“Let’s get this out of the way first. What’s the address of your shitty blog?”
Five questions into The Indie Cred Test, your emotional response to this query will speak volumes about your ultimate opinion of the book. If you’re offended and your pride is hurting, expect to hate everything that follows. But if you laughed and thought of that Tumblr that’s been sitting neglected for two months, keep going.
Conceived and edited by Chunklet mastermind Henry Owings with the help of a sizable group of contributors, The Indie Cred Test is a fast-paced blend of music snob humor, sight gags and surprisingly perceptive pop culture commentary. And that’s not even mentioning the test itself, which looks similar to a practice guide for the SATs. Although a book like this could easily be a self-congratulatory exercise in fan bashing, the Test isn’t only focused on diagnosing people as hipsters and having a few jokes at their expense, and that’s a big part of why it works.
Aware that “indie” is increasingly broadly defined, the Test drags music culture as a whole out in the open and deconstructs it. One sub-test is designed entirely for writers (it hits strikingly close to home), while another is meant for anyone who has ever had his or her own band (all scores are failing, so don’t take it personally). Metal fandom and DJ culture get their own sections, as do movies and literature. And from the cartoonish, goofy test instructions to the impossible score-calculating formula and cred rankings waiting at the end, not even the standardized test format itself is spared from mockery.
There’s a key to enjoying The Indie Cred Test: You really don’t need to take any of the test sections seriously. But when you see fill-in-the-blanks like, “How much do you hate taking requests?” (for the DJs), or you reach the page that asks, “Which of the following bands have you stated that you really like but deep down can’t really listen to by yourself?”, you’ll be hard-pressed to find that at least some of these questions don’t apply to you. It’s a smooth trick of the Test that encourages you to examine yourself without making you feel inferior.
That’s because as tempting as it might be for readers to take the jokes personally, there’s a pervasive spirit of fun guiding the proceedings. While The Indie Cred Test can’t be expected to feel as personal or conversational as Chuck Klosterman’s pop culture musings, a similar sense of his good-natured, tongue-in-cheek banter shines through. It’s an impressive feat that the Test never comes off as condescending, and that’s likely because its sarcastic wit never descends into mean-spirited, us-versus-them snark.
It’s refreshing to see indie culture skewered in a way that outsiders can easily understand and insiders can appreciate without feeling insulted. There’s a lighthearted silliness to what could have been a very condescending piece of work, a breezy absurdity that owes more to Mr. Show-style sketch comedy than anything approaching stereotypical music writing. Not all of the jokes are home runs; one early page contains no less than four PBR references, and while this may be an accurate dietary choice for hipsters seeking cheap beer in expensive cities like New York, it’s still an overplayed stereotype. But when The Indie Cred Test hits the mark, it ties an awful lot of self-conscious scenes together and has fun with trappings even their members may not have noticed. It’s satirical but not hard-hearted, and being able to inspect hipsterdom at book length without descending into vitriol might mean we’re finally moving on.