The Definitive Guide to Hipster Music Genres
All the music you loved for three months, from Bloghaus to Witch House and everything in between.
All illustrations by Meaghan Garvey
These days, you could be a Juggalo in a Garth Brooks tribute act and someone will still accuse you of being a hipster. In fact, perhaps the only genre of music you can be into without someone, somewhere, accusing you of being a hipster is metalcore, and even that's iffy. This is because the term "hipster" denotes an identity that's hard to nail down, but is probably negative and definitely disingenuous somehow(i.e., two dudes can be wearing the same Bad Brains T-shirt, but the one you like and think is "for real" is a punk, and the one you think is a filthy hobbyist is a hipster). Bad faith and trend-hopping is the default assumption in music, because god forbid anyone like anything ever.
Bear in mind that we're fans of pretty much all these genres (many of which probably aren't actual genres at all), but our fondness for the music and acknowledgement that the term "hipster" is mostly meaningless will not, cannot stand in the way of our need to document them as the purview of The Hipster, and make cheap jokes at their expense.
This list is purposefully not comprehensive. True to the spirit of hipsterdom, we embrace arbitrary exclusivity and louche laziness. Enjoy!
Years Active: 1968-Present
Defining Artist: Sturgill Simpson
In the years before and after alt-country (see below), we just called this type of music "Gram Parsons," but anyone with liberal politics and conservative views on mixing slide guitars and synths is encouraged to apply. More critics have died fighting over Kacey Musgraves than all the lives lost during all the Hundred Years War combined.
Years Active: 1990-1998
Defining Band: Antioch Arrow
Pre-screamo, before "emo" denoted college-rock misogyny with prog gestures and gross guitar tones; "smart" hardcore meant pants so tight, belts so white, and lyrics so willfully obscure that it was like Lord Byron himself rose from his mausoleum to scold you for slam-dancing and wearing suede kicks.
Years Active: 2010-Present
Defining Artists: Beyoncé, Taylor Swift
Some day a few years ago, maybe it was a Tuesday, we all woke up, shook the artisanal fairy dust out of our hair, and decided that mainstream pop music was not as bad as we'd assumed all along, but was in fact good. Perhaps it was because we realized Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds was sort of like LCD Soundsystem if James Murphy was singing about his dick. Or perhaps it was because Diplo finally got so famous we had to admit he was mainstream. Perhaps it was because of nothing at all. Regardless, on that fateful day, music nerds made a secret pact that, every few months, they'd claim some random, mercenarily constructed teen-pop album was actually high art, and we've been cursed with an avalanche of half-assed thinkpieces ever since.
Years Active: Jersey-Present
Defining Artists: The Menzingers, pre-out-of-fashion Gaslight Anthem
Hardworking Bruce-ian ballads about working in the Miller High Life mines and daddy being a hard but fair man. And cars, so many cars. Everybody misses kissing you on a rooftop, drunk, the moon hitting your Off with Their Heads hoodie just so. Much like Gym Hardcore (aka non-hipster hardcore) could not exist without betrayal and brotherhood, without kissing on rooftops in the twighlight of our youth, there would be no Acceptable Pop Punk. Everybody involved in this scene is impossibly nice.
Years Active: 1990-1994
Defining Artist: Uncle Tupelo
Hipsters of a certain age used to be really into Uncle Tupelo, but haven't listened to them in so long that they'd probably have to Google "Wilco guy first band" to remember the name.
Years Active: 1999-2010
Defining Artist: Aesop Rock
Listening to dudes rap polysyllabically about skateboarding out of an alien's amniotic sac on Jupiter only to find out they've been dumped has never been cool, but there was a time before the internet flattened the divide between hip-hop's under- and overground when there genuinely was a rap scene three or four parsecs left of center. Alt-rap was born when Eminem dissed Cage on the Slim Shady LP, it died when El-P shuttered the mighty Def Jux, and it died again when I couldn't figure out how to shoehorn Rhymesayers and anticon references into this paragraph.
Years Active: 2006-2010
Defining Artist: Justice and/or Crookers
What do gross French dudes with ironic mustaches, neon American Apparel onesies, and sweaty all-ages clubs in Los Angeles have in common? That's a rhetorical question, because these were the Holy Trinity of bloghaus.
Years Active: 2007-2009
Defining Artist: The Cool Kids
Important because it was one of the first times rappers crossed the mainstream/underground picket lines into the demilitarized zone that was the internet. Used interchangeably with "hipster rap" (both were bad). Mainly a term that people threw at guys like Kid Cudi, Wale, Charles Hamilton, and The Cool Kids because they couldn't wrap their heads around the fact that a rapper might wear tight pants.
