I'm one of them, are somewhat fascinated with HRO-are you the future of music criticism? Are you the death of music criticism?

I think that the "music criticism economy" has changed somewhat in "the Internet age," though I don't even really remember life before the Internet. There are always going to be people who appreciate high-level analysis, but I don't think the generations after Gen-Y will have the intellectual capacity or even just the "ability to pay attention to something for more than 30 seconds." The perception of music criticism seems to have shifted to a "product review by someone who cares too much." It's pretty interesting to think about everything as a product listed on Amazon.com, and what information you need to evaluate that product to become an "educated consumer." I think that while our search for authentic, relevant music has never been more intense, we can't really help but view artists, albums, and concerts like they are a product on Amazon. I think I am just kind of like a link between "high-level ideas" and "people who only have a high school education."

So a woman I know owns a dress she says she can't wear anymore because it's too similar to something someone's wearing in one of the pics of your "Girls' Night Out" post. Is that part of your intention at all, to shame people?

I don't think I'm looking to "shame" people. I just think that "being yourself" is a bold decision. However, the decision to declare "yourself" can leave you vulnerable to criticism. Not sure if that has to do with our modern world or if it has "always been that way." So whether you attach yourself to a band, an idea, a fashion sense, or a general aesthetic, I feel like we're all open to criticism and analysis from various perspectives. I just feel like in our world, "how you present yourself" matters more than ever to everyone else but you.

There's definitely an element of disdain, though-like your podcast, where you're talking in this deadpan voice, like, "I have so much more to share. I feel closer to you. This is a chance to show you who I really am," and then you play George Michael's "Father Figure." Is there an element of self-loathing to that, kind of a rejection of the notion of actually being serious about blogging/being a critic/caring about music on the Internet?

I think maybe that's where "shame" comes in. I generally feel "ashamed" that I am "part of humanity" who is "searching for something meaningful." (Not ashamed of humanity like I want to go on a school-shooting spree-more like I have been trained to think that my life is more inherently meaningful than every one else's.) Or like maybe I am "ashamed" that I bought the Matchbox 20/Third Eye Blind albums when I was a kid. And maybe I am "ashamed" of myself for having that in common with all of the other kids who were growing up at the time. And I might be "ashamed" that I found that meaningful. While I did listen to the AnCo song "Visiting Friends" on a winter drive with a group of people whom I love, maybe I am "uncomfortable"/"ashamed" with that meaning something. But then I kind of look back on my life as a consumer, and Amazon.com will recommend new purchases for me to create more meaningful experiences/my identity based upon previous purchases.

So is there a long-term goal for HRO? A sense of how long you'll keep it up, of what you ultimately hope to "accomplish"?

I have a few projects that I am interested in to try to keep my life "meaning something," since "looking forward to something" and "accomplishing artistic goals" keeps me "going." I think in the next few months, I will have my debut EP.

It might be hard to convince people you're sincere in that-is that a concern?

Yeah, I've been thinking about my "brand" from the blog, and what the "music" will mean. But I just think it will be a pretty funny "experiment" when it comes to "online marketing a new buzz band." It's also just going to be funny to "expose myself" to criticism since I am theoretically a news/criticism source. It makes me wish that Pitchfork would "start a band" and capture its site aesthetic in a musical format.

What kind of music is it? What are your artistic aspirations?

I think the music will be post-bloghouse, or maybe post-Merriweather-post-core. I think overall, the goal is to try to make something that is both "good" and "bad" enough to take seriously.

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