Special/Signature Issues » Teachable Moments

The Underground Eventually Goes Mainstream

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Hipsters of all sizes, ages and tattoos — real ones and fake ones — have always been here, since the early days of Richmond Professional Institute and before that (what was Edgar Allan Poe but an early misunderstood hipster?).

But the underground went mainstream with a common soundtrack in 2004. That's when WRIR, a low-power, independent radio station alternating liberal talk radio in the daytime and eclectic underground music programming at night, signed on. In just a few years it became the most successful low-power frequency in the country, and the city of Richmond's official emergency broadcast station. And this happened because someone at WCVE dared WRIR founder Christopher Maxwell to go out and start his own station.

We saw the appearance of RVABlogs.com, RVANews.com and neighborhood-news bloggers, coming together as a loose web of independents. RVA Magazine launched in 2005, and a tattooed hipster army began to fully emerge from the ether to help prod the city's fashion sense, modernize its attitude and appreciate its sillier side. Not to be outdone, a previous generation of Richmond fringe denizens re-emerged. Key bands and patrons that once filled the sweaty confines of the long-closed VCU hangout Rockitz had a ballyhooed reunion in 2008, and a one-night 2009 benefit for hospice care brought out the popular groups of 25 years ago — from the Good Guys to Beex to the original Ortho-Tonics — that used to play the legendary Benny's.

A backlash was inevitable. In February 2009, singer Meade Skelton, himself a somewhat fringe artist, released an original song called “Hipsters Ruin Everything,” in which he chided Richmond's mop-haired cappuccino drinkers for hogging all of the good vinyl records and making him re-evaulate his wardrobe.

But Skelton needn't worry — the days of the true authentic hipster may have died in September. First Market Bank's “River City Rap” turned indigenous hipsterism into a full-fledged marketing gimmick. The five-minute, self-deprecating promotional video features two goofy white dudes — in full hep regalia — rapping about the virtues of the city as they frolic on the James, ride Segways, spill popcorn in the Byrd Theatre and go nuts at the Poe Museum. “We could go to Kuba Kuba, Sticky Rice or Mamma 'Zu / We could go to Ipanema for some tofu,” one of them singsongs. “I got a tattoo in a strategic place,” says the other. Somewhere, somebody's grandfather is spinning in his grave.

Independent Media of the Decade: WRIR-FM 97.3

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