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Dirty Projectors & The Curse Of Brooklyn's Hipster Ephemera
Mimi Haddon , July 29th, 2009 06:27

They're this summer's most talked about group in certain post and zip codes, but the Dirty Projectors stand for everything that's wrong with the hipster mentality, says Mimi Haddon. Artwork by David J Moats.

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So sure, I'm a little late on the uptake and maybe I'm like so last month? Well quite. But there appears to be a dearth of sufficient rebellion against US twee indie. The inept and sexless vocals emitted from these preening New Yorkers has never before been more offensive than in the brattish whining of Dirty Projectors (or Bedford Ave does Mary Kate and Ashley), the zenith of shallow hipster chic. At the release of their most recent album Bitte Orca it was suggested on this site that, 'the banal is made exciting through strange noises, layered vocals, funk when you least expect it.' But surely this is the problem? Longstreth and pals are the epitome of ephemera, the saccharine sound of candy floss dissolving before we've even begun to feel gratified.

With want of anything 'meaningful' to say, the Projectors' question, "is life under the sun just a crazy, crazy dream?" is apparently sufficient. Everyone loves the summer, right? This lyric from 'Stillness Is The Move' not only sums up the terrifying and indulgent apathy of swathes of youth but it's part of a song in which Crystal, no Barbie, no Amber sings over what sounds like Chun Li's intro music — using Street Fighter soundz to press our vulnerable and generation-sensitive buttons.

The band's syncopated vocal lines resemble queen Carey only insomuch as they're a self-conscious white girl's take on R&B with indiscriminate edgy breathing accompanied by some stuff played backwards. What's more, the vocal melismas have been cunningly coated in electronic distortion so's we don't notice the chasm left in skill's place.

But for many of the L-train riding contemporaries of Dirty Projectors, that Am Appy wool only stretches so far. Bear Hands leave nothing other than a streak of trebly guitar piss; School of Seven Bells merely a semblance of atmospherics; while political correctness — or ironic post-Colonialism — made it legal for Vampire Weekend to adopt Afrobeat in their jumpy, preppy vacuity.

Claiming that they 'just' write 'pop music' is a common defence squeaking from the mouths of these skinny dilettantes (see also: Vivian Girls) designed to make us believe that what they're doing isn't in earnest and to disguise the fact they take themselves so terrifyingly seriously. Seemingly aware of their transient status, Dirty Projectors made a tape. Kitsch — or ascribing value to something inherently terrible — relies on after-the-fact reception and nostalgia. We're all agreed that no one throws out a lovely warm warped little tape, but the crux of the fuzzy hipster logic is that the contents of the spools are of no consequence since the act of playing a tape is cute enough. The dolly mixture music inside only reinforces the commodity fetishism of listening on old skool equipment.

When the Guardian website finally collapses under the weight of its Brooklyn mayfly overload no one will know what or how to think any more. Each week the gaping hole in the heart of culture is filled with a series of gritty and/or nostalgic words that have had their meaning stripped out. 'Dirty': sure, illicit sexiness is cool and maybe you've got some soil or even PBR on your trendy shorts? 'Projectors': anything with demoded photographic cachet is a sure hit for those with an eye for vintage.

'Hitting the spot like Gatorade' and singing about the quotidian in a geeky stutter does not make for modest profundity or a great deal of humour. But I suppose it's all they have to worry about other than pretending they can't afford to eat and dressing like the cast of Saved by the Bell since the New York Times's Christine Haughney revealed that Williamsburg bohemia was nothing other than faux. Who knew? The global financial crisis means parental support is waning and the young things have to get jobs.

Rock is a famously middle-class genre with an almost exclusive art college lineage in the UK. But class is one thing and substance is another. The noise of summery lipgloss, unrestrained mirth at your own on-trend superiority and band names that allude to femininity or animals all sound potentially delicious — but won't you feel a 'douche' when everyone's wearing their autumn sweaters in few weeks and the money's run out on the 'mom' metre?

