What's "indie"?
May 3, 2008 5:21 PM   Subscribe

What's so special about Indie culture?

What sets contemporary indie culture, largely associated with rock music, apart from other alternative movements in the past. Are there articles on its social acceptance or evolution?
posted by jne1813 to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Moistworks just had a large thread about this very idea. My interpretation of the article is the concept of indie culture itself is dubious at best.
posted by Xurando at 5:57 PM on May 3, 2008


Yeah, I think when someone uses the word "indie," without more, to refer to a culture, they're trying to lash together millions of people based on fairly divergent tastes they have or had in the at some point in the last thirty years. I'm no anthropologist, but that doesn't sound like a culture to me.
Much less a "movement," which would seem to imply some goal...
posted by electric_counterpoint at 6:02 PM on May 3, 2008


by the time most of us hear about it, indie culture is the remnants of a subculture that was at some point distinct from mainstream culture. everything indie is so broadly defined as to render it almost a pointless term.

maybe it only applies in retrospect.

i imagine at some point, goth was so rare that it naturally deviated from the mainstream - hardly the case now.
posted by gcat at 6:09 PM on May 3, 2008


I think what sets it apart is the fact that it isn't actually an alternative movement. "Indie" is the mainstream... or, at least, on a comparable popularity level as the mainstream.

The Velvet Underground never had a sold out show at the Hollywood Bowl. Radiohead could sell it out every day all year long.

There are alternative movements. "Indie" rock is not one of them and hasn't been since the early '90s.
posted by paperzach at 6:45 PM on May 3, 2008


Can you clarify what you mean by "indie culture"? It has meant many things to many people.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:47 PM on May 3, 2008


Clarification
posted by jne1813 at 6:51 PM on May 3, 2008


True indie culture is driven by common values: self-expression independent of corporate control and support. It's that simple.

What people label indie is not necessarily indie. It's just misuse of the term.

Indie culture is most definitely nowhere as popular, prominent or profitable as the mainstream. The suggestion is baffling and demonstrates the very common misconceptions about the definition of the word. (Though I must add that when you subscribe to these values and are surrounded by people with a similar mindset it is easy to wind up in a bubble where you take for granted that the whole world is familiar with the things you are familiar with.)
posted by loiseau at 6:57 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Maybe Radiohead is a bad example, as they're on a major label... though alternative bands have always been. Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica was released by Reprise.
posted by paperzach at 6:57 PM on May 3, 2008


loiseau What people label indie is not necessarily indie. It's just misuse of the term.

In terms of culture, I disagree. While Indie might technically mean Independent, in reference to the distribution model, I don't think that applies to current "Indie Culture." To say that they are wrong in their definition and therefore the culture is invalid is a bit pedantic, even if it might be accurate.

I do not think that the Arcade Fire, Spoon, Radiohead, Beck, or the National are "Independent Art," but they are definitely touchstones of "Indie Culture."
posted by paperzach at 7:13 PM on May 3, 2008


PUNK ROCK+YUPPIES=INDIE.

It is special because it values the DIY aesthetic of punk and because it represents the dominant style amongst the 25-35 demographic.
posted by klangklangston at 7:21 PM on May 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


klangklangston, maybe you mean that in the pejorative, and I don't see it that way. But either way, that's a spot-on short definition.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:28 PM on May 3, 2008


Radiohead could sell it out every day all year long.

Sure, but they always had major label support from their first record..

klangklangston, that's pretty good. :) All the yuppie indie rockers are now my age and doing the work at the marketing agencies. and the younger generation that would've been indie are listening to Hall and Oates because the popular kids are all indie.
posted by citron at 7:40 PM on May 3, 2008


Indie as a distinct subculture doesn't exist. I think you would be very hard pressed to find anyone categorizing themselves as a part of "indie culture".

Indie music does exist, but only in the sense of music that is not put out by a major record company. Or more generally, music that is outside of the "mainstream"(however one defines that). This would include many different styles of rock, hip hop, electronic music, noise, etc. With such a diversity of music, and the hundreds of different scenes associated, it's impossible to define an Indie movement. There is no indie movement.

