1997 marked a peak indie moment. Lucinda Williams released her top-charting album; while Matador distributed work from Pavement and Guided by Voices.
Nirvana and Soundgarden were dominating the charts, yet indie music was on the decline and fragmenting into new subgenres such as britpop and shoegaze.
Joy Division emerged from the post-punk scene in late ’70s England to help shape what we now consider indie music. Their haunting melodies, dark lyrics, and haunted vocals helped define gothic music; It is virtually impossible to imagine bands such as The Cure, U2, Echo & Bunnymen or Radiohead without Joy Division as an influence. And even today bands such as Foals Interpol or Editors continue taking inspiration from this iconic group.
Joy Division first gained fame as Warsaw before going on to gain widespread acclaim during early 1978 with their appearance on BBC television’s Granada Reports show and release of A Factory Sample EP – its sparse yet industrial sound immediately caught audiences’ ears and raised eyebrows alike.
Martin Hannett’s production was heavily influenced by George Martin, the architect behind the iconic Beatles sound. Hannett used spaces between instruments to allow vocals to resonate while providing a stark backdrop for Ian Curtis’ complex, obscure, and mysterious (some might say pretentious) lyrics.
Joy Division are still one of the greatest indie bands ever, even after only recording two albums before Curtis’ suicide. Their influence can be seen today among such groups as Franz Ferdinand, Arcade Fire and White Lies.
Indie artists don’t simply represent an independent music movement – the term encompasses an entire culture that challenges popular culture and distils what mainstream audiences expect of it. Although no single musical style defines indie, its values include authenticity, realism and rebellious spirit.
After the resurgence of punk rock in the 1970s, bands such as The Ramones, Sex Pistols and Clash challenged mainstream music establishment. Their rebellious spirit and DIY ethic formed the basis of indie music movement; these bands and their fans created coast-to-coast networks of small clubs, mimeographed fanzines and independent record labels that supported them. By the time Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994, cash had started flowing to groups such as Spice Girls, Garth Brooks Hanson Frat Boy Hootie and Blowfish.
R.E.M. made an indelible mark upon college radio as they transitioned from indie darlings to major commercial success without giving up the indie mentality that had inspired their rise. Michael Stipe’s ambiguous lyrics and arty folk-rock style remained part of their sound, with guitarist Peter Buck adding massive one-chord riffs with gritty intensity – quite different from their early balladic records such as Document.
Since indie is no longer limited to film companies alone, its definition has expanded greatly over time and now refers to all genres of music not signed to major-label contracts. Although its scope may be broadened considerably by this designation, indie still represents an effective strategy against mainstream trends while providing artists an alternate pathway to reach audiences and establish authenticity – real independent musicians need every penny that comes their way from music sales more than corporate-backed musicians do.
Minneapolis’ legendary rock & roll underground of the 1980s was personified by The Replacements. Led by singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg and two identical twin guitarists named Tommy and Bob Stinson, The Mats made their mark through beer-soaked concerts and poorly recorded albums that often concealed their unique blend of wit, empathy, and mischief in their songs.
After opening for Tom Petty and experiencing an underwhelming performance themselves, the Replacements signed with Sire Records–known for housing one of the most acclaimed alternative music rosters ever (such as Ramones and Talking Heads). Led by legendary executive Seymour Stein, Sire took a risk by signing them; All Shook Down shows an evolution in both sound as well as songwriting confidence over time.
Duane Eddy-inspired guitar power and 1970s punk fuse with Big Star-style pop balladry on this album from their fourth release, Waitress in the Sky. Spine-tingling heartbreakers such as “Here Comes a Regular” and “Swinging Party” stand alongside pub anthems like “Bastards of Young” and winking putdowns like punk classic “Waitress in the Sky,” yet its powerful choruses still echo of an experienced group that knows exactly what its doing.
CBGB became an essential cornerstone of the indie music scene during its formation during the 70s. Situated at the corner of Bleecker Street and Bowery in New York City, its dank tunnel of a club opened its doors in 1973 as Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandisers (CMBUG), owned by Hilly Kristal originally intended only to host musicians he personally liked; however, over time his popularity expanded quickly when bands such as Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie took to its stages.
CBGB was known for its extreme rock ‘n’ roll scene, from performance art to hair-raising screams; CBGB acts were loud, disruptive, and highly experimental–far removed from mainstream pop acts that dominated arenas at that time.
CBGB closed on October 15, 2006 to widespread outrage from members of its generation, which still feel its impact today from its DIY culture to promoting authentic artistic integrity.
Swedish band Kaiak have created an unforgettable tribute video for Woodstock that transports viewers back in time with its classic sound of acoustic guitar and an infectious beat, as featured on “Canvas.” You will soon find yourself singing along in no time!
The Pacific Northwest
As rock music gained greater influence within mainstream culture, another wave of musicians emerged to offer an alternative. Working out of makeshift studios such as garage and basement spaces, their music resonated with listeners from a new generation – giving rise to indie artists who typically self-release or sign with small independent record labels for creative freedom.
Early pioneers of indie music embraced DIY principles by building their own recording equipment to save money and avoid corporate labels’ limitations. This set the precedent for subsequent indie artists who would later embrace more honest and genuine musical expression; Indie music also puts strong emphasis on songwriting; many bands focus on creating lyrics with clever rhyme schemes and memorable melodies that resonated with listeners.
Indie artists are renowned for expressing themselves honestly through song. Joy Division was one such band whose haunting lyrics helped capture the sense of despair many English people felt during the 1970s. Meanwhile in America, independent record labels like Chicago Touch & Go Records, Seattle Sub Pop, Washington DC Dischord Records, and Boston TAANG! were major catalysts of indie movement.
In the 1990s, grunge music solidified indie’s place in popular culture. Artists like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden utilized distorted guitars and chaotic instrumentation to produce raw and emotional sounds; other genres that emerged include emo, shoegaze and art-indie. Today, however, “indie” encompasses almost any kind of music produced outside a major corporation.