Maybe he still will be. But now he’s sold off his flagship creation, his “blog worth blogging about." Whatever your opinion of the divisive Hipster Runoff (HRO to its devotees), it is, at the very least, true to say there is nothing else like it on the internet.
HRO was part relentless hipster scene chronicle, part relentless satirization of that scene, part shameless clickbait, part self-reflexive critique of the entire online economy. Its author—who goes only by Carles, the Prince of Blogs, and who has until now maintained anonymity—writes exclusively in an affected voice thick with irony, sarcasm, now-outdated IM lingo (hey bb), and an easily corruptible contempt for anything mainstream. Canonical posts include “Animal Collective is a Band Created By/For/On the Internet” and “My job/career does not align with my true personal brand. [Generation Y and the mainstream workplace].”
The site’s heyday was the late 00s and early 10s, when Carles’s rapid-blogged quest for ‘authenticity’ was both the embodiment of hipster values and some of its most dynamic (and funniest) criticism, up until his spectacular Lana Del Rey-inspired implosion. And, like the hipster itself, nobody—least of all Carles, probably—was ever really sure exactly what Hipster Runoff was.
Despite that, or maybe because of it, HRO became a living document of a singular moment in internet history. A blip when a persistent weirdo, without the help of venture capital or a marketing firm, without getting swallowed by a media company, could simply blog his way into modest fame and profitability—and HRO did it while ruthlessly parodying the very readership, infrastructure, and culture that made the whole enterprise possible. It’s unlikely that anything quite like Hipster Runoff will happen again. And now it’s about to be pawned off to an Australian investor.
“Maybe Hipster Runoff really was the last gasp of true internet culture,” said Tim Hwang, the entrepreneur and organizer of Harvard’s ROFLCon. “In the early days of the web, you’d become internet famous, but after your time was up and done you would just sort of go back to work.”
"Famous niche hipster PR 5 Site w/ 168,648 uniques/mo making $1,300/mo w/ no work
Well-established site that has gone inactive but still generates traffic. Quality inbound links from NYTimes, Gawker, Wired, & more. Great opportunity to take brand and rebuild audience.”
That’s one way to describe the current state of Hipster Runoff, at least. It’s the sales copy on Flippa, the online auction house where Carles just sold the enterprise, along with all its related social media properties, for $21,100.
“Mainly, I have lost interest in HIPSTER RUNOFF as an expressive medium,” Carles, represented on my screen as a steely-eyed Coach Taylor Gchat avatar, told me. “I've generated more words/content than the majority of humans on the planet, so it does seem 'understandable' that I am ultimately burnt out,” he said. He’s not exaggerating. Over the years, Carles has filed literally thousands of posts to HRO, many of them very long. “I was fortunate to have a profitable, 1-man content farming small business as long as I did.”
At its peak in 2012, Hipster Runoff was receiving 2.2 million pageviews a month—not bad for a lone “content farmer.” The site went dark the year after that. After HRO had been quiet for many months, in mid-2014, I sent Carles an email, offering him a chance to ‘rebuild his brand’ with an interview; I told him my RSS feed hadn’t been the same. Months passed, and I forgot about the entreaty until January 2015, when out of nowhere, I got a reply.
“Damn. RSS still exists? Sup bro,” Carles said. He agreed to talk, preferring Gchat, because, he said, “i feel like i will ‘give a better interview’ or something.”
What unfolded was a chat that stretched over hours, in which Carles, never breaking character—he’s like an online-only Stephen Colbert, if Stephen Colbert were actually a registered Republican—discussed HRO, the online content business, its impact on his life, and why he’s finally moving on from the site.
A unified theory of the rise and fall of Carles began to form: Like any other online platform that saw a modicum of success in the era, he grew intent with expanding his reach, with ‘scaling’ his operation. After he broke through with ‘authentic’ articles about Animal Collective and going to concerts as an aging indie fan, he started chasing pageviews, publishing trashy posts that were siloed into "verticals" devoted to celebrity gossip (while inherently mocking that practice too of course), and, reaching maximum capacity at millions of eyeballs, with nowhere else to go, he flamed out.
