There is a facet of music that has annoyed me, and countless bands, for as long as popular music has existed: being pigeonholed. There is nothing worse than slaving over a piece of music, crafting a melody or a rhythm, re-imagining a sample, toiling on lyrics until you wake up in a pile of your own vomit from how amazing your poetry is (not speaking from personal experience), and proudly releasing your gift of musical beauty into the world…only to have it thrown back in your face as a categorised, labelled misconstruction, to be tossed up on a shelf with a bunch of bands that everyone will associate you with from now until when the Titans inevitably rule the Earth. Take the case of The Preset’s ‘My People’, a dance thumper about, I shit you not, boat people. However the political nature of the song was misinterpreted as a party anthem, and was shat out in all the clubs across the country. Or The Clash’s ‘Rock the Casbah’, a highly satirical song that viciously tore into the government, that has been reduced to being the song your parents awkwardly shuffle to in the living room. No, pigeonholing sucks balls. I’ll admit, that occasionally in reviews, I take a creative license and compare a band to something that might not spring to everyone’s mind when they here the song, such as when I recently compared X-Ray Charles to Beat Happening and The Modern Lovers. However, this is my website and my opinion….soooo, yeah fuck you if you take personal offence to my comparisons between bands that I find have musical similarities for broader identification.
However, this is not simply about subtext or great bands past their heyday; this is about the highly negative effects of pigeonholing, namely throwing in bands of actual worth with the dreaded pseudonym of indie, or hipster depending on your cultural geography. It’s a brand that has a certain sting to it, one that recalls pasty kids in buttoned up floral shirts and way too tight pants, spouting how they ‘knew about this band before anyone else’, typing a post-romantic dramedy novella on a Macbook pro in a delicatessen on Broadway whilst sipping a flat-white cappuccino. Click here to visually comprehend if Lucifer was more of a douchebag. Although, for me personally, that doesn’t look like an astoundingly fun person, and they come off as rather cynical and two-dimensional, these indie scum do exist. They are the ones who scan Pitchfuck daily for bands they can worship before actually hearing anything, who single handedly keep Pabst Blue Ribbon in vogue, and made ridiculous clothing ‘cool’ (who the fuck likes fedoras?). But by far, their worst crime is the diluting of the indie genre.
Now before I continue, I would like to point out two things. Firstly, the inspiration for this essay was ‘How Did Indie Get So Safe’ on Fasterlouder by Edward Sharp-Paul; it’s a great, short essay (shorter than this one anyway) and it’s better than the majority of things you’ll read, besides Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Secondly, I’m about to insult a whole heap of indie bands that I find personally shitty. I understand that music is subjective, and this is not an argument about your personal music tastes. However, if you are one that enjoys the superfluously repulsive sounds of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Two Door Cinema Club, or Last Dinosaurs, I suggest you stop reading. Or not, you might find your new favourite band amongst those I find incestuous. Isn’t critiquing wonderful?
Anyway, there is a major problem with Indie music: it is too broad and too bland. When someone screams ‘OMG THIS BAND IS SAH INDIE’, it’s hard to know what they actually mean. Are they talking about Animal Collective, with their rich, multi-textured palettes of soundscapes, or the statistically terrible The Apples in Stereo? Did they mean Midnight Juggernauts’ pandering new album or Fugazi’s furious 1988 debut EP? It’s hard to know anymore. Then, there are so many sub-categories and niches, all with the title of indie slammed onto the front like an awkward boner sticking out of an 8th Grader’s pants: indie-rock, indie-pop, indie-electronica, indie-punk, indie-folk,indie-hip hop, indie-chill, indie-kill, indie-shank, indie-wank…the list goes on, and only about half of those are made up. Personally, you can chuck Phoenix, Passion Pit and Peter, Bjorn and John anywhere you want in there, it won’t change the fact that they’re shit. Most of these bands, despite declaring themselves indie, pander to a mainstream demographic. They play the dress up game and Domino Record Contract card, but the statistics speak for themselves. Vampire Weekend debuted their third album at no. 1 on the US Billboard Charts. Mumford and Sons won The Grammy for Album of the Year for ‘Babel’. Boy & Bear picked up 5 ARIA awards for their debut album, and will probably destroy the charts again this year, when they release their second album. Please, please do not misinterpret this as me saying that because these artists are ‘mainstream’ that they are shit. I’m merely pointing out that they have incredibly derivative music that in no way challenges the listener like independent music should.