Years Active: 2002-2009
Defining Artists: The Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend
Most hipster genres refer to specific aesthetic or regional parameters, but Blog Rock was defined by the means through which its practitioners gained fame: namely, blogs. Blog Rock died once all the music blogs got smart and realized they could get more traffic posting new songs by bands that everybody already liked rather than trying to find new ones.
Years Active: 1986 (duh)-Infinity
Defining Artist: The Wedding Present
The genre that, along with the fine people at Flying Nun, started the best and led to the worst. Who knew that hair-in-the-eye passive aggression and an affection for a noisy take on The Byrds would, 20 years later, result in the cultural decimation of Bushwick and Queens? One summer every band in New York sounded like insecure folk rock and, unlike every other summer trend here (metal summer of Early Man for example), it never let up. College was all, and all was college. We all have hair in our eyes and don't enunciate for shit. The jangly butterfly wing of doom.
Years Active: 2009-2011
Defining Artists: Washed Out, Neon Indian, Toro Y Moi
Much like "chill bros," the term "AmAppy," and the prevalence of "quote humor," chillwave really only existed insomuch that Carles from Hipster Runoff willed it into existence so he could make fun of it. These days, those "in the know" tend to treat the term as an "inside joke" that got "out of hand."
Years Active: 2010-2012
Defining Artist: Main Attrakionz
If you self-identified as a "cloud rapper," you got written off as skirting by on opiated aesthetics alone; and if you were an established artist who rapped over something vaguely chill-sounding, people labeled you a trend-humper. Between that and the continued popularity of A$AP Rocky, I think we can all agree that cloud rap was a mistake.
Years Active: 1977-1984
Defining Artists: Siouxsie and the Banshees
Fun fact: Did you know that the dude from Cold Cave has songwriting credits on Fall Out Boy songs because Pete Wentz lifted a bunch of lyrics from him? Another fun fact: Did you know the guy from Cold Cave and the genre cold wave are totally different things? Because someone just told me and, uh, whoops.
Years Active: 1950s-1960s
Defining Artist: Miles Davis
"There were other odd things. For instance, they often slept standing up, and this group narcolepsy could strike right in the middle of the most dynamic conversation. Someone would start a sentence: 'Those ofay cats bopping out on the stoop are blowin' like Birrr...' and suddenly the words would begin to come out slower. And. Slower. Soon they wouldn't be speaking at all. Eventually our living room would be filled with black and white hipsters suspended in time and space, while I ran through the petrified forest of their legs. My favorite game was waiting to see if the ashes from their cigarettes would ever drop. Somehow they almost never did."—From Le Freak: The Autobiography of Nile Rodgers
Years Active: 1981-1987
Defining Artist: The Blasters
Starting in Los Angeles, punks put off by the jockish crudity of hardcore discovered the allure of Western pearl snap shirts and the rest was brief history. Affected Southern accents and songs about trucks and the devil. The end result was Social Distortion and a lifetime of tattoo regret. The tragic reality of both cowpunk and its dumb cousin, rockabilly, is that Betty Page would never have gotten a Betty Page tattoo.
Years Active: 2009-Present
Defining Artist: fun.
Essentially, any artist who attended Oberlin College and whose drum programming is done by the same guys who write songs for Katy Perry. Lots of Blog Rock bands signed to major labels and became corporate indie by default.
Years Active: 2001-2006
Defining Artist: The Rapture
House. Of. Jealous. Lovers. Shake dowwwwwwwwwwwwnnnnnn. The most instantly reviled guitar-based genre ever. The backlash started as soon as the first Radio 4 chord rang out over a syncopated beat. Like traveling abroad during the Bush years, bands from Brooklyn had to claim to be from Canada. The staff of Frenchkiss had to go into hiding and now they're all gollums, surviving on silverfish and memories of their four-on-the-floor innocence.
Years Active: 2006-2010
Defining Artist: Crystal Castles
We can argue all day and night about whether this genre should be called "electropunk" or if digital punk should date back to the 80s, but honestly, we don't really give a shit. Think bloghaus, but everybody wore all black instead of neon.
Years Active: 1969-Present
Defining Artist: Pallbearer
Of all the genres listed here, we will assuredly get the most death threats for calling doom metal "hipster," despite the scene's plentiful beards and denim. Anyways, here goes nothin': Do you like Black Sabbath, but always wanted to listen to it while drifting off to sleep? Well, my friend, do we have a genre for you!
Years Active: 1989-Present
Defining Artists: My Bloody Valentine, everybody else
"We're not shoegaze!" Yes. You fucking are. Otherwise I'd remember your songs.
