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Johannesburg Hipsters

Hipsterus Witwatersrandus

by Lynsey Chutel / 29.11.2010

In search of Hipsterus Witwatersrandus or the Joburg Hipster

Using Mahala as my urban 50/50, I want to capture and define the Joburg hipster – Hipsterus Witwatersrandus. It’s easy enough. Simply follow indie music to an ironic venue. Tonight it’s a Dance Me In gig at Kitchener’s in Braamfontein. They’re commonly found in Greenside and Parkhurst too but open to migrating to the inner-city, now with the promise of increased security.

Lord Kitchener presides in paintings with his hounds. The walls are all maroon brocade wallpaper. I soon meet ‘the girl with no shoes’. Twyla. A darkling pixie drinking Black Label. “I don’t know why we have to wear shoes all the time,” she coos. “I don’t think they’re necessary.” That’s Joburg outside, Twyla! Pavements besmattered with human whatever. I open another set. Why are you like you are?

“It’s a sense of belonging,” explains Roxy. “We’re the Ninja Generation. It’s like – why do we buy Macs? They’re twice as much. Why did you buy those kicks?” She waits. Lets the suspense mount. “Because they’re cool.” She strung out the vowels. “You see guys walk in here,” she says. “Wearing their jackets as pants!” No blaser-trousers yet but lots of graphically-endowed T-Shirts and grandpa’s lounge coat thown over. “We got our own style and places,” Roxy says. “Go to Mary Fitzgerald Square – that’s like the hipster of hipster there.” A friend is adamant he’s not a hipster. I beg to differ. He’s at the opening of everything. He hasn’t combed his hair in a decade and could list his occupation as any of the following: artist/filmmaker/graffiti generator. That’s if he ever filled out a form. He doesn’t pay tax. All of the above suggests he protests too much against being one. Which is standard hipster-ese.

Dance Me In’s lead singer Linda is wandering around in utterly black skinnies. The band are black hipsters. Total blipsters. He avoids my camera like its an office job. Fact is the hipster uniform is often unflattering. Bunched up mini-skirts and vests make for shapeless scrunchies with legs. I write down ‘Big-Girl in Big-Denim-Sack-Dress-Thing’. Then flinch at the pain of my own disguise. These super high-waisted jeans are chowing into my post-winter boep. Plus I seem to have started a pointless drunken debate about the meaning of hipsterkind. About as vital and interesting as the dorky Dawkin one about god. Nu-Afrikaaner hipsters, Wim and Maki, swear even Pretoria is breeding pockets of racerback vests and skinny jeans at Hotbox, Tings ‘n Times and Square.

“You see people here that are very uncomfortable,” says Roxy’s housemate Jared. “They’re shy, they don’t know what they’re doing, or if they’re doing it right – they’re posers.” The issue of authenticity immediately invites a shared fortifying vocabulary of hipster touchstones: the reliable retro smirk of dayglo and neon, anything 80s. We’re soon talking about Brooklyn like we’ve all been there. Williamsburg, where hipsters reign but are hated by ordinary folk for replacing honest stores with air-kissing galleries and expensive supermarkets boasting organic deli counters. Hipsters are the unappreciated future. One day soon, just like their Connecticut-to-Brooklyn cousins, the Jo’burg hipster will trade Greenside for Fox Street.

Outside Tariq Munshi and Sibs La Mer talk.
“Are those your hipster names?”
“I can’t do this. I just can’t!”
Sibs is off. Obscurely wounded and inflamed. He’d have whipped his hair if he hadn’t already shaved off half of it. Precisely. Exactingly. Half.
“He’s an artist,” mumbles Tariq. An animator. What else? Hipsterism, Tariq claims, is all about feeding off the great culture heap hanging over our heads like a massive suspended piano. “The Beatles brought us here – they invented this. They were really successful and great and real. That’s what people were doing back in the 80s and that’s what we’re trying to do.” A wonky pick-and-choosy sense of history is common to the hipster herd. Lennon was dead by 1980! Moving on.