The history of Hipster Runoff is, I came to suspect, in many ways, the history of the last ten years of the internet.
“I had a job, at first, but it also seemed like maybe I didn't want a 'self' to compromise the message, maybe,” Perez told me. “It seemed to have 'mystique' but in hindsight probably limited my opportunities.”
He insists now that his anonymity was “zero percent deliberate or something,” even as the likes of New York Magazine and Gawker speculated about his identity and confused him for the novelist Tao Lin. He encouraged me to print his name if it would “help you write what you need to write,” and sent over a Photobooth shot of himself. Here's Carles in 2015:
Carlos Perez—Promoting his new blog, naturally.
In the beginning, the mission was modest. “My original goal was to get my blog on Hype Machine,” Carles said. The earliest archived Hipster Runoff posts are relatively unironic and unremarkable musings about Feist and Sonic Youth, links to remixes Carles liked, and a little gentle satire of internet contrivances like listicles. He was an earnest member of a constellation of offbeat, amateur blogs that were fueling some version of a digital counterculture, when punks and nerds were using Wordpress to scout out new artists and elevate them to semi-fame, not for finder’s fees or incorporated music labels, but because it was thrilling, to be "first," before the blogscape found itself completely commoditized.
“I believed there was a 'scene' of people on the internet who desired a non-traditional stream of music that could only be facilitated by a network of rising technology,” Perez said when I asked him why he started blogging. That, and Hype Machine. “I was happy when I got on," he said. But he was already too weird. “The Hype Machine bro unlisted me because he said I wasn't 'mp3 bloggy enough' and 'mean.'”
Soon, Carles was veering into all-caps posts and mocking bands he liked for using GIFs in their marketing materials. By August of 2007, he dropped terms like "bloghouse" more conspicuously and frequently. He occasionally placed keywords in quotes, in what would develop into his 'trademark style'—denoting words that might otherwise be embarrassing for someone who considered themselves ‘alt’ to publish earnestly. But emergent from the ironic muck was Carles’ secret ingredient; a clumsy honesty either culled directly from his own life or uncannily redolent of it.
Take the early post, ‘Rod Stewart Was My Dad’s Favourite Singer’. Here’s the entire text:
“I'll Never forget the day I won a Walkman in a raffle.
My Dad Came home with our household's first CD.
It was Rod Stewart Unplugged.
After my parents got divorced, my mom always changed the station when Rod Stewart came on the radio.
What was your first CD?”
It’s classic Hipster Runoff, in chrysalis. It’s a weird little blog-poem, cloaked in wryness; you can’t tell if it’s completely a joke or just kind of a joke. There’s already a whiff of Carles’ fear that he’s always a step behind the latest innovation that will quietly ruin everything.
By 2008, Perez had more or less fully developed the character that would be the driving force of HRO. His best trick was repurposing the cumbersome brand jargon that marketers use to describe the experience of the youth they target, and reciting it from his own prismatic stream of conscious. Carles aspires 2 be ‘relevant’, bb, and ‘authentic’ and 2 have a ‘meaningful experience’ by consuming products ‘for all the right reasons,’ embracing ‘alt’ trends like ‘chillwave’ and rejecting ‘lamestream’ bros. He bluntly exposes the contrivances that hipsters, tastemakers, and advertisers alike use to create the perception that there exists an experience better and more unique than the one being lived by ‘average’ Americans—while still asserting them. This was the hipster pinnacle, online and off, and like his internet cousin Pitchfork Reviews Reviews, Carles blurred the line between the slavish devotion to culture production and parodying it.
The blog started to catch on. He grew a dedicated readership, and his posts started going viral. I remember stumbling on my first HRO link around that time—"U, Me, and Every Concert We Attend". It was funny, on one level, to read through the list of caricatured concert attendees and laugh at the stereotypes; it was a soft punch in the gut on another, to recognize yourself in the crowd.
At the time, I was writing for an upstart blog, too, and I felt a pang of dread and envy; this was totally unique, defiantly obnoxious, and somehow painfully true. What the hell was I doing?
