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A bread baker stands in front of a row of wood-fired stoves next to drying crisp bread.
Skedvi Bröd makes Swedish crisp bread
Photo: Christoffer Hunt

Overview

Meet the Original Hipsters

A thousand years before the first sourdough was set to ferment in the trendy neighbourhoods of Stockholm, crispbread bakers walked from farm to farm and baked up the rye harvests. We went looking for the origins of the modern hipster in the Swedish countryside. Written by Peter Hammarbäck

The Hipster Culture

Few species of mankind could match the invasive spread of the Hipster over the past few years. Their full beards have conquered territory after territory, continent by continent. Their insignia being the same wherever they appear, be it Mexico City or Bangkok: checkered shirts, woodworkers boots and those nerdy Moscot specs. And they are just as easily spotted by their behaviour, regardless of the habitat, which includes an enormous interest in food, particularly bread baking. They like, so they claim, “to create something tangible with my hands”, which may be a counter reaction to spending 14 hours a day in front of various Apple-screens. The Hipster likes – no, loves – everything “genuine”.

The Hipster might be a global phenomenon, but there is a small country on the northern perimeter of Europe where hipster culture has had a particular impact. This country is Sweden. Urbanisation occurs at high speed here – two busloads a day follow the lure of the capital and move to Stockholm.

Property prices in the cities rise fast – a mansion in the countryside will sell for money that buys you one room in, for example, the trendy Stockholm neighborhood of Södermalm. The lure seems to be the cosmopolitan fast lane, the constant flow of impressions.

An over crowded subway beats out the quiet ripple of a forest stream every time. Your grandmother’s home cooked Sunday dinner cannot match a brunch at ultra trendy Södermalm restaurant Urban Deli.

We Swedes grow up with American TV and music. We follow trendy globalists on Instagram and Pinterest. Consequently, Swedish hipsters know which bar tops the trend lists in Brooklyn within days of its opening. A few years ago, the management at Brooklyn Brewery were amazed to note that their biggest following outside the US was in a tiny country of nine million souls: Yes, Sweden.

Swedish hipster culture is, undoubtedly, driven by a certain anxiety. One week this community is sworn to the challenge to make the best Kimchi of Aspudden (note for the uninitiated: runner-up among aspiring hipster dwellings as real estate prices in Södermalm grow out of reach). Next week the very same individuals are furniture makers or hydroponic chili farmers.

It’s not a lifestyle – they are just doing their jobs


It’s like we are simply not good enough without all the right attributes in place. Checkered shirt – check. Timberland boots – check. The right Kindness-remix in the headphones – check. Full beard – check. Fixed-gear bike – check… We do not rest until the hipster style looks, and is in fact, complete.

One good thing with this is the energy it injects in to Swedish towns and cities. Young people living their dreams fill these places with fantastic hamburger joints, awesome micro breweries, cool flower shops, vintage flea markets and falafel joints.

But the Hipster Hype has also bred hordes of twenty-somethings aimlessly roaming the streets of Stockholm, Göteborg and Malmö, desperate to fill their lives with experiences and consumption, to be liked on line by Hipsters ‘over there’.

And all of this is achieving what exactly? Filling an inner void? Boosting self-esteem? Compensating for a rootless loss of ideals? “Once I have created the best food truck in town, then I’m good enough.”

Modern Swedish hipsters nourish the delusion that their ancestry trails back to the concrete jungles of Williamsburg. But they wouldn’t have had to cross the Atlantic to find people living the Hipster dream.

In the very same countryside that they have left behind there are whole populations that grow, build, bake, sew, print and generally fiddle about in full hipster fashion – and it’s not a lifestyle. They are just doing their jobs.

We visited three people in the Swedish countryside that wouldn’t dream of calling themselves hipsters. Still their lifestyle would turn most urban, anxious hipsters green with envy.

Meet glassblower Ebba, crispbread baker Joel and textile print artist Tord –  three original hipsters deeply rooted in Swedish soil.

Meet the oyster fisherman

About the writer

Journalist Peter Hammarbäck lives with his family in Stockholm. During the past few years he has delved into sourdough baking, urban cultivation, sports fishing and furniture making. None of which he has stuck with.