My War with Indie Rock

I started to write this thing and did it all wrong. There was a long-winded history of how “indie rock” happened, an examination of my own part in that, and then a whole list of reasons why “indie” gives me a headache. Dumped.

I know what I can’t stand “indie,” and it’s because “indie” is me. Indie rock has all my generation’s vices and even worse, all of my personal artistic crimes. I list these below:

Narcissism. False naivete. Excessive pastiche and homage in place of creativity. An aristocratic disdain for the popular. Rigidity. Excessive irony. Warmed-over modernism. Obscurantism. And no goddamn songs.

I keep having these Emperor’s New Clothes moments where I hear a breathy little girl voice over some feedback, or someone dropping a Velvet Underground quote into ten minutes of detuned guitar wiggling. I know what you’re doing there! You don’t have any songs or any substance, and you know your audience won’t care as long as you follow the style guide! You suck!

I like strange, challenging sound. My favorite artists include industrial bands that sound like a broken dishwasher, jazz that goes SKWONK, scary insane singer/songwriters, medieval European music, Central Asian wailing. No way do I want everyone to sound like Tom Petty.

And I still love pastiche, and quotes, and irony. And I still love Dada and the modernist revolt, 100 years later.

And I can’t fucking stand Klosterman and his celebration of everything popular for the sake of its popularity. That’s just this same attitude turned inside out, with extra patronizing.

I just want people to make good art instead of following rules. And this is especially true when the rules are the ones I rigidly clung to when I was 18 and a shining knight of the avant weird. At least two generation of musicians have looked to the “indie” of 1985 and duplicated it exactly, from the square glasses to the narcissism. Stop! Make a different thing!

So in conclusion, my war on indie rock is a war on my own failings as well as my generation’s. My appeal to indie rockers is: Please stop being me. I’m tired of me. Be more surprising.

20 thoughts on “My War with Indie Rock

    you are exactly right, and every instance of it makes one go TWINGE OUCH MY POOR BLEEDING ANARCHISTIC CONSCIENCE.
    I’m just going to hide over here with my Hives albums for a while.


  2. Wow… I think you just summed up my whole midlife crisis! Seriously! Thank you (non-ironically). This actually clears up a couple of things…
    mojo sends


      1. There’s always great music which is independent, underground, etc. When I hear just “indie,” though, I prepare myself for aristocratic college kids being precious. Always a great thing when I’m wrong though!


  3. me tooz
    I was not one of the cool kids listening to cool bands, so I might have an outsider’s view of “indie,” which can be summed up in the word “iconoclast.”
    I do not like iconoclasts, which is what every indie band seemed to strive for.
    Iconoclasts are showy and fake and most try too hard (heya, Tori Amos).
    Art is hard, though. Most bands just want a paycheck and maybe I should be so hard on them.


    1. Re: me tooz
      Art is indeed hard. That’s one reason I didn’t go off on a bunch of artists here, because I’m annoyed about a situation and a scene rather than hating on anyone more than anyone else.
      The “iconoclast” thing resolves for me into Byronic Romanticism, which I never could stand. That’s just an esthetic judgment of mine.


  4. I FULLY agree and thank you for this great post which reminds me yet again why I love LJ and love my friends list.
    My question is: where is the protest music? Seriously, there’s no protest music anymore! Who is the Rage Against the Machine of the Glee generation?
    I love Wilco and I love Malkmus and the Jicks. Besides that, if it wasn’t released sometime around the Allman Bros in 1974 I’m not interested. Like at all. Maybe the Clash. Even the Clash make me nuts, because at least up here, the Clash is still being played at the university bars. What!?


    1. There’s always good stuff that stays after every musical generation. London Calling is just a damn good record. If they’re playing stuff from Cut the Crap then someone has a nostalgia problem.
      I am now imagining a RatM/Glee mashup and it’s making me twitchy.


      1. Protest music still exists! It’s taken different forms these days, but unfortunately, I don’t think anyone’s been able to capture the mega-popularity of Rage in a long time.
        I’d say in terms of progressive and aggressive protest music, no one’s doing it quite as good as Propagandhi, who mix melodies with thrash and some unbelievably complex arrangements and time signatures. They’ve got some of the best lyrics on the planet because they don’t follow any normal rhyming scheme and read like little essays and manifestos.
        Strike Anywhere have been doing the melodic hardcore schtick amazingly well lately and last years “Iron Front” is one of the more important political records I’ve heard in a while.


    2. Geoff Baker
      A while ago, I hit “RND(9999) GOSUB Surprise Me” on Facebook,
      and it landed me on some protest music! Well, <a
      guy, Geoff Baker. And <a
      >here is his EP of his protest music, Patriot
      . Take, pass it around, he says to do that.
      Annoyingly, it’s from 2004, and I say that only because I
      really coulda used it in 2004, and am annoyed that I had not
      found it, although I’m still quite happy to have found it now.
      There should be a fancy German or French word for this
      feeling. (I hereby invent un regret au
      But I’ll have to focus group that one,
      do a test-run.)
      Oh that album– just an EP, but I mean, when it opened with
      a peppy sea shanty about Adnan Khashoggi, my
      brainstem melted. By time the last track started and I heard
      bluegrass, I could SEE THRU TIME.
      (The EP does have one clunker: Baker apparently had
      scribbled down two good verses about Matthew Shepard, but they
      failed to grow out into a decent song, or even pick up Baker’s
      usually very good sense of meter. But klunk, ahwell.)
      His lyric about the US’s monomaniacal perspective on
      international politics, “The world was ours before we were the
      world”, is immaculate, and it is stuck in my head forever. It
      should be printed on US money. It’s already the motto
      of… everything.
      He has a new album out that has some political stuff, and
      I’m just now starting to give it a listen. The albums
      since 2004 have been not political, but are pretty
      zippy. (One has a track that me and a friend heard the lyrics
      to, and both said “NERUDA!”. That was not something I’ve had
      a song make me say before.)
      The fact that the dude is doing all this stuff with good
      audio quality on a budget of pocket change (“a numbered Swiss
      paper cup”) impresses me. It more than makes up for the fact that he’s
      apparently had middling luck with the non-music things: CD
      graphic design, or a working web site, or any decent
      performance photos or video. But boy can he do some seriously
      good mix (…says the geek with the upsettingly expensive headphones.)


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