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History of Indie rock

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In the United Kingdom, indie music charts have been compiled since the early 1980s. Initially, the charts featured bands that emerged from punk, post-punk, and other forms of music; these bands were categorized solely by having their records released by small labels, independently of the major record companies. However, the term "indie" became primarily associated with a form of guitar-based alternative rock that dominated the indie charts, particularly indie pop artists such as Aztec Camera and Orange Juice, the C86 jangle-pop movement and the twee pop of Sarah Records artists. Probably the definitive British indie rock bands of the 80s were The Smiths, The Stone Roses and The Jesus and Mary Chain, whose music directly influenced 1990s alternative movements such as shoegazing and Britpop. In fact, it is quite common in Britain for all alternative music to be referred to as "indie" instead of "alternative".

In the United States, the music commonly regarded as indie rock is descended from an alternative rock scene largely influenced by the punk rock and hardcore punk movements of the 1970s and early 1980s and their DIY ethos. In the 80's the term "indie rock" was particularly associated with the abrasive, distortion-heavy sounds of Hüsker Dü, Dinosaur Jr (who coincidently are often mentioned as an influence on the shoegazing movement), Sonic Youth, Big Black, and others that populated American indie labels, separating them from jangly college rock bands like R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs, who, by the end of the decade, were signed to major labels. During the first half of the 1990s, alternative music, led by grunge bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, broke into the mainstream, achieving commercial chart success and widespread exposure. Shortly thereafter the alternative genre became commercialized as mainstream success attracted major-label investment and commercially-oriented or manufactured acts with a formulaic, conservative approach. With this, the meaning of the label "alternative" changed away from its original, more counter-cultural meaning to refer to alternative music that achieved mainstream success and the term "indie rock" was used to refer to the bands and genres that remained underground. One of the defining movements of 90s American indie rock was the lo-fi movement spearheaded by Guided By Voices, Pavement, Sebadoh, Liz Phair, and others, which placed a premium on rough recording techniques, ironic detachment, and disinterest in "selling out" to the mainstream alternative rock scene.

[edit] Current trends

More recently, the term "indie rock" has become a catch-all phrase and so incredibly broad that almost anything from garage rock to alt-country to psychedelic folk and hundreds of other genres can fall under its umbrella.

In fact, there are likely to be several popular, and wildly varying, strains of indie rock going at any given time. For example, some of the more popular recent strains include:

Baroque Pop, an updated take on the folk music of the 1960s, typically designated by quiet vocals and more ornate, orchestral instrumentation and arrangements. (See: Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, The Decemberists)

New Weird America or Freak Folk, a more experimental take on New Folk that generally revolves around quirky, psych-inflected folk songs and ballads. (See: Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Animal Collective, Six Organs of Admittance)

Psych-Folk, the most heavily psych-damaged strain of New Folk, frequently consisting of avant-garde noise, drones, or dissonance, and often employing natural field recordings for added atmosphere. (See: No-Neck Blues Band, Brightblack Morning Light, Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice)

Dance-punk, a hybridization of electronic dance music and punk rock aesthetics. (See: LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, !!!, Out Hud, Liars, Radio 4, Death From Above 1979)

Garage rock revival, a throwback to a more primitive 60s rock and roll sound which was heavily influenced by Delta blues. (See: The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Von Bondies, The Eagles of Death Metal, Yeah Yeah Yeahs)

Nu-gaze, an updated version of shoegazer that tends to lean more heavily on synths than its more guitar-focused predecessor. (See: Sigur Rós, Scarling. Ulrich Schnauss, M83, Serena Maneesh)

Indietronic, a descendant of electropop that finds a more conventional approach to indie rock or indie pop backed almost exclusively by highly digitized electronic instrumentation. (See: The Postal Service, The Notwist, Manitoba, Dntel, Lali Puna, Kasabian, MSTRKRFT)

Twee pop, a genre which is known for simple, sweet melodies and lyrics, often with jangling guitars and a noted emphasis on childlike naivete. The name "twee" comes from the British slang for something overly sweet or knowingly cute. (See: The Boy Least Likely To, Architecture in Helsinki, Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura)

Musical collectives, where a large group of musicians which may vary significantly from album to album, or even from song to song collaborate on a project, often while maintaining solo careers as well. (See Broken Social Scene, The New Pornographers, The Arcade Fire, The Polyphonic Spree, The Hidden Cameras.)

Also among the most popular strains of indie rock at present is the post-punk revival movement. Popularized by bands such as Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, The Futureheads, and Interpol it is influenced primarily by the New Wave and post-punk movements of the 1980s. The core of this movement has mostly been the resurgence of spiky 70's punk and '80s post-punk rhythms and riffs akin to those played by Gang of Four, Television and Wire. Often this style has been blended with other genres such as garage rock (Death From Above 1979) and synth rock (The Killers).

Whether this particular movement embodies the indie ethos is debatable. Many of these bands are signed to independent labels, and express a disdain of the major-label marketing apparatus. (In the 8th January 2005 issue of NME, Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand authored an article championing the genre, saying independent labels 'have character', how they are 'run by people who are passionate about music' and stressing 'why independent record labels are so important' as the saviour of good music.) Critics point out that, while many of the bands are signed to labels technically independent of the Big Four, the movement is highly commercial, image-oriented and market-driven, with millions of dollars spent on marketing and the investment of corporate promoters such as MTV, Clear Channel and Carling; a far cry from the traditieted just like any other style. This is paradoxical, as the term indie was intended to refer to music produced by independent labels, not a definite style. To quote music journalist Ryan Gillespie, "But if they are indie, then what are the truly independent to be called? If indie-oriented labels are continually being sucked up into the mainstream, who will be the avant-garde? Who will push the boundaries of pop music and how will it ever be discovered amid the clamor of major and major-owned minors with deep pockets? Will you and I be able to cut through the label hype to find truly independent music to support?"


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