I think "Indie culture" and the "Indie movement" are just ideas made up by people out of the loop(the media) to describe what young people are up to and listening to. Now it's being used by others (corporations) as a term associated with coolness or hipness. This is why you'll now see very popular bands from mainstream record labels, nonsensically being labeled as "indie rock". It's just a marketing tool.

Perhaps there are some kids out there labeling themselves as "indie". Disregard them. They are silly.
posted by wigglin at 7:55 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm pleased to see most everyone finds the term and its application as lacking in substance as I do. To me, it's nothing more than a vaguely left of center aesthetic sense, often juvenile and pretentious, and generally lacking in anything even remotely dangerous or political, but retaining just enough of the trappings of other, more radical, subcultures of the past to make its adherents feel like they're somehow "on the edge."
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:19 PM on May 3, 2008


paperzach: I do not think that the Arcade Fire, Spoon, Radiohead, Beck, or the National are "Independent Art," but they are definitely touchstones of "Indie Culture."

I think we are coming from very different angles (in fact I feel out of place in this thread) because I have been involved in on-the-ground independent culture since I was a teenager yet I don't even understand a lot of what you're saying.... your statements literally aren't making sense to me.

Arcade Fire and Radiohead and Beck don't belong in the same breath. Arcade Fire are most certainly independent artists. Though Radiohead have an anti-corporate air and have recently taken steps to use modern distribution models, they're not an indie band, and I've never heard them described as such. Beck has done some weird music but neither is he an indie artist, and neither have I heard him described as such. The National I don't know.

"Indie" isn't a made-up term. It's been common parlance among independent artists since the 80s, it doesn't just represent music (ever heard of zines, for example? Crafting?), and there most certainly are people who hold these values very close to their hearts and who self-identify as such.

Its use as a marketing term muddies the water but the term has a real definition and real meaning to a lot of people.
posted by loiseau at 8:40 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dee Xtrovert: I'm pleased to see most everyone finds the term and its application as lacking in substance as I do. To me, it's nothing more than a vaguely left of center aesthetic sense, often juvenile and pretentious, and generally lacking in anything even remotely dangerous or political, but retaining just enough of the trappings of other, more radical, subcultures of the past to make its adherents feel like they're somehow "on the edge."

Totally disagree. To a "wha??" degree. Way to pre-judge, though.
posted by loiseau at 8:41 PM on May 3, 2008


loiseau,

I think you are right about us coming from different angles. Maybe in the 80's "indie" actually meant something, but now after its corporate adoption, I think its mostly fallen out of favor as a self label among true independent artists.

Indie is now associated with a cool high school kid who listens to cool "indie rock" bands. As is shown perfectly in paperzach's comments (no offense intended pap :). I think we can both agree that this is unfortunate.
posted by wigglin at 8:59 PM on May 3, 2008


Ugh, is there a question here? Or is this just the place for everyone to air their personal confusion about the term "indie?"

I think you would be very hard pressed to find anyone categorizing themselves as a part of "indie culture".

This is 100% the opposite of true.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:12 PM on May 3, 2008


probably a pretty risky question to ask cos we all gonna get our indie-hate on. real indy music should be self-evident from the get go, right? the fact that people declare it as such loudly from rooftops is what harms it's credibility as a unifying culture, movement or aesthetic. It's definately a dubious distinction, as others have said. Few other subcultures (that I can think of at least) define themselves with such a loaded adjective lending itself to value judgments.

I don't have enough interaction with the "indie scene" to talk about it but I consistently hear about how shallow and image focused it is. YMMV. If I was asked to give you a rule of thumb I would say that the louder someone proclaims they or their band is indie the more you should avoid them. There are some great "indie" acts out there but they aren't generally promoted as such.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 12:19 AM on May 4, 2008


Arcade Fire and Radiohead and Beck don't belong in the same breath. Arcade Fire are most certainly independent artists. Though Radiohead have an anti-corporate air and have recently taken steps to use modern distribution models, they're not an indie band, and I've never heard them described as such. Beck has done some weird music but neither is he an indie artist, and neither have I heard him described as such. The National I don't know.


