In 2013 I moved to Riga, Latvia for an entire year to teach and proceed in a self-constructed ethnographic project. At times dreams came true, yes, they did, I thought. I left my small town finally to live in a bigger and glorious city. In Riga I had to find my new reference points to make sense about myself at my new school and about the city. This was my first task, so I started observing the ’cultural products’ of the city, like music groups, books and places. I tried to be open enough to apprehend what they intend to teach me. After a while I realized it is also important how they try to share their message.
I suspect if my hometown could be compared to Mellencamp’s imagination, then Riga is perfectly described by the newly established electro-indie music group, called Hipstokratija. I got to know this band in the school, it was offered by T., who was a 10th grader when I started teaching him. Hipstokratija released two video clips as yet. ’Pasaules Nav’ (There is no world.) tells the story of a young man, who looks so like a poor tramp. He wears two or three black jackets and/or pullovers, because he covers his head in two hoodies when he appears on the screen. He never removes these hoodies, as if he wanted to hide himself, living through his day from behind a safe place, which underlines his isolation and separation from mainstream society. Even though it is winter, it doesn’t look strange. We meet him in front of the central market, while he is counting his coins, which is only enough for one banana. It looks quite sarcastic when the costermonger packed this banana into a plastic bag and we see him eating it right after the purchase. That banana was not for home.
In the next screen we see him on a trolleybus. It is not clear where this bus is going, but we are just moving with him to somewhere, it is quite immaterial to where. A young guy is sitting next to him, he might have been listening to music as he was wearing headphones. Nevertheless he cannot pay attention to the music as he perceives our tramp stinky. This commuter guy made faces until he gets off the bus or just changes his seat, this is not perfectly clear. Our hero recognized this grimacing act, when he looked at him. It is a shocking visualization of identifying and maintaining the difference between two people, who otherwise belong to the same peer group. This cognitive process ends with a ritual runaway. In the second half of the clip we see him as a vagabond, staying close to a bus stop or staring at the world from behind the broken glass of a booth, walking under a bridge, trying to find a shelter at a playground. Is that suburbia from the perspective of a homeless man? It is symbolical when he sits alone on the teeter. He looks lonely and highly miserable as he belongs nowhere, after all he feels trapped in this life. This video could be seen as the silent screams of the poor who live in ’Indecision’.
The other video clip welcomes the viewer to fabulous Riga. The clip for ’Starp Citiem’ (Between others.) is about two agile youngsters, obviously musicians. The writers of ’Starp citiem’ might have projected to create a hipster hymn. So it is certainly not a random scenario that the video introduce them to us in a cafe. And this cafe is alternative, being more stylishly ”hip”. On the purple, light blue and yellow walls hangs large pictures. But this cafe possesses a bit of vintage Soviet also. This premise was made more colorful by the furniture like a green coach, blue and purple chairs and red armchairs. Only the lads are wearing black clothes. This contrast generates interest this time. In the fast-track recording they are gazing out the window, drinking beer or discussing something together like at home. (They may have met in this cafe.). They are chilling, which seems to be the ’art of doing nothing’, but it gets clear that they are really planning something to do.
As in the next scene they reappear as street musicians in front of the Kulturas Vasarnica 2014 at Esplanade park. (It was an enormous ’living room’, concert venue during 2014 in the middle of the park, built up from metal frames featuring soul music records, concerts and films.) The lads get neglected, hailed or cheated by the city dwellers, but they play further in the city center. At that moment when the band is gazing at the Daugava, it would be hard to distinguish the vagabond from the juveniles. Albeit it is always recognizable where we are as they use well-known landmarks. In the second part they finally move to a studio and we are witnessing how they record a song, which they represent as a serious work which is spiced with teasing games. Their friendship helps them to transform the work to fun.
In the end the band releases its song and performs it at a local club. When they perform the song, covered with fog, it is figured out that the band wanted to tell a success story, the fruition has come for them at long last. The work was in between one cool place which they left and another which they occupied with their own music. Are these the dynamics of hipster youth, if work is a liminal, in between phase? In other words they worked to remain distinct.
After these opposing stories we receive the very heart of the city, i.e. that the line is drawn deep into the tissues of the very city, like a wrinkle. The representation of the city is more fragmented than my imagination could ever have imagined. It was a genius thought on the part of Hipstokratija to play with ’In between’ or ’Liminality’ (TURNER, 1967) as it indirectly refers either to the norms of society and its shifting nature. How city dwellers relate to each other: connect or extract, make sense about creativity or hopelessness; public or private, realize safety or danger (DOUGLAS, 1966). It seems in the city both the so-called ’other’ and the friend could appear at the next corner. Getting to know that line between in and out, the place plays an important role as spatial stories are told (CERTEAU, 1984). Hipstokratija frequently applied urban place in consonance with producing meaning. It helps to predict what we can expect at a certain place. As well as having roleplayed the poor and the creative youth on this stage it is rising as a discursive trait, as if in Riga young adults/teenagers were the most important actors.
Thus in the school I was at was the best place if I wanted to understand something about Riga. In the anthropological literature youth cultures were enhanced to a contested scientific arena. I have read postmodern researchers mostly, who implemented new notions to describe youth lifestyles instead of subcultures (MUGGLETON, 2000). I attempted to focus on the spatial projection of these questions, unstitching urban imagination. I asked my students in four classes to draw their mental maps, after I showed them examples. Mental maps provide a personal perception of urban space (LYNCH, 1960). I also had a diary in which I recorded some conversations, while on Facebook I posted photos about urban places that were mentioned in these conversations or just generated excitement in me. I expected these methods will help to acquire and tell more spatial stories unfolded by adolescents.
de CERTEAU, Michel: The practice of everyday life. Berkeley, University of California Press. 1984.
DOUGLAS, Mary: Purity and danger. An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. London, Routledge & Keegan Paul. 1966.
LYNCH, Kevin: The image of the city. Cambridge, The MIT Press. 1960.
MUGGLETON, David: Inside subculture. The postmodern meaning of style. Oxford, Berg. 2000.
TURNER, Victor: The forest of symbols. Aspects of Ndembu ritual. Ithaca, Cornell University Press. 1967.