Kicking K
Jul 29, 2009 1:26pm

hmm... if 'the epitome of ephemera' have managed to release eight full-length albums (mostly on micro-indies, since 2002), i'd like to hear what a band has to do to be considered a long-term proposition.

and surely if you're accusing a band of emptily trending - which, to me, is a pretty serious charge - you surely shd at least briefly address those seven records made in obscurity..? most recently, wd the author likewise consider the pixel musical of 'the getty address' (video: http://www.vsanna.com ) or the conceptual exercise of 'rise above' to be empty of content or devoid of purpose?

in interviews about 'Bitte Orca', Longstreth has talked briefly about the songs' meanings - 'Cannibal Resource' re-imagining huge contemporary festivals as the spectacular celebrations of a late culture, 'Temecula Sunrise' about acres of post-boom empty housing 'reclaimed' (squatted) by future generations etc etc. you might argue this is over-ambitious, unfocused, whatever - but idea-free? really?

i'd also suggest it's not very useful to plant the dirty projectors within a brooklyn scene they're supposedly emblematic of without considering Longstreth has always contended he considers his peers and influences being those in portland.

here's their voices without that 'electronic distortion', by the way: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCD9LDE_LX8&feature=related 'inept' isn't amongst the first words i'd use.

to be honest, this feels like a reflexive media response to a scene conjured up and curated by the media in the first place...

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Kicking K
Jul 29, 2009 1:27pm

In reply to Kicking K:

wow. the default comment box formatting is pretty awful, he further complained.

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Hoof Me
Jul 29, 2009 2:06pm

Seriously, what a complete non-article. To be honest, the whole article smacks of the ramblings of an incoherent, angry-without-really-knowing-why-i'm-angry reactionary.

To take just one example - The vocals are electronically manipulated. 1. This has been happening for far, far longer than the dirty projectors. Loads of scuzzy, keep it real twee bands double track the vocals to help cover up their massive lack of 'talent' in the singing department, and that's just for starters 2. Why just presume that if something is electronically manipulated then it is 'fake'. Srsly, Delia Derbyshire'd give you a smack in the gob for that.

I mean, the thing is, you seem to have basically listed a whole loada reasons WHY dirty projectors make valuable, intelligent music, but because they aren't to your personal taste, then they are 'fake' or 'substanceless'. That's what this basically boils down to, ain't it? And having read this back three or four times, I can't really tease out exactly what your problem with Dirty Projectors *IS*, except that they've been critically lauded, choose to use some studio manipulation (and yet you cite British art school bands as an example of substance - ever heard Brian Eno?) and decided to release something on cassette...

As for your assertion that pop can't be taken seriously. Well, on some moderately lighthearted level, I find that pretty OFFENSIVE.

And as for you

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Hoof Me
Jul 29, 2009 2:10pm

In reply to Hoof Me:

oh wow. it cut off the end of my comment. i just sounded off about your comments on pop music anyway...

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Samuel Breen
Jul 29, 2009 2:50pm

"There is nothing we can't do
I'll see you along the way baby
The stillness is the move"

Oh wo is me entertaining my infantile existance. DP pander to, if not epitomise, scenester mentality. Pseudo-philosophical negativity indicative of conservative western academia.

"Srsly, Delia Derbyshire'd give you a smack in the gob for that."
@ Hoof Me
Prey tell Hoof Me, who could this Delia Derbyshire character be? You've weakened your argument in one fashionable and unnecessary namecheck.

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Daniel Sargeant
Jul 29, 2009 3:12pm

Maybe you don't spend a lot of time with the internet, but there's been a pretty serious and considered rebellion against twee indie hipsterism going on for a couple years now. It actually became way cooler to bitch about hipsters than it ever was to be one around this time last year. And that's disregarding the fact that the hipster's pretty much a straw man (people who like music and dress like their friends and posture and maybe do blow? How is this different from everyone ever?) As for DP: I dig 'em, but it's music, whatever, de gustibus, etc.

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Andy Symes
Jul 29, 2009 3:15pm

Wow - what an appallingly poorly-written article. The comments above have responded more eloquently than I will, but to present Dirty Projectors as the epitome of hipster ephemera without making reference to any of their work prior to Bitte Orca (which, yes, has perhaps been overhyped in some quarters) is pretty unfair. Is it the band's fault that they happened to have found themselves flavour of the month among the hipsters you obviously have such issues with? Dave Longstreth doesn't strike me as the type to cynically target commercial success by writing a pop album (and that's if we must use 'pop' as a pejorative). Shame, as there's so much well-written content on this site. And as for 'Am Appy' - I think I was just sick in my mouth a little...

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Hoof Me
Jul 29, 2009 3:24pm

In reply to Samuel Breen:

@Samuel Breen. She headed up the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the 1960s, arranged and recorded the Doctor Who theme tune and was in the super-awesome influential electronic band White Noise. I didn't realise she was particularly fashionable. And as for it being an unnecessary reference, my point was that electronic manipulation is nothing new, makes incredibly exciting music and has too long a distinguished and fascinating history to be "ephemeral". I feel that in lots of ways Dirty Projectors are a result of various pioneers experiments in "weird", eclectic and slightly schizo music.