Years Active: 1997-2004 (with the closing of LUXX)
Defining Artist: Avenue D
Punk dance music but not dance-punk! Without electroclash, there'd be no VICE as we know it, ergo no hipsters as we know them. This is also one of the last times NYC rockers and club kids snorted upon the same mound of cocaine. Then The Strokes happened and white-dude critics shat themselves with joy at not having to write about Miss Kittin anymore. Electroclash double-died after Hunx left Gravy Train!!!! for Hunx and His Punx.
Years Active: 2002-2008
Defining Artist: Devendra Banhart
Folk music but without the tedious baggage of choruses or a working class fan-base. More necklaces than there are necks in the world.
Years Active: 1950s-1960s
Defining Artist: Ornette Coleman
Not going to be snarky about Ornette Coleman. There are lines. Free jazz is hipster music precisely because of how much it isn't. The practical benefits of pretending to like it are effectively zilch. It's not like an Albert Ayler shirt is going to get you laid, the logic goes, therefore if you say you like free jazz, you must actually be into it. Loving the unlovable for no discernible reason: very hipster.
Years Active: 2002-2005
Defining Artist: Dizzee Rascal
Remember when we were all really convinced that British rap was that new new? As much fun as it is to listen to guys from East London rhyme about knifing fools over the sound of robots fucking, it turns out Americans hate the sound of British people rapping. It should be noted that grime is still thriving, but due to a clerical error on the part of a Blender intern, the genre was inadvertently hipster for a couple years.
Years Active: 1963-Eternity
Defining Artist: Once The Oblivians, now Burger Records potheads in shorts and denim. Sunglasses at night, misguided hatred of the Beatles, and historical reenactment. Combines an entirely nebulous definition of what it is and isn't, delusions of its own inaccessibility, with a high musician mortality rate for perfect hipster storm "no you're the hipster" hootenanny.
Years Active: 2002-2008
Defining Artist: Skream
There was a time when "dubstep" didn't mean bros at festivals jamming to tracks that went "WOWOWOWOWOW." It meant British kids taking too much ketamine in Shoreditch warehouses to tunes that went "WUBBAWINGWUBB." Trust us, it was different.
Years Active: 2011-Present
Defining Artist: Grimes
Actually, we're pretty sure this is just some bullshit a music editor made up because they needed a way to describe Grimes other than "sort of chillwave, I guess."
Years Active: 2004-Present
Defining Artists: Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver, Beach House, TV on the Radio, etc.
Once your electronics-heavy vibesploitation group nabs that prime-time Coachella sidestage (or off-peak Coachella mainstage!) timeslot, you hit what we in "the biz" like to term the "Fugazi Paradox," in which your oblique, uncommercial band gets good enough at flouting the status quo that you become as popular as—if not more popular than—lots of "mainstream" music. The only way to atone for reaching this critical mass is to prematurely retire to a cabin somewhere wooded and "hella chill," gaining sustenance through naught more than doobies and the crackle of a nice vintage synth short-circuiting. Those who fail to retreat simply become Corporate Indie and end up soundtracking diaper commercials.
Years Active: 2001-2008
Defining Artist: Girl Talk
Hip-hop DJs had been mixing popular vocal tracks with other, also-popular instrumentals basically since hip-hop DJing became a thing, but only after some joker slapped The Strokes and Christina Aguilera together and guys like Hollertronix and Girl Talk did popular mash-ups become a "thing." Though mash-up artists will exist until the sun explodes and thereby mashes up with the Earth itself, the genre truly ended in 2008, when Girl Talk released Feed the Animals, an album so good that it divided the form into the categories of "Girl Talk" and "Not Girl Talk."
Years Active: 2002-Present
Defining Artist: Xeno & Oaklander
Bleep bloop music played on whatever the equivalent of lyres and panflutes is for bleep bloop music. On any given night, your author will interact with approximately seven trillion minimal synth musicians who he likes and would rather they didn't hate him so that's all we have to say about it. Minimal synth music is great! Bleep! Bloop!
Year Active: 2010
Defining Artist: Nadastrom
Get a DJ in his/her early 30s drunk and start talking about music, and he/she will eventually start talking about how moombahton was great because it let DJs seamlessly transition between house music and rap. Still, all the blabbering about BPMs in the world can't explain away the fact that, much like "fetch," moombahton was just never gonna happen.
Mysterious Guy Hardcore
Years Active: 2008-2011
Defining Artist: Cult Ritual
Within a scene where saying you were on the same block as Mark McCoy is considered name-dropping and gauche as fuck, you needed to take extra steps to show that you really didn't want more than 150 elite PayPal users to be into your music. This meant staying off MySpace as a show of moral courage and reverse-SEOing your name so that you were impossible to find on Google. I can't fucking remember the name of a single one of these fucking bands right now, but these guys are all in bands on Matador now.
