Though I do make exceptions, I generally despise writing anything that can be labeled a think piece because I am of the opinion that most articles carrying that description only serve to dumb us down as readers. This is a think piece, so for that I apologize.
In the past few days, I’ve read articles proclaiming the following music genres are dead: Hip Hop, R&B, Rap, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, and Jazz. That leaves what – country, pop, and indie? But maybe indie music is dead too. Mainstream music appears to be this gigantic, genre-killing black hole that sucks bands in and swallows them up forever. Indie bands are becoming “mindies” (mainstream indies) right before disappearing into the rings of Saturn, never to be heard from again.
Starting in the mid-Aughts, the line between indie and mainstream pop started to get blurry. You’re either indie, with your beard, graphic tees, boutique wardrobe, and your mainstream-rebellious attitude or you’re 100% of “the man” with your high-end suits and love of corporate structure. Sorry, I apologize for the lazy stereotypes, just painting a picture.
Since the mid-2000s, the word hipster has once again invaded the lexicon of pop culture and has become a term, for better or worse, synonymous with things either A) cool B) ironic, or C) ironically cool. Hipsters enjoy their own culture that is decidedly not mainstream, though not necessarily indie. There are hipster brands, hipster movies, hipster jobs, hipster restaurants and, of course, hipster bands. People generally get the terms indie and hipster confused, but I think the offshoot of hipster culture, musically speaking, is mainstream indie.
After all, why does music need to be so black and white? Millennials made a statement in decade two of the Y2Ks that you can be both, a mainstream/indie hybrid, or mindie if you will. What’s wrong with fitting nicely in the middle, making deep and meaningful music that also makes a healthy profit?
Fine you say. But it’s not fine if you are dedicated in your passion, because we are talking about changing a cultural ideology that was bred almost solely on it’s insistence in being different.
Over the past few years the indie/mainstream cultural divide has narrowed a great deal, though in my opinion, at the sake of stifling creativity. It seems rebellious fans are reacting to this by becoming more indie, or as they like to point out, going underground, i.e. developing a huge cult following in the absence of a true genre.
Underground music, generally speaking, has a little or no mainstream appeal, visibility, or commercial presence. It includes contemporary music that is free of heroic couplets and verse-chorus-verse arrangements. A specific genre or style is unimportant in determining underground status. That diversity may serve to protect those compositions from being packaged and marketed as any specific form despite a (sometimes) restricted and easily identifiable sound.
Bands that are genuine mainstream/indie hybrids include M83, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, The Lumineers, Tame Impala, Washed Out, MGMT and Phoenix, and you could easily build a mindie playlist based on similar artists.
The whole mainstream/independent movement may have started with Death Cab For Cutie, though that was probably never their intention. The fascination with new music tunneling into popular culture was a major label operation spearheaded by regrettable acts like Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco, bands that attempted to blend the intensity of hardcore with melodic post-punk pop and emo. It was an ill-fated endeavor to further coalesce music genres — for better or worse — and to herd buyers toward major label retail fare. Major labels just pushed the wrong artists commercially, as they tend to do in most cases, and Death Cab For Cutie was the sub-culture’s counter-attack.
Once the indie independents had been subsumed by major labels, and now that major label acts seemingly mimic more avant-garde sensibilities, is indie rock dead as a legitimate musical genre?
I have heard the debate numerous times while listening to my local NPR outlet so I will paraphrase to the best of my abilities:
“Saying anything is [dead] should give us pause and is probably deserving of an incipient nod and rolling of the eyes. Proclamations that a given cultural entity has perished is absolute nonsense.”
Is indie rock dead? Is rock itself dead? Too often dead is exchanged synonymously for irrelevance, and relevance tends to lie in the eye of the beholder. If you’re bored with something then you’re likely to proclaim its demise. The point Damian Abraham was trying to make with his tweet is simple: if you combine mainstream and any other genre, why call it anything but mainstream?
We can acknowledge that indie music has splintered to a point where the term has lost much of its meaning or value, but the genre certainly isn’t dead, and for the most part, has strongly resisted the urge to sell out. Just because a band sells a lot of records does not mean we should sever our affinities to their humble beginnings. Selling out isn’t the same thing as selling music. In most cases adapting to a mainstream culture was never a consideration so why penalize someone just for making really good music? In that respect, I say that indie is assuredly not dead, and that the major labels just want us to think that it is by ignoring the roots of some very successful upstarts.