Well, I was trying to do what lots were trying to do—build a half-serious ‘media brand’ with little more than a Wordpress login and willpower. It was mostly for kicks, but, you know, you never know. Back then, the walls around the garden were a lot lower; and online media had yet to so fully fragment into dozens of variegated social media landscapes. Twitter and Buzzfeed had only been founded a couple years ago, and there were no prevalent Tumblrs, Instagrams, etc. People read blogs. It was comparatively easy to get a little attention with a strong voice and a topic of inquiry—in our case, Williamsburg, the neighborhood equivalent of an HRO blogroll—and kind of enthralling to win links from bigger outlets, to watch the traffic spike.
This was the environment into which HRO was launched, and it marks a strange period of lurch for online media. Tim Hwang agrees. He should know; between 2008 and 2012, he brought the internet’s most viral personalities together under the same roof for ROFLCon.
“Over that four year period we saw a real transition towards the professionalization of internet memes and internet attention, essentially,” Hwang told me. “Hipster Runoff might have been an early indicator of where things were going to go.”
By the end, the internet personalities started showing up to ROFLCon with agents—one reason that Hwang stopped organizing the event—and tried to parlay their internet fame into book or movie deals. Perez stayed anonymous. Hwang tried valiantly to get him to attend, but Carles barely responded to his emails.
Meanwhile, internet culture was growing up, and proliferating.
“I think that he was playing that game and making fun of a very particular class of people on the internet in 2007 and 2008,” Hwang said of Carles, “but that class of people ended up becoming bigger and bigger until they filled the entire field of vision, I would say.”
In other words, the alt scene that Carles was parodying was transitioning from a niche to the norm online—hipsterism didn’t die, it just became impossibly evenly distributed. Music festivals boomed into a billion dollar industry. Indie bands could barely be considered ‘alternative’ to anything. And barbed irony became the norm, the predominant sentiment of the ‘professional’ blogging class.
In one such dispatch, the brutally, awkwardly honest "My job/career does not align with my true personal brand. [Generation Y and the mainstream workplace]", he admits, ”I am worried about the future. I only see myself getting less valuable, and finding new ways to learn less. I don't think I will have any money when I retire.” This was the height of the recession, and Carles’ generation was struggling to find work at all, let alone ‘meaningful’ work.
Perez moved around a lot during his Runoff years, from New Orleans to Chicago and back to San Antonio, his hometown. He ended up staying due to an illness in the family. “I feel like my parents had some health issues that made me sort of want to stay around,” he told me in a phone interview.
Meanwhile, behind the CMS, ‘Carles’ was becoming something of an ‘alt’ celebrity himself; the bands and personalities he was writing about started reaching out. “It was like, oh, Vampire Weekend wants to hang out, I guess I can’t talk shit about them or something,” he said. “You feel validated because you’re a blogger and you’re there backstage, or something,” he said. “It was this weird realm with real celebrities and alt celebrities, it was like, hey guys, it’s Cobra Snake.” He was making a living by blogging at this point, and the money was "pretty decent."
In 2009, Gawker readers voted Carles the Hipster of the Decade, beating out his opponent, disgraced VICE co-founder Gavin McInnes, by a comfortable 10 percent margin.
As his profile continued to grow in 2010, Carles was more flagrantly ironic and scrupulously invested in ‘the scene’ than ever. So it makes sense, then, he would invent what might be the world’s most self-aware music genre, Chillwave—the sound of “something playing in the background of an old VHS cassette that you found in your attic from the late ’80s/’90s.” The genre’s best-known song, Washed Out’s ‘Feel It All Around’, is still the theme for Portlandia.
“Chillwave was a great example of the momentary power of the blogosphere influencing culture when 'tastemaking' was still a core competency of 'mp3 blogs,'” Carles told me. For the record, yes, he still likes it. “Chillwave music is still great… I still find my musical sensibilities going back towards the aural, pure vibes of chillwave. I will probably be like 'the old guy who thinks the Beatles r awesome' except with chillwave.”
