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The State of Indie Rock
Where have all the Indie bands gone?
Sweat streams seething from the sides of my face and my long scraggly hair is soaked like an overused floor mop all clammy and muggy, as I’m pulled from the crowd by the large man charged with the job of grabber (bouncer). Finally, after two previous attempts I successfully get grabbed and placed the other side of the barrier that stands just below the front of the stage. I follow the abundance of drunk and drug-stricken individuals back out into the crowd, the magical and meandered mosh pit of survivors. Back to it I go… Again, and then again.
It was Friday the 14th of April 2006, and the Arctic Monkeys were headlining at Rock City in Nottingham. It was their first gig at Rock City and part of their first UK tour of ‘Whatever People Say I am, That’s what I’m Not’. The debut album had seen the release of some singles that absolutely smashed the UK to bits! ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ and ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ had just been released as singles that year, as well as ‘Mardy Bum’ I could quite literally just list the whole album or choose any track off it to portray some sort of excitement or give an idea of how grippingly stimulating it was to be going to see them.
The beauty of Rock City as a venue is that its small, tight, and raw; the stage is so close you may as well be resting your drink on the stage just in front of the artists feet! Albeit the only thing stopping you is the slight gap between you and the stage that is barricaded with metal fences and a few bouncers in the way. The stage itself is just big enough to fit the full band on with instruments, amps and swagger… If you haven’t been trust me, get yourself there and go see a live gig. It rarely disappoints.
These were the gigs that everybody wanted to go to, to see the band at the time that was bursting onto the scene, and there was a new one every other month it seemed back in the noughties - Bands like The Killers, The Kooks, KOL, Kasabian, Coldplay, Muse, The Libertines the list goes on… It was like spectating a cocktail of your favourite drink on a constant drip, whilst watching a new ingredient being added every so often that never failed to satisfy. But not forgetting bands that were in their prime as well like Green Day, Radiohead, Linkin Park, RHCP and more, that were kind of there caressing your melliflous spirit and keeping your musical ears in check. Ensuring you were covered…
That era was a special era where these artists were on the front foot, but in the same breath it wasn’t like there were no genres making an impact other than Indie, Alt and Rock. Hip Hop and R&B was rolling high too, the noughties saw the influx of artists such as Kanye, Outkast, Alicia Keys, Jay Z, Beyoncé, 50 Cent and many more.
So, what has changed?
Indie music was once known for its raw, untainted nature. Bands like the Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, and The Strokes were the embodiment of this attitude. They were rough around the edges, with a raw sound and an unapologetic attitude that often included swearing in their lyrics. This honesty resonated with audiences and catapulted them to stardom, with many of these bands being featured on popular TV shows and being recognised by millions of people worldwide.
When you were a kid, did you ever have a lollipop that just wouldn't break no matter what you tried to do? Maybe it was so hard that you didn't want to eat it anymore and threw it away in disgust. There's no question that today's music industry is tougher than it has ever been to crack. As an indie band, it can be difficult to get the traction you need with your music despite the fact that our world is more connected than ever before. You could argue that this is good news, though—it means there's more room for everyone and less pressure on any one band to fill the shoes of bands like The Strokes or Arctic Monkeys.
But the difference in today’s internet world is that we all have a voice and we all have opportunity to have it heard. This enables the street bending rap artists to have a catalyst to perform an unending imprint, to vocalise about a world that seems to be breaking, falling and somewhat decomposing before our very own eyes. We have always wanted to hear about peoples ‘hard-knock lives’ or how living is difficult underneath the pressures and stresses that are thrown at us. We have the resources and materials at our fingertips now, we can make music with the simplest of software, hardware and we don’t have to move to specially curated rooms to do it either.
That said, the indie music that we hold so dear to our hearts and have been loyal to us for years is nowhere to be found. It's not that bands aren't making great new music anymore. Au contraire, there are plenty of bands out there who are doing a stellar job in the field of alternative music and indie rock. But why can't they seem to break through the mainstream? Some blame the record companies, others blame the listeners, but I think there's a fundamental reason for this downturn.
It is one thing that people are thirsty to hear about people’s difficulties in well versed form but, another that people simply having their minds triggered by Pop type, catchy phrases and riffs. But combine these two and you have a winning mix that creates a Pop song. This mixture has always been a combination that works and always will, but it seems that todays youth is more open to world view and opinion. What does this mean?
Kids are exposed to news, opinions and celebrity influencers through screens and gadgets. They understand or rather, are exposed to the world and life’s tragedies and anxieties at such a young age. This is becoming a cycle and a norm that is being subjected to kids younger and younger by the year. Is this a culprit of today’s ageing Indie lifecycle?
Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, however, I think there’s a lot of evidence to suggest it has had an impact on most things in life and music is no exception. “What you see is what you do”. The globalisation of social media is so widespread it has created its own culturised phenomena. By this I mean its impact is abundant. Social media creates small societies, large societies and global societies which may or may not integrate. Nevertheless, social impact is a key pointer of musical influence and how it is perceived, and this is usually more output heavy from a younger culture.
At the end of the day Indie rock has always had a rough time gaining traction within a pop culture dominated by hip hop and R&B artists. Their style is never going to win out over poppy tracks with smooth beats that are easy to dance to, but their lack of presence in today's market is not indicative of their lack of talent or relevance in modern music. There are still plenty of indie bands putting out albums that are just as good as those from years past, but they're having trouble getting noticed over the wave of polished pop songs and the influx of ‘down to earth’ well versed rhymes that currently dominate radio playlists.
I can't fully answer the question of why this is happening, but I can say that they're not gone—they're just under the radar. It might seem like the three categories of music (pop, rap/hip-hop, and R&B) are absolutely, unequivocally in charge right now, but indie artists are still putting out great music and playing to packed houses every day. Just because radio stations aren't playing their stuff doesn't mean they're invisible; they're just doing it independently. Which I guess is exactly what it says on the tin…
There are countless ways to join an existing fan base or cultivate a new one: from the most obvious, like a concert at a local venue or a tour through major cities around the country, to several less-traditional ideas for reaching your demographic (such as licensing your songs for use in TV shows or movies). You've probably heard about bands raising big money on Kickstarter— to fund the recording and mixing of their albums. This can be difficult to gain momentum and usually a level of previous presence helps to build this up.
In short: don't count Indie rock bands out yet. There's still plenty of opportunity for them to make their mark in indie, and maybe the next cycle of Indie Rock is yet to come.
Well that’s it for now guys, thanks for reading see ya’ll soon! 🖐