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dylsmack rickards
Jul 29, 2009 5:02pm

wow, what a bitter person.
whoever wrote this article is just mad they weren't invited to the party.

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Nick N
Jul 29, 2009 7:18pm

Some very poor research in this article. You mention School of Seven Bells and Vampire Weekend as "L-train riding contemporaries" of Dirty Projectors, but both those bands are based in Manhattan, not Brooklyn. And Dirty Projectors aren't based in Williamsburg. You criticize Vivian Girls for claiming they 'just' write pop songs, and yet they feature on this Quietus playlist compiled by...Mimi Haddon.

http://thequietus.com/articles/01587-a-television-personalities-themed-spotify-playlist-of-teenage-lust

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Scott McDonald
Jul 29, 2009 7:57pm

I don't like 'Bitte Orca'...at all, but I know many people who have fallen in love with the band. This review doesn't make sense from either side of the fence nor does it address the group's music accurately. Personally, I'd love to see more critiques of the album from a sharp musical angle, only because most people I've discussed this record with only seem to enjoy it because it's "a different sounding album". I understand liking something for it's originality, I just don't agree with Dirty Projectors on 'Bitte Orca'. That being said, I'm still very curious about what this band will be doing in the next 5-10 years.

Also, panning School of Seven Bells, who are a fantastic breath of fresh air, is just plain stupid. If you can't see the imaginative nature and beauty in that record then I think it's time to give up and stop writing articles after you've had one too many cocktails. Something to think about.

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James Holloway
Jul 29, 2009 10:05pm

Burn the Twee.

That is all.

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John Doran
Jul 30, 2009 8:39am

I feel like I should butt in here. Just because Mimi Haddon, a fan of all things twee, included the Vivian Girls in her Spotify list, doesn't mean we have a particular policy toward them.

Personally I hate them and their insipid music and their sneering, trust funded attitude towards life but La Haddon made a strong case for writing about them and other wretched bands (The Television Personalities) of the twee ilk.

We don't have an over-arching aesthetic on genres of music like a niche magazine such as Terrorizer or other magazines that depend on having a clearly defined remit such as WIRE.

Just because Luke and I don't like a band doesn't mean we won't cover them. The site welcomes submissions on pretty much any subject, as long as the writer is putting forward an interesting argument. I don't need to have to agree with it.

And The School Of Seven Bells? Don't make me laugh. They're fucking awful. The only way they're a breath of fresh air is if you are a giant beast who enjoys breathing in sulphur and methane.

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Kicking K
Jul 30, 2009 10:39am

hey john, for the record: i don't think having wildly divergent opinion points devalues The Quietus - a broad church shd be able to accommodate many loose cannons, as it were - and yr writer seems capable of writing - it's just that this particular piece seems under-researched or thought-through - throwing a pretty well-established (if, OK, obscure) band in with a bunch of debutantes was the big problem i had with it...

the thing is, it's easy to make bold broadsides, but they're way more likely to miss - take the tape comment - tapes are having a major resurgence in the noise scene - is that a hipster move, too? i'd argue not, that it's more to do with the tape format almost uniquely demanding the listener play the whole thing in order - are we sure dirty projectors didn't have similar aims? are we certain it was them and not their label that had the idea anyhow?

also: 'hipster as strawman' x1000000. it's become such a pervasive trope in music journalism, judging music by its demographic (as perceived - or imagined - from outside). tenuous.

as for the continual put-downs of 'stillness is the move's lyrics, they're here - http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3530822107858779386/ - in full. i don't know if i'd make a big case for words being a big part of this band (although i think their reframing of black flag's lyrics as a libretto was brilliantly transformative) but the apparently throwaway line about 'life under the sun' is immediately followed by a reference to a mirage, which is at least witty. 'pseudo-philosophical negativity indicative of conservative western academia' is a bit much to unpack, but generally speaking, it seems to be an opt-out love song, about resisting the tendency toward extremities (mountain/higher mountain, city/bigger city) which wd tie in with the other songs on there.

lastly, and how any band who've made videos with the bandleader teaching kangeroos to fight can be considered lacking in humour has me agog.