Trend writers at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times lapped it up, too. Carles, naturally, used the spotlight to advertise his t-shirt brand ‘Genre Shirt’. Another one of his winking shirt lines, ‘I Am Carles,’ helped launch the career of the model, Bebe Zeva, after she posed wearing it.
In early 2011, Carles announced he was calling it quits. In a brief post, he wrote: “I think I've accomplished everything I wanted to with this project. I can't imagine myself blogging about anything else ever again because I feel like I have already blogged about everything and I am just a slave to boring alt memes… Thanks for the memories. We had a good run. I apologize to every one who I have hurt.”
In a postscript he emailed to Gawker, he explained that “in a world filled with tumblrs, twitters, listicles, and an intense meme cycle, I don't think there is any thing very fun or special about [blogging].” He added that “If I could have sold out, I would have, but that opportunity never came, and probably wasn't going to for HRO.”
”I feel like that was probably more of a gimmick for traffic,” he told me—and the fact that the announcement was fairly widely covered in the media was further evidence of the reach and longevity of his warped performance art. You still couldn’t tell if this was another joke, kind of sincere, or a joke deflecting all kinds of kind-of sincerity.
Instead of actually giving up, Carles moved to mimic (and mock) the media that was drowning him; the round-the-clock clickbait manufacturers like Buzzfeed and Huffington Post.
“I'm surprised that clickbait didn't arise sooner,” Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard Berkman professor who studies internet usage, wrote me in an email about HRO. “The ingredients were in place from the very beginning to aggressively A/B test different topics and headlines, and it's striking that it took as long as it did for the modern Buzzfeed-exemplified system to arise.”
When it did, Carles adapted. Driven by the urge to generate more page views, or to comment on the futile practice of generating more page views, Carles launched 'verticals' like the Alt Report and the Mainstreamer, where he would post more nonsensical TMZ-like fare. Naturally, this is where some of his biggest traffic hits came from—Perez gave me access to his Google Analytics, and the majority of his top posts are, unsurprisingly, celebrity-related. A post about Chris Brown’s penis was one of the biggest; it drew around a million views.
“I think if you 'have an original voice' on the internet, you are supposed to continue to build scalable 'content verticals' to be able to comment on everything possible, using 'the voice' as a springboard 2 reach people and be able to sell editorial-rate ads against the content,” Carles said.
Writing at Splitsider, Rob Trump calls the addition of the Alt Report the “beginning of the end” for HRO:
“Carles’ obsession with pageviews now extended to outrageous media-mimicking gimmicks like writing incendiary headlines when there was no real news, starting one-sided feuds with artists, and finding any excuse to post a picture of a celebrity’s nipple. It was undeniably self-aware and often very funny... but it was also a sign that Carles was content with abandoning his burgeoning post as the hipster Jonathan Swift in favor of something that looked more like a hipster Perez Hilton.”
Carles shrugs at the notion.
“Yes, my goal was never to be a writer. I was just more interested in the internet as a way to experiment with communication, and probably 'evoking a reaction' with non-traditional content in relations to more standard formats,” he said. Carles was pushing the limits of the system itself, to see how far he could ‘scale’ his satirical product, the joke collapsing in on itself as it multiplied—was a winking post about Zooey Deschanel’s nip slip still winking if the hundreds of thousands of people who clicked on it didn’t know it was a joke? Did Carles, or anyone, care anymore? The likes of Buzzfeed and Huffington Post were betting huge sums of capital that they did not.
“I think in order to approach life as an online content creator, scale is always in the back of your mind,” he said. “Apparently Youtube vloggers have to post a 10 minute video every day, which seems impossible, but it is optimized for the ad model. I was fortunate to have 'mattered' in a time when the scale of the internet wasn't as vast, and there was a monetizable metric that allowed me to continue to create for an audience whose attention I could keep.”
“She was basically a failed mainstream artist who is being 'rebranded' behind major label dollars. Her songs appeal to indie blog bros who can catapult her towards relevancy + NPR-wave album sales ---> mainstream success,” Carles wrote in an despairing ‘exposé’ that quickly became one of his most popular posts.