Years Active: Mid 80s-2013
Defining Artists: Death in June
Freak folk but monotone. Nazi imagery, fetishization of strength, purity, and the Holocaust, but totally not Nazi, they just thought fascism is wicked interesting. How do you know the light if you can't get in touch with the dark? Why do you hate nuance? Rockabilly druid humping that managed to make Odin seem really fucking boring.
Years Active: 2006-2009
Defining Band: The Horrors
A strange and beautiful blip on the hipster landscape where, for a brief mascara'd time, all of England dressed like foppish ghouls with Nick Cave hair. Ended unceremoniously when The Horrors had a guy from Portishead produce their second record and the tyranny of glossy Radiohead-esque production resumed; all the lil' hobgoblins washed their lipstick off, resumed reasonable hairstyles, and all that was living was gray again, while their await the return of their one true king (again, Nick Cave).
The New Rock Revolution
Years Active: 2000-2004
Defining Artists: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, The Strokes
The genre that put New York City on the map. For every Moldy Peaches, there were a million Elefants, The Fevers, and stellastarr*s. Briefly the musicians of New York City felt the anticipatory ecstasy of living in Seattle in the 90s. Then we went back to tending bar. As the bands in this genre became more and more popular, the term eventually widened to also include every major-label rock group it was OK to not actively hate.
Years Active: 2005-2008
Defining Artists: Kalxons
Another genre that means absolutely nothing and was basically NME writers playing god on their lunch break (See: New Wave of New Wave, etc.). New Rave was basically same as old rave, except it was also indie rock with (intelligent) bleeps and (intelligent) bloops thrown on top. Or maybe it was what happened after MDMA users discovered cocaine. Or was it what happened after cokeheads discovered MDMA? Either way, coke and molly somehow traded places and everyone started dressing like overly nighttime-traffic-cautious bike messengers. I can't really remember because I was new-raving so hard in line to get into the new rave.
Years Active: 1949-2014
Defining Artist: Literally changed every 15 minutes
If there's any magazine that encapsulates both the good and bad, "real" and perceived notions of hipsterdom, it's NME. Fickle to the point of self-parody and hailing unknown bands at the point of conception, NME made and broke countless greats (Suede) and not-so-greats (Gay Dad, Oasis), and was not afraid of self-righteous lecturing and upskirt photography in the span of one article. Someday someone will write a serious scholarly work on how truly wonderful/fucked NME's influence was/is. But I'm not getting paid by the word.
Years Active: 1978-1984
Defining Artists: Lydia Lunch, James Chance
Lunch will probably hunt us down and castrate us for calling her a "hipster" but, really, we'd welcome the chance to hang. No wave is what people think of when they think of a romantic version of the Lower East Side, even more than punk and hipster saint-bastard Richard Hell. Long on attitude and short on actual tunes maybe, but you're going to die soon regardless, might as well wear a tie and do hard drugs. Still the best argument, besides hip-hop obviously, to move to New York.
Years Active: 1975-Present
Defining Artists: Throbbing Gristle, Missing Foundation
As vague as hipsterdom itself. Did it start with Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music? Musique Concrete? The first ape looking at the black obelisk in 2001 and thinking, I'm going to hit the shit out of this shit? Yes to all three. Unlike free jazz, all sorts of motherfuckers pretend to like noise.
Years Active: 1990-2010
Defining Artist: No Age
The preferred punk of positive people in white T-shirts who jumped around a lot (note: NOT Andrew W.K.), noise pop ultimately died because the good bands just became pop and the shitty ones always kind of sucked even with all the distortion. In the great 90s war between Unrest and Pussy Galore, there were too many survivors.
Years Active: 2011-Present
Defining Artist: Death Grips
Nobody particularly enjoys noise rap, but it's fun to see live and "important" in that its more listenable songs eventually get ripped off by rappers whose names contain zero vowels and at least three dollar signs. Mainly hipster for how obstinate its practitioners tend to be.
Years Active: Elvis-Present
Defining Artists: The Monkees, Post Malone
Less a genre and more an endless series of red flags signaling the imminent co-option of "the scene," plants (as in "industry plants") often age startlingly well even in comparison to their D.I.Y. counterparts. This is both because major labels tend to have more rigid quality control systems in place than your average AlbiniBalls Recordz, and because it's way easier to make a more polished version of a sound than it is to invent a new one from scratch.
