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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Alts vs Indies

posted by on August 27 at 14:02 PM

Stranger columnist and music critic at large Michaelangelo Matos has a must-read post up on Idolator today parsing the difference between “alternative” and “indie,” a semantic struggle dear to my heart:

The thing is, “indie” isn’t working anymore. If anything, it has more specific and limiting baggage than “alternative.” Sure, you can ask how music that’s supposed to be an alternative to the mainstream keeps that status once it goes mainstream, but calling something on a major label “indie” is some fourth-level-of-hell stage of kidding yourself, in a far more concrete way.

Go read the whole thing right now.

Bonus points: No Age, Alt or Indie?

RSS icon Comments

1

No Age: 51% indie.

Posted by Jeff | August 27, 2008 2:41 PM
2

I was thinking about this the other day when I was writing about a new album and used the phrase "alternative rock" to blanket-describe not-too-commercial independently-marketed pop-rock still being made today, with roots in the post-punk era. In other words, "indie." I wondered if this would be misunderstood, and Mr. Matos is suggesting it probably would be at this point.

But when I actually hear or read the word "indie" (and let's be honest, we usually read it more than hear it, which is an interesting thing to note) I think of DIY labels releasing records for non-commercial fanbases (and critics with flexible tastes), in ANY sort of genre. (For example, I write for an "indie pop" website knowing that that is actually an imaginary genre, ahem. Although I've always rather liked the "underground pop" roots -- or subterranean pop, if you will. Creative, accessible music, but nor for everybody, and not marketed that way.)

Michaelangelo is younger than me but I have the feeling the word 'indie' has the same effect on him. So when we get an email from a Capitol Records publicist about a "hot new indie band" on their label, it's puzzling.The band is no longer what we could consider "indie." Just for practicality, 'alternative' seems to fit better, because when asked "an alternative to what?" one can answer, "to what the mainstream, normal PINK BOYS et al play."

Now, personally, I just want to go back to a time when I could shave my head and chase mods down on their scooters and beat them up for being "wavos." I've eaten far too much pizza to be chasing anyone down, however. But I probably still think "stupid fucking little wavos" when a bunch of girl-jean kids stand between me and the bar however. Just being honest.

Now "hipster" -- when I hear that word, I imagine someone who can "hip" me to anything from a real Seattle opium den, the collected film columns of Alex Cox, who's interviewed in the latest Stop Smiling, where the next underground vegetarian buffet is held, the best Alice Coltrane and Japrock records, the nihilistic ontology of Marvel Zombies, which of our friends has put out the latest chapbook or zine, whose the best underground DJs in the city, what's going on at that seemingly abandoned art studio in Pioneer Square tonight, the reason Gus Van Sant remade "Psycho," why the philosophy of biology will be the next wave of creative thought behind science and the arts, the shootings of Omar and Snoop, which Vietnamese hole in the wall has the cheapest and best humbows, bubble tea, and creepy imported Christian pop, what John Joseph has to say in his biography about being a Cro-Mag, et fucking al. But I have the feeling "hipster" means something very different to almost everyone else who hears it too.

Posted by Chris Estey | August 27, 2008 2:57 PM
3

That was the exact kind of article that made me give up music writing.

Posted by Jason Josephes | August 27, 2008 3:01 PM
4

I'm with you on "indie," Estey. To my mind, it has a specific business connotation; for it to be a genre makes no damn sense to me. Indie:corporate::alternative:mainstream. Simple.

"Hipster" is obviously more fraught, as the very "in the know" quality you cite is the same that lead some to see "hipsters" as a kind of advance guard of a hyper consumerism, always asking "what's next? what's next?" and gobbling it up.

Posted by Eric Grandy | August 27, 2008 3:16 PM
5

Thanks, Eric. I always want to sort of defend "hipster" as someone like Mick Geyer, who would make mixtapes of Karen Dalton and Billie Holiday and spacerock and beatnik records for his young friends like Nick Cave and Henry Rollins (Cave found out about "In My Own Time" from him via a cassette; Rollins dedicated his "Fanatic" DJ set-list book to him after Geyer died in 2004) and convinced them to listen to more than just the cool guy punk-approved canon. But such a defense is lost on most people and in its own way is just another aspect of hyper-consumerism (i.e., that feeling we got in thrift stores in the 90s when we realized we were still getting so excited about buying things, even if they were cheaper and goofier than what "civilians" were into).

