“Indie is, at once, a genre (of music first, and then of film, books, video games, and anything else with a perceived arty sensibility, regardless of its relationship to a corporation), an ethos, a business model, a demographic, and a marketing tool. It can signify everything, and it can signify nothing. It stands among the most important, potentially sustainable and meaningful movements in American popular culture–not just music, but for the whole cultural landscape.” -Rachael Maddux, Paste Magazine, February 2010
Indie music, I believe, has become the color bearer of our generation. I don’t think that too many thinking people would disagree with this, but what I’d be interested to see is how and why. It appears as the obvious trajectory that counterculture movements of the 60’s would eventually lead to. At the same time however, Indie seems to seek inclusion inadvertently and also seems to speak well for many, even non-participants.
Indie music is the voice of the modern adult. It reflects our upbringing. TV ownership in American homes blossomed from 9% in 1950 to 98% in 1978. In 2005, more than 1/3 of American adults were considered obese. It seems that there is something damaged in our national psyche. I’m not blaming TV or McDonalds; they may be symptomatic rather than causal. I think that this damage began in the 1960’s. In that eerily ironic issue of Paste, Rachael Maddux claimed:
“God may have been usurped in the ’60s, but these [indie] kids were baring their teeth, sharpening their knives, preparing to slaughter the idol that rose in God’s place, the slicked-smooth supreme being of Pop. They wouldn’t make money doing it, they wouldn’t be famous, they wouldn’t fit in–and they not only braced themselves against these realities, they adopted them as their core tenets, their creed.”
Indeed, it is easy to see this mentality in the 1960’s, through Bob Dylan’s flippancy with the press or through the obscene shows that The Stooges put on. I think it’s a valid statement to say that Indie’s true birth came out of Proto-punk: The Velvet Underground, The MC5, The Stooges, and even The Kinks. All of these bands had firm ties in traditional rock and roll. The Stooges in particular even had that hipster irony going; “Louie, Louie” became an Iggy Pop staple at many concerts, the most famous being at The Michigan Palace in 1974, which became the bootleg, Metallic K.O. I’m going to link to wikipedia for this, but I love this anecdote from Lester Bangs:
“The audience, which consisted largely of bikers, was unusually hostile, and Iggy, as usual, fed on that hostility, soaked it up and gave it back and absorbed it all over again in an eerie, frightening symbiosis. “All right,” he finally said, stopping a song in the middle, “you assholes wanta hear ‘Louie, Louie,’ we’ll give you ‘Louie, Louie.'” So the Stooges played a forty-five-minute version of “Louie Louie,” including new lyrics improvised by the Pop on the spot consisting of “You can suck my ass / You biker faggot sissies,” etc.
By now the hatred in the room is one huge livid wave, and Iggy singles out one heckler who has been particularly abusive: “Listen, asshole, you heckle me one more time and I’m gonna come down there and kick your ass.” “Fuck you, you little punk,” responds the biker. So Iggy jumps off the stage, runs through the middle of the crowd, and the guy beats the shit out of him, ending the evening’s musical festivities by sending the lead singer back to his motel room and a doctor. I walk into the dressing room, where I encounter the manager of the club offering to punch out anybody in the band who will take him on. The next day the bike gang, who call themselves the Scorpions, will phone WABX-FM and promise to kill Iggy and the Stooges if they play the Michigan Palace on Thursday night. They do (play, that is), and nobody gets killed, but Metallic K.O. is the only rock album I know where you can actually hear hurled beer bottles breaking against guitar strings.”
Talk about Nihilism! Indie as a movement has toned this voice way down, yet participants still seem like a degree of Iggy Pop- Desire to anger or avoid the mainstream, yet still having a need for a fan base. It is very hypocritical, but I think that is pretty obvious. I find it funny that Sarah Palin has almost tried to pull the ‘indie card,’ distancing herself from everything ‘lamestream.’ She is a great example of failed self-branding.
Indie is a voice. I think it is doing everything that pop music wishes it could do, and is driven by heart rather than money. I acknowledge that artists need to make money, and money is definitely a driver for putting out content and art, yet, as evidenced by Radiohead’s ‘name your own pricing’ scheme they did with In Rainbows, It’s not about money. You won’t see Katy Perry or The Black Eyed Peas doing Daytrotter Sessions, or meet and greets after their shows. Even after winning their Grammys in 2005, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco still goes out after shows and meets with fans. Indie has heart.
I think what is so important about indie music is that it requires participation. It’s listeners are vigilant in their efforts to find new bands, new songs, and rediscover old music. These efforts I believe are what makes Indie much more than music. It is a community, and music is what links its members. Participants are more active citizens. Being an indie fan requires tip-top skills in new social technologies, and these technologies are driving democracy and citizenship. Imagine if MySpace had never made it off the ground. Think about how important this new media has become in The Arab Spring. Revolutionaries aren’t listening to Top 40; they are creating their own music for their context. I’m not saying that indie music has been the sole impetus for revolution, but it’s ideologies, developed from the counterculture ’60s have played a large part in social change. Indie is short for independent after all. Indie Operates on the same mechanisms that revolution does.
Music is a weapon. It subverts soullessness. Indeed, Socrates spoke against poets, musicians, and artists in The Republic out of fear:
“Then Apparently we have come to a thorough agreement on this, that the imitative man has no knowledge of any value on the subjects of his imitation; that imitation is a form of amusement and not a serious occupation; and that those who write tragic poetry in iambics and hexameters are all imitators in the highest degree.” –The Republic, Book X, 602
The Supreme Being of Pop would love to see the death of indie. I won’t call pop music a part of the military-industrial complex, but I find it similar. CEO’s make the decisions of what we should like and what we should listen to. I am reminded of Arcade Fire’s Half Light II (No Celebration):
Oh, this city’s changed so much
Since I was a little child
Pray to God I won’t live to see
The death of everything that’s wild
Long Live Indie.