The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Indie Defined

I suspect that spending hours a day on a college campus or possibly living in the hometown of Bon Iver has something to do with the number of times I hear the term “indie” per day. It’s also not surprising considering how often I read music publications. But one thing I had yet to hear – at least until a week ago – was “indie” and “dead” in the same sentence.

“Rock ‘n’ roll is dead” is a common phrase and although some may have not realized yet, much of mainstream music is a rotting corpse. However, I found it interesting that some people were actually considering indie dead – especially since being an “indie” musician has been hip for such a relatively short time.

A column in Paste Magazine (Yes, I know Paste is an ‘indie’ magazine.) called “Is Indie Dead?” recently got me thinking more about the importance labels play in people’s ability to love something. The column made interesting points, but I think tackled the question from the wrong perspective. Its author, Rachael Maddux, did a good job breaking down “indie” over the past few decades, but in the end concluded that indie is dead because it has, in essence, become popular and is no longer independent from the mainstream, making it no different than pop culture.

From the beginning the term “indie” has been slightly perplexing and a term that has strangely transformed from reflecting the purity of art and music to just another fad; one that centers around Pitchfork, skinny jeans, flannels and Vampire Weekend.

Story continues below advertisement

And that’s where it went wrong.

Like Ms. Maddux explained in the column, indie has become more than a method of producing music. Independent, at least to me, means grassroots bands or artists that write all their own music, record it and release it either on their own or on a pretty small scale. Even being signed to a label would technically make an artist ‘not independent,’ although some smaller labels – such as Amble Down, Jagjaguwar, Absolutely Kosher (there’s a million of them) – who pretty much allow their musicians complete freedom seem pretty legitimate. In the end, though, discussing “indie” culture is merely a debate in semantics.
Indie, of course, cannot be called a genre – at least not for music, maybe for films – because it is not a definite sound. I can tell you what punk rock sounds like . three or four guitar chords max, fuzzy distortion, a pissed off singer and fast drum beats. What does “indie” sound like?

My absolute favorite indie band, Of Montreal, sounds nothing like the local favorite, Bon Iver, and they are both mainstays in Pitchfork’s top headlines. Ezra Furman and the Harpoons are a far cry from Minneapolis’ Solid Gold, but they both are simply lumped into the “indie” category.

We must assume the term “indie” can’t be that abstract. It has to have some meaning since everyone uses it and it’s not a genre so it must be . how about my earlier definition? How about great, original art that has yet to be tainted by the control of a corporation, no matter what it sounds like?

Indie is alive and well. Every time you end up at a show as one of six audience members and buy a $5 demo at a merch table from a band member, that’s indie. Every time your friends get mad at you because you insist on playing your favorite song by a local band at a party and no one else knows it, that’s indie. There will always be musicians and artists that fly just a little under the radar of MTV, Rolling Stone and even Pitchfork that are doing it for the right reasons. Though they may never be able to quit their day jobs, those artists are what make indie culture so great.

For those who are ready to renounce their faith in indie/hipster culture since Vampire Weekend’s “Contra” recently dominated the charts (hitting number one in their first week), indie probably is dead. To them indie was more about proving they are intellectuals through obscure band references and having an ‘anti-conformist’ appeal than it was about the art itself. Because of that, I understand why an indie icon selling the most albums opening week might be bad for hipster morale. Man, that sucks. Now everyone knows about them.

But for some of us, it was never about that.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

The Spectator intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. The Spectator does not allow anonymous comments and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
All The Spectator Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Activate Search
Indie Defined