Friday, June 20, 2008

Gimme Indie Rock Revisited

A month or so back there was a discussion on Moistworks about the term "indie rock" and what it signifies today. It was an interesting, thought-provoking (and nostalgia-inducing) thread and I commend it to you. (Don't forget to read the comments: if you have time. As usual in an open discussion on the Internet, people with barrows to push keep pushin' them barrows, but if you stick to the core constituents - Brian, Alex, Carl, Douglas, Ben and Luc you can't go wrong.)

Last weekend I sat down and typed in excess of 1,000 words on the subject. That is not what you are going to read, but it at least gave me a chance to lance a good few thought-boils. In fact, I only have a couple of things to say about Indie Rock at this point. The first is that, to me, Indie Rock will always be Sebadoh and Pavement. I think those two groups, and more broadly perhaps the Homestead label, personify what was going on at the time when Indie Rock ruled the world (sorta). If it means anything today, and I doubt that it does (although a quick search of this blog indicates that it is an expression I use all the time), it means nothing more than a basket into which this record over here, and that record over there, can be thrown in together without one setting off an adverse medical reaction in the other.

Secondly, it has always surprised and baffled me how many of my favourite records, at least those from the post-punk era, came out on what you might as well call a "major label", or were distributed by one in this country (in other words, a major label appeared on the back cover of the record). The first three Wire albums. "Drums and Wires". "Entertainment". "London Calling". "The Correct Use Of Soap". "Trust". "Crocodiles". The first four Talking Heads albums. Heck, even John Zorn was first introduced to me through the string of albums he released on various arms of the WEA conglomerate: "Spillane"; "The Big Gundown"; "Spy vs Spy"; "Naked City". Not exactly "mainstream", then. Were these mere fleeting cracks in the time-space continuum, now closed over? Are there larger forces at work? (There are always larger forces at work.) In short, I don't think you can meaningfully critique a musician or a record on the basis of whether or not they are part of a major-label network, no matter how "indie" you choose to see yourself as. Like any arbitrary system, it ends up being an arbitrary system. Same with "alternative": alternative to what?

I think the moral, as Dylan said, and as always, is "don't follow leaders, watch for parking meters".

Now go about your business.