A book review for The Australian, reproduced in its entirety below.
HipsterMattic: One Man’s Quest to Become the Ultimate Hipster
By Matt Granfield
Allen & Unwin, 303pp, $24.95
First a definition, for understanding this central premise is crucial. The 2000s-era wave of hipsterdom, Matt Granfield writes, began as a quiet and conscientious uprising that unfolded behind the scenes.
“Long-forgotten styles of clothing, beer, cigarettes and music were becoming popular again. Retro was cool, the environment was precious and old was the new “new”. Kids . . . wanted to be recognised for being different — to diverge from the mainstream and carve a cultural niche all for themselves . . . The way to be cool wasn’t to look like a television star: it was to look as though you’d never seen television.”
Thus, the modern hipster. In the wake of a crushing break-up, wherein his ex-girlfriend – who works for Triple J, “the biggest hipster radio station in the country” – accuses the author of not knowing his true identity at age 30, Granfield decides to “throw everything into becoming a particular brand of person”. It helps that he’s halfway there: in the words of his best friend Dave, the author is “probably the biggest f . . king hipster I know”.
This is not a particularly strong foundation for a book, yet Granfield redeems himself after a tenuous start by sampling and experiencing a wide range of styles and activities enjoyed largely by the cooler kids. Almost all the action takes place in the inner-city suburbs of Brisbane which, as the author proves time and again, are fertile grounds for would-be hipsters. It’s helpful that he lives in New Farm, adjacent to the grungy nightlife hub of Fortitude Valley, “the sex shop and strip-joint capital of Australia”.
By day, Granfield runs a social media and PR agency and writes and edits for the ABC’s The Drum and Marketing Magazine, yet his professional life is almost entirely ignored. This is a curious decision, as viewing the advertising industry through hipster-tinted glasses might have made for interesting reading.
Instead, Granfield grows a beard, learns to knit, gets a tattoo, runs a fashion-oriented market stall (for one day), buys a fixed-gear bicycle online and takes a photography course using only his iPhone. All par for the hipster course.
A visit to Ikea shows the author at his best: “In 5000 years when alien archaeologist anthropologists want to identify the point at which human society began to devolve, they will dig up a homemaker centre car park and find the skeletons of 2000 white lower middle-class suburbanites, loading flat-screen televisions they can’t afford into Hyundais they don’t own, buried and perfectly preserved under a volcano of interest-free store credit paperwork.”
Such moments of brilliance are rare, unfortunately, though Granfield’s writing style, which flits between inner monologue and punchy dialogue, is enjoyable on the whole.
Occasionally, he digs beneath the flimsy veneer of hipster culture and unearths some interesting points, such as how Triple J staff are sent so much new music by record companies that they don’t have time to discover anything for themselves; or how indie record labels aren’t interested in what’s cool, only in what will make them money, a process that relies on some hoodwinking of hipsters.
The narrative draws to a close as Granfield explores drinking alcohol, trying to enjoy coffee (by drinking 12 shots in a single session) and alternative lifestyles. “There are three reasons why people choose to be vegetarians,” he writes. “The first is because they have a moral objection to eating animals. The second is for medical reasons. The third is because they’re trying to impress a girl.” Guess which category the author falls into?
He also tries to start the ultimate hipster band, while making occasional references to past musical experiences. Like his advertising industry sidestep, this is another curious decision on Granfield’s part, as his history includes a stint in a relatively successful indie rock band. Another missed opportunity, perhaps.
Fittingly, the photos that appear within these pages were all taken using the iPhone app Hipstamatic, which uses software filters to give off the effect that the images were taken using an antique film camera, not a smartphone.
This kind of retro fakery is central to the conceit of hipsterdom. By holding a mirror up to hipster ideals through his pursuit of a new identity, Granfield convincingly exposes the true absurdity of it all.
Andrew McMillen is a Brisbane-based freelance journalist.