A guy with an iPhone flicks his touch screen to distort a Joburg sunset. He’s showing me a folder of an impromptu photo-shoot from Arts-on-Main. It’s Joburg’s newest gentrification project and forcefeeds investors urban moondust: where ‘creatives’ and gays are income spikes and real estate bubbles. Brazen Eve tells me gadget douche isn’t a “real” hipster. She’s wearing faun pants with a sheer lace top and outsized 80s glasses. She looks and feels authentically inauthentic. An image magpie. A fashion bricoleur. She decides I am The Hybrid. With a tribal name Eve says I’m ready for the svelte OverLord of the Braamfontein hipster colony: Derek.

Eve Rakow

He could be anyone ‘in the media’. Only more so. A bouncy Jimmy Dean coif. Vintage stovepipes clasped by redundant braces. A blaring Disney T-shirt. This is the heart of hipster darkness. Derek instantly clocks me for the infiltrator I am and turns away. Bridge on fire. Hipsters don’t explain themselves – especially to journalists. He’s way up the hierarchy on my Tree of Hipster Life! Faultlessly cool. Collar bones deep enough to bury a budgie. Shoulder blades like wings. A hipster angel. A jutting spinal chord making X-rays virtually unnecessary. He has what no other hipster here has: sub 2% body fat. Bullimic Derek. Derek the Martyr. Kafka’s Hunger Artist in skinnies.

And we’re done here.

Back across Joburg in a thunking club inside a desultory suburban casino, I begin to miss hipsters. In the VIP area Egoliwood’s indebted and infamous are sobering up. Apart from the aging DJ hitting on undergrads, everyone looks underwhelmed. At least the hipsters jumped. They had a kind of weary verve. High on their own supply of angular self-regard. They ‘just want to have fun’ by checking if you get the song that phrase comes from. Get it as in how it connotes a lapsed era (around the false dawn of MTV) when fashion happened to you innocently, by choice, by predeliction. There was still bits of reality left to itself. There was still room to manouvre. Hipsters are nostalgic futurists. Which is another way of saying they’re very much in the moment. It makes them powerful cultural indicators. They’re here for good. Lucky for the Jo’burg hipster, the CBD is already deserted, all they have to do is paint it mauve, and move on in.

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RESPONSES (47)
  1. Lizzy says:

    I think Mahala needs to do an article titled: ‘where do all the white people come from?’. Judging by these type of articles they are everywhere! thought they made up around 10% of the population, yet somehow, they are the main feature! and is it really true that the entire 10% are hipsters? yawn.

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  2. Hehe.. But seriously don’t your shoes get just as dirty as your feet? Then you walk those all over peoples carpets too. Or do people infactuation with shoes stem from some fear of dirt on their skin? ‘Oh my god man made waste on my feet, ew!’

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  3. gonzo nowhere says:

    Contemporary hipsterism? it’s all in the iPhone of the beholder.

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  4. karl lagered-up says:

    “I think fashion is repulsive. The whole idea that someone else can make clothing that is supposed to be in style and make other people look good is ridiculous. It sickens me to think that there is an industry that plays to the low self-esteem of the general public. I would like the fashion industry to collapse. I think it plays to the most superficial, most insecure parts of human nature. I hope that all of these people who make a living by looking pretty are eventually made destitute or forced to do something of substance. At least pornography has a function” – Steve Albini

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  5. BM says:

    fking awesome.

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  6. brandon edmonds says:

    That Albini quote should skywritten daily in all the capitals of the world…

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  7. william cuntridge says:

    This article. Fucking sucks. Please try using. A comma. Or a subordinate clause. Or a full fucking sentence. Just once. Before you die. Also Dance Me In. Is not a band. Idiot.

