What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

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seenoevil II
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What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by seenoevil II » Wed Mar 31, 2021 11:49 am

So, ever since Taylor Swift released her earthy sounding "Folklore" in 2020, there's been some confusing discussions around the word "indie." People were claiming that she had appropriated an "indie" sound because it was popular at the moment. Now, I found this all very confusing for a number of reasons:

1. As far as I know "indie" isn't a sound. Not really. It's a description of the artist's affiliation visa vie record companies. "indie" could cover any conceivable genre so long as that artist wasn't signed to a major label.

2. The sonic elements that people were referencing as "indie" on the T Swift album in question were...idk... just things like piano, acoustic guitar...reverb? The only coherent frame that tied these elements together in my mind, is that they were reminiscent of the 2010's folk revival. Fleet Foxes, Mountain Goats, Mumford and Sons, Lumineers etc. While some of these artists were and are on independent labels, they weren't "indie" in my mind.

Now, to me, Indie is a thing outside of purely logistical concerns. It's a genetic through line that started in the late 70's with the likes of Warehouse records, then various underground and punk labels in the 80's, and probably peaking in the 90's with Matador, Sub Pop, Kill Rockstars, Merge, Kay etc. etc. These artists are all over the place sonically, but there's a certain je ne sais quoi that links them. In fact, for years, the easiest way for me to convey the kind of music I make is to say that t's "indie rock."

But, now, amongst the youths, "indie" is a genre. Specifically a genre with acoustic instruments and reverb. That's not me. Now, I don't know what the hell to call what I do.

I recently brought this up to a friend of mine who's in her mid 20's. I Showed her various artists and asked her if, to her mind, they were "indie."

Taylor Swifts's Folklore: Yes ( I couldn't disagree more)
Phoebe Bridgers: Yes (ehhh, maybe?)
Franky Cosmos: Yes (Totally agree)
Sleater Kinney: wasn't familiar, maybe indie (Am I taking crazy pills?)
Slothrust: No (I say yes, they're on an indie label)
Stephen Malkmus: Never heard of him (.......)

So, what does that word mean to you? What do we do now that the Zoomers have picked a definition for it that doesn't make sense to us?
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Re: What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by beninma » Wed Mar 31, 2021 1:06 pm

Yah it's been abused so much it has no resemblance to what it might originally have been.

By the original meanings Joe Bonamassa and Cory Wong would probably be considered highly successful Indie artists since they built some pretty major success without help from a large record company.

As for what it seems to mean now:

- Acoustic sounds
- Reverb
- Elements taken out of shoegaze?
- Elements taken out of Emo?
- Elements taken out of ambient music?
- Some spoken word/rap type stuff sometimes instead of singing
- Attempt to be deep with the lyrics/meaning
- Millennial Whoops
- Effects applied to vocals/lots of reverb or processing on vocals?

Whatever it is it isn't Taylor Swift.. she's ridiculously corporate and doesn't even have a home genre.

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Re: What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by MechaBulletBill » Wed Mar 31, 2021 2:20 pm

What Does "Indie" Even Mean?
a big bag o' nowt

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Re: What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by natthu » Wed Mar 31, 2021 2:34 pm

Humans have a proclivity for neatly categorizing and labeling things. Unfortunately that's not the way the real world works most of the time. Labeling genera or providence of music is always going to be messy because most music can't be completely and accurately described with just one label. The other problem here is that language is dynamic and words don't have absolute meanings. They change over time. They have different meanings to different people. If the youth are using a word differently now to how you used it back in the day... well, too bad, that's what that word means to them now. If you want to effectively communicate your ideas, you need to temper your lexicon to suit your audience.

It may not be a particularly satisfying answer, and it leaves plenty of scope for ambiguity and confusion, but "Indie" means whatever two people using it in conversation agree that it means.

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Re: What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by s_mcsleazy » Wed Mar 31, 2021 2:39 pm

like most genre names, it once meant something, now means nothing. tbh i remember the same argument going on in the 00's with bands like the view, snow patrol, the ting tings, arctic monkey's and all that stuff made by poverty tourists in trilbies and tweed jackets. a lot of those bands had nothing to do with the independent music scenes. most jumped ship the second a major record label A&R rep looked in their direction.

think of it like this. is craft beer really craft beer nowadays when a lot of these breweries are owned by the big breweries? nope. it's all about marketing at this point. if you can project the image of being "indie" then most music sites like pitchfork will still call you indie. in the 00's, indie basically meant any band with jangly clean guitars. in 2021, it basically means lot's of folk inspiration and acoustic instruments (for the most park)

and yes, it annoys me that nowadays my genre of choice (post-hardcore) got hijacked by the "boybands with breakdowns" scene. so if you say "i love post-hardcore" you'll usually have to explain that. because of mice and men TOTALLY sounds like fugazi or unwound.
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Re: What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by sessylU » Wed Mar 31, 2021 3:08 pm

seenoevil II wrote:
Wed Mar 31, 2021 11:49 am
So, ever since Taylor Swift released her earthy sounding "Folklore" in 2020, there's been some confusing discussions around the word "indie."
Since then, eh?

