Indie Music is For Friends
I made an observation today. A rather large indie blog claimed how much they enjoy the new Girls record. From what I heard, I like it too. What struck me though, was that their first record was kind of terrible. The songs were OK, but they weren’t very different or added anything new.
This is just my opinion of course. I had planned on seeing them and then I saw live videos and promptly realized I would not be spending money to see them. Again, just my opinion.
Going back to my observation, I think that a lot of indie music is really about seeing your friends succeed. What I mean is that even though the first Girls record and their live performances were not very good, the indie community saw something in the band and worked to make them succeed. The result is a new record that seems really great and they don’t suck live anymore. I can’t say the music is that different or provides something new, but at the same time, it is really accessible.
When I was younger and getting in punk and independent music, the bands had a vision to do what they wanted to do. It had nothing to do with getting big or signing your life away. It was, idealistically at least, about making the music that came naturally. A great example is Nirvana.
When you watch Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! you can see immediately that their goal was not to put on a perfect show or perform their record. The goal was to do what they do and that was to play loud, have fun and do it for themselves.
I don’t get that perspective from indie music today. I get the impression that bands start hearing they could be someone big and start thinking in terms of how to get there. The indie music blogs also get a kick about being someone that discovers a band that breaks out vs. being someone who exposes people to new music. Gorilla vs. Bear is a good example of this kind of blogging as they have a distinct style they like and push, which means most bands end up sounding similar. This is fine when you want to find another chillwave artist, but when you are sick of dreamy music and want something electronic or heavy, you have to find someone else to help you out.
I’m not saying this is a negative. When I was first discovering punk music, it was very difficult to find bands similar to what I like. I listened to the Minor Threat discography over and over, partially because I loved it, but it was also because it wasn’t trivial to find bands that had similar characteristics. If I had a Gorilla vs. Bear of 80s hard core and punk as a kid, life would have been grand.
At least for a little while.
The more I listened to punk music the more punk expanded. I had bought Sonic Youth as a kid, shunned it as alternative, then rediscovered and realized it as punk. Nirvana was the same story. I found hard core and stoner rock and noise, all of which helped shape my perspective of punk and independent music. When we toured with the Meat Puppets it sealed the deal in terms of recognizing punk is not about the sounds, but where those sounds come from.
To be clear, I’m not saying that indie music today is insincere or too polished or really anything else that might allude to it lacking integrity. I am saying that the focus has changed. The gates are open and people see that success is a step through the door. It has become really easy to write songs without thinking some part sounds too “radio” or “main stream” because no one will say a band sold out. While it is really great that fans and press still support bands who do take steps to support themselves, it makes me wonder if that also lowered the standard bands have when writing. There is not a requirement to do something innovative or take risks. Taking risks might also be more difficult since the field of music has been saturated with artists for quite some time.
No matter the motives of artists, what really matters are that people are moved by music. Fortunately, music traditionally is not appreciated in a vacuum. Music helps to mark moments in time in a person’s life, which means that any song can be great to someone. My goal as a musician is to write the music we feel. We practice and work hard as a band to make great music and we want people to hear it, and most importantly, be moved by it.