Opinion article by Jamie lawlor
Close your eyes and imagine the sounds that accompany each of the following genre titles: jazz. folk, reggae, heavy metalâ¦ EDM. Each evokes its own silhouette of rhythms, themes and instrumentation. Now think about the genre known as “indie” in the same context. If you do a blank, you are not alone, because indie is the musical genre without a definitive musical style. Like many genres, it wasn’t so much a style as it was a movement, which came with its own attitude, personality type, and wardrobe. It can be used to describe Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Bon Iver, and Bloc Party in the same breath, but what other genre has so many completely different sound palettes under one umbrella? What is indie and why does it feel like despite having heard it used so often, no one really knows what it means?
Obviously, “indie” is short for “independent” and its origin can be traced back to the mainstream explosion of independent films in the 1990s. These self-funded films set a new standard of artistic integrity, because what They lacked in big-budget production values, they were offset by avant-garde styles and concepts. âIndependentâ musicians followed the same pattern, appealing to a niche market of intellectual fans in a âdo-it-yourselfâ way without the help of corporate entertainment companies. At this point, indie was not a genre, but more of a simple business strategy. Bands that followed this strategy tended to record albums on their own janky home recorders and pack them with store-bought CD-Rs and hand-drawn covers. As the big cats in the music industry called it a lack of professional quality, fans began to appreciate this artistic, handcrafted aesthetic for its authenticity and charm. The movement flourished until music with poor recording quality was sought after, giving birth to “lo-fi” as a subgenre, and cute pencil drawings became a highly commercial visual style.
While some still use the word indie as if it’s alive and well, it’s safe to say that the genre peaked around the release of Napoleon Dynamite and died around the time Michael Cera created a supergroup. with members of Man Man and Modest Mouse (called Mr. Celestial). The proof that the indie had really reached the point of no return can be fully understood in the first three sentences of Wikipedia’s plot summary for a movie called Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist:
There is something about shamelessly savoring the cute, artistic and youthful aesthetic that ultimately made indie the disco or hair metal of our generation. What was eccentric and mysterious has become egocentric and mundane. Privileged young people celebrated their own emotional weakness to the point where obsessing over an ex and naming a band “Where’s Fluffy” sounded like good ideas. In the case of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Columbia Pictures, the world has had no choice but to feel sickened by the dynamics of hand-drawn bubble letters promoting a multi-million dollar franchise. . Yet despite the abuse of the genre by the entertainment industry, it’s important in 2016 to take a step back and remember the admirable virtues that started it all.
Like many other musical genres, a large part of the âindieâ concept is due to the Talking Heads. In an era when awe-inspiring prog bands like Kansas and Steely Dan blew the rock n ‘roll attitude downright out of proportion, David Byrne took the stage at CBGB in a beige polo shirt and set the house on fire. The level of innovation in a song like “Psycho Killer” is unmistakable, but almost impossible to articulate. Although it consists only of guitar, bass, drums and vocals, it contains absurd but utterly satisfying lyrics, a hypnotic melodic line that is strangely unlike any other phrasing in history, and an air of vulnerability. and unpretentiousness that had never been seen before. A whole diet of rock bands, competing for the highest level of musicianship and the most cinematic production and visuals, encountered a band that really didn’t care how they played or even what they played. wore on stage, and all the time their music was better.
This style of writing and styling in reverse invented by Byrne would shape the entire mantra of the independent musician. Their music influenced REM, and REM influenced Radiohead, another indie legend group. Take for example Radiohead’s fourth LP Kid A, an album that so gracefully defied all genre boundaries with sounds so eclectic it seems sacrilegious to even try to categorize it. Note that with most genres, one can always expect a few key elements that make up the bulk of his music. Jazz songs will almost always employ the classic ride cymbal mix, most punk songs need their fast, handpicked, and distorted guitar chords, and a rap song is not a rap song. without someone rhyming on the beat. But when thinking about indie music, nothing in common really comes to mind.
From the perspective of artists like Talking Heads and Radiohead, it seems the definition of âindieâ in music might be the sheer escape of the genre itself. After all, it’s a term derived from artistic integrity, and innovation to the point of transcending the genre is one of the greatest achievements an artist can imagine.
Specifically, it seems like the common thread of an indie band is to take the basic rock band model and imbue it with key, extravagant ingredients. Arcade Fire, for example, begins with an arena rock base and drapes it in great instrumentation, from glockenspiel to hurdy-gurdy. Bands like Yeasayer and LCD Soundsystem have maintained an equal allegiance to rock and electronics at the same time, combining live drums and guitars with synths and sequencers in every song. Grizzly Bear and Local Natives diversify folk music with touches of jazz, R&B and psychedelia. Vampire Weekend is famous for its reinterpretation of African pop in a Western setting. Although they have all been called “indie”, none of them are at all alike in terms of sound or themes. Of course, indie has its general stereotypes, not so much about music as it is about its fans. One thing these acts all have in common is that their fans are made up mostly of an infamous archetype of young people who, sadly, are even more accurately referred to as “hipsters.”
The irony of the terms âindieâ and âhipsterâ is that at their core, they are terms that describe any artist or consumer particularly interested in arts and crafts. They pay attention to the quality of the clothes they wear and the coffee they drink, and they seek a deeper meaning in music and movies than the average person. Although these two labels have adapted negative connotations, the valuation of quality should not be stigmatized. Rejecting the superficial status quo of mainstream media will always be a deep and necessary phase in artistic evolution. The real problem is with those who value the image of integrity more than integrity itself, precisely because the image is the antithesis of integrity.
But it’s no secret that this is exactly what happens to all important styles of music. Any artistic movement will start with defenders of truth and end with dilettantes. Jazz started out as a rejection of musical rules, and now most jazz fans are more rule-obsessed than the Whiplash teacher. Punk rock started out as anti-establishment as it could be, and sort of turned into Green Day. Hip hop was originally a haven for the underprivileged and quickly grew into a materialist aristocracy. As my last editorial points out, artistic activists often end up becoming dictators. It’s the cycle: something new, sexy and exciting is coming out of the underground that cool kids can’t get enough of. People in the industry then exploit the genre and its leaders as soon as it becomes profitable, until money and greed force it to collapse on itself. After enough corporate desecration, the genre will finally be dead, and from its remnants another style will emerge to reset the cycle.
The fate of independent music was particularly poetic because the name itself literally signifies corporate independence. The fact that today Imagine Dragons is considered “indie”, a band that couldn’t be more supported by a company if they tried, is truly disorienting. It seems the overall lesson here is that people tend to use way too many labels in music, and this leads to discrimination and narrow-mindedness. The vast majority of people you talk to listen to one or two genres of music without intending to venture further. This is because listening to new music is like ordering a new kind of food or reading a new book – we are afraid to try something different lest we have fun – but how can we? we have fun at all if we never try anything new? Culture takes effort, and if you refuse to listen to something because of its genre label, you’ll be missing out on hearing hundreds of your potential favorite albums. You haven’t heard the Beatles because you heard the Eagles; you didn’t hear Kendrick Lamar because you heard Eminem; and you haven’t heard Local Natives because you’ve heard The Shins. As obvious as this rhetoric may sound, the average music listener needs to hear this far more than you realize. I suggest we all just pay less attention to the names and titles of music. After all, it’s free now. Listen to everything you can, whatever its label.
Stream: From rock to hip hop, to shoegaze and folk, all of these groups have inspired indie music today.
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