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Sunday, 19 June 2011

Bring me my indie guitar of burning gold

Why bother blogging about the meaningless of "Indie"?

I almost didn't  But the Guardian's 22-page feature has been rankling. Slightly.

Twenty-two pages on what, exactly? Lots of interesting people, yes. Mark Perry, Iggy Pop, Steve Albini, Mark E Smith, James Murphy. But the article's all over the place. The Byrds, the New York Dolls, Pete Murphy, Depeche Mode, Madchester, the Artic Monkeys, the Libertines etc. Why not just throw in everyone who is not Meatloaf and REO Speedwagon and have done with it?

More than anything else, the entire article doesn't seem to have much feel for music. It reads more like the product of a brainstorm (which I'm sure it is). If "indie" means anything in musical terms (which I doubt it does), wouldn't you want to discuss bands like Felt, Half Man Half Biscuit, Monochrome Set, The Wedding Present, Jackdoor With Crowbar, Big Flame, the Cocteau Twins, the Pastels, Hefner, Stump, Microdisney and many others?

Here and there the article almost makes sense. The significance of labels like Stiff, Factory, Rough Trade, Mute and SST is where I think it threatens to become coherent. (A potted history of independent labels would in fact have been far more illuminating than seizing on things like John Peel's Festive Fifty and The Strokes and labelling them all "indie"). But even with record labels the Guardian doesn't mention how the much-vaunted independence of labels such as Factory Records began to collapse when the independent distributors like the Cartel and Pinnacle ceded control to the majors (eg Polygram distributing Factory from the late 80s, I seem to recall).

Also, if you were being serious about the significance of DIY music culture wouldn't you want to say something about the importance of self-produced CD-Rs in the last 10 years, or stress the significance of the internet in allowing music-makers to bypass the record industry altogether? Instead the Guardian's entry on what it calls the "noughties phenomenon of blog-rock" is cursory, and references to Animal Collective and Fleet Foxes show how the standard model of "making it big" dominates the mood of the entire piece (other egs: "Creation conquers pop", Belle And Sebastian prove the power of the fanbase", "Franz Ferdinand take post-punk into the top 10").

It's a dog's dinner alright, and that includes some rather revolting old sprouts thrown in with the gravy and potatoes. A couple of (probably superfluous) examples before I throw it all up (and then eat all down again. Yum). The Reading festival of 1989 is singled out as an important moment when "indie kids" were presented with a big event featuring New Order, Spacemen 3 and the Sugarcubes. Jeez. I was unfortunate enough to be at this Mean Fiddler-promoted abomination and if this was in any way "indie" then so is Madonna or U2.

Finally, the feature's entry on the NME's C86 cassette deserves a mention. There may be some truth in the Guardian's contention that the publicity around this meant that hereafter "indie" became much more associated with white guitar-based music. Fine. But why not discuss what this music was rather than dismissing it (extremely unfairly) as "wheyfaced, middle-class, white people making underpowered guitar music"? Rockist? The Guardian?

Discussing "blog rock" (WTF is this, anyway?) the paper says "By the end of the decade" it had become "so fuzzy as to be virtually meaningless". Rather like "Indie", if you ask me. Except it had never meant anything in the first place.

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