Pop culture recycles itself. There is nothing new under the sun, and what was cool once will be cool again. This whole “indie” thing/scene/aesthetic/genre/style/whatever has been around for a while now and it’s become apparent that it’ll be a thing of the past sooner rather than later. Of course, it’ll only be replaced by some other sub-culture that will continue to gain popularity and prominence until it becomes so big that it eats itself, and all of the original devotees will move on to something newer and more exciting. Something that sounds like tomorrow.
Each generation always has and always will rebel against the previous one. The free-spirited and peace loving rock music of the psychedelic 60’s rebelled against the past generation’s strict, close minded view of the world. The furious punk rock of the 70’s overthrew that optimistic approach in favor of a darker, faster, and angrier aesthetic that celebrated all of the simple and ugly things about rock music. New wave music of the 80’s took punk rock and refined it, enhancing it with crafty songwriting that nearly bordered on pop music. The 90’s ushered in grunge, which brought back the dirty standards of punk and made it grimier than ever before. In the 00’s, an amalgamation of all these sub-cultures hit its peak. The kids call it indie rock, and its expiration date is approaching.
But what is indie rock, really? If a band was “indie” it just meant they were on an independent label. This definition no longer applies, however, as “indie” now refers to a specific sound. You see, there are an exponential amount of fantastic indie rock bands that have gone on to have great success in the mainstream while still retaining their artistic integrity. Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse, Phoenix, and more recently, Bon Iver are among them. Don’t get me wrong, it was extremely obnoxious having to hear the first 6 seconds of “A-Punk” being used as every naïve 16-year old girl’s ringtone for a good four month streak for me as well (a whole year after the song was released, too), but I didn’t let that ruin the band for me. I still think Vampire Weekend is one of the most enjoyable and important groups around right now, even if their sound isn’t the most original.
Allmusic defines indie rock as “too sensitive and melancholy; too soft and delicate; too dreamy and hypnotic; too personal and intimately revealing in its lyrics; too low-fidelity and low-budget in its production; too angular in its melodies and riffs; too raw, skronky and abrasive, wrapped in too many sheets of Sonic Youth/Dinosaur Jr./Pixies/Jesus & Mary Chain-style guitar noise; too oblique and fractured in its song structures; too influenced by experimental or otherwise unpopular musical styles.” Of course, even this loose and interpretive definition isn’t a big enough umbrella to describe the many acts that could be classified as “indie.” Hell, there are people out there that think of Foster the People and Mumford & Sons when somebody mentions indie rock. Then again, these are also the same folks who have never heard of Radiohead (Yes, they exist. Try spending some more time in a small town devoid of any meaningful culture).
One thing that does bring most indie rock musicians together is the past. There’s an almost unanimous agreement on the classic albums that have helped shape the sound; The Velvet Underground & Nico, Low, Unknown Pleasures, Surfer Rosa/Doolittle, Daydream Nation, Meat is Murder/The Queen is Dead, Murmur, Let It Be, Loveless, Nevermind, Slanted & Enchanted/Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, The Bends/OK Computer, Is This It, Funeral. This isn’t a fully comprehensive list, but I’d go so far as to say that you would be pretty hard-pressed to find an “indie rock” band that doesn’t owe at least some part of their sound to at least a few of the albums I mentioned.
While it’s nice that so many different sounding artists can be so compatible, I find myself wondering what’s next. This indie “sound” has been kicking around for a good while now, and I’m in love with it. It’s what I grew up with it, and there will always be a place in heart for it. But let me propose this to you: instead of running it into the ground like it’s some sort of blockbuster film series or a popular sitcom, maybe it’s time we moved on to something newer and more exciting. It’s impossible to know what the next drastic change in our beloved guitar music will sound like, or when it will come. It could be tomorrow, and it could be five years from now.
Listen. I’m of the mindset that art is something that needs to constantly be pushing itself in different directions in order to move forward. Obviously, it’s impossible not to take some kind of influence from the past, whether it’s direct or indirect, but at the same time we need to be looking to the future for inspiration as well. I don’t claim to know for sure what’s coming up around the bend, but there is one thing I do know: when it hits, you’re gonna feel it. And it’ll knock you into tomorrow.