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  8. Max says:

    agreed

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  9. douche says:

    It’s amazing that every generation and scene always have those who try the hardest and end up being the most lame of douchebags! Be it rockers, ravers, hippies or skaters… It will always be sickening to witness youngsters try so hard to be cool and trying even harder to make it look effortless and expending much energy on outing the non-authentic hangers-on-to-the-scene. Douchebags all, but hey, if they having fun, then it’s, well, whatever…continue.

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  10. Roger Young says:

    Another article on mahala about Hipsters. Cutting edge of youth culture.

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  11. dudie says:

    i say we all go nudist, at least for the summer… but then, come to think of it, specific body types will become more fashionable than others. how do you dodge this terrible thing called exibitionism. people will say,”‘your ass is so ’97, go down the road to the ’97 ass club. we dont want to see your kind around here”. so when steve albini decides to share his ‘profound’ thoughts on fashion, he should think about human nature, and how he himself has always been labeled an alternative-grunger, mostly due to his fashion sense and very apparent stereotype. fashion is everywhere, even in the way we speak and move our necks. cant get rid of it – point is not to become a part of some homogenous lump of retards this article speaks of. its easy to be a hipster/artist when you live with your mom and dad… where is the artistic output then, if every second person in this damn city is an artist? art is not thinking and hair, its doing. shit, started writing an essay again.

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  12. muerte says:

    From the BBQ smeared lips of youth vulture, Roger-not-so-Young.

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  13. Roger Young says:

    That’s “breast milk smeared lips” to you, muerte.

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  14. Yawn says:

    Isn’t it hip to be a hipster-hater these days?

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  15. mick says:

    Nifty piece.

    Didn’t understand the Hipster tsunaminimi when it swelled up to chomp down on most of Mahala’s content back-when till now; thunked it were some Cape Town mega-cult. This ‘ticle opened my much-lidded eyes.
    When I dragged my cautious, moth-balled bones out of a sub-decade’s absence from ‘live music events’ to hack up some ink about Jozi’s Rammfest garden a wee century ago I was utterly electrumcuted by the chaotic brilliance of young folk wearing ‘updated-while-you-stare’ one-liner tee’s and a right NEON junkyard orgy of styles and fashioniserms. It was like one of those ‘swop and re-ironically copy accessories, body-parts and expressions’ sheet thingies they had in primary school back when I was a young ‘un, just before rumours of Man-Dealer ignited scurrying caucasian skirmishes in the tinned-food isles of OK’s and Checkers’ just up our block and down our stoeps:
    Gangly young black okes with violent, brawny viking beards and tatt-bulged Harley contenders sporting thick-rimmed Malcolm X’s; more-fuckable-than-fuck babes with ‘I AM the wet-spot (don’t lie on me!)’ spanned across megalomanic mammaries skipping through the Jozi lawns with less saliently contoured chicks boasting ‘Burst me I’m Kinky’ wet-tees; the odd Professor and his wife and kids sporting, interchangeably, ‘George lacks Bush’; ‘I am the Daddy biggerer than yours!’ ; ‘I’m wit Po Mo [upward arrow]’ and ‘Adopt me I adapt quix’ and the like.
    And stuff.
    Nifty piece. Thought I was just paranoid in sensing some covert flock amidst the gag-witty miscellany. Turns out there b a wrd fr t.

    The above typed from my newly airy and thankful nook. Now, what to watch after 7de Laan?

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  16. lynsey says:

    “authentically inauthentic”? kafka? chopped sentences? and the gratuitous use of the word douche? why brandon, why? very hipsterus tafelbergus of you.

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  17. Luke D says:

    “Collar bones deep enough to bury a budgie. Shoulder blades like wings. A hipster angel. A jutting spinal chord making X-rays virtually unnecessary”

    Ha! This is great.
    I really liked this article.

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  18. Andrew says:

    Seriously? WTF? That was terrible and misleading…. In search of the Joburg Hipster…. This piece feels like it was supposed to be investigative, not some random collection of bullshit comments on what hipsters are generally supposed to be like.

