There are few certainties in life, though death, taxes, and music critics bemoaning the state of indie are without a doubt among them. Coming just a year after Paste’s embarrassingly superficial think piece entitled 'Is Indie Dead?', here come pop culture cognoscenti Flavorpill, with their own premature epitaph, '10 Things That Are Killing Indie Music'. What? You didn’t get the memo? Indie is on the brink!
Amongst the penetrating insights, we learn that present-day indie is simultaneously anti-intellectual, lazy, cynical, dull, laddish, overly fashion-conscious, homogenous, backwards-looking, and increasingly the preserve of trust-funders. A point-by-point rebuttal would give more credence to the iPad bathroom read than it deserves, but a few general comments to set things straight:
1. Indie music is not in peril
According to a 2009 Digital Music News article, there were approximately 30,000 album titles released in the UK in 2008, a 30% increase since 2000, despite softer total sales due to piracy. With recording equipment becoming more accessible and label startup costs decreasing, it’s safe to say the trend has continued.
Celestial bedroom pop of Washed Out not your thing? Then have at the steely neo-industrial of Cold Cave or the freak-folk pastiche of Ariel Pink. In 2011, we have more choices than ever before. If you don’t like the music you’re hearing, well, whose fault is that?
2. Sometimes it’s OK to put a band out of its misery
While it’s true that the public and labels are less patient and expect more out of indie bands earlier on (though it’s worth pointing out that Phoenix languished for a decade in the States before 2009’s breakout 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix'), this may not ultimately result in a net loss. The Flavorpill piece trots out of the oft-cited example of R.E.M., who, as the writer points out, released a number of ignored minor albums before they experienced any real commercial success.
But the truth is for every R.E.M., there were scores of bands allowed to dither in relative anonymity well past the point of usefulness. Contrast to today where many more young bands are able to pick up record deals (albeit less lucrative ones) and earn an international following even before releasing a proper studio recording. In 2011, have we lost a few 'Document's? Maybe. But we’re also far less likely to prematurely lose a brilliant brand new band from a rural area on account of them being unable to find funding/support early on.
3. New isn’t the Holy Grail
One of the most tired criticisms of modern indie is that it’s too heavily reliant on nostalgia. However, familiar needn’t be retread unless of course you’re naïve enough to believe that the post-punk pioneers explored every single nook and cranny the first time around. Frankly, I’d argue that creating something completely alien and new is far less of a challenge for an up-and-coming band than creating a piece of music that is immediately identifiable as indie while subtly pushing at the margins. Looking to the past should never be discouraged. Bring on the disco revival.
4. Indie matters to more people than ever before
The single greatest threat to indie’s long-term health is its cultural relevance and by that standard, indie is in better shape than ever. A decade ago it would have been unimaginable to hear an indie tune on prime time television or to see a band like Arcade Fire atop the US Billboard chart or to have a hip-hop star collaborate with a bearded indie minstrel.
Look no further than the lineups at any of the major music festivals or the resurgence of vinyl for further proof of indie’s ascendance. This kind of cultural relevance shouldn’t be so quickly brushed aside or discounted: it ensures that indie will continue to attract young talent, and more talented artists means better music.
There’s an unfortunate human tendency of viewing the past, musical or otherwise, through rose-colored glasses. The Flavorpill piece never comes right out and says it, but the subtext isn’t exactly subtle either (even if they’d deny it): today’s music just doesn’t measure up to what’s come before.
I suppose pessimism springs eternal, but anyone willing to judge on the merits can plainly see that rumours of indie’s demise are greatly exaggerated.