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John Doran
Jul 30, 2009 10:51am

For the record I think any kind of hipster name calling is pointless. As I said in the Siouxsie interview, you want to diss hipsters then let's start with the Sex Pistols, The Banshees, The Velvet Underground, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs . . .

As with goths, the people doing the pointing are mainly the hipsters.

Also, just rise above it. So what if Patrick Wolf is annoying? (And he is, I spent all Friday night being terrorized by him and a woman with bright green eyebrows and a man with half a beard and half a moustache.)

What is his music like?

The Dirty Projectors are terribly disappointing and don't live up to most of the claims made for them. They are 'interesting' people and have 'interesting' methodology but it doesn't stop their music from being stodgy, lumpy and sensually unpleasant, like a home made pie constructed and baked by a drunk student.

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Louis Pattison
Jul 30, 2009 11:52am

FWIW I personally feel like this DPs album is their first to really nail something in a way that feels natural and unaffected, where their adopted mannerisms have become their own (I admire The Getty Address and Rise Above, but can't quite love them). It's genuinely a surprise to me a lot of people aren't getting with the new one, for me it's a 'What's not to like?' sorta record although maybe my tastes are warped out of all recognition from the outside world, I dunno.

I think I've written this a couple of places already but more than anything Dirty Projectors remind me of Scritti Politti - there's the melismatic vocals, of course, but also they way they approach black American/pop music from an outside perspective, not out of smart-assery, but out of genuine attraction and admiration. Can see why people might not like 'Stillness Is The Move', it's as close as the record gets to pastiche, but I sense it's plotted as such.

Definitely time people stopped wringing their hands about hipsters, though... virtually everything I read on the subject is almost literally meaningless. Hipsters are the only acceptable PC hate figure aren't they - they're almost exactly like you... except they *get it wrong*! (whatever the fuck *it* is)

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Dick Tracy
Jul 31, 2009 12:40pm

This article is garbage. If the Dirty Projectors are hipster ephemera, than Mimi Haddon's writing is a bad boob job ... In your face, vulgar, desperate and fake as hell. (Unless you like your music criticism written by some half-assed wannabe photographer moonlighting as some Brooklyn know-it-all?) Give us all a break and go back to photographing babies dressed in plant outfits and models in heroin-chic poses, because music ain't your forte. Haddon's article is as contrived and stilted as she believes the Dirty Projectors (and nearly all of Brooklyn) are.

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Sir Tuppence Rigsby
Jul 31, 2009 1:31pm

Errrr...Pretty sure she's not a photographer. I liked the article very much, very informative and a syllabic average or 2.2 per word. What kind of writing would constitute a good boob job? No, this article is a well executed bikini wax, succinct, thorough and perhaps a little too painful for some.

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J o J o
Jul 31, 2009 4:21pm

Ugh, what a dreadful article. Judging Dirty Projectors on one of their songs that sounds nothing like any of their other releases, never mind the album it's from. Really really stupid.

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J o J o
Jul 31, 2009 4:36pm

I just rewrote your article for you!
"HEY. THERES THIS SONG I DON'T LIKE. SOME BAND CALLED THE "DIRTY PROJECTORS" YA BUT THEY MAY AS WELL BE CALLED THE "DIRTY WOLF CRYSTAL PROJECTORS" YEAH? BROOKLYN HIPSTER BLAH BLAH "ephemera" CAN'T BE BOTHERED TO LISTEN TO ANYTHING ELSE THEY'VE DONE, BUT OHMIGOD THEY LIKE TOTALLY SUCK, LIKE THOSE HIPSTERS WHO HAVE TOO MUCH MONEY. WHAT ABOUT THAT! LIVING ON THEIR PARENTS PAYCHECK. MAN THEY MAKE ME SOOOO MAD. HEY SO ANYWAY, I REALLY DON'T LIKE THIS SONG VERY MUCH GUYS! NOTE TO SELF: I REALLY REALLY SHOULD READ HIPSTERRUNOFF SOMETIME SO I CAN LEARN THAT HIPSTER BASHING CAN AT LEAST BE FUNNY AND INTERESTING TO READ AND THEN I WON'T SOUND LIKE I HAVE SOME MASSIVE CHIP ON MY SHOULDER YAH! ANYWAY, YEAH MARIAH CAREY. THIS SONG IS BAD. OH AND WHAT ABOUT THOSE MIDDLE CLASSES? YEAH I'M NOT ONE OF THEM. NO REALLY I'M NOT! SEE YA GUYS!"