    For instance, “High on their own supply of angular self-regard”. What? That has to be the single most pretentious thing I have ever read in my entire fucking life. Ever. You don’t have to actually be a hipster and adopt overly verbose language to write about them, kay, mister editor! The journalist in question clearly mentions how she does not fit in, and is spotted for a fraud, so why does the piece end up reading like she is a Hipster?

    So someone please, enlighten me. What is a Joburg hipster? I know several, and hang out with them on a regular basis, and I can tell you for free they are nothing like hipsters from New York…. Joburg Hipsters wouldn’t know what to do with a Williamsburg hipster if one crashed on their couch for a month! Instead Joburg hipsters live at home with Mom and Dad in the leafy Northern suburbs, driving around in mom’s old BM, because it’s ironic that a secretly wealthy kid is pretending to be poor, by simultaneously subverting the image of wealth and status with their beat up BM. Totally.

    Seriously a Williamsburg Hipster would out Hipster the shit, out of a Joburg Hipster. Hipsterism is so much more than fashion, and art. Try having a discussion about music with a Williamsburg hipster, its like talking to Google, only all it can tell you about is bands and genres of music you have never heard of. A Joburg hipster has about as much musical insight as a tin can. Never mind literature, or film, or design, or web comics, or politics.. Hell they even have their own language, and as such a whole deep sub-culture, love it or hate it, that goes so far beyond skinny jeans and stupid hair styles. Plus Williamsburg hipster are hyper intelligent. All the Joburg hipsters are is an extension of last weeks undergrad philosophy lecture. Fail.

    That just it then, Joburg hispters just dont know enough about the international cultural trend they are trying to emulate. So educate yourself children: http://www.hipsterhandbook.com/ and http://www.freewilliamsburg.com/

    Or maybe they have yet to reach critical mass? All I know is that I had hoped someone would write something here for once that would really get to grips with what unique South African elements have been incorporated into our own version of Hipsterism. Alas, editorial bullshit meant we missed the opportunity, because I know the author and this mess was never her intention.

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  19. *ROOIKAPPIE says:

    What’s a hipster?

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  20. Chad says:

    Wild generalisations aside; Colin looks so funny… i’m sending this to him now…

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  21. What the fuck? says:

    This article is terrible. Lynsey, you’re either shameless or just fucking stupid. Why on earth are people romanticizing these middle class kids with their identity crises? (at 25+ years old, it’s just a little bit pathetic)
    What the fuck? I can’t for the life of me even wrap my head around the initial brainwave you must have had to write such a pile of shit.

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  22. lynsey says:

    Dear What the fuck?
    I love you too. I hope that we can be friends once all of this has passed. I think you could be my soulmate, or at least my special friend.
    Yours
    xoxo
    PS: You might want to read up on the growing global phenomnon of the millennial generation reaching the milestones thier parents did much later in life. But this is not about that, this is just an article about a Saturday night in Jo’burg, somewhat mis-edited. You and I can chat about this over candle light and Marx. Til then my sweet.

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  23. dudie says:

    i have a question:
    is the lady with the big-rimmed glasses in the picture the ‘journalist’ who wrote this?
    i myself would never do a story of this sort with a note-pad; no need. what is this a soccer match?
    ’55 – xabi alonso, yellow card
    ’65 – messi, goal etc.
    you just basically go in there in the most inconspicuous manner, observe and have a conversation. you dont need to ask the subject, ‘are you a hipster and why?’ you can deduct your story by the things speak of without asking them solid questions.
    basically, what im saying is that she is the epitome of a hipster in this case (if this in fact is the person who wrote this) – trying to get attention for being a ‘journalist’, amongst the other fauxhemians. I think the term fauxhemian is the perfect description for the joburg hipster… or any other for that matter.

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  24. Anonymous says:

    There is so much wrong with this article, and that’s not a comment on the poor quality of writing. How is Kitchener’s an “ironic venue”? How on earth is a bar “ironic” – does it have a flair for subversive humour? And, as others have pointed out “Dance Me In” was the name of the party, not a band. In fact, there were no bands playing. And DJs tend not to have lead singers.

