Someone-and I’m glad it won’t be me-will write a book about the Brooklyn indie-rock scene in the next five years. (Prospective titles: Brooklyn (We Go Soft), A Tweet Grows in Brooklyn, My Friend Flickr, I Don’t Mean to Seem Like I Care About Material Things, Bleed American Apparel, or something involving the word “hipster,” in which case you have my permission to steal all the copies you can find and throw them off the nearest bridge.) This tome will exhaustively discuss the genesis, ascendance, and far-reaching influence of such borough big shots as TV on the Radio, the Fiery Furnaces, M.I.A., Grizzly Bear, Santigold, Animal Collective, MGMT, Matt and Kim, Sufjan Stevens, Todd P, the Dirty Projectors, and on and on. If we’re lucky, this author will be a rational, knowledgeable, thoroughly embedded BK native who won’t resort to wackadoo stereotypes and clueless blog-baiting. If we’re even luckier, though, this author will be, and do, the exact opposite. The best thing about living in Brooklyn is reading hilarious, oblivious accounts of what living in Brooklyn is like. Wayward journalistic attempts at infiltrating youth culture are a time-honored tradition, geography notwithstanding: The winsomely confused recent Santa Barbara Independent treatise that began, “There’s only one viable avant-garde art form nowadays, and it’s called indie rock” and declared Devendra Banhart “the Bob Dylan heir apparent of this age” sure was a hoot. But they’re infinitely better when they focus on Brooklyn generally-and Williamsburg, specifically-conjuring in the befuddled reader’s mind’s eye a toxic utopia of snooty, self-obsessed coolness fueled by retro fetishism, mindless elitism, and paralyzing narcissism.
Time birthed a genre classic in July. Category: “Brief History.” Headline: “Hipsters.” Photo caption: “New York hipsters participate in a water-balloon toss at McCarren Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.” Alleged fashion traits: cowboy hats, berets, jean shorts, Converse All-Stars, and “T-shirts silk-screened with quotes from movies you’ve never heard of.” (Berets?) Not delving into musical matters much (beyond opening the piece with “Hipsters are the friends who sneer when you cop to liking Coldplay”) showed some restraint, I suppose; wrapping things up by alluding to the imminent, recession-aided demise of “Williamsburg’s hipster playland” did not.
Sure, newsweeklies have trafficked in this nonsense for decades. (Either Time or Newsweek filed an epic early-’90s report on “alternative rock,” suggesting that if I liked They Might Be Giants, I would love the Butthole Surfers, which is probably the single worst piece of advice I have ever received.) And nowadays, you don’t even need a hapless print journalist to indulge such stereotypes, what with a glut of acidly satirical blogs (Hipster Runoff and the book-deal-adorned Look at This Fucking Hipster chief among them) to peruse. Or, for the reading-averse, you could just check out photo slideshows from Jelly’s summer-long series of weekly Pool Parties, which migrated this year from an actual pool (at McCarren Park, of course) to the slightly more picturesque East River State Park, but retained the event’s star attraction: unbeatable people-watching. Dressed carefully but haphazardly, childishly but usually salaciously (i.e., “more topless women than non-topless women,” as the Voice delicately chose to describe its own round-up of patrons at a Girl Talk fete), often more than 10,000 eager young’uns mashed into “the Williamsburg Waterfront” on Sunday afternoons this summer, and you only have to shuffle through 20 to 25 candid Internet portraits of beaming folks with fey tattoos and ribald undergarments and not-very-sunlight-obstructing sunglasses to get some very strange ideas about what planet they’re living on, even if you’re living on it as well, just down the street. In spite of yourself, you start to believe this utopia actually exists. Jay-Z got into the act, too, famously dropping by Grizzly Bear’s Pool Party gig in late August, swaying along to the quartet’s baroque pop with Beyonce at his side and later raving about “the indie-rock movement” and its potential to “push hip-hop even further.” It all starts to indeed seem quite momentous, glamorous, revolutionary. The Brooklyn Summer of Love! It’s all happening!
The best antidote to this sort of talk, of course, is to actually go to a Pool Party. They’re great fun, and lousy with great distractions (dodgeball, relatively cheap food, Mission of Burma), but to your initial surprise and eventual relief, the teeming masses surrounding you carry no whiff of the Zeitgeist, do not unify into a single influential body that Time or Jay-Z or whoever can then categorize and praise (or deride) as Hipsters, Indie-Rockers, Gen-YYY’ers, etc. These are simply young, hungover, sunburned, disquietingly dressed, possibly unemployed people who showed up because everyone else was showing up, and it’s free, and maybe someone will take a picture of them dancing to Dan Deacon or tossing water balloons or whatever and peg them as emblematic of an entirely new and vital social class.
Nor does Brooklyn’s actual music necessarily betray a great deal of camaraderie or continuity: There are friends, partnerships, and small cliques, but no overarching, BK-centric themes connecting the interests of TVOTR, the Vivian Girls, the Drums, or MGMT. This year, we’ve had a run on Best Brooklyn Indie-Rock Record of All Time candidates, starting with (only somewhat affiliated) Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion and continuing on through Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest and-my personal favorite-the Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca, a bewildering blend of West African guitar-god exuberance, choral elegance, and abrasive noise-rock that feels like nothing you’ve heard before and nothing you could possibly hear afterward. Neither the band nor its myriad Brooklynite fans can be so easily, blithely classified. Still, we hope people never stop trying.