Years Active: 2002-2012
Defining Artist: Isis
"Thinking man's metal"; actually quite nice if you smoke pot. You know, the thinking man's drug.
Years Active: 1980-1986 (ending with the release of That's What I Call Power Electronics! but arguably till present)
Defining Artist: Whitehouse
The oppressive nature of modern life expressed through the sound of broken refrigerators. Edgy lyrics coupled with scrawny masculinity and gorgeous haircuts. The howl of hatred from that most oppressed peoples: middle-class white Englishman. Don't let those "you like power electronics?" dudes on the street hand you their CDR or they'll expect you to buy it.
Years Active: 2011
Defining Artist: How to Dress Well
Coined as a joke by writer Eric Harvey on Twitter, PBR&B was more or less shorthand for "hipster R&B," which in and of itself, was shorthand for "R&B that nerdy music critics deemed worth listening to," which was, in and of itself, shorthand for The Weeknd, How to Dress Well, and Frank Ocean. It was a very different time in 2011, an era before music critics were willing to do some googling and realize that R&B has always been weird and that Lloyd actually sampled Art of Noise in 2007.
Years Active: 2000-2006
Defining Artist: The Darkness
"Fun" metal. Flamboyant but aggressively heteronormative; i.e. hair metal stripped of its joy. Used Queen like a cudgel to crush the spirit of anyone and everyone. Popular with models and people who like music that, ugh, "rocks."
Year Active: 2011
Defining Artist: None
Perhaps what's most impressive about the rise and fall of seapunk is that it managed to be hated despite the fact that no one actually admitted to making it.
Years Active: 1920s-1980s
Defining Artist: Arnold Schoenberg
In true hipster fashion, we don't understand exactly what this is, like, at all. Like, we get it kind of enough to make John Cage "notes between the notes" jokes at the bar, but, if pressed, we'll hide behind the first smart-looking motherfucker we can find, push them at our assailant, and say, "12-tone techneez nutz!" Or something to that effect.
Years Active: 2005-2011
Defining Artist: Psychedelic Horseshit
Almost disqualified for being one of the few genres that was self-named, thus eliminating one of the most revered pastimes for hipster bands; denying being part of the genre that they are inarguably a part of. Not one band in this genre owned their own drum pedal.
Short-Haired Black Metal
Years Active: 2008-Present
Defining Artists: Deafheaven, Liturgy (who despite their outward long hair have short hair in their souls)
No corpse paint because heavy metal isn't about theater. *cough*
*continues coughing until dead*
Years Active: 2012-Present
Defining Artist: Flosstradamus
Not to be confused with actual trap music, which is a style of extremely aggressive rap that came out of Atlanta, the formula for trap music is thus: aggressive southern rap, minus actual rapping, multiplied by entitlement hidden inside drop-crotch pants.
Years Active: 1990s
Defining Artist: Heavenly
Music for nice people who really, really hate their exes. The road to 500 Days of Summer is paved with good intentions. If you perhaps have the audacity to mention that, perhaps, maybe, the scene is perhaps not as progressive as it thinks, you'll get death threats for days. Empire wears an anorak.
Years Active: 2010-Present
Defining Artist: James Ferraro
If you thought washed-out mall muzak was boring the first time around, well, vaporwave would like you to read some Marxist theory containing the phrase "late capitalism." Mainly hipster for its insistence upon politicizing the irredeemably boring.
Years Active: 2009-2011
Defining Artist: Salem
The battleground upon which many a skirmish in the alt-culture wars would be fought. Witch House had the distinction of being one of the few hipster genres that, like high elves denying the rise of Sauron, even many die-hard hipsters refused to acknowledge as being real. Turns out it didn't matter either way, because by the time Salem managed to release an album, all their imitators had either signed to Tri Angle or moved on to rave music.
Whatever Dan Deacon Is
Years Active: 2004-Present
Defining Artist: Dan Deacon
One time in college I smoked Salvia out of a resin-drenched bong while listening to Spiderman of the Rings and ended up disassociating and slamming my face into my friend's dresser. To this day, I maintain that if we'd been listening to anything other than the goddamn psychedelic earfucks of Dan Deacon I would have been fine.
Ye Olde Timey Rock And Roll Music of Indeterminate Hipster Variety
Years Active: 1965-1978
Defining Artists: Velvet Underground
Not exactly classic rock but the rock that existed before all was put into subgenre upon subgenre. The preferred guitar music of Yippies, beatniks, junkies, and all the assorted type of once-maligned-now-romanticized scruffpuppies in sunglasses who populated SF and NYC. Be fully confident that if Lou Reed were to appear on the scene now, somebody would call him a hipster piece of shit.
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