    Also, if hipsters are characterised by their attempts to stay aloof and a sense of elitism, then the writer of this article is just as much a hipster as anyone interviewed. It must be hard being too hip to be a hipster.

    Kitchener’s is a place to go to listen to cool music and get a decently priced beer; please don’t ruin it with your nonsense investigative journalism.

    also, the photos are pretty terrible. just saying

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  25. emmagoldman says:

    @william cuntridge agree with you on the poor literacy level of the writer. Her lack of insight also indicates a desperate need to be considered cool amongst her peers. Writer should spend time overseas… William I love a man who can spell!

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  26. Andrew says:

    Dear Everyone.

    As I tried to indicate, as did Lynsey, the editor has mangled her piece. Oversights like Dance Me In being the name of a band were made by her editor, who clearly did not attend the event, because if he had, the error would have been obvious.

    To illustrate the point, I refer to her first comment:

    “authentically inauthentic”? kafka? chopped sentences? and the gratuitous use of the word douche? why brandon, why? very hipsterus tafelbergus of you.

    Again, in case you missed it, editor destroyed the piece. He has apparently added his own voice and preconceived notions of what Hipsters are to it. Therefore, cut her some slack, it’s not her fault he thought the piece needed tweaking to the point it became a pile of drivel. Lynsey has skills; don’t let the actions of her ham fisted editor convince you otherwise.

    The only thing I agree on is that the photos are crap. Sorry lady, Anonymous is right.

    P.S. dudie, the girl with the glasses is not the journalist.

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  27. la mer says:

    So minless

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  28. la mer says:

    There’s nothing in that piece that hasn’t been said about hispters arleady. Its over kill. Its funny… I thought be in your profession required an ability to gain information and translate. It seems you have figured out the complete meaning and the hipster subculture with a couple of looks and naïve attempts at witty humor. Oh not an animator by the way. I hope next time you write a peace you take more care and take your craft serious. And as I’m sure you would have found alotr more of the kids you are portraying as airheads those room probably a lot more about .marx than you. So treat your subjects with respect.

    Respectfully

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  29. Anonymous says:

    Your editor is an asshole. At least your integrity has been spared somewhat by Andrew’s comment.

    I still don’t like the name dropping though. Especially when it comes to Twyla.So what if she doesn’t wear shoes? She’s a sweetheart and is a good, genuine person.

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  30. jimmy coif says:

    it james dean fucknut 😉

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  31. Foolishfools says:

    @Yawn It’s not hip, but logical to be a hipster hater. SA hipsters don’t understand what it means to be a hipster. It’s basically the same as liking Miley Cyrus when you are 12, obviously for 17-18 year olds in London’s east end, and Williamsburg, but because SA has always had a filtered down world of international trends the followers do so blindly, even though they are 25 now. Please, just have some originality, by the age of most of these folks they should already be throwing out the empty glasses and wearing clothes that are classic and timeless, if style and image mean so much to them.
    Oh I do love how this Eve girl informs the writer that ‘gadget douche isn’t a real hipster’, because, I hate to inform you young lady, but being so painfully aware of what makes a hipster, truly takes you out of the running, so PLEASE stop trying so damned hard.

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  32. john says:

    probably one of the most inaccurate, badly researched and presumptuous articles i’ve read in a while. thank u very much. what are u then? prob just a journo student, too fascinated with the sound of her own vowels to fully appreciate anything else. so in the words of a real hipster ‘well that is just like your opinion man’ Big Labowski 😉

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  33. hipster25581 says:

    i was so over hipster before it was popular and became mainstream.
    all these articles are like so 3 months ago.
    who cares.
    and your facts are wrong.
    but i was bored with reading your article before it became cool to diss it.