The "indie" thing had some cultural meaning in days (more than twenty years ago, and closer to thirty) when one saw early attempts at independent record labels, distribution, touring networks, magazines (and so on - later expanded to other media, such as film) after a decade and a half or so of total major label domination of music. It was startling and new and offered revolutionary possibilities which have now dribbled down to pablum, for the most part.

You've never heard of the National (ironically, they're currently #1 in sales in the "indie rock" category at Amazon! I can't say I'm a fan, but where are you?), and you've never heard Beck described as an indie artist, despite the fact that that's exactly what he was for quite some time, releasing music on his own and through labels like K? "Indie" was co-opted a couple of decades ago by major labels (I could give a million examples), and while its technical definition (music NOT distributed through major label networks) may still apply to, say, Arcade Fire, that's about all one can say about it. For all practical purposes, Arcade Fire may as well BE a major label band. They're certainly not very original or interesting or even on a par with many bands twenty years older.

I'd offer, as point of comparison, the Pop Group's release of "Y" (in 1979 - nearly thirty years ago) on Radar, which was funded by Warner Bros and thus, technically, not an "indie" release. But politically, socially, culturally, in terms of radicalism, potency and influence, "Y" was a much more intense "independent" statement than just about anything referred to as "indie" today.

For that matter, I'd offer Nina Simone, who ultimately put forth a more radical (and worthwhile) vision of artistic independence than any of today's crop, all while on major labels and promoted to educated people of the higher classes.

Indie today is primarily a means of marketing "quirky" (most of it hardly quirkly, sadly enough) to the masses. You may think differently, but judging from your earlier response, it doesn't sound like you actually have a long sense of musical history. I'd argue as well that the sycophantic "demands" of current indie culture often present more of a stranglehold on the art produced than many "corporate" supporters do.

In any case, I'd challenge you to come up with a list of (say) ten "indie" artists today who are doing anything as replete with "self-expression" as ten "corporate" artists I could name whose last records came out twenty years ago!

Labels don't really matter, and of course if "indie" means something specific to you, that's great. But I reckon you're creating a sort of (pointless) false dichotomy between it and everything else. I could send you a compilation CD of corporate sponsored music that would destroy your argument about control and expression pretty completely. And if this letter sounds harsh, it's not meant to be; I started listening to music in a place where any information or sounds where hard to come by and I once regarded similar labels as somehow meaningful or important or admirable. But I eventually realized that this was a form of snobbery, and worse, it kept me away from some of the world's most innovative and cool sounds and "expression." In other words, a sort of trap. So the sooner you get over the cocoon world of "indie" the more cool things you'll come across. Good luck!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:37 AM on May 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


I guess Ludwig has proven me wrong.

I don't know though, no independent artists or musicians I know of from where I live would call themselves "indie". Perhaps it's an east coast thing? seriously

And instead of just dismissing everyone else's answers ludwig, why don't you elaborate and attempt to answer the original question? What is indie culture? What distinguishes it from other subcultures? What does it mean for you to consider yourself a part of this culture? As you are in an indie-pop band, i'm sure the OP would be glad to see your response.
posted by wigglin at 2:43 AM on May 4, 2008


I will agree with Ludwig that many people and bands define themselves as "Indie." It is a clear and appropriate way to define a lot of bands that share a certain sensibility.

I think the really interesting element of it is that I think it tends to be thought of as being separate from the mainstream, but really, as a genre definition, it's no different from calling yourself a "Disco Band." Some Disco Bands were on major labels, others were not. I suspect that it gets confusing only because it comes from the word independent, but I don't honestly think the two have the same definition anymore.

I wouldn't call a hardcore death metal band on an independent label "Indie," even if they were selling their records door to door and through ads in the back of hardcore death metal zines.

Also... Merge Records, judging from their roster, must sell millions of records every year. Just because they aren't on Warner Bros doesn't mean that Arcade Fire doesn't have label support. They ain't a DIY outfit.

PLUS! In terms of film... the emergence of Paramount Vantage, Warner Independent (!!!), and other arms of major studios show that they are addressing an aesthetic sensibility that has attracted significant spending power. If it wasn't mainstream, AOL TIME WARNER wouldn't be dicking around with it.
posted by paperzach at 3:45 AM on May 4, 2008


You must recognize that there is a vast difference between label support and major-label support?