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Re: What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by jorri » Wed Mar 31, 2021 3:27 pm

I get there is some kind of 'sound' because in the mid 2000s there was a resurgence of some kind of 'indie' that was quite specific?

But always been about the word 'indie' meaning its true name, but just some quality being in the music, however ANY GENRE. So Taylor Swift can make an album influenced by indie bands and it wouldn't be 'indie'. Yet someone could make some kind of pop-music (i don't actually know what taylor swift sounds like...) and through the DIY process have some kind of indie charm to it where its 'indie pop'. As opposed to the manufactured indie-sounds bands like the Kooks or something, who are 'pop indie' and the inversion of that i guess. Yeh, i bet some who think those kinds of bands are indie are criticising Swift, but those bands coming out were criticised for 'really being indie?' by going to some performance college where some major label over-manages their 'look'./

Also, genres increasingly seem to get more specific, as more and more bands copy a particular band. Post-rock was a vague statement of anything experimental pretty much, and non-rock things for the rock audience: slint? talk talk? seefeel? even heard early reviews of Radiohead or Portishead being called 'post-rock'--yet now it seems like a string of identical bands sounding like they are conducting ambient pedal demos with zero experimentation.

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Re: What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by jorri » Wed Mar 31, 2021 3:33 pm

beninma wrote:
Wed Mar 31, 2021 1:06 pm
Yah it's been abused so much it has no resemblance to what it might originally have been.

By the original meanings Joe Bonamassa and Cory Wong would probably be considered highly successful Indie artists since they built some pretty major success without help from a large record company.

As for what it seems to mean now:

- Acoustic sounds
- Reverb
- Elements taken out of shoegaze?
- Elements taken out of Emo?
- Elements taken out of ambient music?
- Some spoken word/rap type stuff sometimes instead of singing
- Attempt to be deep with the lyrics/meaning
- Millennial Whoops
- Effects applied to vocals/lots of reverb or processing on vocals?

Whatever it is it isn't Taylor Swift.. she's ridiculously corporate and doesn't even have a home genre.
yeh i don't recognise those points. For British indie, I guess either britpop or later the libertines related genre. For american indie, seems more indie, actual garagey sounding bands, prob earlier 80s- OR maybe like arcade fire or a stripped down post punk. idk, but it happened the decade before last decade, this change where major artists are 'indie'.

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Re: What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by Severed Hand » Wed Mar 31, 2021 3:38 pm

All too ironic cause music journalism and the majority of music press/playlists want literally nothing to do with the bands that l actually live in this “indie” genre.

I’m not gonna lie it’s pretty cringe seeing Miley Cyrus cover “Fade Into You” poor David Roback is probably turning over in his grave. I predict we get Post Malone covering The La’s any day now. It’ll get featured on Pitchfork or whatever website people read these days and the small band who dropped a record the same day will all of wasted a small advertising/PR budget for an album they pain stakingly saved and worked their ass’s off to make/finance.

In all seriousness Alternative rock made the most sense as a umbrella term for indie, grunge, twee, shoegaze, etc but as we all know Pearl Jam and Nickleback shat on that one.
Last edited by Severed Hand on Wed Mar 31, 2021 3:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by Jaguar018 » Wed Mar 31, 2021 3:42 pm

Indie now means what Alternative meant after it was swallowed up by the conglomerate.

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Re: What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by echobaseone » Wed Mar 31, 2021 4:15 pm

It means you ain't making a dime.

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Re: What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by seenoevil II » Wed Mar 31, 2021 5:26 pm

The trouble is that I used to be able to call my stuff indie rock and that primed the listener enough for them to know vaguely what to expect, or perhaps more precisely, what not to expect.

The trouble is that what I do doesn't really fit into any genre that well. It's kinda idiosyncratic. Odd ball composition that borrows heavily from jazz standards but also makes left turns- all over top drum machines. Indie rock was perfect because it told you to expect guitars and something weird. But now? I don't even know.

What would you call Jonathan Richman now?
What about Joanna Newsom, or Tom Waits, or Randy Newman? What were they called in their own times?

How do you tell people to expect Western music that isn't hip hop or pop punk?

I think I'm safe for now. But idk.
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Re: What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by marqueemoon » Wed Mar 31, 2021 5:58 pm

echobaseone wrote:
Wed Mar 31, 2021 4:15 pm
It means you ain't making a dime.
This.

It’s possible to make an incredibly slick recording at home these days or a deliberately trashy sounding recording in a nicer studio.

The music business is no less decentralized now than it was 30 years ago. More risk has just been shifted onto artists.

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Re: What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by stevejamsecono » Wed Mar 31, 2021 6:16 pm

Honestly, probably anything with guitars on it qualifies as 'indie' since they aren't a major color in pop music production lately. Seems quaint to most.
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Re: What Does "Indie" Even Mean?

Post by tribi9 » Wed Mar 31, 2021 7:30 pm

I always thought "alternative" sounded dumb.

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