That the "indie" music scene could be so easily duped into promoting someone he considered so obviously pandering—the music blog world helped lift her from obscurity to the stage of SNL in a matter of months—was the final straw. “Her career works against the indie ideals that if you are 'talented enough', u can make it. She repackaged herself as a brunette with collagen filled lips packaged as a lofi diy broad,” HRO sneered. “Will Lana Del Rey continue to fool the indiesphere, or will blogs protect our tastemaking voice and rally against her?”
The tacit sarcasm, of course, implies that none of this should really matter to anyone, but the fact that his Lana Del Rey diatribes were also his biggest hits ever—combined with the beyond-sarcasm disillusionment—sent Carles into his infamous live-blogged death spiral. The LA Times called it a “psychic meltdown.”
“I do think Lana Del Rey era was my largest traffic boom, which probably gave me the most 'validation.'” Carles told me. “But it also deconstructed 'success' as a perceived influencer based on social media noise & analytic approval.”
This was success? Carles lost it. In a post called
“I have a blog called HIPSTER RUNOFF,” he begins. “Every day, I wake up, open my laptop, and type words that are stored in the internet as ‘content.’ My goal is to ‘get as many hits’ as possible because I metaphorically ‘have mouths to feed.’ I realize that at this point, it doesn’t matter if my content is ‘premium’, pseudo-brilliantly written web_prose or just ‘link-bait-wave,’ I was fortunate enough to not have gotten lost in the ‘long tail’ of indie music + Gen-Y-opinion-driven coverage blogs. Every day, I prey upon different buzz topics, exploiting my voice, but more importantly, my position as a ‘recognized outlet 4 buzz’ to try to trick people into thinking I am ‘relevant’, which basically just means that I am trying to make ppl talk abt my blog and get them addicted to my web brand even if they hate it.”
There’s the sense, as always, that it’s more than just frustration—that the man behind Carles is having an existential crisis, too, having devoted his life and work to something so superficial and limiting.
“Lana Del Rey gets to continue as an 'artist' who means something to wide audiences of people while for the most part, I am still trapped as a scalable media outlet who must keep throwing 'alleged trends' against the wall in order for them to stick,” Carles said.
In a bizarre twist, Carles told me that actually once met Lana Del Rey in person, at a party in LA. “It was at Eli Roth’s house after Coachella,” Carles said. “I don’t know if she even knew who I was, but there was definitely this weird interaction where we shook hands. I don’t know, it was weird.”
The traffic kept coming, as did the bemusement, the comments, and the scorn—Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, notably, told him he "fucking sucked." He was briefly hired as a contributor to Grantland, where he covered sports, technology and entertainment, in a sort of constrained version of Carles.
“It seemed like more of an 'opportunity'. Like 'validation' or like you can 'grow' into being part of the ESPN/Disney family (which I think is probably true). They paid me pretty decently, and I am thankful/don't want to come across as disrespectful, but I feel like it sort of embodies the scalable realm of netstream topics that I lost interest in,” Perez said. “I think 'some bros' liked it, other people thought it was 'wack as fuck.’”
Carles continued to blog out the rest of the year at HRO, too, before tapering off and finally going dark, essentially for good, in 2013.
So when Carles reemerged with a few new posts in 2015, and an announcement that he was selling Hipster Runoff, he made a few headlines in the old blogosphere he used to frequent, but not much more. The cultural critique was salient as ever, but the approach seemed dated, or simply bizarre to new audiences.
“There’s a feeling that everyone knows the game now,” Hwang said, “whether you’re a professional or not. Everybody’s self-curating on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, and that’s kind of the transition that took place—how to become famous became a much more self-aware process over that period. It also became much more commercialized.”
So it makes sense that Carles is moving on—there’s little else for him to do, little more to prove. The online world that he lambasted has become the one that we all live in; hipster culture has been uploaded into everything, from our banner ads to our sitcoms to our music.
“Carles the hipster has become out-hipstered,” Hwang said. “He’s gotten so extreme and so monetized and so ridiculous that even the guy who’s playing this self parody can’t bring himself to go any further.”