Posted by Chris Estey | August 27, 2008 3:39 PM
6

Less thought, more rock.

What do I win for getting the bonus question right?

Posted by Jeff | August 27, 2008 3:41 PM
7

elitist-rock? snob-rock?

Posted by dutch | August 27, 2008 4:02 PM
8

Well clearly, you're too cool for snob-rock, what with your rick roll links. But what do you call it when someone's being snobby against those he perceives as snobs?

Posted by Eric Grandy | August 27, 2008 4:28 PM
9

Don't take it personal. Sorry I didn't give more context. I love indie/alt rock. If that makes me an elitist to some, I can't do much about it. Might as well take back the word and be proud of our tastes. Snob Rock! Who's with me?

Posted by dutch | August 27, 2008 4:36 PM
10

I don't have anything significant to add to this discussion, other than state that I love Stop Smiling.

Posted by kazuo | August 27, 2008 5:00 PM
11

I don't have anything significant to add to this discussion, other than state that I will be forever grateful to Hipster Runoff for bringing the phrase (and personal brand identity) "altbr0s" into my consciousness.

Posted by josh | August 27, 2008 8:25 PM
12

Saying either "indie" or "alternative" is a forced choice. Why no try being creative and thinking of a new term if you're not happy with what other people are saying? Oh wait, you all can't think of anything cool on your own, that's why you're all fucking music critics.

Posted by Skeet Foxes | August 27, 2008 9:35 PM
13

I quite liked this.

"For obvious reasons this is delusional, just as it is for today's youn'uns to sneer derisively at Fatboy Slim but eat up Justice. (Same principle, different costume, and besides, Fatboy's On the Floor at the Boutique wipes the floor with Justice's much-downloaded Fabric-reject mix, as it does with all but a handful of commercially-released DJ sets.)"

Posted by Fawkes | August 27, 2008 11:11 PM
14

can we talk about marvel zombies some more?

Posted by lar | August 28, 2008 10:04 AM
15

in the '80s and early '90s it was simple...

alt = anything bought at the mall/goth - the Smiths/the Cure/Joy Division/Pixies, etc.

indie = usually sounded like Sonic Youth, anything not THAT heavy, but still somewhat/something post hardcore (in spirit). and it was ALL released on indie labels. "Grunge" was only taken seriously by big media...I NEVER considered I was listening to GRUNGE if I was listening to say, the Fluid.

Of course at that time Emo was quite specifically a post hardcore thing, only...and we know how that term has been manipulated...like the terms "indie/alt"...I'm a bit shocked that they're still in use.

I've never met any hipster that was really in the know (there is no more "whats next"...only what else can be recycled), but assumes an attitude that he/she is...they typically get the context all jumbled up wrong.

Chris, Mods birthed the skinhead...I reckon you're speaking of mid-'80s Revialists as "wavos"?

Posted by nipper | August 28, 2008 3:32 PM
16

Hipster has been a pejorative for so long, it's probably too late to reclaim it as a compliment, but I hear what you're saying, Chris. I tend to describe the kind of person you're referring to as hip, cool, or tasteful. To me, hipster says poseur, snob, and fashion victim--usually all three combined into one irritating, self-obsessed asshole.

Posted by Kathy Fennessy | August 29, 2008 5:07 PM
17

Mike: I really like how you define these labels. The evolution of "emo" from backyard shows of Still Life and Undertow into (any mascara-eyed boy band in black here) still kind of freaks me out. As for skinheads, I guess I should specify American skinhead PUNKS (NOT ska-inspired skins) who used to chase down mods they perceived as being just another "wavo" (new wave) clan -- and these wouldn't be revivalists, this would be back in the actual day. (I imagine in the 90s some AH skins beat up new wave revivalist kids, but I doubt it was the fetishized hobby we claimed to habitually do back when hardcore was first created.) There was some confusion in my original description of such violence, because we were indeed confused and violent.

You know, Kathy, I'm just being a contrarian about the word "hipster." A hipster in the punk scene was a guy who would sell you acid and give you your first copy of "Naked Lunch" and had all the cool records (VU, Stooges, Suicide, etc.). Take hipster back from the idiot throng of non-political, PBR-swilling, illiterate, no taste for good cinema bad indie pop music fans! Um, I know, not going to happen, and I really don't actually give a shit but it's fun to pretend to.

Posted by Chris Estey | August 29, 2008 6:48 PM

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