Death To Indie Rock

Being part of a band that has been plunked into the “indie rock” category, I often struggle with the genre and what, exactly, it means. What is indie? I believe it is a dead identity: like how the title “alternative” was borne from grunge in the 90’s, and has since come to define bands like Nickelback. It’s outgrown its meaning: Death Cab is indie, but on a major label. So WTF?

The term “indie” essentially used to mean “not major label” and oftentimes “not on any label.” But now the new “indie” had been commodified and major label bands can be indie rock. And to me “indie” still means angular guitars, you know, like Pavement. Let’s see what the my go-to knower of all things says:

“Indie rock artists place a premium on maintaining complete control of their music and careers, releasing albums on independent record labels (sometimes their own) and relying on touring, word-of-mouth, and airplay on independent or college radio stations for promotion. Some end up moving to major labels, often on favorable terms won by their prior independent success.” – from the Indie Rock wiki.

OK, well that kind of explains it but doesn’t fully satisfy me, because it doesn’t address the indie rock sound or aesthetic. I mean, I don’t even think I could easily define it, but I know it’s out there, and everybody is trying to do it. And then this morning I read this: The Question Mark: Is Feist Still Indie?. This appears in the Canadian broadsheet ‘National Post’ who are notoriously conservative, but are trying hilariously to be ‘with it.’ Anyhow, the article is flimsy at best but addresses the issue: “What is indie?” It seems that we can’t agree: it’s an important label for some people, so important that they won’t listen to it if it’s not indie (even if it’s totally amazing); and yet for others it’s entirely meaningless.

As frustrating/obsolete as retail CD shopping has become, at least we can rely on a shop’s inability to define any sub-genre beyond “POP/ROCK,” which I am just fine with. You really, really cannot please everyone. I mean, is being indie that important to you?

So as The Dears put the finishing touches on our orchestral sci-fi noir-funk opus, we prepare ourselves mentally for the inevitable: being lazily lumped into the indie category. This is me, being curmudgeonly about the whole thing: *grumble*. We always say that making an album is like raising a child: you give it everything you can and then release it into the world, as if sending it off to its first day of school, and you can hope for the best, pray it makes good friends, but really, it’s beyond our control. We’ll see what the fates allow.

9 Replies to “Death To Indie Rock”

  1. The term has become warped and now no longer means what it once did.

    You could argue the same has occurred, but in an opposite fashion, with pop music.
    Meaning ‘Popular music’… yet not all music that is popular is considered pop music.

  2. My favourite definition of indie is ‘popular music for unpopular people’. It’s so true.

    Really love the blog, it’s a great read. Looking forward to the new album immensely (and hopefully another Australian tour…)

  3. Funny, the kid analogy applies to a lot of things, being a stage manager for a theatre troupe at McGill I feel the same way about our show (which incidentally starts tomorrow)

  4. I read this today:

    “Earlier this year, [Blood Red Shoes] posted a MySpace blog, in which they said they don’t like being referred to as an indie band. Asked why by Gigwise, drummer Steven Ansell replied: “Because indie bands suck! I mean, indie, if it was what it was years ago then yeah, we’d be an indie band, but now, if you’re talking about the Pigeon Detectives, Wombats, The View, The Enemy, then that’s what we’re talking about, we’re not… We’d hate to be considered as on the same type of level as those bands”. UnLimited/CMU

    I mean, I’ve never heard of this “Blood Red Shoes” band before, but, yeah! I feel you!

  5. It’s a vague term, always has been. I’d also point out that it’s been around far longer than ‘alternative’ – anything can be ‘alternative’ because everything is an ‘alternative’ to something.

    When I say ‘indie’ though I’m not talking about a particular style, and I don’t mean signed or unsigned, big label, small or none.

    To me whether an artist is ‘indie’ or independent is somewhat subjective but it’s about the artist (not their paycheque or who signs it) – it’s about whether they are creating something original, distinctive and true to the artists vision or whether it’s com-modified (a pre-packaged product with as much input from the marketing department as from the artists(s)).

    So, by my definition you can be a wealthy, big label artists who plays sold out stadium shows (that I won’t go to) and still be Indie – it’s just hard to do.

  6. I have this conversation with my friends constantly and the general consensus is usually that being “indie” or “alternative” is way cooler than admitting that a band brings nothing new to the table and is just another clone of whats popular at the time. In my opinion these types of genres are always going to come and go and bands should try to define themselves not in a genre but simply by who they are. I think that some bands try to make themselves more popular by seeming indie or alternative because they know that people flock to being “different”.

    I just scrolled through my itunes and the following bands were labelled as “alternative”. Daft Punk, Ben Kweller, Blink 182, Ben Harper, The Clash, The Format, Donavon Frankenreiter, Gomez, Iron and Wine and several other bands i don’t care to share because I’m very embarrassed to have them on my computer. So basically (in my iTunes anyway) i have bands being put in the same genre even though they are completely different. Iron and Wine is just a dude and his acoustic guitar, Daft Punk is Electronic, Blink 182 is crappy punk from when i was 15 etc etc. I don’t how these genres get labelled on my iTunes but whoever did is proof that these kinds of “different” genres really don’t provide any identity for the bands who subscribe to them.

  7. lol I agree with you and well…being catalogued into an specific music gender is something that the media created so…calling yourself an a “rock musician” for example woul be going with the flow, so we should better say “I play music” anyway…yeah Indie as you wrote was supposed to be a group of musicians who weren’t in a major record label…but everyone sells out…also the fact that independent labels do not have too much range of public, it is supposed that you play music because you like it, but many of this “indie rock musicians” search for fame only…money and stuff…this music in a high percentage has lack of feeling, they seem to have forgotten the real escence of music…anyway…

    Good Complain XD

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