There's nothing antithetical to independence about being on a label. The nature of the label is what distinguishes indie artists from major-label artists.

Steve Albini: the problem with music
Courtney Love does the math

But again indie culture is not just about music. It's an ethos, a guiding spirit and principle.
posted by loiseau at 6:10 AM on May 4, 2008


I don't think indie is a culture. It's just trying to mush together a bunch of different things that young people like. Anything can be "indie" nowadays, even platinum-selling records. People who call it a culture are just trying to feel special. And I say this as someone deeply intrenched in different establishments that some would consider "indie."
posted by fructose at 7:22 AM on May 4, 2008


Hmm, when I say young people like, I mean that mostly young people like and that is driven by young people.
posted by fructose at 7:22 AM on May 4, 2008


"Indie" was co-opted a couple of decades ago by major labels (I could give a million examples), and while its technical definition (music NOT distributed through major label networks) may still apply to, say, Arcade Fire, that's about all one can say about it. For all practical purposes, Arcade Fire may as well BE a major label band. They're certainly not very original or interesting or even on a par with many bands twenty years older.

Huh? So your definition of indie is "stuff I find interesting and original," and because you don't like The Arcade Fire, they don't count? They're on an independent label and they share many aesthetic signifiers with lots of so-called indie bands past and present. They are certainly an indie band, moreso than plenty of things that people call indie in 2008.

Indie used to mean independent and carried with it lots of DIY connotations. It still has some of that meaning, but the term has become watered down and is applied to a broad range of things that share some sensibilities with each other and some of the major figures in the early days of indie. Successful indie musicians moving to major labels certainly muddied the waters as well. It's not a very precise term, but it's still somewhat useful as shorthand.

I don't know though, no independent artists or musicians I know of from where I live would call themselves "indie". Perhaps it's an east coast thing?

I assure you it's not. Plenty of musicians identify with the term indie because plenty of listeners identify with the term indie. Of course nobody in a band would say "I am in an indie band" and be happy to leave it at that -- everyone thinks their band is unique and defies pre-existing genre classifications. But there is a huge audience for "indie" and so it's a handy identifier. Really, you can't throw a rock on most college campuses without hitting someone who identifies as part of indie culture.

And I can't answer the original question because it makes no sense, which is why this thread is such a goofy muddle.

as a genre definition, it's no different from calling yourself a "Disco Band."

I disagree. Disco is better-defined as a musical genre than indie, which makes sense, since disco was always a style of music rather than a business ethos.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:37 AM on May 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Indie is a set of aesthetics which very much refers to a specific kind of music/filmmaking/fashion. Don't listen to those people on this thread protesting that indie culture doesn't exist (one reason they protest about being "defined" in this way is that "inclusiveness" is one of the tenets of indie culture, ie indie people feel that indie culture is also "down" with the very best of other cultures such as electronic music, hip-hop, metal, etc). As a movement of the white middle-class, it has branched into all aspects of the establishment as it has aged, shedding its vaguely left-wing political slant from the 80's and making its peace with capitalism as its practioners and fans grew up and got powerful jobs.

The central aesthetics of the genre have remained the same since the 80's, and stretch way back even before - I would say "indie" is spiritually rooted in Pete Seeger folk tradition of the 50s: it has many of the same values, including things like an emphasis of melody over rhythm, deemphasizing modern production techniques, literariness, quirkiness, "authenticity", a DIY aesthetic, untrained singing and instrumental technique, an emphasis on performance on record, an "oppositional stance", a collector culture etc - although there are differences too such as attitude (sneering rather than earnest, etc)
posted by dydecker at 8:40 AM on May 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is a bit of a prescriptivist versus descriptivist debate, in that the word "indie" is used for a whole passel of stuff that is connected some ways but that rankles the purist.

It is, in fact, nearly the same argument had over punk—"Can you be punk after signing to a major?" etc., where punk was an ethos as well as a sonic marker. And punk encapsulated many of the same things that indie does/did: DIY, leftist, anti-establishment, cheap…

Or you can think of it as "stuff white people like."
posted by klangklangston at 11:22 AM on May 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


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