And so, Hipster Runoff has officially been sold. The buyer, Perez says, is "some bro from Australia" who tells him that the site is "in good hands." He assures him that he had been following HRO “since Justice was bloggable.” (Another serious bidder, Carles tells me, was the comedian Hannibal Buress). Now, all of Carles’s content belongs to someone else; an unknown businessman, maybe a fan, maybe not, and the fate of the site’s archives are entirely up to him—it’s almost fitting that this record of one-of-a-kind performance art risks getting wiped out entirely, or slowly falling victim to link rot, or getting made over as an SEO venture.
But what will happen to Carles? Perez seems in high spirits. He’ll live off the proceeds for a while as he looks for a new gig. He insists that he is in fact demolishing his persona; in true Carles fashion, he launched a new blog, Carles.buzz, to document “The last days of Hipster Runoff” as he finalized a buyer for the site, and to promote an ebook, the aptly titled Nothing Matters.
“I think that will maybe be its legacy: at that weird liminal point between before web culture became very commercialized and when it did, and the satire that straddled those two generations,” Hwang said.
It will most definitely be that. But it will also be a sprawling chronicle of the post-recessionary quest to ‘search for meaning’ online, and the personal impact of trying to make a living as a writer, a blogger, a culture-producer in the hyperactive age of new media. Of the ultimate fate of an online "influencer," maybe.
“My bigger crisis probably comes with 'adjusting to the real world' with an identity that is constructed on web metrics, the perception of my voice 'influencing', and eternal feedback from social media. In order to move on, I must convince myself that it never mattered and move into a field where my hourly wage is worth more than the national average in order to be 'content.'”
Carles is tired; tired of trying to produce "relevant" clickable opinions, of chasing pageviews, the lifeblood of any online operation, and, it seems, of staking his personal validation on his online performance.
“I think my failure in certain personal relationships and friendships do illustrate the creation of a self that is not functional in the real world, which is the result of being validated for seeing the world [via the HRO lens], so I'm not sure if I need to go to therapy to 'undo' it or if it is 'me.'” Carles told me.
￼”I am not sure if I fully grasp the impact of the blog world on me just yet, but I do think it might have more to do with the idea of investing yourself in a topic/person/idea in order to write something about it, then it is just churned out and forgotten very quickly," he added. "Most of the feedback that can be tracked is negative, and you are told what you feel/wrote is irresponsible, mean, and 'was already felt/explained' by other people.”
There may be no other way to describe this sentiment than "authentic"—it’s hard to say for sure, but if feels like Perez is being honest. His comments feel weary, somehow, and, as someone who also ‘creates and curates content’ for a living, they resonate. “Did I really do something?” he said. “Or was it just 7,000 pages of nothing?”
He’s received some fond farewells, he says, and some mocking tweets telling him “it’s about time.” Same as it ever was. “You over-prepare yourself by detaching yourself from any moment meaning something,” he said. “Ready to just keep moving on because the world moves on.”
In the end, Perez seems wistful, maybe a little defeated. Nothing Matters.
After everything, did he find Hipster Runoff ‘meaningful’?
“Yes. I am glad I said goodbye so that I remembered that beyond the scalable noise of the internet, there are real people that want premium content that helps them 2 feel 'more alive' instead of feeling like they are 'trapped' consuming meaningless garbage and participating in pointless cultural exercises.”
The last ‘true post’ of Hipster Runoff, before it went dark in November 2013, which can probably be regarded as the spiritual farewell from the site, was an entry called “Is the Scene Still Alive?” It goes like this:
“Is the scene still alive?
Was I the one who was alive?
Or was I just naive
feelings of youth, hope, a better tomorrow
manifesting itself in my arbitrary cultural immersion...
Is the scene still alive?
There are people still alive in the scene?
Are they ALIVE?
Was I ever ALIVE?
They still seem to take it seriously.
It still seems to define them.
Are they holding on to something that doesn't exist any more?
Are they holding on to themselves?
Did I lose myself?
Is the scene still alive?”
It may be the last ‘relevant’ sentence ‘Carles’ wrote.
“feel like I’ve grown up with u, carles,” reads the top comment. It has dozens of upvotes.