A few months ago, I had a discussion with a friend at what would replace the current ‘Indie’ revival that was swamping every media outlet with its plaid shirts, messy hair and regional accents. I usually engage in such debates because I loathe the genre, or, more specifically the appropriation of the term ‘Indie’ itself.
That particular Summer it was all looking rather bloated and derivative. ‘New’ bands seemed faintly familiar, ‘New’ songs sounded like you’d heard them before, ‘New’ bands were referring other ‘Old’ Indie bands as an inspiration – which is always a band sign for the vitality of a genre – and even Glastonbury, the bastion of British Rock music, was weary of the promise of yet another white guitar band headlining and attempted to eschew the trend by allowing an – admittedly out of touch – black Rap star to do it. Whilst, the band headlining the stage the night before, Kings of Leon, seemed like an apt metaphor for the overblown and derivative mess that the genre has become.
Despite this loathing, I couldn’t really see anything replacing it for a while. But looking back on 2008, Indie may just have reached its critical mass.
If you follow the word of Indie’s Holy Book – the NME, then it’s had a good seven year run. Since its Genesis with The Strokes‘ ‘Is This It’ – crowned, prophetically, as the magazines album of the year – we’ve had the Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party and Arcade Fire; unfortunately we’ve also had The Enemy, The Wombats and The Dirty Pretty Things…
Part of the problem with the genre that I’ve always had and perhaps part of the reason why it appears to be stagnating, is the over zealousness of it’s follows to use the label ‘Indie’. Open any issue of the NME and you’ll be confronted by a multitude of different sounding bands – but somehow, they are all sub-headed under the inescapable brand of ‘Indie’. The ‘classical’ usage of this apparently flexible noun would merely suggest music made on independent record labels that was, as a result of being there, outside of the mainstream, leftfield, avant garde even.
Clearly modern Indie is anything but. A handful of dearly loved ‘Indie’ bands are on major record labels, the music largely adheres to the classic ‘Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Chorus’ structure and the higher strata of bands can sell out arenas, stadiums even.
Part of the problem is that there’s a paradox, a hypocrisy inherent in the use of ‘Indie’ when it’s used to describe a band that can sell out arenas, get no.1 singles from a top 5 album. Especially when its ‘Indieness’ is part of the appeal, it’s ‘real’ music, for the people by the people. In response to the ill-informed mocking of a band’s popularity or success, a Indie fan could cry out: ‘They’re not sell-outs, man! They’re creating ART!’
Sure, now the fashionable thing is to like bands with as few fans as possible, but the genre is nonetheless becoming what it seemed to originally aspire to be apart from – it’s getting stale, derivative, boring even. Twee songwriters and Soul singers have got in on the act, all clinching at the same aesthetic, the same market, the same credibility. Much like the brief Punk explosion of the late 70s, Indie is fated to self destruct when it becomes too popular, it’s just a contradiction in terms to have it another way.
So is the end of the Indie revival?
Obviously we won’t see the genre, the bands or even the fans disappear overnight – as seems to be the case with the current financial crisis, the strongest, most innovative and the most popular with survive; the Arctic Monkeys and The Arcade Fires who have simultaneously profited from the Indie revival but also transcend it by challenging its boundaries, will continue to hang around and produce more great music.
The derivative hanger ons, the bottom feeders and the posers will not.
So, a gradual shift towards something new and shiny seems in the offing in 2009. To what exactly? The Ian Young’s BBC article puts forward a decent argument for a genre that has been bubbling away in the background for a few years now. Afterall, MGMT‘s Oracular Spectacular was recently named the NME’s album of 2008, like Is This It was in 2001, perhaps it will be seen as the prelude to the inevitable Electro revival of 2009?