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  34. Brad says:

    What a stupid article…… you should write about the common young south african…. they all a bunch of wannabe hipsters…. they all dress the same and all look the same, and all listen to the same music….

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  35. Anonymous says:

    It’s The Big Lebowski, not the Big Labowski. Show a little respect.

    Anyway, isn’t a bit unethical to tweak an article into oblivion — if by purposefully doing so, causing it to reflect negatively on the writer?

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  36. Andrew the DJ says:

    I’d just like to categorically state that Kitchener’s takes no responsibility for the hipness of it’s patrons nor the findings of those who may choose to study them…

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  37. tman says:

    andrew. you are a legend 😉

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  38. Matt says:

    Hahaha who cares about hipsters it’s the only culture some people have left. Let em have it, I say.

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  39. Roxy says:

    jirre!

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  40. Roxy says:

    Its like taking a million words and only considering a few. Kak.
    senselss

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  41. Patrick says:

    Where to begin?

    Mahala ragging on hipsters. Pot kettle black.

    Issues about the writing itself and poor editing aside, writing an article about how lame hipsters are is both unoriginal and uninteresting. People hate hipsters, this is hardly news. Even if the reader hates them there isn’t much of interest in this article. Bad premise.

    Maybe it could’ve been salvaged if they stuck to the initial idea of it being a safari, the brave explorer observing and explaining the mysterious land and habits of the hipsters but the writer is evidently not even vaguely committed to the bit, it is hinted at here and there but really it doesn’t inform the tone of the article or the type of observation (ha!) at all.

    My biggest gripe is how much it seems like a personal attack on the individuals who were charitable enough to talk to the writer. Of course those who were wary of the writer were attacked too. On the one hand you have the writer making judgements about the character of these people based on a short encounter and the mere fact that they had the misfortune of being at Kitcheners on the night when it was declared an ironic venue by the writer. To make reductive judgements of character of people based on a handful of facts and assumptions and then put their name to it online is just horrendous. So Twyla (not a friend) doesn’t like wearing shoes? How is this at all an indication of hipsters in general? On the other hand you have the folks who had the good sense to not talk to the writer but then she resorts to judging them without even speaking to them. C’mon! To make the piece so personal is poor form.

    And then ragging on Joburg hipsters for not being as hipster as Williamsburg hipsters, what? I guess they aren’t authentic enough here, they are posers. Aren’t these the practices that people detest hipsters for? Judgement and aloofness and questions of authenticity.

    Sadly I don’t have the time to take this foolishness apart piece by piece.

    I charge that the writer is in fact a hipster (come now, don’t deny it, that’s the very sign of the hipster – Salem witch trials anyone?), after all she writes (and to be involved in the media is to be a hipster) and she was at KItcheners on that evening (where they live) and she wears pants and likes music. OMG everyone.

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  42. lynsey says:

    Dear Roxy
    I completely agree. A whole lot of shit left out and pointless drivel addedd, which makes me, and not the person who added it all, look stupid. And it made interviewing people completely pointless.
    And while Brandon has apologised for his editing, I am still waiting for him to come on here and sort the comment shit storm out, or preferably take my name off it.
    And Twyla, you are lovely. Sorry about all the unnecessary shit written near your name.
    But such is the internet folks, moving along now.

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  43. Roger Young says:

    Lynsey

    Maybe you could post the original somewhere and link to it here? Might go a little way to making up for all this, yeah?

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  44. hipperster says:

    Did anyone else notice that Roger Young is really gross? eeeew.

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  45. yusus says:

    Crap journalist, no spine.

    You get something posted under your name, and then deny all responsibility when people get upset – and rightly so. This article is so boring.

    Lynsey your name sucks as well.

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  46. Bias laughs hard says:

    fucking lol hipsters pshhhh thats all we need more fucking 80s poser indy kids….

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  47. KAYLAH!!!!! says:

    this writer is a fucking idiot! try again sweetie and this time actually make an effort, going to a stupid party does not make you a writer. idiot

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