I have a long-standing debate with my sweetie (one of thousands) about the word, “indie rock.” We all know bands that are clearly indie rock, I’m not even going to bother to list them. The question is, does it refer to a genre, or does it refer to the way the music is produced? If it is a genre, then bands like the Killers and Interpol, both on major labels, are indie. If it simply separates small-label stars from the bigguns’, then bands like the White Stripes, or before that R.E.M. or even before that, Lou Reed, are former Indie rockers, though musically dissimilar. Really, I’m not so sure what the electropop sounds of I Am the World Trade Center have in common with the rough vocals of Modest Mouse, other than independent label status.
Before you answer, let me take you back ten years, to 1996. Blockbuster Music (this is where you shopped in the suburbs if you were 16, because your mom didn’t know about Sound Exchange) has a new section of music called, “Alternative.” For about ten minutes I was excited about this exciting new genre that included all of the cool new bands: Nirvana, Bush, Radiohead, the Eels, Cake, Poe, Bjork.
That’s when it became clear that the only difference between “Alternative,” and “rock,” was that it was the music that appealed to people in my age group (make that, market segment). The actual musical styles had little in common. Perhaps there is nothing sinister in this. Blockbuster wanted my shopping experience to be as convenient as possible.
But it is a little bit like naming art movements, “Modernism,” or “Contemporary,” suggesting all that they have in common is that this is what people like right now. Well, (as I would have said at sixteen) duh. Is that the best description you can give?
I understand that many want to identify themselves as “indie-rockers.” That is the best music out there and anyone who listens to anything else is inferior (What? That is exactly what the indie-rocker is thinking). And an indie-rocker listens to what? Indie-rock music, of course.
But the way I see it, this can only go two ways:
1. Indie-rock is a genre consisting of any music that is on the verge of breaking big circa turn of the millineum (like “alternative” before it, which means jack shit now).
2. A band on an independent label is fantastic and mind-blowing until they get a record contract at which point they are not indie-cool anymore and they are sell-out snot-munchers.
Both of these are to be avoided! Please! I love indie-rock music! But let us not genrify.