What's with all the heavy metal distinctions?

Sad White People + Occasional Clapping

Seinfeld writers just invented the term so they had something to call Kramer!
  • Seinfeld writers just invented the term so they had something to call Kramer!

Dear DJ: On an episode of Seinfeld, Elaine called Kramer a hipster dufus. Sure, Kramer was a doofus, but was he a hipster doofus? Did they have hipsters in the early ’90s? — RJ Narlian

Of course they had hipsters in the early ’90s — but what a trip if they didn’t, so the Seinfeld writers just invented the term so they had something to call Kramer! The moniker would fit: vintage clothes, gainful unemployment, and sincere investment in questionably useful pursuits fall within the hipster bailiwick. The thing about your early-’90s hipsters is that they had a certain grungy integrity. Maybe it was 99 percent bullshit, but that core legitimacy was really something that hipsters these days can’t and won’t cop to, hence the ironic detachment. Your ideal ’90s hipster was a mashup of mythically resourceful slacker (Cosmo Kramer or the Dude), drug-addled revolutionary (Kurt Cobain), and painfully sincere auteur crippled by the undeniable weight of every genius who came before him (D.F.W., Kevin Smith, and Richard Linklater). They set the coolness bar so ungodly high in regards to coolness that later generations of hipster have had to reinvent themselves as the third-wave-coffee-slurping disenchanted malcontents you know and love today!

Dear DJ, What in the name of the Prime Hipster is with all the heavy metal distinctions? Do you find them to be as funny as I do? I can’t decide whether my favorite metal category name is avant-garde metal or neoclassical metal. They’re both so ironic. What’s your favorite? Why is there no hipster metal? — Maedhros Feanorson

With that particular sobriquet appended to your correspondence, I’d have had you pegged as a power metal fan down for 17-minute anthems combining excruciating recapitulations of obscure events from The Silmarillion with extended guitar solos. But, hey, what do I know?

The propagation of metal genres owes its existence — if a root cause exists — to the zealous enthusiasm of its fans and practitioners. Hipsters may flit effortlessly to whichever band best encapsulates the “Sad White People + Occasional Clapping” genre at any given time, but that fairweather friendship stands in stark contrast to the quasi-religious devotion some metalheads will show a chosen genre. For example, Dave the Metalhead doesn’t just like Norwegian melodic black metal, he loves it. You might even say he lives it. And, should you mischaracterize his fandom as an obsession with, say, Finnish thrash metal he will (a) pity you, (b) lecture you, (c) destroy you, and (d) pity you further; not necessarily in that order.

But, before you get to thinking that heavy metal is the only flavor of music that has splintered into a thousand incrementally differentiated genres over the course of its almost 50-year lifespan, I refer you to the excellent (though somewhat dated) interactive guide to electronic music at http://techno.org/electronic-music-guide/.

Fair warning: Before you go down that rabbit hole, I recommend tying yourself to a lifeline like those scuba divers who explore underwater caves, from which they often fail to return.

Since you asked, I’m partial to the most hipster of the metal bands, System of a Down. Although they may not be a metal band per se, they’ve got songs about being held captive by television and advertising, which is super hipster.

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