Hackneyed: An Accidental Hipster’s Guide To East London

Just moved to Hackney and want to fit in? Not sure how to impress all those trendy media people at parties? Look no further...
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Just moved to Hackney and want to fit in? Not sure how to impress all those trendy media people at parties? Look no further...

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From my first taste of lahmacun to the discovery of refillable wine bottles at the local deli, Hackney has been a constant source of learning and enlightenment for me. It offers a combination of parks, spacious Victorian housing, rich historical background and a semblance of underground edge with relatively cheap rent. This magical mix makes it the ideal location for the left-wing young professional with an arts degree and a badly paid media job (read: ‘hipster’). Leaving aside – for now – the gaping social and economic chasm between the wealthy newcomers and underprivileged locals, Hackney is often described (by the newcomers) as having a ‘village feel’ and a ‘great sense of community’, and you will hear them say things like ‘Hackney is my spiritual home’. So how can you make sure that you, too, are welcome in this community?

Firstly, let me assure you I am not actually a hipster.* Due to circumstances largely beyond my control, however, I find myself in close proximity to specimens of this singularly hated subculture more often than I would perhaps like. In retrospect, my fall was inevitable ever since choosing to take a postgraduate degree in the humanities. My particular course, I recently learned, is unofficially known as ‘the hipster’s MA’, presumably due to its focus on modern literature, avant-garde Soviet cinema and The Wire. The next logical step was getting a job in publishing, which with its paltry salary and left-leaning bias meant there was only one place I could (afford to) live: Hackney. I moved to Clapton just in time to see Chatsworth "the frontline of Hackney's gentrification" Road sprout delis and cafés here and there as if they were organic mushrooms.

The more widespread Hackney phenomenon is somewhere in between ‘hipster’ and ‘yuppie’: a ‘yupster’, if you will

This has given me a unique vantage point for observing the habits and customs of the insupportable local creature known as the ‘hipster’, also referred to as ‘trustafarian’ or sometimes ‘media wanker’. It is vital to note that the kind of hipster that is most commonly encountered in Hackney is not the Moustachioed Installation Art Student cliché or Jaded Fashion Blogger/Photographer/Muse stereotype that is only found in VICE magazine’s Dalston Superstars and in some areas of Shoreditch. These people are so laughable that it hardly matters what they think of you, if they even think at all.

The more widespread Hackney phenomenon is somewhere in between ‘hipster’ and ‘yuppie’: a ‘yupster’, if you will. This is a more subtle breed and, though marginally less hateable than either extreme, is just as predictable and almost as annoying. They like talking about themselves and their successes, a lot, while trying to appear self-deprecating. They are the kinds of people who ask “so, what do you do?” at parties, and then judge you if your job isn’t sufficiently ‘creative’. They will loudly declaim the injustice and inequality rife in British society, yet think nothing of buying iPads and spending £8 on brunch in cafés that make their own baked beans. If you are unsure of how to act when confronted with one of these baffling creatures, look no further. They are simple beings at heart, and their opinion on any given subject is likely to mirror their fellow Hackney dwellers’.

So what if you’ve got a vintage messenger bag and a MacBook and use ‘Instagram’ as a verb? There will always be someone more hipsterish than you that you can chastise about their skinny jeans and quiff

When I first found myself in Hackney a few years ago, young and relatively innocent, I was surprised by how fantastically interesting everyone seemed. They were so quirky and idiosyncratic; they liked hip-hop and Kafka and wore more paisley than is usually deemed sane. However, I quickly discovered that everything they said and did was almost entirely identical to everyone else in the borough. They all wore brogues and had ironic t-shirts, and they all watched the same TV shows. Was there something I was missing? There appeared to be a secret Code which people in Hackney adhered to – whether consciously or not is irrelevant at the moment – meaning that everyone, from Stoke Newington to Clapton, somehow had the same appearance, pastimes, and life goals. So far, these rules have been left unwritten, or at least written between the lines of The Guardian. The best way to learn The Code is by trial and error, mistakes, embarrassment and, eventually, understanding; however, if you have just moved to Hackney and are in a rush to make sense of it all, this column will serve as a handy guide.

A disclaimer. As a guide, this will offer no protection whatsoever against knife crime or oncoming buses; if anything, it will make both of these things more likely. It will, however, guard you from something much more important: common conversation pitfalls and Hackney etiquette faux pas. I will guide you through the essentials, including what to wear, where to eat, which places to go, what kind of things you can laugh at, and in what ways you can show off your creativity. It is not intended for those born and bred in Hackney, but for the middle-class graduates with stupid haircuts who have moved into the area in the last five or ten years. By ‘Hackney’, I mean not only the place, but the mentality, lifestyle and beliefs that you will unfortunately need to subscribe to when you move here, if you wish to avoid total social death. Much of the advice will be pertinent to other similarly ‘up-and-coming’ areas such as Brixton, Peckham and Herne Hill, which despite their protestations to the contrary are really Hackney in disguise. A lot of it will sound counterintuitive, hypocritical, or, well, hackneyed, but pay close attention to these instructions and you will have no trouble at all fitting in.

* N.B. Rule Number One of Living in Hackney: denounce hipsters at all possible occasions. Never, ever refer to yourself as one. Do not tell someone they are a hipster unless you mean it as a mortal insult (‘cunt’, on the other hand, is a term of endearment usually reserved for close friends). If accused of being a hipster, deny like hell. So what if you’ve got a vintage messenger bag and a MacBook and use ‘Instagram’ as a verb? There will always be someone more hipsterish than you that you can chastise about their skinny jeans and quiff. Welcome, in short, to a lifetime of denial and self-loathing.

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