Paste magazine asks the musical question, Is Indie Dead? It’s well worth reading, although the first page—with all its Nietzsche references and comparing “indie” to “God”—is a bit of a struggle…especially with our collective “tl;dr” attitude. But there are lots of insightful comments from folks like Kill Rock Stars founder Slim Moon, Sleater-Kinney‘s Carrie Brownstein, Sebadoh‘s Lou Barlow, and the actual guy who put Nick Drake‘s “Pink Moon” in that 2000 VW commercial.
Michael Azzerad, author of Our Band Could Be Your Life, breaks it down:
“The term ‘indie’ originally referred to labels which had no connection whatsoever to the major labels,” Azerrad says. “That used to be a meaningful distinction, because the underground wanted nothing to do with corporate America. Obviously, things have changed.” What’s changed is this: In addition to direct relationships like Sub Pop’s with Warner, most of the labels now widely considered to be “indie” powerhouses—like Domino, Merge and Matador—are distributed by the Alternative Distribution Alliance, majority-owned by Warner. This means that acts like Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, St. Vincent, Spoon, Arcade Fire and others noted as the seminal “indie” acts of our time are not actually “indie” at all. (Even Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the eponymous label founded by the band that became famous in 2005 for having no label, is distributed by the ADA.) Azerrad distinguishes these artists as part of a broader genre of “indie rock,” defined as a “genre which takes as its antecedents the truly indie rock of preceding generations,” he says. “It has nothing to do with the fiscal status of the label on which it is released. It should really be called ‘indie-influenced rock.'” The designation “indie” he reserves for artists making music on labels that remain wholly independent.
These days, most people don’t make that same distinction, perhaps because they don’t share Azerrad’s interest in semantics or his knowledge of history.
That’s hardcore. Maybe too hardcore. I agree with Brownstein who thinks that “the artistic and business decisions of the Matadors and the Sub Pops speak for themselves.” I’d throw Merge into there too, regardless who distributes their records. At least as long as they’re not more than 49% owned by a major label…right?
Tomato, tomahto. Indie, schmindie. Does it even matter? As long as the music is good, does anybody even care? Short anwer: yes.