This question seems to be asked a lot lately. Much like the SNL sketch, What is Burn Notice?, it’s a question that has yet to be answered definitively, even by Ashton himself (the starter of the inane trucker hat trend). The term Indie generally is applied to independently published or produced music, books and movies. However now the term seems to be loosely applied to music with an “indie” sound, quirky movies with an “indie” feel or look to them and even people who live an “indie” or hipster lifestyle and listen to “indie” music and watch “indie” movies. Gah! How confusing is that?
I recently read an insightful article on pastemagazine.com entitled “Is Indie Dead?” Nietzsche analogies aside, this article attempts to answer the question of what Indie really means today and questions as to whether it really is, like much of the English language today, a word that has lost its original or true meaning.
Part of this is because a lot of originally indie bands are technically no longer indie since they signed with mainstream record labels. One of the biggest upsets in indie music was when the Prince of Indie, Ben Gibbard and his band Death Cab for Cutie signed with a major label. Fans everywhere questioned whether they can truly be called indie anymore. Especially since they did a song for the Twilight soundtrack which is most certainly a more mainstream move. Perhaps Ben Gibbard’s marriage to Zooey Deschanel, the Queen of hipsters, was an attempt to keep up the band’s indie image. (On a side note Zooey Deschanel has her own indie-pop type band, She and Him, which has a sound like old 60’s pop). Isn’t the whole point of being Indie that you are just a bunch of regular Joe’s making music for music’s sake with no aim towards mainstream publicity and success? I mean of course they want to be successful but not so much into it all for the money and glory like mainstream artists right?
But shouldn’t everyone be happy that such new and innovative music styles are becoming more popular? Shouldn’t we be happy that indie is the new cool? Isn’t that what hipsters have been trying to tell us?
The paste magazine article also examines how quirky became the trend with movies like
Napoleon Dynamite and Juno. Both of which are hilarious, artsy and have incredible soundtracks. Who knew these set a gold-standard for quirk? I certainly didn’t. I love those movies for their quirk and individuality and I thought I was being cool and unique by listing them as favorites. I guess I was just buying into another trend just when I thought I was escaping from one.
But honestly I think that if you enjoy this quirky indie trend embrace it. Don’t worry about whether people think you are a poseur or just buying into a trend. Because honestly I love indie sounding music because it’s different. It’s what I like regardless of whether or not it’s legit indie made and produced. (and regardless of whether or not I get labeled a hipster for listening to it). Some of these bands even have a similar sound to some of the greats. Peter Bjorn and John are Beatles-esque and Josh Ritter is like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen combined into one magical musical wonderful package. But Arcade Fire sounds like no one else on the planet. I could write a whole other post on their trippy, slightly creepy, post-modernism-ish sound. Why else would they have used their music for the “Where the Wild Things Are” trailer.
But what all these bands have in common is that they are unique. They each make music in their own way regardless of what the public: mainstream, alternative, indie, or otherwise thinks. And that’s what I think is what makes them truly authentic and truly indie in my eyes.