Indie Rock’s Dirty Little Secret

| 4/9/2008 2:26:08 PM

So-called indie music loves to flash that glittery “outsider” label, but when you play the music of someone like Sufjan Stevens in the car and realize that your mom and your 5-year-old alike are tapping their toes, something seems amiss.

“Indie rock and adult contemporary have for the last few years, been publicly and happily holding each other’s hand,” writes Greg Burgett for the New York Press. “The indie kids … on their way to their 10 a.m. start times, their casual Mondays-through-Fridays, their five-dollar-a-day coffee habits … assembled a so-appropriate soundtrack … that keeps their cred intact, their superiors pacified (even at audible-over-the-cubicles volume) and their New Yorker reading appropriately soundtracked.”

While there’s always going to be someone screaming for the music to be louder, noisier and more difficult, Burgett has some fun throwing bombs at bland music and those young professionals who wear it like a leather wrist strap.

Jason Ericson

4/11/2008 8:24:40 PM

One of the most reasons why we get confused when talking about taste, I think, is that we THINK we're talking about the relative merits of a particular piece of ar. But when we talk about artistic taste we're also talking about our own culture: what do we say makes good culture, and bad culture? We don't just judge the piece of art in a vacuum: we are judging it by our taste, which is something that we construct to say, in a way, who we are. Mr. Greg takes what seems like it should be a purely aesthetic judgment (Sufjan Stevens is boring) and turns it instead into a cultural judgment (that stereotyped 'indie kids' buying expensive coffee and reading the New Yorker and, presumably, using Facebook and listening to iPods really like the boring music of Sufjan Stevens). What at first blush seems an aesthetic judgment is, instead, a cultural one. Mr. Fraser is guilty of the same confusion. He admits that the classification of 'indie' music is related to the cultural trappings of the music: namely, what kind of the record label produces the music. But I think that there IS a sort of usefulness in describing indie as a genre in itself--with particular conventions and assumptions--rather than boiling it down to a production or distribution method. Now this might seem like a small point. But I think that you can see where this confusion really makes for some fuzzy thinking when Mr. Fraser positions indie music against 'bland conformist music advertised on TV'--I don't really know whether this phrase makes sense, and I think that it probably came about because of an unfair dichotomy being drawn between 'indie' music (honest music) and 'pop' music (manufactured music). 1) Not all record label music that we would describe as being bland and conformist is advertised on TV. Really, can you think of any CD advertised on TV these days? 2) Lots of music coming out of the belly of the corporate beast

Mark Fraser
4/9/2008 5:55:07 PM

Far from meaningless, though I admit the definition has moved. It's relation to independent labels remains largely true. When I say I like Indie music I'm also saying that my music buying is outside of the bland conformist music often advertised on TV. Long live Indie! (Listening to Sufjan right now :-) )

Steve Thorngate_17
4/9/2008 4:47:42 PM

So, according to Burgett: - The Brooklyn Academy of Music--one of the main centers of avant garde performance in the country--also functions as a stamp of adult-contemporary mainstream approval. - Sufjan Stevens--who puts out odd concept albums with baroque arrangements and a DIY aesthetic, whose music, like it or hate it, doesn't really sound like much of anything else you've heard, who remains on a tiny record label--doesn't count as indie because a lot of his music ISN'T VERY LOUD. And because a lot of people like it. - The word "indie," as everyone everywhere has observed by now, is fairly meaningless. (But it's still fun to use it to attack people!) Thanks for clearing all that up, Greg.

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