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Senior Year

Senior Year, 2001: The Proto-Hipster

by Philip Sherburne

Senior Year, 2001: The Proto-Hipster

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With Napster turning 10 years old next month, let's flash back exactly a decade to salute the class of 2001 -- the generation that brought us, for better or for worse, the hipster.

Now, "hipster," that most desiccated of straw men, is an oft-abused term, and it's also a cipher of sorts: if no one hip enough to be a hipster cops to being one, then who's left to populate the demographic? Nevertheless, their habits are well documented. (Like dark matter, theory confirms their existence even when their actual capture eludes us.) And nowhere is that truer than in their musical tastes.

To understand why the hipster emerged when it did -- the literary journal n+1 locates the contemporary hipster's emergence in 1999, which is good enough for our armchair sociology session -- just look at the musical landscape of the turn of the millennium. Consider a few touchstones from that year: The Strokes' Is This It, Daft Punk's Discovery, Jay-Z's The Blueprint. Epochal albums all, and all from radically different corners of the musical universe, but all contributing, in their way, to the development of what we might call the hipster sensibility.

We're generalizing here, but I think you can describe the hipster's approach to taste as a voracious connoisseurship, a kind of competitive curiosity -- the desire to know more about more different kinds of music before anyone else. The hipster sensibility is a constellation of tastes; rooted in self-aware styles of indie rock and hip-hop, it quickly grew to encompass New Wave, Krautrock, funk carioca, Baltimore club, Chicago house and countless other niche sounds. (In this sense, the contemporary hipster is a walking, talking incarnation of The Rock Snob's Dictionary.)

That sensibility is everywhere in the music of 2001, a pivotal year for many reasons -- from The Avalanches' post-everything sampledelia to Miss Kittin's arch electro, from Yeah Yeah Yeahs' sardonic downtown chronicles to Radiohead's new sincerity. It's a complicated nexus of cool, sincerity, irony, pose, distance, guilty pleasures and unabashed enthusiasms. Untangle its DNA and get in touch with your own inner hipster with our playlist.