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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Indie Rock deep dive pic

A deep dive into the makings of indie rock

How many genres came together to form one

When we imagine indie as a genre, we hear the grungy guitar riffs that guide the melody or upbeat tempos that make our head move to the beat, as lyrics are shouted by artists like The Strokes or Weezer. There’s indie pop like Beabadoobee and indie rock like The Arctic Monkeys — but what does it mean to be indie?

What makes a song indie?

The term ‘indie’ first came up in Manchester, England in the late 1970s, when the punk rock band Buzzcocks released “Spiral Scratch,” without the help of the traditional music industry. 

The name “indie” has come to reference artists who produce music independent of big recording studios. There’s less authority controlling indie music, which leads to more authenticity and experimentation from artists.

Indie’s experimentation took inspiration from rock, punk, grunge and more, producing genre-fluid artists such as The White Stripes and Young the Giant. These artists break past the categorical constraints of genres and instead create a blend of them. For this reason, many artists in the indie category fall into other categories too, like alternative or hip-hop.

Though indie has blended with so many other genres today, that wasn’t always the way. 

A brief history of indie rock

Indie rock wasn’t a presence in the music industry until the 1980s when it started to grow in the United Kingdom, United States and New Zealand. Inspired by the 1970s punk rock movement, experimentation was the name of the game in the ‘80s.

Around the same time, The Beatles influenced indie rock as they split away from industry leaders and took control of their own work. Their music was characterized by incorporating unusual sounds and instruments to create a new blend, and they created an entire genre with it.

Indie rock continued to grow with the popularity of the Pacific Northwest and Seattle grunge scene in the 1990s. Indie music increasingly found its way into the playlists for college radio stations, and bands like Nirvana gained attention after the release of their 1991 album “Nevermind.” Although, unlike other Indie artists, Nirvana started at an independent record label and later signed with a larger industry label. 

From the 1990s onward, more and more artists have been joining the Indie rock community, sometimes referred to as alternative rock. Now the label of “indie” stretches beyond just those releasing music independent of a label. Some say this change pushed indie music towards being more mainstream.  

Some of today’s prominent indie rock artists are The 1975, Vampire Weekend and Pavement.

Landmark albums and songs

Buzzcocks’ “Spiral Scratch” became the first indie album at its release in 1977. During the EP’s initial publication, only 1,000 copies were prepared, shocking the band and industry when 15,000 had to be manufactured to meet audience demand. Others began joining the growing community of indie artists. 

Another influential indie album is “Ten” by Pearl Jam. “Ten” helped to fuel Seattle’s 1990s music scene and coined the term “grunge” as well. Like other artists in the genre, the album wasn’t a hit at first and it took around a year after its release to make it to the Billboard charts. 

Turning to the lyrical side of indie, many songs in the genre are created to tell a story.  

Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana tells the story of young adults weighed down by the heaviness of growing up. “Say It Ain’t So” by Weezer tells the story of a family torn apart by alcohol, inspired by member Rivers Cuomo’s high school years. “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers is about a man terrified by the feeling of the one he loves being loved by another. 

These landmark songs and themes paired with the exploration of sound are what shaped the genre and created inspiration for future artists. 

The future of indie

With indie’s rise in popularity, many believe the future of the music industry could be independent artists. With indie music, artists are being given the freedom to explore their sound and create new ones in the process.

Today, newer artists are sometimes labeled as genre-fluid. These include Dominic Fike and Declan McKenna. As the music industry and audiences diversify, indie and indie rock are likely to keep thriving and forming new sounds. 

This article was edited by Sara Winick, Patricia McGee and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Luna Jinks. 

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