Today’s sentence that had me reaching for the Advil comes from Guardian music blogger Owen Adams: “When is indie genuine indie, when is faux-indie indie, and when is genuine indie not indie?” Yes, folks, that’s right: It’s time once again to debate the semantics of the word “indie,” although perhaps after this week’s blow-up over This Is Next (52 comments and counting!) maybe it’s time to completely just do away with the whole concept of indie-as-genre–or even as adjective, period–once and for all.
So what inspired Adams’ crisis of conscience? Why, sorting his CDs:
Maybe I shouldn’t get so hung up about compartmentalisation, but I’m sorting out my CDs. Should Primal Scream and Teenage Fanclub be filed under indie, or will I need to put their later Sony output in the corporate indie section? What should I do with Fugazi, as they’re now considered godfathers of emo, rather than the US indie titans they once were regarded as? And as for the early Sinitta and Kylie albums, officially they are indie, but…
However, it’s the more recent entrants to the collection that are causing the most havoc – being signed to Domino makes Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys indie, but they seem too major league. And now Rough Trade’s cash-from-chaos-cow Babyshambles are tied to EMI, the situation has become nonsensical.
The confusion now is that almost every emerging band since the Strokes has been filed under indie, whether or not they’re on a major label, independently minded, or creatively self-controlling.
Oh boy. If anything, the fretting above–”but Kylie was on an indie label, but she doesn’t sound indie, what to do?”–is to me incontrovertible evidence that the idea of “indie” as a genre marker, or, really, a signifier of any sort is dead*, and has been pretty much since Virgin Records set up its pretindie (God, remember those?) Vernon Yard back in the early ’90s. (As far as burying the word, this picture probably did the trick.) If a word is so confusing, so all-encompassing-yet-not-at-all-meaning-anything, shouldn’t it just be put to rest? There are a ton of words out there–ones that actually mean something, and can actually describe the music that they’re referring to as well–that are ripe for the overuse that “indie” has seen from everyone from lazy publicists to hack music writers in the past few years. (Don’t even get me started on the concept of “indie cred,” which when I first heard it was what I perceived a sorta self-mocking concept, and has since turned into the sort of totem that inspires a thousand Livejournal quizzes a day.)
“Independent”–the word in full–can stay, sure. It has a definition that’s pretty absolute. But if you ask 20 people from our comments section what the word “indie” means, you’ll get 20 different answers, some of which will be too nice, some of which will be disdainful about wispy voices and boring songs. (Cough.) I ask you: In a time where the English language is being mangled by the dialect of Instant Messenger, won’t laying off the word “indie” help all of us at least be a little more clear in our communications?
(Also–seriously, dude, can’t you just alphabetize, and leave the genre-sorting to people who create radio playlists? At the very least, it may help you notice heretofore unseen parallels between, say, L’Trimm and L7 when you’re casting about desperately for a blog topic on a late-summer Friday.)
What makes music indie these days? [Guardian]
* I’d say that “indiepop” is a useful genre-marking term. The increased specificity by the “pop” marker helps. But that’s it.