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A Tale of Two Hipster Cities
cool SQ

I grew up in London, so have a strange feeling of ownership levelled by a compulsion to be very judgemental towards it.

Basically, it’s a little like I’m performing in a play by Brecht: I’m in it, but I want to stand outside of it, at once both smug about being spawned in one of the hippest cities in the world, and totally aloof to it all. I used to dine out on having been a born-and-bred Londoner because I imagined it bestowed me with natural cool. I was sitting pretty at the top of a hipster pyramid instead my own head, one that I simultaneously maintained that only people who weren’t from London cared about climbing.

London is famously chock-a-block with hipsters. Hipsters originally emerged as a style subculture, yet ceased to be hip somewhere back in 2008. Grasping at the straws of my own existence, I chatted with Peter Firth, a senior journalist at UK trend forecasting agency LS:N global, who told me that he actually, “ceased to exist as soon as we labeled him a ‘hipster.’”

So with that in mind, London is now full of blokes with beards and bicycles and everything commonly derided by association, as The Guardian recently opined.

Troublingly, being cool stopped being cool a long time ago, and we’re living in a scorched wasteland of post-cool. Where does that leave us? Or me, specifically?

Me, me, me.

I actually left London for the more polluted pastures of Beirut last February. It wasn’t just the hipster thing by any means, I’m mostly shallow but not consummately: I had always intended to work abroad if I was enabled to, and by the end of 2012 I was fed up with my job and ready for change.

The catalyst, though, came on New Year’s Eve. My friends and I were trying to figure out where we’d go and addle our brains, and the chosen destination was some miscellaneous warehouse party in Dalston. The blurb of the club night went like this: “New friends, old faces, sleaze and love with deep music and smoke in the air. 2012 was beautiful and the 2013 looks to get even more intense with new talent set to be uncovered and clothes to be ripped off in new frontiers from New York to LA to Tokyo to Kokomo.”

I mean, come on. COME ON. What the dickens even is ‘deep music’? The promoters also hilariously assured that they would, “be keeping the guests secret for this party and promotion to a minimum to keep the desperate New Year’s Eve types out and doing it word of mouth and low profile.” Discretion I’m sure the several thousand people invited over Facebook were grateful for.

Anyway, in the interests of not tearing off my clothes for no reason and not giving my money to a haughty cunt with a clipboard, I went and spent the evening with my cousins in Brighton and we sat around being desperate New Year’s Eve types together while playing Scrabble. Afterwards, I wondered whether if that was what London, supposedly one of the coolest cities in the world, really had to offer on the final eve of 2012. It was meant to be the apocalypse – a sexy marketing opportunity if ever there was – and I was expected to spend my evening at a flaccid-sounding, try-hard club night swimming in its own tragic self-consciousness, clumsily trying to cultivate a tromp l’oeil of exclusivity.

And that’s what it’s all about. Exclusivity is the foundation that anything cool is built upon, yet as I’ve discovered since leaving the city, is in ever-depreciating supply.

Since arriving in Beirut, I discovered a hipster scene pretty much identical to the one back home. Cycles do move differently here: much faster, for one, with trendy areas tending to dissipate much faster than back home. Apparently when someone describes somewhere as the anywhere of anywhere, it’s probably the nowhere of nowhere, but Mar Mikhael, a neighbourhood in East Beirut, is occasionally pronounced by Brit expats as the ‘Dalston of Beirut’. It was in its nascent stages when I arrived here and now, 18 months later, it’s on the scrapheap of coolness – bars that once sucked in hipsters and pumped out Cyril Hahn remixes are open and shut in as little as six months. Here, particularly, exclusivity is difficult to sustain.

The fashion, however, is symptomatic of something altogether more global. I arrogantly assumed it was all simply a pastiche of London: after all, social media has changed the world, and fashion, a large component in hipster-ism, along with it, with trends and style tribes able to spread across the globe as soon as they’re announced on the Internet.

“I’d venture that there are more style subcultures than before, simply because people are able to connect in ways that transcend distance,” Peter from LS:N said. “Movements no longer have to be linked to places.” The long and short of it, trends globalize, and very often, they’re not even rooted to a particular place, although Peter did state that there are still, “areas of contemporary cultural significance that provide the same conditions for certain trends to propagate.”

It blew my tiny mind that London, in fact, is not the centre of the cultured universe, however lame I perceived it to be when I left it. That cities that appear drastically dissimilar from one another – whether socially, politically or demographically – are bound together by a globalized coolness and are consequently unable to carve out their own identities.

The fashion industry has reacted to such mass coolness in the only way it knows how: by creating a new trend. You might have heard of it – Normcore, a term coined by New York trend agency K Hole (lol) in October. It was essentially anti-fashion; dressing down in Birkenstocks and khaki cargo trousers to differentiate. It felt the innovators, cornered and oppressed by copycats, were lashing out like rabid, frightened dogs by coming up with a concept so ridiculous that the expression has now entered common vernacular. I’ve got no idea if people are actually appropriating this trend on the streets, but I know now if it’s happening, it’s as much likely in Lebanon as it is in London.

When I left home, I spun some Beatnik bollocks to my friends about it being a big world out there that I wanted to explore, but as it turns out, it’s so much smaller than I realised.

When I arrived in Beirut, I discovered I had a clone here: thousands of miles from home and a life-changing decision later, I met somebody with the same name, same job, who’d been to the same university. We had the same rolled up trousers, American Apparel top and exactly the same model of hipster Paul Smith glasses.

I guess it’s what you’d call the post-cool condition.

Featured image by erin on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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About The Author

John Ovans

John Ovans is from London, has smudgy, roundish glasses, and likes complaining about stuff on the Internet. Follow him @jphov, where he mainly tweets about Girls Aloud and eating veal, or on his blog, Beirut Bloopers.

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