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Joseph Stannard
Jul 31, 2009 4:40pm

Personally I just love being a hipster. I completely embrace the role, although it probably means something different to me than it does to anyone else. And I LOVE Bitte Orca. It's fresh, knotty, tuneful and makes the listener work a little, offering further treats with each successive listen. The band are ridiculously good musicians and canny conceptualists and I welcome them wholeheartedly.

As for this rather premature backlash, I can't help but think this is how some quarters of the music press must have reacted to Roxy in the 70s or the Associates in the 80s. They probably seemed like 'hipster bands' too...!

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white hotel
Aug 1, 2009 3:27pm

This article misfires almost completely, but I think I understand what provokes it. The DP's are really so far from inept it's hilarious - they are extremely accomplished musicians and performers - but they are somewhat guilty of the ingenue pose, of hiding behind a gesture of ineptitude - cf the 'Stillness Is The Move' video, which is laughably half-hearted - as poorly costumed and choreographed as it is lushly locationed. If they stopped pretending to be accidental heroes, perhaps people like this wouldn't be able to get away - even to themselves - with writing this kind of arrant horsefeathers about them. Alex Macpherson went to see Beyonce a couple of weeks ago, and tweeted brilliantly about it thus: "Beyonce is better than x-indie band because perfection is better than imperfection." DP's should be openly jonesing for the perfection they're capable of, not fetishising the flaws that make them 'indie'.

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John Doran
Aug 2, 2009 9:22am

^^This is it for me. I hate goofy downward mobility.

I need some kind of psychic ear syringe/brain defrag if DP's are 'tuneful' though. I don't hear that at all. Although this concept is obviously in the ear of the listener. I get sacked every year by Classic Rock, as regular as clockwork. Two years ago it was for insisting on describing Parts + Labor as tuneful.

My boss, perhaps reasonably, argued that you can't describe it as tuneful to people who listen to Whitesnake and the Lep.

DP's ain't got that crazy shit, crunked up, John Blaze and shit.

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Thomas Morley
Aug 8, 2009 4:40pm

Ms Haddon is spot on with her criticisms, in a broadly socioaesthetic kind of way. Gawd, how I love it when she drops 'commodity fetishism' in our laps. And the Am Appy wool metaphor is just precious. Theodor W. would be proud.
Reading the article, I found myself getting all riled up with anti-hipster dismissiveness. Only trouble is, when I actually listened to DP, I kind of liked some bits of some songs. I appreciate their occasionally ambiguous rhythms, which avoid the kind of comfortable groove that actually makes you stop listening (Temecula Sunrise). And there are some great string parts that almost sound like Samuel Barber (Fluorescent Half Dome). Yes, there is a surplus of irritatingly fashionable sounds, like the flat-folksy girly vocals in Two Doves, glorification of anything remotely related to Berlin (title) and aforementioned video game noises in Stillness is the Move. Actually, I could generally do without most of their vocals, both textually and musically. It's when these kids start singing that they remind me what twats they probably are.
What makes DP difficult is that their biggest flaws are of the sort that one cannot criticise without being a hater. They could work a little harder to separate themselves from the aesthetic elements that grant the automatic approval of their peers. But they're probably not good enough to know how. Oh well, they're pretty I guess. Three cheers to Ms Haddon for starting a stimulating discussion.

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Brother Grimm
Aug 11, 2009 6:19pm

In reply to Thomas Morley:

innit

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andrw
Oct 23, 2009 1:35pm

this is the worst review i've ever read. serious

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John Doran
Oct 23, 2009 1:45pm

It's not a review you dipstick.

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Dec 13, 2009 6:39am

In reply to John Doran:

Bitte Orca is awful. The music sounds a mess (not a compliment). Vocals are terrible. Lyrics are hysterically bad.

Saw them live thinking live they would change my mind and they were even worse than the record. Seriously. I must be an idiot and uncool. Oh well...whatever...can't wait for the backlash.

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Mark
Jun 30, 2010 12:12pm

In reply to :

Saw DP last year as a support. Wanted to hurl myself off the balcony - agree with review 100 %.

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Dec 6, 2010 3:15am

According to my analysis, millions of persons on our planet receive the mortgage loans from various banks. Thence, there is a good chance to get a consolidation loan in any country.

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Frunk Ghum
Oct 21, 2012 10:17am

No doubt in me that this felt to you an honest articulation of your self. No doubt you'll look back on it as ass. Way 2 stop short, bro'. 2 kyoote.

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