This brings me to my actual point, and I’m kind of sorry that it took so long to reach this statement. There are a fuckload of good bands out there that are getting thrown in with that indie tag. Just because a band is independent does not make them indie anymore. No, the cohesiveness of that identification got thrown out a long time ago, as soon as Interpol and The Strokes started getting popular. Both these bands are pretty good in their own way, however once they started and the indie ‘genre’ got picked up, about a million different bands started mimicking a sound and aesthetic similar to theirs that was in no way original, but was regardlessly hailed as being the next big thing. How many times can you open an NME or Rolling Stone and find them hailing ‘The Next Big Indie Thing’? Sure, it’s lovely for the band, but it has ruined all traction for the term indie. Initially, when the ‘indie scene’ popped up in America and Europe in the 1980’s, there was a certain amount of respect that came with the title. As Michael Azzerad’s biography of the 80’s indie scene, ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life’ describes, it was fucking hard to be indie. Bands like Black Flag and Dinosaur Jr. had to fight tooth and nail to get any exposure. Now, when the word indie pops up, all I can imagine is some Grizzly Bear sound-alike that will inspire absolutely no regard from anyone but the NME. Not that it matters too much to the band anyway, because they’re probably slathered in cocaine and bitches. Some bands, like San Cisco or Grouplove even come like pre-pacakged indie goods, ready made for the ‘indie addict’. However, it does matter to the independent bands that get slapped with the title of indie and hauled into a case of anonymity. There are now so many bands nowadays that consciously pander to the indie Triple J masses, that when a genuine band that comes around that happens to be independent and good, they are promptly blasted with ‘indie cred’, frothed over for approximately a week by hipsters, and then dropped by their ‘diehard new fans’ and left abandoned and disenchanted by their old ones.
There are a whole crop of new Australian acts that are legitimately interesting that I am fearful will get manhandled by indie-ness. Aussie Bands like Beaches, Dick Diver, Bleeding Knees Club, Royal Headache and Bored Nothing are all in close proximity to being swept in viva la indie, and promptly tossed into oblivion. Likewise, there’s international bands such as DIIV, Beach Fossils, King Tuff, and Savages who could suffer the same fate. For others, such as the cases of Flume, CHVRCHES, Tame Impala and Jagwar Ma, it’s probably too late, and it’ll only be a couple years before a ‘throwback’ reunion tour. This is fucked. Totally fucked. Firstly, because all of the bands mentioned above are bright young talents. It’s too early for them to go. It’s before their time. Secondly, these bands are not indie, and could be easily defined by other genres, if at all. Finally, it’s not fair to compare them to a band like Jinja Safari or Ball Park Music, each leaning strongly on obvious influences or mediocrity. The bands at the beginning of the paragraph are all highly interesting, highly capable acts worthy of a different attention that eschews Arcade Fire and Death Cab for Cutie Fans. Save your Augie March for when you’re bored on the bus. If you want something of captivating interest, check out Holy Balm, an electronica act that breaks all the rules of electronica. Or Ausmuteants, a band that could simply not give less of a shit. Or even Kirin J Callinan, the previous guitarist for Mercy Arms, Jack Ladder and Lost Animal, who recently tried to make a guy have a live seizure on stage at Sugar Mountain Festival earlier this year, all for the sake of art. These bands are all independent, Australian, and most importantly, interesting. They are not a bunch of acts to be randomly lumped in on an ‘indie playlist’ with the likes of Swim Deep or Father John Misty.
It’s 4 am on a Friday, and I don’t even really know what I’m saying anymore. Perhaps when I review and edit this tomorrow, it will make more sense. Perhaps it won’t. What I’m trying to say is this: I’m not going out of my way to insult the music taste of all the hipsters out there, I’m sure Snakadaktal’s debut album will be awesome. What I want to prove, like the Fasterlouder article, is that indie music has gotten quite safe and uninteresting, and I think that it has to do with the wide variety of ‘indie’ music, and the sea of music that most won’t bother to uncover. Indie isn’t indie anymore, that’s the problem. And if you try to make something not indie into indie, it will most probably get totally buried. Instead of hash tagging #indie to every band you hear on Triple J, perhaps take a listen first, and then figure out if they actually sound like The Postal Service and Modest Mouse, rather than just being new. And instead of buying the new Foster the People, spend your money on the new POND and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard albums. It’ll pay off in the long run.