Does "Indie Rock" Mean Anything At All Anymore?
Our colleague Shea Serrano has been doing brisk business with his Rap Round Table blogs, corralling local hip-hoppers into talking about events in their scene and in the world at large. No topics are off limits, and everyone is willing to talk.
So Rocks Off decided it was time for Houston's rockers to have their own platform, a place where we could periodically find out how things look from the punk/metal/hardcore/garage/indie side of things. Hopefully these will lead to bigger dialogues, or at least fiery flame wars in the comments section.
We picked people who would have maximum impact with their words, the ones who can turn a phrase and make you think. We want to include everyone, from every musical subset in town, not just a core clique of musicians. Ideas from all over should be thrown around, so if you want to be a part of the next session, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
This Week's Panel: Mario Rodriguez of Tax The Wolf, April Patrick from Girls Rock Houston and various gestating bands, lead guitarist Bill Fool of Hell City Kings, and Justin Nava, front man for The Last Place You Look.
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This Week's Prompt: What is indie rock today, and what does it mean to you?
Mario Rodriguez: Indie rock is a mere title for a genre of music that doesn't seem to exist. Indie rock has become an ambiguous term, and it's the modern record labels and media that have twisted the simplicity and aesthetics behind what it once might of been. A sound that could be truly original and clever. It's a stamp on highly qualified candidates that may become the next great hit at Coachella or Weezer's new best friends.
The independent labels are now the most sought after by the most talented, vintage clothes and antique materials are now amongst the hip crowd, all music is now free of charge in some way or another through a pretty machine and "indie rock" may very well be a dead term for us musicians wanting to make something authentic.
Times have truly changed, and they're moving faster.
April Patrick: There was a time, two decades ago, when Indie Rock and I would walk down university sidewalks, breathing the burnt air from the Maxwell House plant, holding hands and believing that this sweater weather would last forever. But today, we are embroiled in a bitter divorce, the terms of which relegates my contact with Guided By Voices to weekends and holidays. It may as well be dead to me.
How did we get here? What happened to a sound, a movement, an ideal, that I once held so close to my heart?
I know in the beginning, our affair consisted of a trail of clues directing me romantically from house shows to 7"s to Xeroxed zines. That used copy of Alien Lanes at CD Warehouse, the cassette of Bee Thousand in the clearance bin at the closing Rice Village Sam Goody, these were all cause for celebration (aka skipping class). Robert Pollard was psychically etching our love into my ears from his Snakepit in Dayton, Ohio.
I bring up GBV so much because today they are the only nearly pure example of Indie Rock I can defend and recommend. Yes, they put out some releases on TVT, but it didn't ruin them and they didn't become what the rest of Indie Rock has whole-hog succumbed to.
And what it succumbed to? Yikes. Over the last decade indie-rock went from overly mopey to overly accessible. Beautiful girls were telling us The Shins will change our lives while a corn-fed Midwest jock like Chuck "I Fucking Hate Him" Klosterman, was telling us in no uncertain terms that punk rock could not save anyone's life, while trumpeting the importance of Death Cab For Cutie.
Indie Rock went from a refuge for the artistically disaffected to a point of pride for the pseudo-clever soft boys and the cloying "she took her glasses off and she was hot all along" types like Zooey Deschanel. Christ, if you wanna know what happened to Indie Rock in the 2000s, just pretend She's All That was a prophetic metaphor.
April Patrick (cont'd): Indie labels were being swallowed up by the majors and the paradigm inconceivably shifted to contain bands with a certain "sound" rather than factually operating outside of the music industry at large. In the early 2000's any band with "The" at the beginning of their names were branded as Indie Rock. Shit, I literally witnessed Radiohead described as Indie Rock, and I can't remember, but I probably puked afterward. Was this just a last gasp of major label savvy or signs of cultural idiocracy on the rise?
And now any music that is truly independent shies away from the label "indie rock", unless of course they're looking to score their 30 seconds of fame in the next Ritz Bits commercial (like the last "indie" band I gave the time of day to, Soft Club, who broke my heart), and millions of kids are downloading the regurgitated sounds of Urban Outfitters models with the click of a mouse, never knowing that people my age once had to spend weeks getting all the info on a new favorite band.
But that sense of being on a mission made it so much sweeter. The obscurity carried an intoxication that just might never be known again. I mean, I admit my Google Reader is full of blogs pumping the latest demos and cassette rips from up and coming independent artists, but I would not describe myself as an Indie Rock fan.
Bill Fool: I think the basic idea of Indie-Rock has been lost on the new breed. The idea that you can write beautifully crafted music and sell yourself to the masses is still heavily intact but other elements like playing for the sake of the music has taken a big turn.
When I was young, the bands that represented indie rock were The Replacements, Husker Du and R.E.M. These guys took the music and decided that the major labels were the enemy. They wrote beautiful songs and played to whatever and whomever were in front of them.
To me that is what indie rock should be. Instead every indie band I see is more concerned with the mass appeal aspect and completely lost track of doing it because you love the music and happily take the consequences that are thrown to you. Very sad.
This same could easily said of punk rock.
Justin Nava: What is indie rock? Anything Free Press Houston tells you is cool, along with Pitchfork, Fader, SPIN, and Hypemachine.
Let's be honest - I mean this only half-joking. I can't speak for and highly doubt that they involve themselves in the practice I'm about to explain. But the aforementioned Web sites are considered the beacons and purveyors of the genre term indie rock. They do this because they all originally started out as indie-rock connoisseurs and have now found ways to leverage this into larger money-making agendas that have nothing to do with their founding musical ideals.
They did it with punk, New Wave, disco, grunge, nu-metal, aggro, emo, post-(insert word here) and now, for better or worse, they are using indie rock. A long time ago someone upstairs realized that are lots of people who don't like or follow mainstream culture. They also realized they could go see what those people like, manufacture it and sell it, and make money off of them not being themselves.
But what is indie rock today, to me? Some really emotionally fulfilling musicians and a bunch of horribly lazy nitwits all lumped together, and ofttimes lauded equally. You can make the best record of your life with some true soul and a laptop that has Garage Band.
You can also make something that sounds almost exactly like it, that is godawful but some will jump on it for varying reasons. Usually 'cause Pitchfork told them to so they can make more money off of click thru rates.
The bottom line is, who cares what its called if you like it? And no one gets to tell you it sucks. Especially me.
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