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I Am Better Than You – Indie… really?

Written by Jesse Hayward on August 31, 2009

Pretentious writing whiz-kid Jesse Hayward weighs in on some of the most infuriating aspects of the music world in this, his new weekly column. We figured, if he’s gonna argue with us all the time about what music is and what it isn’t, why not throw it out there and share the annoyance with you, our loyal public? Here goes…

Apparently indie is a genre. I write for an independent music magazine and I still needed this explained to me. It was explained to me. I still think it’s a stupid idea.

Here’s a quick crash course:

Indie is short for Independent. It refers to the business status of the band – not the music. If a band is signed to, say, Warner Music, they are not indie. If a band is producing records under their own label, or under an independent label, then that band is indie.

That’s all. There is no nebulous set of musical characteristics that will allow a band to be defined as indie. It is a simple equation with a binary result. Indie, or not.

Now, back when I was a teenager, in the golden musical age of the 90s, the term alternative was thrown around quite a bit. This served as an easy term to define music that was not appearing in the Top 40 lists, yet was obviously fantastic music. Artists as varied as Soundgarden, Marilyn Manson and Bjork were considered to be alternative. Alternative music soon gained such popularity that the term became obsolete. It is disingenuous to pretend that Marilyn Manson is still alternative when beer-soaked frat boys are playing his music in colleges across the USA – and don’t forget the violence.

Indie has a similar nonsense to it. It is not a descriptive term. There are no characteristics of indie music common to all bands defined as indie. My editor Mikey tells me that the word has evolved from its original meaning of ‘independent’ to a new meaning, but this new meaning seems entirely vague.

Alternative, indie, these are terms applicable only in a moment of time. Alternative no longer has real meaning in the Western world. Indie is simply a business term. It is easy to see why pretension has bridged the gap between Indie Kid’s fantasies and reality. It is far more enjoyable to see a terrible band if that band is considered indie. Sure, they can’t play and their lyrical content sounds like a random love-song generator’s output, but they’re totally indie, ya know?

I think we should do away with the word indie as it refers to musical genre. Here is my most compelling argument: The Internet has provided us with an instant and essentially free distribution system. As technology develops it becomes easier to record at home using simple and common hardware. As such, corporate music giants will either die or be forced to evolve into something completely different – a transition it appears they are not prepared to make.

We are in control. As music consumers, we have access to music from across the globe. As musicians, we have access to audiences which would previously have remained out of reach. As a global audience, we are shaping the future of music.

‘Indie’ seems to paint some nebulous, ill-defined group of musicians with one brush. ‘Indie’ seems to want this group perceived as the underdog in some battle with mainstream music, as if the two were distinct and separate. Independent music is the mainstream, in communities worldwide.

Corporate pop crap is now the underdog. Funny, usually I go for the underdogs. Not this time.

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